The Million-Dollar Algorithm: What Makes a Perfect Team?


While the days of cubicles may not be over, we have seen an increasing trend of more open, collaborative work environments — environments that encourage, inspire and build strong teams. It turns out this is not just an employee preference, but an executive preference as well, as studies continue to show the positive impact. Teamwork improves efficiency, job satisfaction, innovation, and profitability.

Tech-giant Google saw this trend and wanted to not only encourage more collaboration, but also figure out the perfect team algorithm – finding out just what the perfect ingredients are that make a successful team. They put together “Project Aristotle” to study teams and find patterns and characteristics that determine whether a group sinks or soars.

Even for one of the largest tech giants, this initiative ended up being far more complicated than expected. The findings started revealing that some teams made up of highly intelligent people couldn’t get anything done, yet other teams of the same intelligence were very successful. The puzzle only continued as they tested other factors. In the end, they found team success didn’t have anything to do with how smart the collective team was, whether it was made up of extroverts or introverts, or even whether or not they were friends outside of work.

What was the secret sauce in these winning teams? The level of psychological safety. It turns out the determining factor to a successful team was “a sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject, or punish someone for speaking up — it describes a team climate characterized by interpersonal trust and mutual respect in which people are comfortable being themselves.”

After uncovering this insight, researchers also discovered successful teams scored above average on a Reading the Mind in the Eyes test – a test measuring emotional intelligence. It showed that these socially intelligent teams succeeded because they understood each other on a deeper, more emotional level. They can tell when someone is feeling left out or offended and are more likely to listen to one another, letting everyone speak.

While we certainly aren’t building the perfect team in the lab, what this study revealed is a powerful reminder for any workplace. The collective sum (and team) is far greater than the parts, so get to know your team, understand how to communicate with them, and watch how much it will improve all areas of your business.

  • Nancy Vitali

    My friend, Sam, at DoingWorks in Liberty Hill operates on these principles and uses fun and games as powerful learning devices to build trust and interdependence in groups he works with. Learning from him and his associates, then learning to facilitate has been the most satisfying journey of my life.

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