Communication & Collaboration

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Article notes must be a minimum of 400-words in length (not including your name, my name, and article citation). Most students tend to write article notes that are 750+ words in length (but varies by each paper), file must be in PDF or Word format.

Include the article citation at the top.

Number each article

Article notes are similar to an annotated bibliography.  An annotated bibliography outlines the article and includes a narrative of the key points and/or frameworks presented in the article.

It is expected that your notes are professionally formatted.

These assignments ensure that you are engaging with the course material and probing the articles to get as much out of them as possible.  Be sure that you are pulling out the key points and frameworks within each article.  You may also include your own thoughts or questions to raise in discussion at the end of the article (so there is no excuse for missing the minimum of 400-words).

Are your article notes good? When you are finished ask yourself whether you could stand up and lead a discussion on the article using only your notes… could you do it three months after initially reading the article?  If you have just a collection of bullet points with no connecting narrative, then your article notes are not going to make any sense to you later on.

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Page 1 of 21

By Charles Duhigg

Feb. 25, 2016


New research reveals
surprising truths about why

some work groups thrive and
others falter.

What Google
Learned From

Its Quest to
Build the

Perfect Team

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Feb. 25, 2016

ike most 25-year-olds, Julia Rozovsky wasn’t sure what she wanted to do with

her life. She had worked at a consulting firm, but it wasn’t a good match.

Then she became a researcher for two professors at Harvard, which was

interesting but lonely. Maybe a big corporation would be a better fit. Or perhaps a

fast-growing start-up. All she knew for certain was that she wanted to find a job that

was more social. ‘‘I wanted to be part of a community, part of something people were

building together,’’ she told me. She thought about various opportunities — Internet

companies, a Ph.D. program — but nothing seemed exactly right. So in 2009, she

chose the path that allowed her to put off making a decision: She applied to business

schools and was accepted by the Yale School of Management.

When Rozovsky arrived on campus, she was assigned to a study group carefully

engineered by the school to foster tight bonds. Study groups have become a rite of

passage at M.B.A. programs, a way for students to practice working in teams and a

reflection of the increasing demand for employees who can adroitly navigate group

dynamics. A worker today might start the morning by collaborating with a team of

engineers, then send emails to colleagues marketing a new brand, then jump on a

conference call planning an entirely different product line, while also juggling team

meetings with accounting and the party-planning committee. To prepare students for

that complex world, business schools around the country have revised their

curriculums to emphasize team-focused learning.

Every day, between classes or after dinner, Rozovsky and her four teammates

gathered to discuss homework assignments, compare spreadsheets and strategize

for exams. Everyone was smart and curious, and they had a lot in common: They

had gone to similar colleges and had worked at analogous firms. These shared

experiences, Rozovsky hoped, would make it easy for them to work well together.

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But it didn’t turn out that way. ‘‘There are lots of people who say some of their best

business-school friends come from their study groups,’’ Rozovsky told me. ‘‘It wasn’t

like that for me.’’

Instead, Rozovsky’s study group was a source of stress. ‘‘I always felt like I had to

prove myself,’’ she said. The team’s dynamics could put her on edge. When the group

met, teammates sometimes jockeyed for the leadership position or criticized one

another’s ideas. There were conflicts over who was in charge and who got to

represent the group in class. ‘‘People would try to show authority by speaking louder

or talking over each other,’’ Rozovsky told me. ‘‘I always felt like I had to be careful

not to make mistakes around them.’’

So Rozovsky started looking for other groups she could join. A classmate mentioned

that some students were putting together teams for ‘‘case competitions,’’ contests in

which participants proposed solutions to real-world business problems that were

evaluated by judges, who awarded trophies and cash. The competitions were

voluntary, but the work wasn’t all that different from what Rozovsky did with her

study group: conducting lots of research and financial analyses, writing reports and

giving presentations. The members of her case-competition team had a variety of

professional experiences: Army officer, researcher at a think tank, director of a

health-education nonprofit organization and consultant to a refugee program.

Despite their disparate backgrounds, however, everyone clicked. They emailed one

another dumb jokes and usually spent the first 10 minutes of each meeting chatting.

When it came time to brainstorm, ‘‘we had lots of crazy ideas,’’ Rozovsky said.

One of her favorite competitions asked teams to come up with a new business to

replace a student-run snack store on Yale’s campus. Rozovsky proposed a nap room

and selling earplugs and eyeshades to make money. Someone else suggested filling

the space with old video games. There were ideas about clothing swaps. Most of the

proposals were impractical, but ‘‘we all felt like we could say anything to each other,’’

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Rozovsky told me. ‘‘No one worried that the rest of the team was judging them.’’

