A few years ago, Google conducted a study with their workforce to determine the factors that contribute to successful teams. They concluded: Who is on a team matters less than how the team members interact, structure their work, and view their contributions.
While this seems like a surprising result at first glance, anyone that follows sports can think of countless examples when adding a really good player actually made the team perform worse. The most recent example is when the Dallas Mavericks traded for Kyrie Irving. Prior to the trade, the Mavericks had a record of 28 wins and 26 losses, a 52% win rate. After the trade, the Mavericks had a record of 10 wins and 18 losses, a 36% win rate and missed the playoffs. So what’s going on?
Google’s Five Key Dynamics
According to Google’s findings, the most important factors in successful teams are:
- Psychological safety: Can we take risks on this team without feeling insecure or embarrassed?
- Dependability: Can we count on each other to do high quality work on time?
- Structure and 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?
The Importance of Trust
Google found that the most important factor, the one that serves as the foundation for the other four factors is Psychological safety. When team members feel safe around each other, they are much less concerned with how they are being perceived, and much more apt to take risks and admit mistakes. This means that teams with a strong sense of psychological safety trust one another. Put another way, the most successful teams are built on a foundation of trust.
The second factor, Dependability, is also a form of trust. Being able to depend on your teammates to do their jobs well and on time not only helps you do your job and anticipate future issues, but also removes a lot of the stressors that come with working with others. When you know that you can depend on your teammates, you’re more free to focus on your duties and responsibilities, and perform them to the absolute best of your ability.
The Importance of Engagement
The last three factors roll up into the concept of employee engagement. When people understand their roles as individual contributors and as teammates, and when they feel like they are working on something important that will have a measurable impact, they are much more engaged. As we’ve discussed in the past, engaged employees and teams are more productive and successful.
Moreover, if your team is experiencing problems or issues with any or all of these three factors, they are much more easily mitigated when you have a foundation built on psychological safety and trust.
So What Happened to Kyrie Irving and the Dallas Mavericks?
Well, Kyrie Irving is a notoriously mercurial figure. While his basketball skills are undeniable, he has always been a troublesome teammate. His addition to the Dallas Mavericks likely affected the psychological safety of his teammates, who had to learn how to play with him on the court and off the court. Additionally, he wasn’t terribly dependable as he missed 8 of the 28 games that the Mavericks played after trading for him. And his addition likely created some confusion around the roles for the role players on the team as well as Luka Dončić, the team’s best player and primary ball handler before the trade.
Measure Trust and Engagement
By stepping back and taking a look at Google’s five important factors at a higher level, we can see that trust and engagement are the driving forces of successful teams.
It’s important to think about more than just the members of your team. Take the necessary precautions and actions to ensure that you’re fostering a trusting team dynamic, and keeping your teammates engaged. Be sure to measure trust and engagement, and keep an eye on these metrics as your team and business evolves. This is important for the overall success of your team, but can be even more critical if you’re making a big change. Just ask the Dallas Mavericks.