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Feb 13, 2020

Approx. 12 min. read

Team Communication — Key Takeaways from Google’s Project Aristotle

About 75% of employers rate teamwork and collaboration as “very important” and yet, 39% of employees believe that people don’t collaborate enough in...

Google shows in the Project Aristotle the importance of team communication in the workplace.

About 75% of employers rate teamwork and collaboration as “very important” and yet, 39% of employees believe that people don’t collaborate enough in their organization.

So, what can you do to improve team communication at your workplace?


In today’s fast-changing business world, team management is quite complex to understand. What makes a team successful and through which mechanisms do great teams manage to successfully communicate?

💡Download our eBook "Building a Better Company with Internal Communications" and learn how to improve team communication in the workplace! 

Thankfully, experts and large organizations are researching what makes teams successful and the importance of team communication in the workplace.

Among these large organizations, Google have studied 180 of their teams for a couple of years and they have publicly shared their findings afterwards. The code-name of the project is, as you might have guessed, Project Aristotle.

So, what are Google's key findings? Let’s take a look at the key learnings we can take away from the Project Aristotle!

Team Communication: Definition and Importance in the Workplace

Many businesses are launching programs to improve team communication. Indeed, great communication helps employees get a better understanding of how their work impacts the business's bottom line, coordinate their efforts towards common goals, and drive innovation in the workplace.

team communication is the key to success. Key learnings from Google's Project Aristotle

When information doesn’t flow in the workplace and team members are not on the same page, there can be some overlapping as well as missed deadlines. And we all know what happens then: team performance and productivity can drastically decrease before you know it!

So, What Are the Key Components of Great Team Communication and How Does It Work?

In essence, team communication includes all the information flows, conversations and dialogues happening within teams in the workplace.

In other words, team communication includes:

  • Written communication: paper documentation, electronic documentation, employee communications apps, emails, team chat and so on.
  • Verbal team communication: team meetings, one-on-one interactions, water-cooler conversations, calls.
  • Active listening: great leaders listen to their teams, they show empathy and they make sure that each person on the team feels listened to.

Keep in mind that team communication takes many shapes and forms, from verbal communication to digital forms of written communication or things that are left unsaid. Indeed, team communication also includes body language. This is why things can easily get complicated!

Poor communication may lead to misconceptions, which may have a direct impact on the work environment, the team’s performance, and even employees' morale!

How Does Team Communication Impact Productivity and Performance in the Workplace?

Team communication plays a critical role in the workplace. It’s strongly connected with employees’ performance and their ability to work together, the team’s performance, and the company’s success overall.

Broadly speaking, team communication impacts:

  • Team collaboration
  • Team performance
  • Team cohesion
  • Employee productivity
  • Interdepartmental communication
  • Employees’ wellbeing
  • The quality of employee experience you’re delivering
  • Employee engagement
  • Trust in the workplace
  • The quality of customer service your employees deliver
  • The business’s bottom line overall

Now, the question is — who’s responsible for making sure that team communication is flawless?

The answer to that question isn’t easy but keep in mind that everyone on the team is responsible for enhancing dialogues, driving insightful conversations, and making sure that every team member is working towards the business goals.

Indeed, team communication doesn’t fall on the team leaders’ shoulders only.

Even though team leaders play a critical role in team communication, all team members are responsible for communicating their tasks and the results they’re generating.

If something is unclear, they need to ask questions. If they don’t understand the reasons why they’re working on some specific projects or can't find meaning in their work, they need to share this feedback openly. And if they don’t agree with internal processes, they have to speak up. Again, team communication is everyone's responsibility! 

How Does Team Communication Look Like Today?

Even though communication plays a critical role in team collaboration and performance, we’re not there yet and below are the main reasons why:

  • 57% of employees report not being given clear directions
  • 69% of the managers say that they’re often uncomfortable communicating with employees
  • 39% of employees believe that people don’t collaborate enough in their organization
  • Only 18% of employees get communication evaluations at their performance reviews
  • 86% of employees and executives cite lack of collaboration or ineffective communication for workplace failures
  • 97% of employees and executives believe that a lack of alignment within a team impacts the outcome of a task or project
  • Fortune 500 companies lose $31.5 billion a year because of poor communication in the workplace. Ouch!