Eventually, the team settled on a plan for a micro ​gym with a handful of exercise

classes and a few weight machines. They won the competition. (The micro ​gym —

with two stationary bicycles and three treadmills — still exists.)

Rozovsky’s study group dissolved in her second semester (it was up to the students

whether they wanted to continue). Her case team, however, stuck together for the

two years she was at Yale.

It always struck Rozovsky as odd that her experiences with the two groups were

dissimilar. Each was composed of people who were bright and outgoing. When she

talked one on one with members of her study group, the exchanges were friendly

and warm. It was only when they gathered as a team that things became fraught. By

contrast, her case-competition team was always fun and easygoing. In some ways,

the team’s members got along better as a group than as individual friends.

‘‘I couldn’t figure out why things had turned out so different,’’ Rozovsky told me. ‘‘It

didn’t seem like it had to happen that way.’’

ur data-saturated age enables us to examine our work habits and office

quirks with a scrutiny that our cubicle-bound forebears could only dream of.

Today, on corporate campuses and within university laboratories,

psychologists, sociologists and statisticians are devoting themselves to studying

everything from team composition to email patterns in order to figure out how to

make employees into faster, better and more productive versions of themselves.

‘‘We’re living through a golden age of understanding personal productivity,’’ says

Marshall Van Alstyne, a professor at Boston University who studies how people

share information. ‘‘All of a sudden, we can pick apart the small choices that all of us

make, decisions most of us don’t even notice, and figure out why some people are so

much more effective than everyone else.’’

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Yet many of today’s most valuable firms have come to realize that analyzing and

improving individual workers ​— a practice known as ‘‘employee performance

optimization’’ — isn’t enough. As commerce becomes increasingly global and

complex, the bulk of modern work is more and more team-based. One study,

published in The Harvard Business Review last month, found that ‘‘the time spent by

managers and employees in collaborative activities has ballooned by 50 percent or

more’’ over the last two decades and that, at many companies, more than three-

quarters of an employee’s day is spent communicating with colleagues.

In Silicon Valley, software engineers are encouraged to work together, in part

because studies show that groups tend to innovate faster, see mistakes more quickly

and find better solutions to problems. Studies also show that people working in

teams tend to achieve better results and report higher job satisfaction. In a 2015

study, executives said that profitability increases when workers are persuaded to

collaborate more. Within companies and conglomerates, as well as in government

agencies and schools, teams are now the fundamental unit of organization. If a

company wants to outstrip its competitors, it needs to influence not only how people

work but also how they work together.

Five years ago, Google — one of the most public proselytizers of how studying

workers can transform productivity — became focused on building the perfect team.

In the last decade, the tech giant has spent untold millions of dollars measuring

nearly every aspect of its employees’ lives. Google’s People Operations department

has scrutinized everything from how frequently particular people eat together (the

most productive employees tend to build larger networks by rotating dining

companions) to which traits the best managers share (unsurprisingly, good

communication and avoiding micromanaging is critical; more shocking, this was

news to many Google managers).

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The company’s top executives long believed that building the best teams meant

combining the best people. They embraced other bits of conventional wisdom as

well, like ‘‘It’s better to put introverts together,’’ said Abeer Dubey, a manager in

Google’s People Analytics division, or ‘‘Teams are more effective when everyone is

friends away from work.’’ But, Dubey went on, ‘‘it turned out no one had really

studied which of those were true.’’

In 2012, the company embarked on an initiative — code-named Project Aristotle — to

study hundreds of Google’s teams and figure out why some stumbled while others

soared. Dubey, a leader of the project, gathered some of the company’s best

statisticians, organizational psychologists, sociologists and engineers. He also

needed researchers. Rozovsky, by then, had decided that what she wanted to do with

her life was study people’s habits and tendencies. After graduating from Yale, she

was hired by Google and was soon assigned to Project Aristotle.

roject Aristotle’s researchers began by reviewing a half-century of academic

studies looking at how teams worked. Were the best teams made up of

people with similar interests? Or did it matter more whether everyone was

motivated by the same kinds of rewards? Based on those studies, the researchers

scrutinized the composition of groups inside Google: How often did teammates

socialize outside the office? Did they have the same hobbies? Were their educational

backgrounds similar? Was it better for all teammates to be outgoing or for all of

them to be shy? They drew diagrams showing which teams had overlapping

memberships and which groups had exceeded their departments’ goals. They

studied how long teams stuck together and if gender balance seemed to have an

impact on a team’s success.

No matter how researchers arranged the data, though, it was almost impossible to

find patterns — or any evidence that the composition of a team made any difference.

