What is the secret of successful teams? What qualities do team members need in order for the collaboration to work? For the typical business, these are some pretty tough questions to answer. Luckily, Google – a company whose success depends on the collaborative powers of its teams – has done the heavy lifting for you.
After years of deep study, the tech giant discovered five factors that distinguish successful teams from the rest: reliability, clarity, meaning, psychological security and self-efficacy. And you can use these factors to boost the innovative strength of your teams.
How? It starts with asking the right questions.
How Reliable Are the Team Members?
Team members need to feel that they can rely on each other to get the job done, on time and with solid outcomes. The team will only be successful if everyone is pulling their weight and contributing to the team's goals.
Use the following questions to assess the reliability of a team:
1. When tasks are allocated, are they prioritized and given a clear deadline?
2. How often are deadlines met?
3. When a team member says he will do something, is he actually doing it?
4. Do team members talk to each other about delays and take responsibility?
These questions will tell you how much insight the team members have into priorities, work progress and accountability. If people cannot rely on their coworkers to handle their assigned responsibilities, then you’ll soon see a drop off in the team members’ willingness to collaborate.
How to fix a reliability problem: Take a leaf out of Google’s book and distribute clear responsibilities, to-do lists, deadlines and project plans.
How Clear are the Team’s Roles, Goals and Processes?
Without clarity on the team’s goals and objectives and the processes they should be following to achieve them, you’re in trouble. Lack of clarity is associated with bottlenecking, where projects get held up because an essential part of the task was not allocated or completed. You might also run into trouble with duplicated effort, where two or more people are performing the same task, which is a massive waste of time and money.
Use the following questions to assess the clarity and structure of a team:
5. Do team members know the goals of the team as well as their individual goals?
6. Do they know how to achieve those goals, and where to find the necessary resources?
7. Do they understand why the team has the objectives that have been set – for example, how the team’s work fits into the bigger organization-wide strategy?
8. Does everyone on the team understand their role and feel they have personal responsibility for their own tasks?
Unclear roles, objectives and responsibilities are a sign of an acute need for action. Start by clarifying team roles and put a person in charge of a project. It's also a good idea to make sure the team members are meeting regularly to coordinate their goals.
How to fix a clarity problem: Google recommends the Objectives and Key Results method, which is neatly explained in this video. With OKR, a team is forced to set itself five goals for each quarter, each with no more than four key results. Having a finite number of clear and measurable success factors from the get-go and helps team members understand exactly what the boss expects from them. Communication between team members invariably is improved when everyone is working towards the same endpoint.
Is the Work Meaningful?
In order for a team to work, then the work must be personally important to everyone on the team as individuals. Only then will the team members be motivated to perform their best work and support others as they do the same.
Use the following questions to assess the meaning of a team:
9. Are tasks allocated based on a person’s skills, strengths and interests?
10. Does the work give people a feeling of personal and professional fulfillment?
A team has a lot of catching up to do if work orders are distributed solely according to knowledge and workload. People feel much more appreciated and committed if they feel they have been personally selected for the task.
How to fix a meaning problem: Have your people take a personality test. This will give you a heads up as to people’s motivations, strengths and core value systems that may not be immediately apparent from their day-to-day job role. Can you organize tasks around these core values? Are you giving plenty of positive feedback and gratitude to help motivate people and develop the team?
Do People Feel Safe?
Psychological safety is the feeling of trust and belonging within a team. You’ll know you have it when team members are willing to speak up without fear of embarrassing themselves, don’t mind taking risks, and are able to admit mistakes.
Use the following questions to assess the psychology safety of a team:
11. Do all team members feel comfortable when they brainstorm with each other, even when presenting offside ideas?
12. Does everyone take turns in speaking? Do others listen while they are doing so?
13. Does everyone on the team feel that that they can sometimes fail?
How to fix a meaning problem: Where psychological safety is low, bosses should step in and encourage the group to express opinions. For example, they might model and normalize such questions as:
- I don't know how to do that, can you help me?
- Can you explain this point to me again? I haven't quite understood it yet.
- I’m not sure that's a good idea. Have you thought about doing it this way instead?
Does the Team Believe in Itself?
The term self-efficacy refers to how strongly the team believes that it can use its collective abilities to achieve a goal or make a project a success. Teams with strong self-efficacy beliefs tend to achieve much better outcomes, regardless of external challenges, and morale is generally higher across the board.
Use the following questions to assess the self-efficacy of a team:
14. Does everyone on the team feel that their work is important?
15. Do team members believe that their work changes something for the better?
Strategic goal setting is the key to self-efficacy. If you set too many goals, or the goals feel unattainable, then team members will quickly become demoralized and unmotivated. Conversely, setting too-few goals, or goals that have a low priority, may cause team members to feel that they are treading water at work.
How to fix a self efficacy problem: Teams have the most self-efficacy beliefs when they feel that goals are both challenging and attainable. If you have a problem, try breaking larger goals into tangible steps, or start by picking off easy-to-achieve goals (your low-hanging fruit). The achievement of mini-goals gives a sense of competence and mastery, which increases self efficacy.
When asking these 15 questions, the key thing is to focus on the needs and feelings of the individual team members, instead of seeing things through your own, first-person perspective. How people feel on the inside is not always reflected in their external behavior. It’s perfectly possible for a team to be doing a good job based on objective, external measures, while internally the team dynamics are falling apart. While every manager hopes for the superpower of clairvoyance, until that day comes, you’ll get better answers by asking these 15 questions directly of your team. Good luck!