It's pretty clear to most businesses that team communication plays an essential role in the workplace and yet, most of them are struggling with their communication strategies.

Why is that, what are the reasons why employees don’t seem to be happy with the team communication they’re experiencing?

Is it because team leaders don’t effectively communicate with their teams, employees are not encouraged to take initiatives to improve team communication, or is it simply because the teams aren’t using the right communication channels?

best practices for improving team communication in the workplace

To get a better understanding of the role of communication in successful teams, let’s take a look at Google’s Project Aristotle. Indeed, the company has spent 2 years studying 180 teams in different departments and the findings are quite interesting.

The Project Aristotle by Google

Not only Google did revolutionize the way we share information and use the Internet — its net worth stands at around $300 billion in 2020 — the multinational company also shares insights on team management to help HR and IC experts better understand the importance of teamwork in large organizations.

How It Started

A few years ago, a group of Google employees launched the Project Aristotle to study the dynamics of their own teams.

They analyzed 180 teams of different sizes and used over 35 different statistical models on hundreds of variables to answer the question “what makes a team effective at Google?”.

The idea was to understand why some teams are successful while others fail.

They decided to share their key findings outside the organization so leaders could use their insights to improve team effectiveness at their own company.

As described in an article in The New York Times, identifying what elements would play a key role in the success of a team was challenging:


"As they struggled to figure out what made a team successful, Rozovsky and her colleagues kept coming across research by psychologists and sociologists that focused on what are known as "group norms" - the traditions, behavioral standards, and unwritten rules that govern how teams function when they gather... Norms can be unspoken or openly acknowledged, but their influence is often profound."


Google’s Key Findings on What Makes a Team Successful

Even though the project Aristotle was launched in 2012, the insights are still relevant: HR, IC and leadership experts are still using Google’s insights to improve collaboration and team communication in the workplace.

Interestingly, the key findings showed that the team size, seniority or workload size are not directly connected with team effectiveness at Google.

Instead, communication — especially the way the team leaders communicate with their teams — has a great impact on how successful the teams are. That’s the power of team communication!

Google's Project Aristotle shows that team communication is what makes a team successful

And here’s why: Google found that the success of a team relies on five key elements which are psychological safety, dependability, structure and clarity, meaning and impact.

Let’s take a closer look at these 5 elements:

1) Psychological safety

In a team with high psychological safety, employees feel safe to take risks around their team members.

They are confident that no one on the team will embarrass them for admitting a mistake, asking questions, or offering a new idea.

2) Dependability


Team members have all the information they need and clear guidance to complete their tasks on time.

If one of the team members isn’t able to complete their tasks on time, it’s the whole project the team is working on that may get delayed.

3) Structure and clarity

This element is quite self-explanatory — all team members need to understand what is expected from them, what the team goals are, and what the company’s vision and strategy are. 

Team leaders need to effectively communicate with the team members key elements such as:

  • Their KPIs they can be set at the individual or group level, and they must be specific, challenging and attainable.
  • Their role within the team
  • How team members rely on each other

4) Meaning

Great leaders are those who inspire others!

You can’t make a team successful if you don’t motivate and help the team members find a sense of purpose in their work!

Put differently, employees can’t deliver great work if they don’t enjoy their jobs or can’t find meaning at work. Besides, 74% of candidates want a job “where they feel like their job matters”.

Read on: What Are The Top Leadership Skills That Make a Great Leader?

5) Impact

Each team member’s work is making a difference. Employees need to understand how their daily jobs impact the business’s bottom line.

This element is as important as the other ones listed above. Remember, to make your team successful, you need to make sure that each employee on the team finds meaning at work.

Key Learnings from the Project Aristotle

So, what does the Project Aristotle mean for your business, what are the key learnings you can take away from it?

Essentially, the findings show that communication is the cornerstone of every successful team.

