What makes teams successful? Google wanted to know the answer, so the company conducted interviews with more than 200 of its employees across more than 180 active teams. The bottom-line conclusion of the research team was surprising.

As it turns out, there is no magical algorithm for picking the right mix of team member attributes, skills, and expertise. But Google’s researchers did discover five key factors that seem to set highly effective teams apart from the rest. These factors have less to do with who is on the team and more to do with how team members interact, structure their work, and feel about their contribution on the team. Let’s look at each factor and what it might mean for you and your team:

Psychological Safety: This appears to be the factor most predictive of team effectiveness at Google. As humans, our natural inclination is to be self-protective. Nobody wants to be seen as incompetent. Leaders must actively encourage and reward people when they share their mistakes, ask “dumb” questions, and take risks by challenging others.

*Ask yourself: Do members feel they can take risks and be vulnerable in front of each other?

Dependability: Knowing we can depend on others builds trust and confidence that we can achieve something together. Leaders and team members must agree to high standard from the start and articulate what’s at stake for the team and company with regard to quality and timeliness of their work.

*Ask yourself: Do team members feel confident that they can count on each other to do high-quality work and meet deadlines?

Structure & Clarity: Collaboration thrives when focus, predictability, and transparency are present. At Google teams often set Objectives and Key Results (OKR’s) for individuals and/or teams. Leaders should ensure that the goals you set for your team are specific and challenging. Work with your team members to define a clear pathway for achieving each goal.

*Ask yourself: Do members of my team have clear goals, roles, and plans?

Meaning of work: Creating our own meaning is what makes us human. And meaning is very individualistic. The role of a team leader is to find out what matters most (i.e. the meaning) about the team’s work to each team member. It may relate to the member’s ability to earn a livelihood or a personal quest for technical innovation. A leader’s job is to help them make the connection.

*Ask yourself: Does the work feel personally important to each team member?

Impact of work: Humans are hardwired for empathy so understanding how one’s work makes the world a better place is motivating. Too often a team’s sense of purpose and pride is driven by a felt obligation to meet demands from higher up or simply to avoid failure. It is key for leaders to remind team members about why the work matters to the organization the difference it will make to others.

*Ask yourself: Do my team members believe that their work matters to the organization or to the larger world and is making a difference?

Re-Work has developed a five-question survey and a discussion guide to help your team explore each of Google’s identified five pillars of team dynamics. Give it a try.

Which of these pillars would you most like to cultivate on your team?

Photo credit: Duncan C