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What Google Learned from Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team (nytimes.com)
667 points by aarghh 657 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 263 comments



Something I always wish existed was a recruiting platform that hired a team as a whole. Today it's pretty much just a recruiter coming to me, and saying "Hey wanna change the future at xyz?" where the only criteria that I might work is based on my skill set on my resume. Instead i'd rather fill out a survey, and get matched with some people I would probably work really well with. Maybe you hack together for a weekend. Once your team has a set of strengths and weakness, and a price, companies can bid, and the team as a whole judges where to go.

I think how well a team works together is sometimes more important then how much knowledge you may have of some arcane framework.


Just a couple of anecdotes: one thing I've seeing in 2 diff companies now is the new CTO bringing in their posse. It not only didn't work (for the CTO and his gang), it also undermined the rest of the company, who immediately felt "left out".

I've also watched an entire frontend team quit and go work at a different company because, well - they were a pretty well-knit team, but more loyal to each other than to the company...


I think management "teams" are a completely different beast to "regular" teams that are mostly individual contributors. I think it would only really be smart to hire a "regular" team as a unit.


The frontend team case in point didn't actually have any managers. That's complicated because what you're buying there is a group of people with already-set practices and that works well together - if you're not careful, you'll end up with a "silo" that just doesn't communicate with the rest of the company.

That kind of thing happens when a big company acquires a small startup, for instance (and it's the main reason I always see acquisitions/acquihires failing spectacularly) - again, all anedoctal...


My current company consists primarily of people who got the shits with our previous, much larger organisation. The problem is any new hires will be years behind on organisational culture (clients, history, in-jokes, references, shared adversity, etc). Still, 'having a strong team' is one of those good problems to have.


Yes, that sounds like a terrible idea - unless the CTO and his gang were very self-aware and made sure they integrated themselves into the team. Which it sounds like they did not.


4 issues with this...

1 - A team can succeed in one environment but fail in another.

2 - If the team does fail, you have a lot more rebuilding to do.

3 - Teams that are independent of company can have different loyalties. The principal-agent problem [0] gets a lot worse if an entire team is being held hostage.

4 - Many times you're not building the project team from scratch. You start with people who have succeeded on other projects.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Principal%E2%80%93agent_proble...


5 - Often people low on a team have to switch teams to move up in roles


This happens all the time - they are consulting firms. I have plenty of friends that get hired as teams and go in and do excellent jobs that a single person could not accomplish. The sum is greater than the parts.


Gabe Newell at Valve believes in this and it worked well when they brought in the team that made Portal.

"RPS: We’re really interested in your view on the independent games scene. I’ve just spoken to the Portal team and discussed Narbacular Drop and the job offer, and their shock and delight at finding themselves in that position…

Gabe: Something that gamers should probably understand is how important it is that game teams stick together. No matter how good a job a team does the first time they make a game they’re going to do a much better job the second or third time. There’s just so much value in a team having shared experiences to draw on, and my reaction looking at these kids was that they had done this fabulous thing. I go to all these trade shows and see all these tedious, derivative, lifeless games, and these kids had done something that was better than 98% of the gameplay I see. The idea that they wouldn’t work together again was a tragedy. They needed an opportunity to work together and ship a full-on game. If they were able to do that exciting a game the first time, then it’s nothing to what they’ll be able to do in the future. It turned out to be a really good idea."

https://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2007/11/21/rps-exclusive-ga...

Whole interview is great.


Reminds me of Jim Collins' Good to Great. Step 1 - Get all of the right people on the bus, even before you know where it's going. Steve Jobs would hire the right people even before he knew what to do with them. Netflix hires the best of breed knowing that titles and roles are only as relevent as the task at hand. Being able to rely on people to work together, collaborate well and get the job done with quality is the definition of success.


I read a study of 'lift outs' - teams poached from one firm to another, to perform similar roles [1]. In investment banking, these liftouts are focused on one or two key analysts who bring juniors with them to the new firm.

Sometimes these worked because the acquiring firm had no expertise in a particular area. The biggest impact moving in teams has is that you are familiar with a lot of the business customs already - you have a support team in place. Your shared network can grow a lot more quickly. However, with a liftout, you have enormous pressure to succeed; there's less 'onboard' time since you should know how to work in your team already.

[1] http://press.princeton.edu/titles/9128.html, Chapter 7


I think it's way more important. When you're working productively with people you enjoy working with, it's almost hard to imagine feeling bad about your job.

This is one key advantage of startups, actually. Just take your dream team, and co-found a startup with them. Find the business that your particular group can excel at. The more this becomes a viable alternative to just taking a job, the more we'll be optimizing the matching of great teams to big opportunities.


Alternative, concise restatement: This already exists. The team is a startup, and the companies that bid for you are investors.


That's a fun way of thinking, but it distorts the reality of a startup. Startups are far more then JUST a team, its a combination of a good idea, and resources. Added to that, the team is probably a much different kind of team then what your average enterprise is probably looking for. Though much of the skillset that makes a great startup team converges with what makes a great say enterprise software team, there's also significant differences. For instance a startup team isn't going anywhere without a member with suburb marketing skills. In an enterprise though the team that markets the software is very likely to be different than those that develop it.


Of course you need a good idea and resources. But success in an enterprise environment also requires more than just the team. It requires developing a clear vision of what you're going to build, participation from marketing and sales teams, and navigating internal politics. Not to mention ongoing commitment of resources. If you think about the mechanics of providing reasonable guarantees of such support to a group that already identifies as a team, you'll find they mostly reduce to either venture investment or consulting service contracts.


Alternative alternative restatement: this already exists and is a niche consulting company.


It feels like you may, in the longer-term, sacrifice different thinking for productivity. If I worked with the same team for years, unless we were some how really, really pushing ourselves as a group, I think I would miss out on whole worlds of approaches to problems.




Thanks for posting this link, I went looking for it when I saw the parent comment. I think there's obviously a lot of value in this (with some drawbacks as well). It's strange that acquihires are typically the only time it happens.


Isn't that not dissimilar in results to subcontracting a project out to a small team with a proven track record?


This is very similar to the way my team of subcontractors works. The only downside is when you are the only member of the team who is not up for a particular job. That can cause some friction.


I was going to say this is what management consulting was, but subcontracting is the same thing.


This is part of the benefits of acqui-hiring.


As an option it's a neat idea.

The business model for app companies and contract software firms comes to mind. The team is really a small business itself and signs contracts with other companies to build things. Is there something different to these that you'd see? Or is it the idea of a team being hired on directly by company after company vs building to a contract?


Reminds me of the recently laid off VMWare Workstation team.

I'm sure they worked better as a team than each one in a different company now.


We already do this @ Gigster. Except you don't get hired to be full time employees. You get "hired" to work on short term projects (that you can accept or deny) which is arguably more fun.


From what I've seen so far, they've been single developer projects, with maybe someone brought on to help if needed.


Multiple developers are common on (mobile) apps that require custom backends and larger projects that need to hit a tight timeline. All projects have more than one person on them and typically at least 3 (dev, pm, designer)


Oh, I meant from the developer side. I knew they had PMs and designers.


The problem with this approach is you would inevitably end up breaking the team as your budget may not fit the team available. This approach also ignores the managers who allowed the team to flourish in the first place. There is something fundamentally wrong with this whole article as it ignores the high hiring bar that Google already has in place which creates a self selection bias.


It sounds like your describing a consulting firm.

The problem of hiring individuals to join the firm still exists though. Although I like the approach you propose more than the "dump a bunch of resumes" approach.


YCombinator Summer 2016 Application is open.

I think team-matching service as you described would be something a lot of people from diverse fields will be interested in?


Seen a lot of this in the advertising field, particularly with creative teams. (Art directors, designers, copywriters)


acqui-hire.


Woah. That's brilliant.


Even if it turns out this is a puff piece supplied to the Times by Google, it's still a very well written and insightful article explaining a bit of why psychological safety is critical for teams to perform optimally. It's probably my favorite Google-related article this year, actually. I'd much prefer reading about companies trying to improve their working environments than about whatever incremental new product feature they're launching.


I remember a gig I had where one of the developers was someone who didn't seem to be technically that deep. Yet every project she worked on did better because of something nobody at the time understood. I remember having such a great feeling about working with her every day. I didn't get that from other people. I think this article explains why she was so awesome: She made people feel safe. When she talked to you, you felt like the most important person in the room.


For future reference, here's how you achieve that effect when talking to people: 1) make and keep eye contact, 2) listen more than you speak, 3) ask follow up questions, 4) if your phone buzzes, ignore it 5) if your computer dings, ignore it, 6) turn towards people when talking with them, 7) reposition yourself so your eyes are on the same level if possible, 8) don't tower over people, 9) always approach from the side, not the back or the front

Basically, give people your full attention when talking to them, and avoid primal displays of dominance or subservience. Mostly the attention part.


Sounds like you know your Dale Carnegie quite well! :)

Also, don't sit straight across from them, police interrogation style. It's intimidating, especially in situation like an interview. Sit at the orthogonal side of the table.


What about on a video interview?


> 8) don't tower over people

Could you elaborate on this? How do you resolve significant differences in height?


I learned the best advice for approaching women only after I became happily married:

Leave escape room.

Whether it's a bar or a cubicle, a woman will (in general, according to my wife and other female friends) be aware of being pinned in. For those not thinking of it, it's perfectly natural to stand at the end of a bench seat or in a cubicle opening to talk, but this gives them no "escape" from the situation and increases tension. Simply standing to the side of that escape path makes the situation less tense.

On the generally-male side of things, (drawing purely from my own experiences) I definitely notice when tall people are close to me, but if they stand a little further back I don't really notice their height.


Lean back slightly if you have to stand. Also look at someone face on but stand a little sideways and back. I am 6'4" and most people don't notice it until I end up standing over them accidentally, they suddenly comment "WOW you're really tall" and it actually surprises them because I work very hard at not being intimidating. Approaching from the side is good advice and so is making sure people notice other things first.