Indeed, each of the five elements that make successful teams — psychological safety, dependability, structure and clarity, meaning, impact — is strongly connected with team communication.

Google's Project Aristotle and the current state of team communication

Think about it: you can’t provide a team with psychological safety, make sure that everyone has a clear understanding of how they impact the business’s bottom line, or ensure that employees find their jobs meaningful if the team isn’t communicating effectively.

Transparent and open communication is key when it comes to building a great team.

Employees need to know what their colleagues are working on, how their jobs are interconnected, and how their combined efforts and hard work are driving results. After all, Google didn’t name their project after Aristotle’s famous quote “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts" by accident!

As you might imagine, communication skills are some of the most in-demand soft skills in the workplace.

Indeed, 93% of employers consider that a demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is important in the workplace.

7 Experts Share Essential Skills of Employee Comms Professionals

top-internal-communications-skills

 

So, if you want your teams to be successful, make sure that team communication is one of your top priorities!

3 Things You Can Do Now to Make Your Teams More Successful

Improving team performance doesn’t come overnight!

You’ll need to rethink the structure of your teams, your internal communication as well as your company values.

It’s most likely that improving the performance of your teams involves organizational change. And let’s be honest, driving change in the workplace is basically like climbing a mountain!

Read on: Change Management: Definition, Best Practices & Examples

However, there are a few changes you can implement already now to boost the performance of your teams.

Let’s take a look at these changes that will help you take your business to the next level:

1. Think your team as a sports team


The analogy here may sound a bit funny but it’s one of the change management experts’ favorite ones!

Think about it: just like an athletics team or any other sports team, your team needs a clear structure to deliver results. If some of the team members don’t play their role and don’t try their best to support the team, the machine can easily break down!

Let’s imagine for a moment that you’re a coach and your team made it to the Olympic Games relay finals — which is quite a big deal — but your team takes the second place on the podium because runners didn’t understand each other while passing the baton in the last meters of the race.

So many baton pass failures happened because of a lack of communication! Relay races require team members to be connected and well synchronized.

And guess what? The same goes for your team!

Essentially, you’re not just a team manager, you’re a coach! You need to communicate your strategy with your team, motivate your employees, and make sure that everyone is on the same page. That’s the only way you can build a successful team!

2. Use your employees’ preferred communication channels and devices


Team communication is key to success. And you can’t expect your employees to effectively communicate with each other if you don’t implement the right communication channels at your workplace.

By “the right communication channels”, I mean the channels your employees want to use, the ones they feel most comfortable with.

Internal communication experts share their top priorities for 2020

 

Today’s business environment is changing and millennials and gen Z employees are entering the workplace. They have their own habits and  expectations when it comes to business communication.

They’re not fond of spending a couple of hours every day looking for the information they need. They want to have personalized news feeds that allow them to get the information they need right away.

If you want to build successful teams, you’ll need to make sure you have the tools that allow you to segment your content based on your employees’ roles within the organization, their location and the languages they speak.

Again, it’s all about using the right communication channels!

3. You’re not alone! Ask support from the HR and Internal Comms teams

You can’t build successful teams alone! Successful communication strategies are always the result of great teamwork!

When it comes to team communication, make sure you involve HR and internal comms in your strategy.

Obviously, as a team manager, you’re going to design your communication strategy and ensure that all team members are working towards common goals — the business goals you’ve shared with them.

But you’ll need to craft your team communication with the support of the HR and IC teams.

That way, you make sure that 1) your team communication is aligned with the company’s long term vision and strategy and 2) your team communication enables collaboration with the other teams within the organization.

This second point is as important as the first one. Indeed, you can have a communication strategy that works well for your team, but it may doesn’t fit the overall IC strategy.

You need to ensure that your team and the other teams are on the same page. Again, you’re working towards a common goal — making the business successful!

Remember, building a successful business is a team sport, not an individual sport. You either win together or lose together!

What’s next? Download the eBook "Building a Better Company with Internal Communications" below where we share our best practices for taking your internal comms to the next level! 👇

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Written by

Valène Jouany

Valène Jouany

Content Marketing Manager

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