Agile & Digital / Matrix Management / Virtual Teams

Google’s elusive perfect team

Google’s data analysts ran a three year project to try to uncover the secret recipe for successful teams at Google.  They observed hundreds of Google teams, analysed thousands of data points and conducted an extensive literature review into the psychology of teams. At first they were stumped – at a company famed for its ability to see patterns in data, no patterns seemed to be there.  There appeared to be no clear formula for matching individual character traits, backgrounds or experiences to create a perfect team. But what did emerge was the importance of ‘team norms’ or ways of working.

Two ways of working that were present in almost all of their high performing teams were:

  1. in meetings and online discussions, individuals contributed broadly equal amounts
  2. people showed above average levels of emotional sensitivity and empathy for their team mates

Academics agree about the importance of having a good balance of team member contributions, as well as clear processes and ways of working for virtual team effectiveness. “Processes that are directly task-related are the most critical for the performance of dispersed teams”, according to a study by Boston Consulting Group in conjunction with Professors from Germany with 80 software development teams from Brazil, China, Denmark, France, Germany, India and the United States.

In their study, the virtual teams that consistently outperformed others had processes that improved the levels of:

  • task related communications
  • balance of member contributions
  • work coordination
  • member effort
  • mutual support

Virtual teams that were strong in these areas were even found to outperform the co-located software development teams. However, they also found that whilst task-related processes had the most significant impact on virtual team performance, social processes were able boost virtual team performance as well.

Therefore, one additional team norm that should be in place for all remote, global, extended and digital teams is to always use the video function during one-to-one and group calls/ meetings.  This eliminates almost all multi-tasking, helps reduce misunderstandings, increases empathy and deepens virtual relationships.

In one success case, HOK, a global architecture firm, introduced a range of visual/ video tools to replace extensive face-to-face meetings for its distributed workforce. Project quality and efficiency were maintained, while cutting travel costs by $100,000 in the first year and an additional $200,000 in the second

So remember to take Google’s advice and encourage those quick chats before a virtual meeting starts or when it ends – as these can be as important to your team’s effectiveness as sticking to the agenda and making sure the meeting finishes on time.

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