Stand back from them. In the immortal words of The Police, "don't stand so close to me." From 3 or 4 feet away most people realize I'm tall but when I stand directly next to them there's zero ability to make eye contact.


As others mentioned, distance helps.

Another important bit is that if someone is sitting down, you should sit down next to them. If they're at their desk and there's no chair, squat or kneel.


Honestly, just stand a little bit farther back. The main factor seems to be the angle at which each participant has to crane their necks in order to make eye contact.


Sit down.


Sit down or get them to sit down.

E.g. NBA players who huddle around their coach


Michael Lewis had an article a few years ago where he described this effect using Shane Battier as the example - none of his stats were spectacular, but somehow his team played better when he was on the court. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/15/magazine/15Battier-t.html


If it was a situation where most of the devs were men and your colleague was one of the only women, it seems likely that gender dynamics and stereotypes about women made a big difference in her getting perceived as "non-technical and comforting" (that's one of the usual stereotypes about women developers, after all).


In this case not a stereotype. I think she had tremendous raw intelligence but she was a fulltime mom with kids and was caregiving for her aging parents at the same time and a husband on the road a lot. This just didn't leave her much time to deep dive on anything. If I were in her shoes I'd probably been fired for not keeping up. So she likely had the potential of being the most technically deep person on the team but her life didn't really give her much time to develop that. In the end it didn't matter for the team as a whole: she made things better because she simply was a better and more preceptive person than most people.


Interesting. If the previous comment had used male pronouns, would it even have occurred to you to associate the described attributes with gender stereotypes?


Yes. There is a very visible pattern. Yes in 2006, but times have changed around 2011-2013 (Twitter's IPO, Mozilla CEO fired, GitHub CEO fired, conferences excluding people for sexual jokes), and if in 2016 I had on my team a woman whose role was to be talkative rather than technical, I would find it sexist.

The pattern is "If a junior woman can't code, let's promote her as team lead; If a junior man can't code, let's teach him to code" - and this is wrong because both sides have everything to lose with this behavior.


But the better team is the one where she becomes the team lead. That's not sexist. Some of the most important skills are leadership skills. And leadership skills are not about command and control. They're about understanding and leveraging (often intuitively) a million complicated things we barely understand about our ancient primate wiring. Those things make computer programming look like preschool skills.


As long as she becomes the team lead after learning the technical skills like everyone, and as long as it's not out of prejudice that males don't have people skills, yes. After 7 years trying, I've left the corporate game which was rigged in favour of women, and I've created my own company, and I vote against women rights, which is also a racist party. I really don't want to vote for the racist part, but I've worked in 3 companies, in 3 different countries, 19 women met, 18 were in management positions, including 11 promoted in my presence, not all of them skilled, and I've seen only 1 male be promoted. Feelings were hurt. Fairness is out of the window. You bet it's going to take long to repair.


Indeed - what I enjoyed and got out of this article is a fairly easy correlation to what separated good teams that I have been on from bad ones. I had classified the difference as "camaraderie" - but the idea of psychological safety is a little more useful. Camaraderie is the superficial outcome, while psychological safety is the enabler.


I call it "respect." If people on the team don't feel respected, they won't feel "psychologically safe," no matter how many rules you put down.

And if the leader of the team doesn't respect a member, he won't listen to the member, no matter how long the member gets to talk.


Psychological safety is the modern euphemism for what used to be called "culture fit".


On the contrary. Culture fit is a pretty normative term: It says to me, we act like THIS at this company, and we're looking for more people who act like THIS. It's pretty explicitly anti-diversity, and speaks to a search for cultural homogeneity.

Psychological safety is less normative: It's about being in a space where it's safe to voice an opinion, and feel that you're heard and valued for your contributions. It's a term that can apply in a very culturally diverse team.


Maybe in theory, but in practice? Either the team has a shared culture of open-mindedness, or a culturally diverse team will have opinions which are held by some and taboo for others. Either way, you need a common culture, even if it's fairly broad and flexible.


Why would an open-minded team enforce conformity (via 'cultural fit')?


Open-mindedness is a culture trait in itself. Few people feel comfortable in an environment where nothing is off-limits.


> Why would an open-minded team enforce conformity (via 'cultural fit')?

Because being open-minded is their enforced conformity.


Not really, one term is the popular term the other one is a term from behavioral psychology. So they describe the same phenomenon but by different people.


Someone could fit very nicely into a given working culture despite that culture not being 'psychologically safe' by the author's definition. They are not the same concept.


Is fitting in or the ability to fit in the same as a good cultural fit?

Never the less, one of the terms is from psychology, one of the terms is from pop culture and may not overlap completely


I love the topic and like this particular article. Having said that, this still feels like a puff piece. The notion of psychological safety certainly matters but not always. My experience is it matters less when you have teams made up more of "thinkers" (vs "feelers"). Also matters less when the team has a clear vision and set of requirements and just needs to adapt their past expertise to minor variations in new problem. Sometimes teams are more efficient and innovative when truth wins over harmony. Depends on team's purpose, etc. Let me be clear, I prefer the more psychologically safe mode of group work. Yet it's still pretty clear to me that hinders, not helps, in plenty of cases.


> Sometimes teams are more efficient and innovative when truth wins over harmony.

I'll just quote what the Rust team said about their code of conduct, because it's spot-on: "The Rust community doesn't subscribe to the notion that there's a dichotomy between intellectual discourse and kindness."

That's pretty much it. If your team considers those two mutually exclusive, you're headed for trouble. It might not be today or tomorrow, but you will pay for it long-term.


That's not what the article is going for, and that's the common mistake I see in teams.

A thick skin is necessary, but the point of psychological safety is that it must be normal and expected for someone to make mistakes and to be wrong. It happens inevitably. How teams handle it is the important part. The most successful teams I've experienced are those where someone can say "yeah, I messed up, I'll fix it" and the team sees this as a necessary part of a team's long term function.

That means nobody on the team says "I told you so," and that team members can disagree intensely without making it personal or emotional.

The big problem with "without making it personal or emotional" is that the people most guilty of making disagreements personal or emotionally charged are also least likely (in my experience) to recognize that they're instigating. These people are toxic without realizing it themselves.


Good points, these replies. I think it is fair to question what truth/harmony we are talking about. The "truth vs harmony" dichotomy has become a bit loaded especially with all the folks invoking truth as a license to be jerky intellectual bullies.

I definitely don't mean that. More like, there are always tradeoffs. There is cost/benefit in being truthy just as there is cost/benefit in being harmonious. Each has it's own type and you get to choose which make more sense for the situation, team, etc.

I don't think you can "have it all" so much as you can choose to set the tradeoff point somewhere in the middle rather than at the extremes. For example, in the Rust code of conduct example, it sounds like they have decided they want a nice mix. This will cost them though. Maybe the cost is as small sending $some_multiplier_above_1 the amount of emails between the team because things are worded more indirectly to not offend and therefore more disambiguation has to take place. If their team instead committed to be as direct as possible, the could spend less time on follow up emails but now they'd probably turn of or drive away some good folks from the team who decided they didn't like all the directness and send of urgency.

Personally, I like a nice mix. I think it is just worth being clear with myself it is a mix and not two independent things where you can have an infinite supply of each.


Where are you getting this "harmony" junk? Maybe you're right, there is a tug of war between truth vs harmony, for some definition of 'harmony'. But who's calling for something called 'harmony'?

I believe you may be misunderstanding something about the idea of psychological safety. I can't think of any definition of "harmony" that has anything to do with psychological safety.


> Sometimes teams are more efficient and innovative when truth wins over harmony.

I suspect a confusing of "harmony" as a situation in which people don't speak up out of not wanting to hurt someone else's feelings with "harmony" where everyone is comfortable speaking their mind as they know their comments won't be taken as an attack or unnecessary criticism.

The second definition of "harmony" is actual harmony. The first is anything but.


Why wouldn't psychological safety include feeling safe that the truth won't hurt someone's feelings?

edit: or if it does hurt their feelings, that they'll be able to express that safely, and you'll all be able to resolve the conflict.


>Sometimes teams are more efficient and innovative when truth wins over harmony

If you have to pick, your team sucks.


> It's probably my favorite Google-related article this year

It's Feb. :D

> I'd much prefer reading about companies trying to improve their working environments than about whatever incremental new product feature they're launching.

Google has set the right precedent for the tech-industry, and I am grateful for them having done that. 'Cause other big tech-cos like Amazon sure don't give a damn about employee well-being (not just warehouse workers, but engineers too).


As a counter point, the best team I ever worked on was at Amazon, and years later many of us are still friends. Further, AWS is cleaning Google's clock with number of features, delivering new services, and providing customer value.


It seems to be an excerpt from Charles Duhig's (author of The Power of Habit) new book.


I don't think this piece should be read as "come work for Google" (although you can interpret it that way). Rather, I think the researchers would want see all companies to take advantage of this research and use it to make every workplace better.

(Disclaimer: This is my opinion, not that of my employer.)


They used 'meeting behavior' to predict team performance. And not in the way you would expect. Its not about productivity in the team meetings. Its about feeling safe, respected, and sharing the load.

Makes some sense. Team meetings are not where anything gets done after all. If team members are engaged with their peers, they may invest in team goals and perform better.

Issue: they correlated team meeting metrics (talking time; socialization time vs problem solving time etc) with team success at achieving goals. They could have used behavior outside the meetings (communications per day; social interactions after work) and predicted successful teams that way. It doesn't mean that "Meetings that go like this indicates good teams"? I.e. changing your team meetings to look like what good teams do, may not improve your team at all. That might be put under 'cargo cult management'.


"Its about feeling safe, respected, and sharing the load."

You know, I think it's worth pointing something out about the word "safe" given the sense it has been used in lately. In this case, it means people feel safe to express dissent. Not "safe from dissent", as the term is often used nowadays.

Of course the two usages shouldn't be overlapping much anyhow. It shouldn't surprise anyone that a team where people actually attack each other's personal identities is not going to be very effective! But it's still worth pointing out the two very different ways the term can be used, and important not to accidentally substitute one definition for the other.


