Due to the difficulties I have experienced with group work both professionally and in academia the in-depth article “What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team” seized me and just refused to turn me loose. It was written by Charles Duhigg and recently appeared in the NY Times. I realize that it is not the type of piece that one normally critiques in “Games and Learning” and truly appreciate the professor permitting me the latitude to have a go at it. I’m still circling the unfamiliar ground covered in this course and will critique a more appropriate piece for cycle 4. I relate this article to the “Games and Learning” course due to the social, and often team play facet of many games and game design.
The perfect team concept is important for me to understand as it seems everywhere I turn these days I encounter someone advocating group work and attempting to make me a part of one. In a culture that is centered on competition and the individual, this requirement to subjugate oneself to yet another collective is a bit confusing. The ever changing dynamics of groups and the energy consumed negotiating them often leaves those involved, including me, feeling frustrated and psychologically unsafe, as Duhigg reports. So what is the key to an effective team?
The article focuses on Google’s Project Aristotle which was charged “… to study hundreds of Google’s teams and figure out why some stumbled and while other’s soared. Dubey, a leader of the project, gathered some of the company’s best statisticians, organizational psychologists, and engineers” to analyze it. They claimed that people tend to report higher satisfaction and archive improved results when they are a member of an effective team. They also included a study which reported that profits increased the more workers collaborated. Due to these factors, Google scrutinized many aspects of their employees’ lives including work and social activities. Google compared hobbies, education and even the amount of time employees socialized outside the office. No matter how the data was arranged there was no evidence that composition of a team made any difference to its effectiveness. Duhigg goes on to explain how the researchers often encountered psychological reports that discussed group norms. Project Aristotle merely confirmed what others had already known and that is healthy group norms are key to successful groups. Healthy group norms include good communication and empathy. Good communication is described as “equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking” and permitting everyone to speak a nearly equal amount. Effective team members were skilled at intuiting how others felt by tone of voice, as well. The psychological safety net that is created through exercising these positive group norms leads to members feeling safe. Not fearing rejection, punishment or embarrassment permitted team members to relax and be themselves.
Duhigg summarizes by writing that although there are many contributing factors including some intangibles, good managers have always known the small truths that Google’s Project Aristotle confirmed. And that is “In the best teams, members listen to one another and show sensitivity to feelings and needs.”
Duhigg, C. (2016). What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team. Retrieved February 26, 2016, from http://nyti.ms/20Vn3sz