What we're reading this week: Google's quest to build the perfect team

(Yen Pham) #1

Hi everyone,

Hope you’ve all had a good weekend!

Previously, we’ve posted about what people have been reading and recommending to each other at Monzo, to give you an idea of what we’re thinking about:

I thought I’d continue that this week with an article that @paul, our Deputy CEO, recommended on Slack. As the company has grown, so has our Executive Committee (ExCo), and there has been a lot of conversation on the ExCo channel about whether, when, and how to run meetings so that they’re useful and efficient for everyone involved.

In response to an observation that in one particular meeting, a relatively small number of people dominated the discussion, Paul recommended this New York Times piece from 2016 about Google’s “quest to build the perfect team”:

It turned out that other members of ExCo had read it before, and even written up a doc considering what we can learn from it and how it relates to the culture at Monzo.

Personally, I found it a really fascinating read. The summary is that a research team at Google was looking to understand what distinguished high-performing teams from low-performing ones.

One of the lead researchers, Julia Rozovsky, had had an experience in business school that baffled her – one team that she had been a part of had been miserable and unproductive, even though every person on it was someone she liked interacting with individually. On the other hand, another team she had been a part of was free-flowing, generative, and fun to work with.

The research project at Google, likewise, initially foundered. There was no pattern in terms of traits or characteristics that made successful teams distinctive (whether in terms of educational background, personalities, or whether the team members were friends outside of work). The surface composition of a successful team might look the same as the composition of an unsuccessful one, and vice versa.

Ultimately, though, everything clicked into place when Rozovsky and her team discovered the concept of “psychological safety,” described as a

‘‘shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking.’’ Psychological safety is ‘‘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.’’

As part of that, the Google research team observed that in general, successful teams generally shared two things:

members spoke in roughly the same proportion, a phenomenon the researchers referred to as ‘‘equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking.’’


the good teams all had high ‘‘average social sensitivity’’ — a fancy way of saying they were skilled at intuiting how others felt based on their tone of voice, their expressions and other nonverbal cues.

This really resonated with me in terms of why I’ve loved working with my team at Monzo: I feel a lot of psychological safety.

Some suggestions within Monzo for how we can create psychological safety company-wide have included the acknowledgement that new employees are much less likely to feel psychologically safe; team exercises for new hires to understand communication styles and personalities; meeting facilitators to help ensure equality of contributions; and checking in regularly with remote workers to see whether they feel included.

Do the findings of the Google research resonate with your experiences in the workplace? What has it been like for you to work somewhere that felt psychologically safe, or not?

(Michael) #2

Not sure that could necessarily be said of either myself nor anyone else on my team (of software engineers), at least not as a natural gift, but I think it is a good team nonetheless

I think the more important factors are that we are working together with the goal of creating a better product, are not trying to hog credit individually, and are honest with one another - maybe a different type of personality arriving at the same place