Something the Recurse Center also put a lot of work into is making it safe to express lack of understanding/knowledge. There's a huge difference between a meeting where someone feels able to say "I'm totally lost, can we rewind" and one where they just quietly panic.

That's somewhat in tension with being able to express dissent, in that being able to dissent constructively requires both social skill and an underlying environment of trust.

It's easy to cultivate only one of those (eg most OS mailing lists choose dissent) but cultivating both is harder and I haven't seen it ever happen by accident - all the communities that come to mind are ones that direct a lot of attention and effort to community structure and expectations.


The Recurse Center's social rules are really well thought-out. After I learned about them, I started to see how people who violate the "no feigning surprise" rule can make team members feel excluded and belittled, often unintentionally. This includes myself, and have since changed my behavior.

I feel the "social rules" are quite valuable both inside and outside the workplace. I wish more employers and groups practiced them: https://www.recurse.com/manual#sec-environment


> Not "safe from dissent", as the term is often used nowadays.

I don't think that's a fair characterisation of what "safe" in "safe space" means.


Observations differs it seems.


I noticed the article also mentioned that being highly sensitive to other people's feelings was also very important, not just safety from dissent. In fact the piece seemed to focus on how groups with highly socially sensitive individuals tended to fare better.

Is that not a safe space?


It's reciprocal, which is the real thing missing from the collegiate-type "safe space", which only flows to certain people. You need to be able to disagree, and, reciprocally, when disagreed with you need to handle that gracefully, or you aren't doing your job. You not only get your feelings taken into account, but you must equally take other feelings into account. You've got rights, but you've also got responsibilities too.

Contrariwise, the collegiate-style safe space makes it so that the certain people have boundless rights to be offended, but no corresponding responsibilities to consider other's feelings. In a team context this leads straight back to exactly the failing the article is primarily about, one person/group speaking a great deal more than the other.

(And please do not insult my intellectual integrity by claiming that collegiate-style safe spaces are supposed to be safe spaces for everybody. That is transparently false, to the point that you are just discrediting yourself if you try to claim otherwise. It is abundantly obvious who they are for and who they are aggressively not for.)


I do apologize, I didn't realize we were talking about exclusively collegiate safe spaces. I was under the impression we were expessing something more common than that. Given that I haven't read any studies on collegiate safe spaces, nor have I extensively participated in many myself, I've got no opinion. Do you have any studies marking the style and results of a collegiate safe space you're claiming?


"Collegiate" safe spaces? Huh?

This makes me wonder if your only exposure to the concept is through the media, which tends to complain about students a lot.


I can feel safe even if I really disagree with the decision someone has made.

Or I can feel unsafe even if technically we are perfectly aligned but I know they are going to backstab me in front of my boss anytime they feel like.

I can work or even share room with an Atheist, a Buddhist and a another Christian for weeks on end and we didn't bother another.

I think it is usually enough to respect another, and that includes for the easily offended part (often me) to respect others right to don't care about my customes as long as they don't mess with me.

I do however feel a tiny bit unsafe (for the lack of a better word) in online foras whenever I see people getting online-lynched for not having the correct opinion.


You are so close to understanding that what Google is doing is the same thing the safe space movement is doing, but now it's cool because a hot company does it.

It's interesting how you choose to represent the safe space culture by its most annoying examples, but chose to represent tech company management culture by it's most positive examples.


There is a huge fundamental difference between attacking someone's ideas vs. there identity.

However, most people let there identity and there ideas get tied together. So, it can feel similar.


Yes, there is a huge difference.

And it is the responsibility of the person on the "attack" to make that clear using whatever approach works in the situation. Otherwise you have a communication problem, and it is primarily your fault for being inarticulate.


This is not at all meant as a know-it-all pedantic attack, but I found it much more difficult to read your post because of "there" being used where you meant "their". I hope this helpful instead of annoying!


Their and there are generally pronounced the same. Would you have had similar issues if you had heard that sentence? Or where you just being snippy?


I'm honestly not sure if I would have had similar issues verbally. I think they maybe sound very slightly different when most people pronounce them, but there's a good chance that's just my brain adjusting based on context. But I don't think reading is the same, and I definitely think some misspellings, even of homophones, can throw me off and cause me to re-read.

In any case, I went out of my way to not be snippy! I just thought it might be helpful to you to know that the mis-use slightly tripped up at least one person. It's hard to know who will find it helpful to have things like that pointed out (like some non-native speakers trying to learn) and who will just get annoyed. Mis-judged this one!


That's odd. I suspect we process written language completely differently as I don't notice when someone swaps homonyms.

Also, they really are pronounced the same, if your hearing a difference it really is just in your head.


I think these are good qualifiers in some respects. The teams I felt the most comfortable working in were ones where I felt like I was respected by my peers, that everyone was doing their part, and that it was okay to go against the flow if you had an idea.

The problem is in attempting to attain the things above, I've also been on teams in a company where I was clearly the strongest person on the team, and was chastised for providing too much guidance because management had the idea it was better for people to fail on their own (in production) than it was for only one person on the team to be the primary contributor of plans/the way to go. Maybe they were right, but the end result was that it made /me/ feel disrespected by management, and my own contributions suffered, causing the overall team to suffer because the other team members were too junior to pick up the slack when my contributions fell off.

I think there's a right way and a wrong way to try to achieve these qualities in a team. My personal experience is that when you have a team of people who are all very strong in at least one skill set and have clear pathways to communication it works much better than having a team which is relatively weak/junior with only one or two people who are strong unless there are clear lines of seniority. It's a consequence of the idea in modern society that "all opinions are created equal" is not only true, but a good thing. It's important that either you're in a group where you can trust the equality of everyone's opinions, or that you have clear leaders that can mentor everyone else and provide strong guidance.

Basically, if you can, build an "A-Team". If you can't do that, make sure you don't actively undermine your A players. If your A players aren't jerks, they're naturally rise into leadership roles in the team and help mentor/teach everyone else to bring them up as well. Undermining the A players will end up causing the entire group to suffer and eventually the A players will leave and you'll be stuck with a group that's significantly weaker for it.

Of course my thoughts above are primarily focused on technical teams, I don't know if they apply as clearly to non-technical teams, and this Google study appears to have looked at both.


If you think you built a team with A players and B players, you probably already lost.


I'd be willing to bet that Sakaguchi has read "The 5 dysfunctions of a team" [1]. One of my favorite books about how people jell together in groups.

Like him I was also in a military setting before I became a programmer. I haven't yet experienced the same level of engagement and team cohesion outside of the military but I believe that the answers are to be found in the kinds of insights that studies like this uncover.

[1] http://www.tablegroup.com/books/dysfunctions

edit formatting


The 5 dysfunctions of a team also closely echoes Maslow's hierarchy of needs.

However, I have to chime in: I don't agree with the accountability aspect. Responsibility is necessary, along with knowledge and support from the whole system: this broad "ability to be effective" makes accountability obsolete, and is superior.

That combination of Knowledge, Psychology, Systems thinking, and a fourth: an understanding of variation and statistical reality -- leads to a much more complete and functional model of the organization. This is W. Edwards Deming's System of Profound Knowledge.

However, you can see why "The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team" caught on, and his name didn't.


I may be misunderstanding as I'm not familiar with your sources, but I’m not sure how you can have an effective team without accountability? If you are responsible for delivering something and you don’t and there’s never any ramification (accountability) things degenerate. I’ve seen this more than I’d like where a manager’s team is failing and he or she constantly blames subordinates and other teams for the lack of results, always ready to pull something out of the excuse matrix. When senior leaders fail to hold these managers accountable, the process continues, new mistakes, missed targets, and new scape goats found. Responsibility without accountability seems like the life of a Roman Emperor and I’ve never seen it work well with teams or leaders.


Completely agree. The "accountability" part of 5 Dysfunctions is about the team being accountable to each other and having the ability to call each other out. It's not about checking off boxes in a spreadsheet.

Think of it this way: It's about the responsibility of members of this site to downvote non-productive comments. It's not about meeting a quota of productive comments; it's about disarming non-productive action. We hold each other accountable for having productive discussion.


Maybe this will help: You mention "ramification"s, but I think the GP post is trying to say that if people fulfill their responsibility, then you don't need consequences - that you don't need to focus on enforcement then.


I think that's 90% of what I'm saying.

More subtly, I'm saying that focusing more on accountability than on the conditions that enable fulfilling responsibilities creates negative feedback loops from the inherently negative reinforcement of accountability.

As the others have noted, accountability only exists as a means to control through fear. It only comes up in the event of failure, and is a means of personal individual punishment.

For that reason, it is not conductive to improvement, nor does it effectively motivate people to actually do work better over the long term. Invariably the limiting factor that caused them to fail in the first place is not a simple lack of care or willpower: the only factors that accountability is truly suited to control. Instead, failure is most often due to a complex web of factors both internal and external to the individual—and the only way to improve is to focus on that system. Accountability instead focuses all efforts inward and tends toward ignorance of the system, which is ignorance of the truth, which is a path to more failure.

In short, accountability is an unproductive concept born out of distrustful false beliefs about people. Discard it from your repertoire.


@boothead: As somebody who's never been in the military (drafting for military service was suspended just before my number came up) I'm curious. Does the level of engagement and team cohesion you speak of only occur in, or afterwards derive from, combat situations, or would it theoretically be possible to recreate these levels outside a military context as well?


I think the key element is 'shared hardship'. Personally, I didn't see combat, but military life in general sucks; doing a lot of stupid stuff at the whim of others. I think you see this in other areas of life as well, sports teams, project teams meeting tight deadlines, etc...


It's really to do with the incubation of a very strong shared culture and shared experience. For example the Royal Marines has a history going back 350 years, a shared language (google jack speak), and the longest and arguably hardest basic training in the world.

I believe it is possible, albeit in a slightly different form: elite sports teams and groups of people tied together with a strong shared purpose can get there I think.

edit and yes, as marktangotango says - shared hardship and knowing you can count on the next guy because he's been through what you have and hasn't broken either is also key.


