What Makes a Team Great?

Today I watched a short movie by Charles Duhigg, the author of Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business. The movie provides a partial answer to the question “How do teams work together and achieve success?” Although the answer might seem pretty obvious, it remains useful to keep in mind.

Psychological Safety

The best teams emerge when:

  1. Team members can bring their full self to work;
  2. Everyone can speak confidently;
  3. Listening occurs ostentatiously.

When these three things come together they create psychological safety. Psychological safety is what makes a team gel. It is what enables a team to transform from a bunch of individuals to an actual team.

The Three Levels of Listening

Ostentatious listening reminded me to the three levels of listening.

When a person listens at level 1, they are actually listening to the sound of their own inner voice. You might hear the other person talk, but you’re continuously connecting the words to your own experiences, opinions, judgments, feelings etc. Listening at level 2 is all about focus. All of the attention is directed in one way. At level 2 you really listen intently to every word and nuance in the conversation. You should try to ignore your inner dialogue. This will only distract you from truly listening. You feel the flow of the conversation and are focused on what is really said. You interpret the words in the context of the other person. At level 3 listening you are aware of the energy between you and others. It’s about being aware of the environment without decreasing the quality of the conversation.

Ostentatious listening occurs when you listen at level 2 or 3.

The Google Research

Psychological safety is one of the outcomes of a research done by Google. It’s goal was to answer the question “What makes a Google team effective?” A comprehensive answer can be found here and here. Also check the two tools they offer: “Help teams determine their own needs” and “Foster psychological safety“. The conclusion of Google’s research was:

Who is on a team matters less than how the team members interact, structure their work, and view their contributions

At Google, 5 key dynamics (visualised below) set successful team apart. It’s safe to say these characteristics are valid for teams in general. Make sure people can take risks without feeling insecure, and that they can count on each other doing high quality work on time. Provide a team with clear goals, roles and execution plans and offer meaningful work that really matters. Sounds obvious right? Yet somehow common sense isn’t common practice…



In this short blog post I’ve shared the movie “What Makes a Great Team?” by Charles Duhigg and the outcome of Google’s research about what makes a Google team effective. My initial intention was to simply tweet the video, but I decided to give it a bit more context. The result is this blog post. Personally I’m glad that I’ve found the two tools offered by Google. I’m going to use them the upcoming period to assess the effectiveness of the teams I’m currently working with. Maybe they can be useful for your team(s) as well.