A few years ago, Google went on a search to find what makes the perfect team.

Their goal was to figure out why some teams perform well, while other teams just seem to stumble along. Researchers code-named this study Project Aristotle, as a tribute to the philosopher’s famous quote: “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” 

They identified 180 teams, including a mix of both high and low performing teams. They then interviewed hundreds of executives, team leaders, and team members to collect the information needed. On analyzing this data, what jumped out immediately was the huge difference between how each group measured effectiveness. The executives cared much more about results (e.g., sales numbers, new leads or market share), while individuals felt that “team culture was the most important measure of team effectiveness.

This may not seem so surprising, but it actually reveals a major insight to successful team building; that it’s more about finding the balance between results and culture.

When you think about it, you might be part of a high performing team, but if your individual team members don’t feel like they are part of a successful team, that success isn’t going to last very long. The fact is the best individuals always seek to be involved in the best environment; so, if they don’t feel they are valued or making a difference, any success the company is enjoying will be short-lived.

On the other hand, if team members feel they are part of a great culture but are still not producing the results the company needs, they remain insecure. The reason being obvious, that despite the culture, lack of results is not usually considered a viable alternative.

The answer is to find a way to make individual team members feel safe and trusted while motivating them to achieve the best possible results. Then you have the best of both worlds.

This is what makes this research so useful because it defines “effectiveness,” because the researchers decided on assessment criteria that measured both qualitative and quantitative data.

What they found was what really mattered was less about who is on the team, and more about how the team worked together”.

The study showed that there are 5 factors which matter most:

1. Psychological safety

In a team that had a high level of psychological security, team members felt safe to explore new ideas more and take risks. They were confident that no one on their team would embarrass or blame anyone else for a mistake or be critical about a question or a new idea. Simply put, great teams thrived on trust.

2. Dependability

Dependable teams reliably complete quality work on time (vs. the opposite which was passing the buck or shirking responsibilities). In those organizations with poor team cooperation, it was common for people to break an agreement or commitment when they feel like it, blaming workload, poor instructions or lack of clarity. When team members consistently deliver work past deadline, not only does it affect the work of other team members, it creates a trickle-down effect, slowly but surely reducing motivation and engagement in others.

In contrast, high levels of dependability is contagious. When leaders, managers, and team members prove dependable, others are motivated to follow suit.

3. Structure and clarity

An individual’s understanding of job expectations, knowing the process for fulfilling expectations, and being aware of the consequences of one’s performance are important for team effectiveness. As with any successful team, it is important that the goals are set at the individual and group level, and are specific, challenging, and attainable.

In contrast, teams can improve results significantly, simply by ensuring proper scoping and making clear exactly how much time and effort is needed to achieve the results required.

4. Meaning

Having a sense of purpose for the work and the output required is vital for team effectiveness. The researchers found that the meaning of work varies by individual, so it was important to have a common understanding of what is required. These include factors such as individual financial security, initiative and the ability to have self-expression.

5. Impact

The results of one’s work, the subjective judgment that your work is making a difference, is important for teams. Seeing that one’s work is contributing to the organization’s overall goals makes for greater impact. Far too often, teams have no idea how their work affects other teams in the organization, or even customers and clients. 

Communicating impact is necessary, and can be done in various ways, including:


Taking time to demonstrate how a team’s role fits into the end product or service
Sharing positive feedback, both internally and externally
Inspiring teams to express appreciation to other teams for their work and support

Brilliant teams are really about senior management taking the lead by showing appreciation to their teams, keeping the big picture in view and helping their teams see that they are accomplishing much more than they might realize.

So, the answer to making a successful team:

Make members of your team feel psychologically safe
Promote dependability
Provide structure and clarity
Encourage collaboration
Create meaning
Communicate impact

Accomplish this, and you‘ll achieve brilliant results by building a whole that’s far greater than the sum of its parts.