He may or may not have, but I can tell you that some of Google's core internal team training focuses on the same concepts in the same triangular hierarchy, so even if he hasn't, someone has! :)


They tested group IQ on the brainstorming tasks!

So they took wastly (40% worse) suboptimal method of groupwork [1], which emphasizes only communication abilities and then they try to infer general claims from that.

Of course they will find that "emotional senitivity" makes "teams" that work in such conditions better.

And of course they won't find "common patterns for successful teams" in their meetings because, basically, meetings are not where decisions are made.

What a clueless research.

[1] http://observer.com/2015/05/brainstorming-does-not-work/


The linked article doesn't support your claim that brainstorming "emphasizes only communication abilities"; it only claims that brainstorming in groups is a worse way to generate ideas than to have people generate ideas individually & then combine them.


Brainstorming is a social activity, with heavy use of communication abilities of ever participant.

Would not you agree?


This Woolley paper [0] cited in the article gives three reasons for effective teams. The NYT only tells you two behaviors. True enough. The third is not a behavior. It is "the proportion of females in the group".

Paper says "Finally, c was positively and significantly correlated with the proportion of females in the group (r = 0.23, P = 0.007). However, this result appears to be largely mediated by social sensitivity (Sobelz = 1.93, P = 0.03), because (consistent with previous research) women in our sample scored better on the social sensitivity measure than men [t(441) = 3.42, P = 0.001]. In a regression analysis with the groups for which all three variables (social sensitivity, speaking turn variance, and percent female) were available, all had similar predictive power for c, although only social sensitivity reached statistical significance (b = 0.33, P = 0.05)."

[0] https://www.cs.cmu.edu/~ab/Salon/research/Woolley_et_al_Scie...


It seems to make sense to not cite that as an additional factor, given that it is almost fully mediated by one of the factors already listed. There is an interesting observation in here that women have on average higher social sensitivity, though it looks like measuring social sensitivity directly in job interviews and other team building processes is just more effective than looking at gender (though a bit harder to do, I would guess).


Oh this is good.

Some conclusions:

- Teams and focusing on team cohesion, team building, and team performance is far more important than individual performance.

- Understanding psychology (of individuals, of individuals in teams, and of organizations) is critical for making companies work. "Psych Safety" amounts to the foundation of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, as but one example.

This stuff is important. Build good teams, don't just hire good individuals.


It is interesting that Agile movement has in general enshrined idea of time boxed team meetings for software teams. And in general - we engineers are wary of long meetings.

And yet - most of us measure ourselves, how we are performing in a team by things that happen in team meetings(according to the article anyway):

1. Is idea my ideas heard and debated before being accepted/rejected?

2. Do I get opportunity to present my idea at all.

A time boxed meeting does not by nature leave room for idle chit-chat or from my experience even opportunity to hear everyone's thoughts. Part of the problem of course is, meeting rooms in lot of companies are a scarce resource, so you better clear out after time is out.

This is really curious because we hate meetings and yet we have adopted them in a sort of haphazard way which creates more problems than solves.


Agile standups are designed to give everyone a minute to share info, not debate or reject anything. Debate is for targeted follow-up meetings.


I didn't mean standups as meetings. I think standup is a good idea as it is and for most teams it lasts hardly more than 5-7 minutes (and some teams have moved it to emails).

I meant 20-30 minute meetings that teams typically have, like retrospective or something.

But I was not talking about Agile per-se. I meant in general most meetings of software teams are time boxed nowadays- no matter which development methodology they are following. I am also not criticizing time boxed meetings since I have no data to back that claim.

But I am just curious, what if as a rule - teams decided to have fewer meetings but meeting last as long as they have to not because someone is knocking on the door for next slot. Will it make things easier?


The retrospective and sprint planning are supposed to be much longer than that, and not timeboxed, as far as I know.

Also one of the core ideas of Agile is adapting to suit your team, rather than following some process from a book as if it were written in stone. If time limits on certain meetings are causing your team more grief than they help, remove the timeboxes! Talk to your team and see what they think, that's what the retrospective is meant for.


sharing info typically equates to status updates, not exploratory ideation


The 3 word summary I infer is "egalitarian golden rule." If you work with people that are respectful, that listen, that care about you as a person, you're far more likely to work hard and be successful both individually and as a team.


"But the kinds of people who work at Google are often the ones who became software engineers because they wanted to avoid talking about feelings in the first place."

Problematic stab at engineers. I don't think people go into software because they prefer computers to humans.


It's a broad stereotype, but I don't think it's entirely wrong. My social awkwardness definitely contributed to my spending more time on the PC as a kid, and that got me excited about computers.

I've since improved my social skills a ton, but it's natural to expect different psychological trends in a population of engineers than in, say, people who go into sales.


There is a concept in Japanese culture, Wa (和), or "group harmony" that seems to nicely complement ruminations on "collective intelligence". Perhaps most interesting is how fragile the cohesion really is, a single person, a single sentiment expressed poorly even, is enough to break the spell.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wa_%28Japanese_culture%29


I really liked your point and the Wikipedia link. Group harmony is the essence of the piece. Wa succinctly captures the point.


Nobody has done more research on this than the US Military, specifically the special operations community.

The key takeaways that you find in very effective SOF teams are:

1. Clear and accepted authority chain (Top guy earned their place at the top)

2. Candid and constant communication/feedback between all members

3. A clearly defined, proven effective and specialized role for every member with each member knowing how each others role plays together

4. Common sense of purpose (Objective etc...)

5. Common experience (BUD/s, Q, FTC etc...)

If you have all of those then pretty much everything else falls into place. Note also that this has no requirement for everyone to being an "A" personality or whatever and has basically no bearing on what they do outside of work. Those aspects can help, but they can equally hurt depending on the egos involved.


I recently went through a Boy Scouts Adult Training called Wood Badge.

The most important thing I learned there was a Team Dynamics study, reportedly used by the DoD, which was distilled into four words: Forming Storming Norming Performing

What blew me away was that I could literally see this happening right in front of my eyes with a small team of kids who I was coaching for an FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) Robotics competition.

I finally understood the team dynamics and realized that I am not the only one experiencing it and it was not an anomaly.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tuckman%27s_stages_of_group_de...

http://www.dau.mil/pubscats/pubscats/pm/articles03/pat-ma03....


Forming Storming Norming Performing

Oh boy, that's a huge piece of teambuilding training throughout the military. It's a good description of how new teams form. Unfortunately most teams don't get past the storming phase.


That'd be because getting past Storming and through Norming actually requires leadership.

The other two are good with hands-off approaches. Heck, Performing can even take a certain amount of ineptness in leadership without falling apart.


#5 is very interesting. Top companies try to mimic this, but it's hard for companies that don't grow their own people.

Accenture/Facebook/McKinsey/Goldman all have common training programs that they put new hires through. It might vary by function, but almost everyone does it.

One caveat is that (in my limited experience) military hires tend to obsess a little too much on chain of command. Chain of command is important on the battlefield, but in corporate environments the best ideas come from anywhere. And in the best companies, people focus more on being "The best" than being "The leader".


> but in corporate environments the best ideas come from anywhere

I think the difference is that is important to have a clear process to make decisions. It doesn't need to be hierarchical, but it should avoid analysis paralysis or other ills of uncertainty.


Yes. One system I've heard that works is a 5 point system.

1 - You decide without my input

2 - You decide with my input

3 - Joint decision equal input

4 - I decide with your input

5 - I decide without your input

Most good decisions are Type 2 or 4, though sometimes they need to be others. (Compliance, etc.) Then one can say, "This is a type 4 decision - I need to hear you out, but it's on me."


> Chain of command is important on the battlefield, but in corporate environments the best ideas come from anywhere.

Many good ideas in the military and on the battlefield come from the ranks, too. The chain of command is about decision-making, as jacobr1 notes.

> And in the best companies, people focus more on being "The best" than being "The leader".

This is also true in the military, since there are dedicated tracks for enlisted and officers. But senior enlisted are still expected to lead (without being the senior officer), just as a senior employee should be expected to lead (without being the CEO).


I think common experience in a corporate setting can be achieved without formal training in certain cases. For example, if everyone involved in product development also does customer service on a semi-regular basis then that is common experience that can help bind the team.


Yes. Smart companies come up with rituals that recreate this. Customer Service calls are a great example because they have big benefits above and beyond just team building. Engineers and execs who intuitively understand customers are invaluable.


There was an interesting study done on the Norwegian Naval Special Forces Command (Marinejegerne). Some years ago, there was a national plan to fold the branch in under central Special Forces Command in Norway (FSK) -- but there was some push-back from the Navy branch. In order to better quantify the cultural differences (if any) between them and other Norwegian Special Forces (eg: Army) -- they did the sensible thing: they reached out and got an external anthropologist (Tone Danielsen) to do a full anthropological study: http://www.ffi.no/no/Rapporter/12-00516.pdf (Summary in English in second paragraph).

Article about the study in English: http://sciencenordic.com/tough-special-forces-don’t-strut-th...

As for the sibling comment in this thread wrt: "breaking down and building up tweens" -- while the training to get into the Norwegian Special Forces training is though, and the subjects are often young -- I think there might be more of a cross-over in organization/leadership/group dynamics than what might appear on the surface.

There are a couple of things that are needed for military operations that are different from similar activities (eg: search and rescue) -- and parts of the military mind does go against what could be considered a sound human mind in today's society. War is inherently about violence and murder. But even if we do not want our programmers to actually be assassins/ninjas -- don't want them to actually have a killer mindset -- much of military training is about changing one's idea of what can be achieved by an individual and a team (to realize that one can indeed do the (previously) "impossible". To not give up, and part of the intense drills are part of making someone an expert. In physical arts, intense drilling is required for technique to become "good enough" for expert level (this is also AFAIK true for dancing, for example).

One should also remember that as long as the organization in question is able to do meaningful self-reflection and improvement, training methods can change and result improve.


What do these acronyms mean? SOF, BUD, Q, FTC?


