• Sibel Dağdeviren Özüağ

High Performing Teams

Updated: Jul 21, 2018



What does a high performing team look like?


Overall success of a team plays a significant role in each team member’s performance and satisfaction at the workplace. We might have all experienced or at least heard about how a demotivating team could turn high potential employees into unwilling employees feeling like corporate slaves. On the other hand, we might also have experienced at least one case where the overall spirit of the team has contributed to our individual performance and motivation.


A high performing team could be defined as a team pushing each individual team member to their maximum potential levels, and at the same time creating a harmony so coherent that the whole team moves like a single massive organism.


When it comes to high performing teams, it is a debate whether a team is well-performed because it brings together team members who are all “stars” on their own, or because the team has its own glorious spirit and any new member of the team cannot help but serve their part regardless of their individual shine. Although there are many hypotheses supporting the above mentioned two alternatives, the Aristotle Project by Google has contributed a lot to the understanding on what perfect teams look like and what are the key elements to team success.


An Overview of the Research Setting and the Results

  • In line with this research initiated in 2012, over 180 Google teams were assessed to collect research data over a time period of 2 years.

  • Taking into account all sorts of data collected (including personal friendship, personal interests, gender, longevity, team structure, strong management…), researchers were still not able to detect a significant pattern explaining why some teams succeeded and others failed.

  • It was surprising that teams with similar structures demonstrated varying results, and that the same members also reported varying results when taking part in different teams.

  • The study revealed that the collective ability of the team was greater than sum of the individual abilities of each team member.

Key Findings of the Research

  1. Group norms were demonstrated to be the most significant factor determining the team success. In the research, group norms were defined as unwritten and often unspoken rules guiding and determining a team’s behaviour.

  2. Team success was associated with teams in which everyone worked well together and had respect for each other.

  3. Team members striving for individual glory had a negative impact on the team spirit.

Returning to my opening question, the Project Aristotle demonstrates 5 key characteristics of a high performing team:

  1. Psychological Safety Team members must feel comfortable in taking risks and sharing their opinions regardless of how silly they might sound. They must be ensured that the team will welcome and support them even when things go wrong.

  2. Dependability Team members rely on each other that they all do their shared and agreed piece of work, and that they put their best effort on stage. Overall success of the team depends on everyone doing their own tasks.

  3. Structure and Clarity Clear goals and clear directions help the team to comprehend where they go and what role they play in the big picture.

  4. Meaning of Work Team members’ individual job satisfaction and the belief in doing a meaningful job contributes to their performance, and this adds to the overall success and effectiveness of teams.

  5. Impact of Work Team members want to know how the part they play benefit the company. People do not want to be wasting their time for futile struggle.

It is crucial to emphasize that prior to Project Aristotle, Google spent millions of dollars trying to understand how to form perfect teams and how to boost team effectiveness. At a time when all previous efforts yielded insufficient results, Project Aristotle was put into action. Therefore, details and results of this research represents a strong starting point for business leaders and HR professionals wishing to save both time, money, and effort in their efforts to build and foster high performing teams, and go the extra mile on team effectiveness.

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