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3 Ways Google Creates a High-Performance Culture

It's not about the nap pods.

August 11, 2020 6 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

One look inside the incredible Googleplex and it’s pretty obvious why they receive an average of 2.5 million resumes a year. From having nap pods to offering on-site massage and providing every employee with three square meals a day – Google has certainly gone above and beyond to care for their employees.

Yet it’s not (only) the indoor swimming pools, beach volleyball courts or free onsite laundry facilities that has led the $300 billion tech giant to the . These big, unique gestures can make it easy to miss the carefully thought out and analyzed microdetails that are the foundation of their high performance culture.

A company doesn’t need to be generating millions in revenue to “hack” the fundamental principles that set the Google team apart. Here are the top three lessons every business can learn, and begin to implement immediately, from Google:

1. Psychological safety is a necessity

In 2012 Google launched in-depth study to determine what set the teams that struggled to work together and effectively meet their outcomes, apart from those that excelled. Google put together a team of statisticians, organizational psychologists, sociologists and engineers to solve this dilemma. This project, known as Project Aristotle, reviewed studies spanning over five decades, as well as every possible characteristic of the teams within the organization. They looked for patterns in how the teams socialized outside of work, the personality traits (ie. Introverts or extroverts) of the team members, educational levels, hobbies and so much more.

It soon became clear that these traits, the ones that most would think would logically impact a team’s ability to perform, where not key traits. As they dug deeper into understanding group norms (the unwritten rules by which a team governs itself) there was one characteristic that stood out – psychological safety.

Psychological safety is defined as “an individual’s perception of the consequences of taking an interpersonal risk". In other words, it’s how any member of the team perceives their ability to be innovative, admit to a mistake or ask a question without the worry of being judged or lowering their status within the group.

Through Project Aristotle, Googlers discovered that team effectiveness is less about who is on team and more about how the team interacts with each other. They found that the teams who excel are ones where the team members feel they are able to contribute equally to any meeting or conversation with a trust that their teammates respect them enough to not reject, embarrass or punish them for doing so. 

And with any team…

Related: Want to Be Loved by Your Team? Try These 12 Productivity Habits.

2. It starts with the leader

The impact of having a strong manager wasn’t a new finding for Google. In 2008 Google launched Project Oxygen – an undertaking to determine the best qualities of the best managers. The Google team gathered over 10,000 observations on their managers to determine what traits employees found to be helpful, and which traits were unattractive.

Before Project Oxygen, the working theory within Google was that good managers or leaders needed to have a greater technical knowledge than those they were leading. Project Oxygen found that this was not the case. Based on the data, Google found that accessibility, strong communication and empowering the members of the team were among the most valuable traits of good managers.

In the end Google created the “Eight Habits of Highly Effective Google Managers” which included:

1. Be a good coach: Through regular one-on-one’s, consistent feedback and balancing the negative feedback with the positive.

2. Empower your team and don’t micromanage: Be able for advice and give your employees freedom.

3. Express interest in the team members’ (individual) success and personal well-being: Know what is important to your team members outside of the workplace and take time to welcome new members to the team.

4. Don’t be a sissy, be productive and results oriented: Focus on what the team wants to achieve and how they get it. Use leadership to remove obstacles and help the team prioritize.

5. Be a communicator and listen to your team: Create an environment of open dialogue, listen, and be straightforward about team goals.  

6. Help employees with career development.

7. Have a clear vision and strategy for the team: Help the team stay focused on goals and strategy, include the team in the creating the vision.

8.  Have key technical skills so you can help advise the team: When needed do the work with the team, understand the challenges the team will face.

All these lessons show us a fundamental truth…

Related: 12 Tips for Fostering Teamwork

3. Data is empowering

It should come as no surprise that a tech company, that creates complicated algorithms, makes their decisions based on data. Google takes this to a new level. In fact, Google’s human resources department is called the People Analytics Department because of their commitment to making decisions that follows the data.

In Project Oxygen, Google collected over 10,000 observations over 100 data points from performance reviews and employee surveys. With Project Aristotle, the Google team analyzed over fifty year’s worth of data on effective teams. They also compared their teams looking for patterns in those that were effective compared to those that weren’t. They looked at every aspect of their teams – from gender balance to the length of time the team had been together to how the teams were motivated and rewarded.

Google’s attention to detail and willingness to look at the data from all angles to fully understand it has allowed them to create an environment that is highly sought after to work in. While Google has spent millions of dollars in analyzing every aspect of their employees' lives (inside and outside of the workplace), the lesson smaller companies can take from this is the importance of regular performance reviews and employee surveys. 

Related: 5 Ways to Build Team Culture in a Remote World

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