Sorry.

SOF: Special Operations Forces

BUD/s: Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL Training Course

Q: Special Forces Training Course

FTC: Field Tradecraft Course


I believe SOF is Special Operations Forces and BUD/S is Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training (the intense training regimen through which all incoming Navy SEALs must pass). Not sure about the others.


"Nobody has done more research on this than the US Military, specifically the special operations community. The key takeaways that you find in very effective SOF teams are:"

This is insightful, though comparing SOF teams and commercial work teams fails in the critical areas of complex interdependency and trust. [0],[1]

I think what this google study highlights most is, candidates are not selected for man management and emotional robustness: ie: emotional honesty, self awareness and the ability to equally lead and follow. This cannot be taught. Emotions are traits. They can be shaped somewhat through team assignment as shown with the experience of Matt Sakaguchi.

[0] Barbara D. Adams, Ph.D. and Robert D.G. Webb, Ph.D., "Trust in Small Military Teams" A great read on the qualities of complex interdependent teams ~ http://www.dodccrp.org/events/7th_ICCRTS/Tracks/pdf/006.PDF

[1] You fail, people around you get dead. Those around you fail, visa versa. The mission is compromised. You do not see sacrifice & self sacrifice like this in commercial world.


> emotional honesty, self awareness and the ability to equally lead and follow. This cannot be taught. Emotions are traits.

At the very least - [citation needed]. The medical community seems to disagree on that when it comes to teaching self awareness, at least for the majority of students[1][2].

I'm not sure what you mean by "emotional honesty", so it's hard to reply to that. If that's the equivalent of emotional intelligence - yes, that is teachable. Quite well.

[1] http://www.bpsmedicine.msu.edu/pdf/22-%20%20ctstudypstrng.pd... [2] http://www.aacp.org/resources/education/cape/Documents/Habit...


"emotional honesty"

Emotional honesty is pretty simple. Will you speak up when necessary, even if it contradicts peers or the leader? What was the last time you told the boss, "this is a stupid idea Boss, change it, or this will happen" and then the boss does so without recrimination? Remember the outcome, not ego matters.

As for the field of medicine, of which I know nothing about, in Melbourne (Aus), selection into health sciences is filtered by both self awareness, emotional maturity and smarts via both academic results, independent Uni examination (Monash) and panel interview. This the "spectrum" filter for those sufficiently smart enough to get through the academics, yet are more suited to research.

Could you teach MDs to program and work at google? Probably. Could you teach the clinical skills MDs require to make medical decisions on patients to Google SEs? Probably not.

Doctors work with people. Google engineers work with languages and data on silicon.


As it turns out, Google engineers maybe don't work with people, but they sure work with a lot of other Google engineers ;) The idea that software engineering is a solitary activity done in a cave by antisocial hermits is at least 20 years out of date - so let's let it go.

But that aside - your reply has nothing to do with what the studies I shared demonstrated: Emotional awareness is teachable. Your idea that it isn't seems entirely based on your personal assumptions. (If you have actual evidence, please share)

As for "emotional honesty" - that's pretty much the same as honesty, no? There's no emotional component to it.


It sounds like the requirements for becoming a doctor in Australia are quite a bit different than those in the US.


Why is it "emotional" honesty? What differentiates it from plain honesty?


The US marines in particular went through a massive transformation int he 80's after their experience in Vietnam. The name people want to look up is John Boyd.

I would hazard a guess the average Marine officer knows more about Kurt Gódel's incompleteness and its real life applications than the average techie.


Boyd's ideas are laid out really well by his acolyte Chet Richards in his book Certain to Win which applies the military theories to business. If interested at all in this space, check it out.


Thanks for bringing up Boyd. He was my inspiration for joining the military actually. The OODA loop is in my opinion the best template for how to approach problems.


I'm not disagreeing with the US Military research, but the effectiveness of teams in command-and-control environments probably doesn't translate well to more voluntary, at-will engagements like your typical work-place. Besides, companies aren't (yet?) able to break-down and rebuild tween males as armies have been doing for millenia.


I wish they would start. I guess I'm far from a tween now but please draft me and instill discipline better than the schools I'm attending where no standards are properly enforced and the grade inflation is out of control. I'm tired of getting good grades for being the only one trying while I freak out trying to teach myself to fill all the massive holes in my education...


probably doesn't translate well to more voluntary, at-will engagements like your typical work-place

They do for the kinds of teams I am discussing.


The article contradicts your first point, and suggests too many takeaways are a sign of trouble.

Was it better to let everyone speak as much as they wanted, or should strong leaders end meandering debates? Was it more effective for people to openly disagree with one another, or should conflicts be played down? The data didn’t offer clear verdicts. In fact, the data sometimes pointed in opposite directions. The only thing worse than not finding a pattern is finding too many of them.


It doesn't though, I just didn't explain how that role works. Consider the "leader" as the lead coordinator rather than someone barking orders.

Once all of the debate is over, a decision needs to be made and followed through with, with the understanding that new information will require tweaks or wholesale re-evaluation of the plan until completion.

So in that sense, the leader ensures that everyone is executing their role well, and that everyone is aware of any deviations to it - while also delegating authority or decision making as needed as the task unfolds.

It's way more nuanced and delicate than it would seem from the outside.


I would like to hear about more about point number two. Specifically, is "talking about our insecurities, fears and aspirations" (quoted from the nytimes article) part of it?


No, it's more about creating an environment such that you can tell your "boss" they fucked up, and how, they will say "you're right, lets fix it."


Okay. That's in fact how the nytimes article started:

> One engineer, for instance, had told researchers that his team leader was "direct and straightforward, which creates a [psychological] safe space for you to take risks."

However the rest of the article went onto to talking more about expressing one's feelings and vulnerability.

I think this is a key difference between Google's and the US Military's approach to team building.


In short: andrewcommando commented without reading the article

the military and google are very different organizations with different goals, so it's unlikely they will be run the same

a perfect team in the military will not look like a perfect team at google.

both organizations will wisely punt to other organizations when they come up against a challenge outside of their domains of expertise.

for example: the military does not design and build its own aircraft/weapons/tanks, nor does google engineer and build its datacenters


In short: andrewcommando commented without reading the article

Ha, I actually did, but thanks. Also good guess on my team name (commando) ;)

You are right though that it's not a 1:1 substitution but the principles align well.


Of course, there are some other, unspoken prerequisites to this sort of perfect harmony of flower children prancing through the meadow.

  - pre-selection of qualified individuals
  - dictatorial authority precluding much superfluous decision making
  - martial and capital punishment casting a long shadow
  - high stakes besides all of this
  - weeding out according to fitness long before harmony is reached, where the weak are pruned mercilessly
What about:

  - shitty HR negotiations
  - lies during interviews, that can neither be proven nor disproved
  - grooming habits
  - sexual tension
  - and the rest of all of our human foibles


The dismissive exaggeration with which this comment describes the topic seems to indicate a hostile disdain that I find confusing, all the more for how common it seems to be.

I can't quite get my mind to really understand why some viewpoints respond with aggression to ideas like what the article calls psychological safety.

I think it might have to do with how it's the aggression itself that were being called on to remove.


From the study linked in my comment higher up, I seem to recall that one thing that surprised the anthropologist was how the team came together and helped each other deal with feelings and grief when a team mate died during a training exercise. (Don't think that's in the English summary -- and it might have been from a comment made in a Norwegian interview).


A couple of things. For one, the motivations, constraints, and goals of a software development team (or the vast majority of business units, for that matter) are clearly quite different from those of military units. For another, that same culture which you are praising to the rafters (that of the U.S. Special Forces) is also famously knowing for producing colossally obscene fuckups -- of which on one in particular

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kunduz_hospital_airstrike

may, in just 45 minutes, very well have undone all the putative good the U.S. and its allies were trying to accomplish in all of their 14 years in Afghanistan.

So on balance it seems that the culture of elite U.S. military unites is something to be shunned and avoided in civilian contexts, rather than followed and replicated.


All true, but irrelevant. No-one is putting their life on the line for "shareholder value". Your cow-orker isn't going to take a bullet for you either. And whiteboarding a red-black tree is nothing like waterboarding in SERE...


This is very interesting, can you provide any information or research that led to those takeways? Thanks.


Here is a good starting point:

https://hbr.org/2015/08/what-companies-can-learn-from-milita...

Team of Teams from McChrystal is a great book.


> 3. A clearly defined, proven effective and specialized role for every member with each member knowing how each others role plays together

This is much easier for a SEAL team, which has "someone else" dealing with all the other stuff, from procurement to catering to writing the paychecks. As a result, the same rule will work for making teams in an enterprise, but a SMB cannot do this - there isn't much room for "not in my job description" at a SMB.


> but a SMB cannot do this - there isn't much room for "not in my job description" at a SMB.

90% of my current job is doing what is nobody's job. (10% is my 'main area of responsibility' :)


Have you got more references - they would be cool reading?


These are great qualities for making a team which follows orders and makes field decisions within a extremely narrow scope.

These are terrible qualities for teams who are self-assigned, entrepreneurial, and have to disrupt standard accepted behaviors in order to create new products.

For example in Number 4: How does this work when the teams assignment is to come up with an objective, rather than just have one assigned to them.

Answer: They would splinter and struggle because they are following a chain of command.

Which follows to Number 1: To make products you need a diverse set of leaders who share authority in varying decisions, not a chain of people who wrongly think themselves to be universal experts. This does require Number 3, but in a different cultural fashion that isn't so rigidly hierarchical.

Basically these are great for teams who just take commands from the actual guy makes the decisions. Google and the NYT are interested in the teams that make decisions. I think the modern workplace is actually trying to UNDO these very narrow minded and ultimately damaging behaviors and their misapplication to the creation process.


No offense but I don't think you understand Special Operations. You are describing how conventional forces largely operate.

SOF on the other hand are typically given a problem and asked to figure out a solution. Watch Charlie Wilson's war or read any of the books about the weeks after 9/11 in Afghanistan as a good example of this in practice.

