The People Analytics teams at Google spent four years trying to answer this question: What sets apart the best teams (the most effective teams) from the rest? Abeer Dubey, the leader of the project - together with Julia Rozovsky and a team of sociologists, data analysts, statisticians, researchers, and engineers - set out to find the corporate holy grail and every team manager’s fantasy textbook: how to create the perfect team. They dubbed the project Aristotle to honor the philosopher’s belief that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. 

How you define effectiveness in a team context was, of course, a subjective question. So the researchers gathered their answers from three distinct groups: from leaders, from team managers and from what the team members were saying. Overall, they collected information from 180 teams scattered across different locations, of different sizes, and with different goals. 

They conducted 200 interviews with the leaders and managers of the teams to get qualitative information about what they believed was working (or not working) in their teams. The project, even so, complex that they had to take into consideration 250+ variables about team composition (who was on the team in terms of personality, skills, demographics) and team dynamics (how did the team function, what was the relationship between team members). 

The main concern of the People Analytics team, was to reflect the diversity of teams at Google in the data set, as best as possible. 

After all, Google had everything they thought they could ever need to answer the question: they had the data. 

So they set out to examine one hypothesis after another, and one by one they all came down like houses of cards built on sand. No, it wasn’t the high IQ of the team members that made a team great, or the number of superstars. It wasn’t structures either, or a particularly skilled manager. It wasn’t about personality types or where the employees were on the introversion-extraversion scale. 

Here’s what Dubey said to The New York Times:

“We looked at 180 teams from all over the company. We had lots of data, but there was nothing showing that a mix of specific personality types or skills or backgrounds made any difference. The ‘who’ part of the equation didn’t seem to matter.’’ 

So here’s what they found:

How a team works is more important than who is on the team. Remember this: How > Who

Your turn

Take 5 minutes to reflect on this sentence: How a team works is more important than who is on the team. What do you think this means? We will explore the answer to that question throughout the course, but first I’d like you to reflect on your own.