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Five Characteristics of Great Teams – eDiscovery and Otherwise

eDiscovery Consultant | Greg Moreman

When teams are great, people are excited to be a part of them. Whether it’s the Brotherhood Without Banners adventuring beyond the Wall or – a bit closer to home – serving with friends at the local animal rescue, there is something uplifting and encouraging about being part of a shared endeavor that is “greater than ourselves.”

The same should be true of the teams we join and lead at work. And yet, all too often work groups – rather than instilling the same excitement – can tend to discourage more than they encourage. Even worse, teams at work can sometimes be so dysfunctional and inefficient that individual team members throw up their hands and work alone, just to get something done.

Enter the analysts who are part of Google’s “People Operations” Unit (what the rest of us non-Googlers might call the “HR Department”). Google’s analysts spent over two years studying the characteristics of effective teams. And they were good enough to share their findings and ongoing wisdom with the rest of us, via their excellent re:Work website and blog.

And their findings (reported here) might surprise you. In the beginning, the Google re:Work team reported that they were “pretty confident that we’d find the perfect mix of individual traits and skills necessary for a stellar team.” And because Google is literally filled with some of the brightest people on the planet, they figured the mix might be something like “take one Rhodes Scholar, two extroverts, one engineer who rocks at Angular JS, and a PhD” and presto – dream team assembled.

But, as they report, “[w]e were dead wrong.” Counterintuitively, they found that “[w]ho is on a team matters less than how the team members interact, structure their work, and view their contributions.”

Specifically, they identified “five key dynamics that set successful teams apart from other teams” – at least at Google. Those five dynamics are:

  • Psychological Safety. “Can we take risks on the team without feeling insecure or embarrassed” or that our job is at risk?
  • Dependability. “Can we count on each other to do high quality work on time?”
  • Structure & Clarity. “Are goals, roles, and execution plans on our team clear?”
  • Meaning of Work. “Are we working on something that is personally important for each of us?”
  • Impact of Work. “Do we fundamentally believe that the work we’re doing matters?”

According to Google’s study, of these five dynamics, “[p]sychological safety was far and away the most important,” as it serves as the positive “underpinning of the other four.” Everyone who is part of a team – but especially those of us who are charged to lead them – should strive to empower our fellow team members to take risks, speak their minds, and challenge the status quo. Our teams will be healthier; individual team members will be more satisfied; and the work we do for our clients and our own businesses will be better for it.

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