For example in Number 4: How does this work when the teams assignment is to come up with an objective, rather than just have one assigned to them.

Answer: They would splinter and struggle because they are following a chain of command.

This is completely wrong. In fact the majority of the problems SOF are given are within the domain of objective identification for effects. When problems come down, everyone works together equally (back to the communication piece) to come up with a solution just like we do with startups. When it's time to execute, you execute within that chain and take direction based on your role.

Basically these are great for teams who just take commands from the actual guy makes the decisions.

Again, that's not how it works. Often the "commands" are even more nebulous than within narrow software domains. For example: "Keep [wartorn city] stable enough to allow for elections to run."


Special Ops::Conventional forces :::: Skunk Works :: corporate workplace.

They are specially selected and are non-representative. Whatever lessons that can be drawn there are inapplicable to conventional forces, let alone regular teams in the corporate environment. They might apply to special project teams ('skunk-works' type projects), but that has limited value as it is not scalable.


I wouldn't be so quick to dismiss its applicability.

I imagine a large part of what SOF do is solve unforeseeable problems in the context of trying to accomplish some goal, and to be able to adapt quickly if the goal changes. This is pretty analogous to what a startup is faced with when trying to accomplish a goal, when you'll find that most of your team's initial ideas, as good as they seemed at the outset, were wrong, and you'll be trying to face problems and seize opportunities that you didn't even know you had. For both SOF and these teams, being able to adapt quickly to new information and circumstances, and to resolve the problems that come up which will destroy you, are critical.

I apply "startup" also in the sense of "startup-like" teams in large companies who are required to innovate rapidly.


> I apply "startup" also in the sense of "startup-like" teams in large companies who are required to innovate rapidly

I think we are in agreement - the applicability is likely to limited to 'small' specially chosen/specially tasked teams. i.e. it does not scale to thousands of employees (otherwise the army would be doing the same for conventional forces)


I think your answer shows how you are already narrowing and then differing to an authority to give you scope. Relative to you, that might seem like creation, but its actually just following through on a pre-planed, however vague, agenda. This is common among military-mindset types who scope out the problem they can't process and then claim to have solved it. They are rightly trained to ignore what is "above their pay grade."

The "higher pay grade" problem a team must solve in your example is to shift a popular mindset in a region to inspire them to create elections, not keep the city safe while elections occur as assigned from your superior officer.

These teams need to decide the human social agenda, not just the strategy and execution of one given to them.


narrowing and then differing to an authority to give you scope.

I think the difference is that you assume that is not happening in the entrepreneurial world. In fact it is, only guided by consumer demand, or some broadly defined corporate niche or group of uncoordinated individuals [1].

But that gets off the point however. Lets be clear here though, the scope of the article was how Google builds teams within the already defined "higher pay grade" problems. So by definition that is the context of what I am discussing teams already within a system. As it relates to Google they have "higher pay grade orders" from the Executive team of Page/Brin etc.... This is not Valve we are talking about here.

I think you are trying to make a larger statement about entreprenurial endeavors in sum total at the economy level which is not the scope of this discussion and it not relevant.

[1]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Tyranny_of_Structurelessne...


The larger statement is that civilian teams are focusing on optimistic futures to create value and military teams are focusing on horrible realities to mitigate loss. The team configurations for those two things I think should be radically different.

We become dystopian when we apply the ultimately violent tactics of the military to the creation based goals of civilians.


The SOF individuals are some of the smartest entrepreneurial individuals you will meet. They are able to work together as a team because they build from what the OP has said.

Taking a simplified example to make further arguments is not fair. There can always be further counter-arguments. SOF will be deployed and then they adapt to problems with a clear goal.

If you told the team, develop plans for the stabilization of a government, they can do it.


> This is common among military-mindset types who scope out the problem they can't process and then claim to have solved it. They are rightly trained to ignore what is "above their pay grade."

I'm sorry, but you could not be more wrong. Even in the "conventional" Marine Corps infantry, we were not trained to ignore any problem. We were constantly being taught to take over the job of our superiors at a moment's notice. All downtime was filled with adhoc classes to train the lowest grunt to operate at several levels above his pay grade.

If you think SOF or even Marines defer silently to officers, you only know what you have seen on TV. You are just completely off base here.


Look at what he's saying, it's not a deep insight but there is a credible amount of truth to it.

At the bottom entry level units do defer. Boots stick around for morning formation after weekend leave still buzzed drunk because they're just told what to do and face consequences otherwise.

But then in the Corps the TIG promotions tend to weed those types out so that the motivated and qualified ones go upward the chain as NCOs. Then TIS promotions tend to be push those more qualified into SNCO roles.

To say that every single boot, or that every single service member is immediately capable of stepping up to be field officers because the one charge that was saluted all the time got sniped off is a ridiculous assertion.

But it is heavily incorporated, and more specifically in the Corps, for lateral movement up, or even down, a few ranks.

That's setup to optimize for the resiliency of the organization whereas in a corporation that's fragile because people working there are merely linked by bank account and therefore inspire no loyalty.


Again...I'm comparing ELITE SOF units, not line units so your comparison misses the point.

Massive difference.


Similarly, not every company can hire and pick and choose from a bunch of highly motivated individuals like Google could. Skills are easy to find, but finding people to have any enthusiasm for large corporations' work is incredibly hard and the military tends to use peer pressure basically to get people to conform to certain standards, but I can't do that as a lead in a behemoth corporation people only stay awake for because of a paycheck. If I fired everyone that wasn't engaged, I wouldn't exactly have a team.

Hence, I think it's massively important to realize that hiring for elite anything is really nothing like hiring for random warm bodies-at-problem techniques oftentimes used by mediocre performing companies that have a lack of leadership capabilities.


Okay motivator, I get what you're saying and if the entirety of the operators community is all we needed for every situation and conflict we got going on in this world then so be it.

But there's still plenty of work for everyone else. Turning a 17 year old high school dropout into a team player with good attitude and good work ethic and good mind set is what this thread deviated to.


What is an MVP? Why do you build funnels to guide your conversion process?

Any professional endeavor fundamentally is about scoping around a particular solution that will deliver value to your stakeholders.


Contrary to popular belief the personalities that appear most successful in the military are those that tend to be the most independent and anti-conformist.

As a counterpoint everybody follows a chain of command. In all the corporate jobs I have held I never experienced a chain of command noticeably different from the military. Just like in corporate world the military allows you some latitude to push back on your leaders if they make a completely disastrous decision. The primary difference there is that you are more motivated to push back if a bad decision could mean increased risk to security (people's lives). I have never experienced this level of critical impasse in the corporate world.

The military is mostly like working for a corporate employer with some key differences:

* In theory the military expects everybody to be a leader, though in practice not everybody is willing to step up and make leader-like decisions or in some cases toxic leaders will suppress the opportunity.

* The military is a really big bureaucracy, which can constrict many creative (unorthodox) leadership decisions, but sometimes produces extremely unorthodox solutions to work around the bureaucracy.

* There are points in the military where you are demanded to work really long hours (like 12-16 hours, 6 or 7 days a week). In that amount of time everybody's personality is hyper-amplified. Some people can make this work really make their teams gel, where other people become terminal destructive forces.

* The military is often really bad at a constant work pace. Consider the phrase "hurry up and wait". You tend to get really good at accomplishing tasks at 4x human speed so that you can go back to being paid to self-study or watch movies.

* Look at how hard your corporate CEO works, the number of simultaneous tasks they have to balance, and the constant uncertainty in their schedules and travel. When you deploy in the military the entire team works at that tempo all the time.

* You don't get to be a conformist tool as a military technician, because then the bureaucracy will crush your soul. You quickly learn to invent your own solution to many common problems. This is substantially less true of many corporate software developers.


I know this is probably an unpopular idea around here, but I generally think "self-assigned" teams are a terrible idea. Without a top-level roadmap to guide progress a company would quickly devolve into an uncoordinated mess. Sure, it can birth some really innovative gems from a very large organization. That's the exception rather than the rule, though. This kind of "teams making decisions" structure nearly killed Sony when they started infighting and reinventing wheels. Google, IMO, succeeds in spite of rather than because of this structure at this point, and only because of their ridiculously high hiring bar.

There is a middle ground between Google and, say, Lockheed where teams are given a general direction to pull to keep them organized and working towards the company's goals but are otherwise free to determine how to accomplish those goals on their own.


> makes field decisions within a extremely narrow scope.

What? Modern Western armed forces, and especially special forces units, make many independent decisions requiring great amounts of creativity and initiative. The hallmark of over 300 years of Western military units is the ability to operate without consulting the chain of command for every decision.

Were you a member of an armed force from a more centralized military, such as Russia or China? If so, then your perspective makes more sense.


>> To make products you need a diverse set of leaders who share authority in varying decisions, not a chain of people who wrongly think themselves to be universal experts.

Works fine in case of actual universal experts Steve Jobs's, Jonathan Ive's, Larry Wall's or Linus Torvald's of the world.

That argument begins to break down when you appoint the wrong people to that job. You now have to follow orders only because some one is giving them, not because they are right.


Agreed. Visit any Swedish workplace and OP will be shocked that anything is getting done at all with the total lack of hierarchies.


self-selecting group who would join the military


In other words, create a collaborative Robot.


This is exactly the opposite of what the article says. Please don't try to hijack it with pro-military stumping.

Excerpt:

As the researchers studied the groups, however, they noticed two behaviors that all the good teams generally shared. First, on the good teams, members spoke in roughly the same proportion, a phenomenon the researchers referred to as "equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking." On some teams, everyone spoke during each task; on others, leadership shifted among teammates from assignment to assignment. But in each case, by the end of the day, everyone had spoken roughly the same amount. "As long as everyone got a chance to talk, the team did well," Woolley said. "But if only one person or a small group spoke all the time, the collective intelligence declined."

Second, the good teams all had high "average social sensitivity" — a fancy way of saying they were skilled at intuiting how others felt...

That is way more fluid in terms of authority and touchy-feely than rigid military hierarchies.

