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Insights on Teams and Project Work at Google

Project Teams

Did you know that Google has a website dedicated to a ‘collection of practices, research, and ideas from Google and others to help you put people first’?

It’s called re:Work and a number of the practices were shared at the recent Agile Business Conference in London by one of the HR Managers from Google.

re:Work- you can take a look and browse at your leisure here –  is perhaps little known but it has a huge amount of insights into areas such as leadership, team management, workplace, innovation – here’s the overview:

Google re:Work

The session at the conference was “What Makes an Effective Team?” and shares insights from Google’s Project Aristotle.

Google ManagersYou might already be familiar with Google’s previous project – Project Oxygen – which focused on their research into what makes a great manager. The whole approach to the research is fascinating in itself.

Project Aristotle – named that way because of the Aristotle quote, “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” – is perfect for the focus on teams.

In this article, we take a look at a few of the insights shared on the day.

Psychological Safety

The research showed that it was less important who was on the team than how the team worked together.

The number one dynamic of a team is psychological safety, it’s defined as:

Psychological safety refers to an individual’s perception of the consequences of taking an interpersonal risk or a belief that a team is safe for risk-taking in the face of being seen as ignorant, incompetent, negative, or disruptive. In a team with high psychological safety, teammates feel safe to take risks around their team members. They feel confident that no one on the team will embarrass or punish anyone else for admitting a mistake, asking a question, or offering a new idea.

Similar to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs – the five-tier model of motivational theory –  where the first four levels are all about the basic and psychological needs that need to be met for human motivation.

With this in place – the foundations – the rest of the team dynamics include; dependability; structure & clarity; meaning and impact:


Objectives and Key Results (OKRs)

To help teams become more structured and have those plans in place, Google opts for OKRs. Like Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) OKRs at Google are also about setting what they call ‘moonshots’ or stretch goals. Success at Google is about reaching 70% of the OKRs, but if you’re able to reach those – what seems like impossible to obtain – moonshots, that’s where the exceptional Googlers are, achieving extraordinary performance levels.

Interestingly, the stretch goals could potentially have the effect that failure to obtain them are unmotivating to staff – however, they find that even failure to reach the moonshots leads to  “substantial advancements” in performance.

Google at Agile Business Conference

Google at Agile Business Conference

Area 120

Talking about team motivation, Area 120 is the place – an open forum – for ideas. Ideas are shared and teams pick up the ideas and create. This is linked to the 20% time allowed for innovation. Many people have already heard that Googlers get to spend time on projects that interest them – 20% of their working time can be dedicated to the project.

With Area 120 – Googlers are working 100% of the time on 20% of the projects which have a real chance of becoming commercially viable products or services.

“We build, launch, and iterate on dozens of novel ideas that might otherwise not be explored. Most of these experiments will fail. But our teams succeed when we test the limits and learn something new.”

>>You can check out Area 120 and sign up for early adoption and become a tester

Dog Food

Google has an internal process called Dogfooding. It’s all about all Googlers using Google products internally, become testers themselves before products are launched to the public. Dogfooding helps teams receive feedback fast and enables them to learn from failure faster. They see ‘feedback as a gift’and dogfooding forms the final stage of their programs of innovation and design thinking.

Dogfooding across the whole organisation is also linked to their approach to growing talent.

The G2G program – Googler-to-Googler – ‘which offers opportunities for all employees to share their knowledge and learn from their peers’ brings teams and people together from across the business.


Finally, we would expect nothing less than innovation featuring highly in teams. Amongst the guides and insights on areas such as developing innovative workplaces and enabling staff to become more innovative in their work – it’s design thinking that brings this subject alive and allows people to develop their thinking and grow their knowledge.

Google takes it inspiration from frontrunners – IDEO and Stanford D School – yet if you’re interested in exploring design thinking in the project management context, take a look at the Design Thinking for Results – part of the Strategy Execution program – to get you started on this extraordinary subject.


Design Thinking at Strategy Execution

Interested in exploring design thinking? Take a look at the upcoming [Design Thinking for Results]

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About Lindsay Scott

Lindsay Scott
Lindsay Scott is Director of PMO Learning, the PMO training specialist and Arras People the programme and project management recruitment specialists. Lindsay is the project management careers columnist for PMI's Network magazine and co-editor of the Gower Handbook of People in Project Management. Lindsay created and hosts The PMO Conference and hosts the monthly PMO Flashmobs

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