The Google Formula for a Productive Team

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Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times investigative reporter Charles Duhigg delves into the science of productivity in his new book Smarter Faster Better. In this excerpt from Duhigg’s conversation with Canadian Business reporter Sissi Wang (which you can read in full here), the author talks about the characteristics of great teams and how leaders can foster them.

Google took four years and millions of dollars trying to figure out how to build the perfect team. They originally approached that question by asking, ‘How do we put the right people together?’

“That turned out to be the wrong question, because putting the right people together tends to have relatively little impact on whether that team succeeds or not. What matters much more is whether the team culture encourages two things. First, it encourages people to roughly speak in equal proportion over time. Second, does the group have high social sensitivity? Can people pick up on each other’s non-verbal cues and be attuned to understanding what people are really saying? If you have a group where people roughly speak equally and demonstrate to each other that they’re listening, then you have what’s known as psychological safety. It’s shown that groups that have psychological safety tend to outperform other groups significantly.”

“Successful groups tend to have someone who says at the end of the meeting, ‘Let’s all just go around and share their takeaway from this meeting.’ Or if someone hasn’t spoken in a while, they’ll stop and say, ‘Hey Jim, I haven’t heard from you in a while, what are you thinking about?’ Or, they tend to have leaders who pay attention to people’s body language and say, ‘Susan, you look really excited about this idea, do you want to take a lead on it?’ They show that they’re really paying attention.

“Google came up with a checklist that people can do to increase psychological safety. One of the things says when you come into the meeting, close your computer, because that way you can make eye contact with each other. Most of us keep our computer open because we think it’s more efficient to keep one eye on the computer and don’t think it’s important to look at each other during a meeting. But actually, if you close the computer, it forces people to show that they’re listening to each other. It increases social sensitivity, and as a result, makes that team better.

“These are all acquired skills. Anyone can learn to become a good team member.”

For the rest of Wang’s conversation with Duhigg, including how to set SMART goals and make decision-making easier, click here.


What’s your formula for building a productive team? Let us know by commenting below.

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