Which makes sense given that roles are much more fluid in creative enterprises and there's no life-or-death quick decisionmaking that favors decisiveness over debate. Not to say that there's no creative thinking in the military, but role and responsibilities can be more clearly defined at the outset.


I think it's pretty unfair to categorize the prior comment as "pro-military stumping". It read to me like the commenter was providing some possibly alternative information from a different field that might provide interesting insights others could use. There was no strong pro-military tone that I can see after a couple re-readings. Moreover, the items the commenter laid out weren't inherently the opposite of what you provided as an excerpt. The original comment doesn't say anything about equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking, or intuiting how others felt. I mean, item #2 is advocating the benefit of constant communication among the team ... so it actually sounds like it could complement the article's findings.


I'll quote further then..

people may speak over one another, go on tangents and socialize instead of remaining focused on the agenda. The team may seem inefficient to a casual observer. But all the team members speak as much as they need to. They are sensitive to one another’s moods and share personal stories and emotions.

Overwhelmingly the key point of the article is "In the best teams, members listen to one another and show sensitivity to feelings and needs." It focuses heavily on emotional and psychological needs, not "clear authority" or "clearly defined, proven effective and specialized roles," which is what the comment was trying to hijack this to emphasize (that stuff is nowhere in the article).

It's true the previous comment did include a line on "candid and constant communication," but that is quite overbroad and omits the key distinction of the nature of that communication. The key point of the article is that it is of a tangential and/or personal nature, not just candid operational feedback. This is why I think it's fair to criticize the comment as missing the whole point of the article.


Except you did not criticize the commenter for missing the point of the article (as you see it), you combatively accused them of hijacking the discussion with "pro-military stumping".


Actually I began by saying he said "exactly the opposite of what the article says." Can't get any clearer than that.


This doesn't contradict it at all and you are confusing line-infantry with SOF, which is specifically what I am referring to.

CONOPS (Concept of operations) planning goes exactly like described with equality of input throughout the process. In fact it goes beyond that with team members continuously providing input throughout the run-up and execution of whatever operation is in play.

In many cases during whatever operation is happening, any team member, regardless of rank, can call "knock it off" if something is not going well and the team will respond to that.

That is way more fluid in terms of authority and touchy-feely than rigid military hierarchies

Again, this rigidity of hierarchy is a myth within high performing SOF teams (CAG (Delta), DEVGRU, 75th Ranger Regiment etc...)

there's no life-or-death quick decisionmaking that favors decisiveness over debate.

Again, this misrepresents how battlefield decisions get made and overplays how democratic decisions are within [insert startup]. There is advantage to "violence of action" - meaning making a decision can be made and emphatically executed quickly - but it's not the case that it needs to be approved by TOP (the leader). One of the key benefits of SOF is that everyone has the ability to make a decision that might veer from the plan without it being insubordination or some other offense.


> "It seemed like a total waste of time," said Sean Laurent, an engineer. "But Matt was our new boss, and he was really into this questionnaire, and so we said, sure, we'll do it, whatever."

I started cracking up at this point because me and every engineer I know would have said the same thing in response to a survey designed to promote team building.


The irony is, a lot of the time these "dysfunctional teams" were formed due to some managerial decision, and basically without the team members input. So it's natural to eye-roll when the same management structure comes in to preach about "you need to gel together! We need to measure you!"

When people mostly pick who they work with and how, it's usually quite automatic and natural for things to work out without managerial baby-sitting.


I liked this until the "my life is my work" part. What is it with Silicon Valley that always ends up in "you spend all your life at work and it's a good thing" ?


I understood it differently: He's saying work is a large part of life and therefore should not be treated as if it's something apart/different. That does not mean that one 'should spend all your life at work'. It means one should try and have fun and not take things so seriously all the time.

And I would completely agree with that. In STEM I'd say the majority does not understand the concept.


I think you're right. Treating your work life as a separate component of your life is not something that's natural for humans and our social traits. Treating work life as part of your life does not imply anything about how long you work.


I don't think it should be surprising that one of the biggest, highest-earning science/engineering areas of the world are filled with people who enjoy "spending their life at work". Maybe that lifestyle is not for everyone, and that's fine, but you don't typically get to the top without some sacrifice: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uRf-sRZBiHo


Yeah, I can get the "spending my life at work because it's fun/I like it" thing (although most SV companies are more into "spending my life at work" than actually be working productively most of the time), but "highest-earning" as an advantage ? Well, if you spend your whole life at work and have 2 weeks of vacation a year, I don't see how you can use that money :-). And being a software engineer anywhere, even in 40-hours-a-week-and-9-weeks-of-vacation France will make you earn a lot of money (relative to the cost of living).


I meant highest-earning as companies, not engineers, but I guess that also applies. To a lot of people, earning more money is a "high-score". They don't care that they never get a chance to spend it.

I'm also not saying I agree with this mindset. I'm just answering your question: > What is it with Silicon Valley that always ends up in "you spend all your life at work and it's a good thing" ?


Americans are so beleaguered - only 2 weeks of vacation! Not counting 10 paid holidays. And oh, those 2 days off out of every 7. No time to have fun! Just those 124 days out of 365.



It's a huge mistake to frame this in terms of safety rather than belonging. Any criticism of someone who feels out of place will cut them to the quick, no matter how much you pad your language.

If your standing within a group is assured, you can call each other dumb assholes all day and it won't matter. This is the classic phenomenon of male friendship. What works in a group isn't an absence of criticism, it's a sensation of security of your belonging in that group.

How do you make people feel secure? The only real way it occurs is if everyone actually has respect for one another's contributions and work. This can't be faked, unfortunately, and respect has to be earned, and everyone's respect is earned slightly differently. Some peoples' respect algorithms are more compatible than others.

An interesting study might be to try organizing people by what they value most in their co-workers.


> This is the classic phenomenon of male friendship.

Why do you single this out as an especially male phenomenon?


Its stated as a classic phenomena of male friendships. Not only male. Not all male. Just a strong mode, right?


Aren't psychological safety and forced ranking fundamentally at odds? Who will be generous when only the fittest survive?

These results seem like a condemnation of any management practice based on competitive exclusion.


This is a strange cultural thing. On the surface I agree with you. And I'm not a huge fan of forced ratings. But I will say that at some of the places I've worked, there was such a strong culture of sharing that this transcended the forced ranking system.

If anything, I've seen the lack of sharing a bigger issue in places with a culture of competing metrics. "You get paid on revenue, and I get paid on time to completion." I've seen terrible sharing behaviors absent the forced ranking.


Being able to understand the emotional state of your fellow man is key to more than just good teamwork: it's key to a successful marriage and to keeping close friends.


I've been part of good teams before and loved it. However it wasn't until I was part of a "bad" team that I learned why it's so important to be inclusive. When it became difficult for me to make mistakes, immediately I went into self preservation mode with everyone else. That kills creativity and happiness.

Now that I've felt the hammer of that first hand I want nothing to do with it. I try and be conscious of my teammates. What are they feeing? Do they have an idea that they are scared to share? What are they scared of?


> Sakaguchi had recently become the manager of a new team, and he wanted to make sure things went better this time. So he asked researchers at Project Aristotle if they could help. They provided him with a survey to gauge the group’s norms.

Does anybody have an idea what that survey was or looked like?


This has changed the way I think about teams. I used to think I am pretty good at "figuring out this team work business". A few times in this article I had to go.. wtf?. The title of the article seemed to suggest (my mistake, I jumped to the conclusion) that this is all fluff. Not so. This is very well written.

If you think you are very good at this and don't need conclusions driven from poorly controlled experiments, please do yourself (and others) a favor and read through!


Early in my career, I emphatically asked my managers to work on most highly important yet most visibly failing products. They would look at me in shock. Why would I put my career at risk with such a thing? But, they would reluctantly agree. And, this may sound like masochism to some, but really I just liked a good puzzle and challenge, and I've always viewed work as a game.

So, over the next 10 years and many products, I'm extremely proud to say, none of those products ended up failing. And, most eventually exceeded expectations. Who knows, it could have been by chance. Or, maybe it was regression toward the mean. But, I like to think that my focus on the problem and my motivation helped solve it.

Over all of this, I was rarely directly credited, which is not surprising. Often I wasn't the 'manager' or even the 'technical lead'. I was just some relatively smart dude on the team, and I was in it for the thrill and enjoyment.

The key is to

1) be a good manipulator (or, more politically correctly, a good 'influencer')

2) clearly understand the strengths, personalities, motivations, and goals of each member of the team

3) view each person as a potential 'force multiplier' (to take another word from the military)

4) strategically coordinate the right activities between the right people at the right time

5) lead from the bottom, by example

6) be positive and optimistic

7) recognize potential conflict early and extinguish it subtly

If you have a really awesome manager, they can do this from the start. But, as many of us know, management (in the U.S., at least) is a status position, and it attracts those who like status or competition. I've only worked with one manager (out of dozens) who has been able to do this, well. It's a rare skill.


Read the other articles in the issue too (top nav bar) - they're all as good.


I'd be willing to bet that Sakaguchi has read "The 5 dysfunctions of a team" [1]. One of my favorite books about how people jell together in groups.

Like him I was also in a military setting before I became a programmer. I haven't yet experienced the same level of engagement and team cohesion outside of the military but I believe that the answers are to be found in the kinds of insights that studies like this uncover.

[1] http://www.tablegroup.com/books/dysfunctions


So, basically, it's about the principles of differentiation and integration applied inside teams.

Differentiation comes from "feeling psychologically safe" so you are able to be creative and express your ideas. When you feel safe to be different you do your most creative work. In the beginning of the article I thought the author will conclude that teams made of people with different skill sets would work better than teams with more similar members. The Google 20% time for creative work is also boosting differentiation through creativity.

Integration comes from balancing speaking and listening. When everyone can speak, they become mutually integrated. Your ideas have a fair chance of being heard and influencing the group decisions.

