A few years back, Google set out to answer a question that many organizations struggle with: What characteristics and dynamics make for an effective team?

Like other organizations, Google believed that creating the best teams meant compiling the best people. In the words of Julia Rozovsky, Google's people analytics manager, "We were dead wrong."

After studying 180 teams over a two-year span, Google's People Analytics Team discovered five components that disproportionately made a team more likely to be rated as effective--and none of them had to do with a person's competence. 

They were, in order of importance: 

  • Psychological safety
  • Dependability 
  • Structure and clarity 
  • Meaning of work
  • Impact of work

Based upon these five key dynamics, Rozovsky shared five questions that can help you determine whether or not your team is heading down the right path. I've added my personal thoughts to each.

1. Can we, as a team, take a risk without feeling insecure or embarrassed? 

A team's ability to take risks is directly correlated with its ability to learn. Learning leads to enhanced effectiveness and growth. Without a feeling of psychological safety, a team's willingness to take interpersonal risks diminishes and members withhold information and questions beneficial to the team. 

Instead, foster an environment where questions are encouraged and employees are praised for taking risks. If you don't, the fear of repercussions and appearing incompetent will scare employees into inaction.

2. Can we count on each other to deliver high-quality results on time? 

High-performing teams have to be able to rely on one another. When I think back to some of the effective teams I was a part of, everyone knew their role and how it fit into the team's vision, and they took accountability for their actions.

When team members have to pick up the slack and assume duties that aren't theirs, their main responsibilities suffer. Effective teams act like high-powered engines, where every component has a unique job and works together in unison towards a common goal.

3. Are our goals, roles, and execution plans clear? 

To ensure that everyone can be held accountable and deliver high-quality results, they have to understand what's expected of them. Without clear goals, roles, and a plan of attack, teams will spin their wheels, step on each other's toes, and duplicate work without a purpose.

When everyone is on the same page, teams don't waste time on unimportant projects, recreate the wheel, and prioritize their own individual agendas over the team's goals. 

4. Are we working on something that is personally meaningful to each of us?

The role of a manager is to work with each team member to understand their motivations. Then, they need to connect that inward-facing inspiration to work and tasks important to the team's success.

Working on projects that are meaningful enhances one's ability to focus, exert discretionary effort, and persist through setbacks--all qualities of high-performing teams. Also, fulfilling work fuels employees and prevents the likelihood that they'll burn out. Any manager can coax a team into performing well once. The tough part is finding a sustainable model that motivates your employees to work hard every day. Meaningful work is a part of that equation.

5. Do we fundamentally believe that the work we're doing matters? 

In addition to inward motivation, managers also have to connect teams with outward facing goals that matter. Everyone wants to believe that their work is making a difference. 

As managers, make sure that you link your team's work and results to the organization's goals and demonstrate how the team is making an impact.

Although each organization will have distinct characteristics and traits that differentiates its highly-effective teams, this research from Google offers five critical questions that every manager should ask.