The same pair of principles (differentiation and integration) are present in other systems like the brain, the ecosystem, the free market and the open source community. I originally discovered these concepts from Giulio Tononi's consciousness theory of integrated information. The same two ideas interestingly coincide in name with the basic operations of calculus and are founding principles in the European Union.


I enjoy reading these articles because they always seem to trick me into thinking I got to know of a new insight when I didn't. I don't know why we still cling to psychology when its been shown over and over that the vast majority of psychology is junk science that cannot be reproduced.


I don't understand what is wrong with their methodology as described in this article that makes it junk science. Can you source something that says that the vast majority of psychology can't be reproduced (studies, etc)?


>I don't understand what is wrong with their methodology as described in this article that makes it junk science.

There is nothing wrong with this article and their methodology because it's not about real science at all. Science produces models, with predictability (among other things) where you or I could go out and get the same results. That is far from what Google has actually demonstrated - and I don't know whether they intended to do that in the first place.

Psychology has never been accepted as a science because they don't produce accurate, reproducible models. I don't want to sound rude, but all this stuff isn't exactly new and can be searched for online. A random set of links from 10 seconds of googling:

https://www.theguardian.com/science/2015/aug/27/study-delive...

https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn20447-journal-rejects...

http://psychsciencenotes.blogspot.com/2011/05/failing-to-rep...


No rudeness taken; I just would rather people making the claims to have some links for people who don't really search for the reciprocity of fields of pseudoscience/science.

What would you call this thing in the article that people did then? Statistical analysis?


The article pulls you in making you think there is some subtle dynamic. Then the first discovery is psychological safety. Very important but not that insightful because everyone is looking for this environment. I wonder if Alan Turing's enigma project had a psychologically safe environment?

Now this notion of psychological safety is interesting because it makes me think of our larger environment (too much a leap!) that it's similar to our personal safety ( perhaps requiring more surveillance?). It reminds me of Hayek’s notion in "Road to serfdom" opining that submitting to less freedom for more safety will make you worse off. I do have to say I would probably submit to more safety - it's so much easier.


Cool article - though I have to wonder how they measure team performance, given that it is our all important response variable.

In modern animal breeding, our goal is typically to improve some trait through genetic means. We extract the animal's DNA, sequence it, and compare it across many different families in order to evaluate how that individual differs from others and how its genetics affects our trait of interest. We call this trait our 'phenotype', and in animal breeding, phenotype is king. We can do all of the analysis we want, but if our phenotype is inaccurately measured or uninformative, it's all a waste of time.


Wow - how do we even classify this - it's clearly not just a story. Is it a case study? Series? It feels like it's almost book length - sort of thing we'll be readying for days (if not weeks).

Has NYT ever done an article in this format before?

The "Blind Hiring" section starts off great:

A few years ago, Kedar Iyer, an entrepreneur in Silicon Valley, became acutely aware of a problem in his industry: A surfeit of talented coders were routinely overlooked by employers because they lacked elite pedigrees. Hiring managers, he thought, were too often swayed by the name of a fancy college on a résumé.


Let's not go crazy here, it's 11 pages / 5.6k words. While it's unusual to have magazine articles that length these days, it's not a huge amount of time since that was more normal.

It's an excerpt from a book:

> Charles Duhigg is a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for The New York Times and the paper’s senior editor of live journalism. He is the author of ‘‘The Power of Habit’’ and the forthcoming book ‘‘Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Productivity in Life and Business,’’ from which this article is adapted.


> [Sakaguchi] wanted everyone to feel fulfilled by their work. He asked the team to gather, off site, to discuss the survey’s results. He began by asking everyone to share something personal about themselves. He went first..."I have stage 4 cancer."

Is this what is required to have a team jell at work? I imagine the same sentiment could have been achieved with a different question, but the article continually references this one. Does it make me a non team-player if I don't want to share my health issues with my coworkers? (In addition: is this legal to do?)


"People on the more successful teams in Woolley’s experiment scored above average on the Reading the Mind in the Eyes test."

I wonder if giving this test during interviews would help in building better teams.


I recently read a (fiction) novel, The Affinities, that focused on the ramifications of optimizing productivity of teams, raising the collective I.Q., not just professionally but socially as well. It's a pretty light read, but I recommend it to anyone else who finds this subject fascinating.

https://books.google.ca/books/about/The_Affinities.html?id=z...


IMO and experience, the best way to build a team is to exploit comparative advantage so that the whole is stronger than any of its parts. Assuming you've avoided hiring a sociopath, group cohesion follows from everyone having a critical skill they bring to the project uniquely.

This is of course 100% anecdotal.

This of course runs 180 degrees against the concept of fungible engineering and Google's generalist fetish.

Or TLDR: I prefer building the A-Team instead of trying to be Agile.


I tend to agree with you. I think back through a decade of coworkers, and when I take your "A-Team" approach I find myself picking "The Sysadmin" and "The UX guy" etc. And when I ask myself how they stand up against even the best generalists I met at big5 companies, well, it's no competition. (In that the specialists wipe the floor with the generalists, and I say this as someone who has followed more of the generalist route)

There is fundamentally too little time in the day, and too much to know to truly be GREAT in a domain, to expect anyone outside a select few (certainly not enough to fill out general employment at google) to be able to bridge these domains meaningfully and still be as deep as possible.

Now; there is a massive benefit to the specialists having sufficient understanding to communicate with other domains. But this to me is not what being a generalist means, and is an asset that is often looked over even in the generalist-focused agile orgs I've worked for; "are we communicating well internally in general".

(To bring this back to the article as well, I've also found the specialist groups with "eigenvectors" of skills to be MORE cohesive, as it's a great trust builder when someone can say "I'll be supporting your work in Y with X" and you know that they'll be doing X _light years_ better than you could, and you can truly TRUST them to have your back. Not that the same thing isn't very feasible in other environments, but that's an "easy way in" to trust.)


Teams in general should always be made up of specialists. Thats the point of teams, to have collaboration between people that know specifics of certain things. Teams of generalists will just be a bunch of people that are ok at a bunch of different stuff and will either end up specializing in one thing anyway, or just being mediocre at everything and bumping into each other.

One-man bands are a different story though, if a full engineering team is not feasible, a generalist who has a broad but shallow knowledge of lots of things is far preferable to a specialist of one.


And not using stack ranking which damages team cohesion if you are being ranked with your peers.


I feel that the alluded conflict of personal efficiency vs team efficiency is something that is overlooked in the perennial open-plan vs office debate. It is easy for individuals to measure our own efficiency, but hard to measure, or even appreciate team efficiency. My suspicion is open plan offices are better for team efficiency than private offices, but worse for personal efficiency.


I didn't read every paragraph of the article but it seems it doesn't describe what "success" means?

In the outside world, the success of a company can be measured quite objectively; but inside one company, what defines success?

Isn't it possible that patterns are hard to find because "success" is vague and, fundamentally, random?


> what Silicon Valley does best: figure out how to create psychological safety faster, better and in more productive ways.

How do you get a group of cynical alphas to take-off their game-face for work? This screams for a How To manual.


How many people felt psychologically safe in a meeting with Gates, Jobs or Ellison?


And how many people are Gates, Jobs or Ellison? The CEO design review isn't where the vast majority of people spend their time, or where ANY of the important work gets done.


There is no such thing as perfect team. A perfect team in one context can become an average team in another context. Good Teams embrace values as they solve problems while still having fun. End of story!


This is just a conclusion from data mining; what is google doing to experimentally confirm this finding? Or how would I use this insight to engineer a better team?


Wow. Lots of interesting points, and a few things that made me say WTF and wonder how much this will be torn apart in the comments.

In other words, a very worthy read.


This reminds of the comment I had left about another post here about the "Costs of under-confidence", where I posted what I though made a great team. Essentially, that we create a "safe zone".

The article in this post echos what I had felt: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10731071

This is an interesting article since he cites a pub quiz and sports - something I participate in.

I've been playing for about 4 years in a pub quiz. We've won once and are considered a strong team. However, the difference between the a strong team, and the better team in a night, is the fact that our team fosters a "no suggestion is a dumb suggestion" policy. No matter how stupid you think your answer is, you are encouraged to say it. In fact, if we see body language from a person hesitating we're quick to jump in and say "Spit it out! Just say it!"

We essentially create a safe zone for our team members to not worry about the consequences of a wrong answer. There were so many times where a completely wrong suggestion makes another teammate say, "Hey! Wait, I think I remember!"

We also have a policy of if a person has a different answer than the rest, then he/she has to "fight for it". That is, you have to convince the rest of the team. By having a "fight for it" rule, we put controlled confrontation on the centre of the table and let people hash it out. There is no regret, or fear, or worrying about feelings. It's just a normal part of our evening that is done with humour and friendliness. Firm, but friendly!

By doing the above, we instil confidence in every team member. Those that are more confident by their nature, can still be challenged by anyone and keeps them in check, and the weaker confident ones feel safer to step forward when they need to. It balances out and our team has absolutely great chemistry because of it.

I've also played team sports for most of my life and some of the best teams I've played for had former professional athletes. Since they were stronger than the rest and more confident, they always raised their hand and took the blame for any mistake! It was quite funny because we knew my screw up was not their fault, but they would make an excuse about how they should've done 'X' and I wouldn't have screwed up.

Needless to say, that allowed players like me that weren't former pros, to be at ease and to be more confident and give my best, knowing that the strongest player on the team wasn't going to look down on me for every mistake.

It was a very interesting dynamic where the more confident person ensured that the less confident person is playing their best and it raised their confidence. Again, it is a kind of delicate balance that can change on any given night.


Is there a summary for this? I've read 3 sections but it only contained fluff about people and not the point of the article.


So have they figured it out? I couldn't tell from reading the article.


The standup in a scrum lets people speak for equal amounts every morning.


I really want to finish reading the article but the browser keeps locking up. Anyone else having their experience crippled like this?


Shockwave ad. Thankfully this nonsense is on its way out :)


> Thankfully this nonsense is on its way out

Do you mean Shockwave, or ads? ;)


The former is likely out before the later but ads on the web in general are in dire needs of improvements or they will be erased from existence by browsers.

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