‘‘We looked at 180 teams from all over the company,’’ Dubey said. ‘‘We had lots of

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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


Some groups that were ranked among Google’s most effective teams, for instance,

were composed of friends who socialized outside work. Others were made up of

people who were basically strangers away from the conference room. Some groups

sought strong managers. Others preferred a less hierarchical structure. Most

confounding of all, two teams might have nearly identical makeups, with overlapping

memberships, but radically different levels of effectiveness. ‘‘At Google, we’re good

at finding patterns,’’ Dubey said. ‘‘There weren’t strong patterns here.’’

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.’’ Norms are the traditions, behavioral

standards and unwritten rules that govern how we function when we gather: One

team may come to a consensus that avoiding disagreement is more valuable than

debate; another team might develop a culture that encourages vigorous arguments

and spurns groupthink. Norms can be unspoken or openly acknowledged, but their

influence is often profound. Team members may behave in certain ways as

individuals — they may chafe against authority or prefer working independently —

but when they gather, the group’s norms typically override individual proclivities

and encourage deference to the team.

Project Aristotle’s researchers began searching through the data they had collected,

looking for norms. They looked for instances when team members described a

particular behavior as an ‘‘unwritten rule’’ or when they explained certain things as

part of the ‘‘team’s culture.’’ Some groups said that teammates interrupted one

another constantly and that team leaders reinforced that behavior by interrupting

others themselves. On other teams, leaders enforced conversational order, and when

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someone cut off a teammate, group members would politely ask everyone to wait his

or her turn. Some teams celebrated birthdays and began each meeting with informal

chitchat about weekend plans. Other groups got right to business and discouraged

gossip. There were teams that contained outsize personalities who hewed to their

group’s sedate norms, and others in which introverts came out of their shells as soon

as meetings began.

Illustration by James Graham

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After looking at over a hundred groups for more than a year, Project Aristotle

researchers concluded that understanding and influencing group norms were the

keys to improving Google’s teams. But Rozovsky, now a lead researcher, needed to

figure out which norms mattered most. Google’s research had identified dozens of

behaviors that seemed important, except that sometimes the norms of one effective

team contrasted sharply with those of another equally successful group. 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. Which norms, Rozovsky and her

colleagues wondered, were the ones that successful teams shared?

magine you have been invited to join one of two groups.

Team A is composed of people who are all exceptionally smart and successful.

When you watch a video of this group working, you see professionals who wait until

a topic arises in which they are expert, and then they speak at length, explaining

what the group ought to do. When someone makes a side comment, the speaker

stops, reminds everyone of the agenda and pushes the meeting back on track. This

team is efficient. There is no idle chitchat or long debates. The meeting ends as

scheduled and disbands so everyone can get back to their desks.

Team B is different. It’s evenly divided between successful executives and middle

managers with few professional accomplishments. Teammates jump in and out of

discussions. People interject and complete one another’s thoughts. When a team

member abruptly changes the topic, the rest of the group follows him off the agenda.

At the end of the meeting, the meeting doesn’t actually end: Everyone sits around to

gossip and talk about their lives.

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Which group would you rather join?

In 2008, a group of psychologists from Carnegie Mellon, M.I.T. and Union College

began to try to answer a question very much like this one. ‘‘Over the past century,

psychologists made considerable progress in defining and systematically measuring

intelligence in individuals,’’ the researchers wrote in the journal Science in 2010. ‘‘We

have used the statistical approach they developed for individual intelligence to

systematically measure the intelligence of groups.’’ Put differently, the researchers

wanted to know if there is a collective I. Q. that emerges within a team that is distinct

from the smarts of any single member.

To accomplish this, the researchers recruited 699 people, divided them into small

groups and gave each a series of assignments that required different kinds of

cooperation. One assignment, for instance, asked participants to brainstorm possible

uses for a brick. Some teams came up with dozens of clever uses; others kept

describing the same ideas in different words. Another had the groups plan a

shopping trip and gave each teammate a different list of groceries. The only way to

maximize the group’s score was for each person to sacrifice an item they really

wanted for something the team needed. Some groups easily divvied up the buying;

others couldn’t fill their shopping carts because no one was willing to compromise.

What interested the researchers most, however, was that teams that did well on one

assignment usually did well on all the others. Conversely, teams that failed at one

thing seemed to fail at everything. The researchers eventually concluded that what

distinguished the ‘‘good’’ teams from the dysfunctional groups was how teammates

treated one another. The right norms, in other words, could raise a group’s collective

intelligence, whereas the wrong norms could hobble a team, even if, individually, all

the members were exceptionally bright.

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But what was confusing was that not all the good teams appeared to behave in the

same ways. ‘‘Some teams had a bunch of smart people who figured out how to break

up work evenly,’’ said Anita Woolley, the study’s lead author. ‘‘Other groups had

pretty average members, but they came up with ways to take advantage of

everyone’s relative strengths. Some groups had one strong leader. Others were more

fluid, and everyone took a leadership role.’’

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 based on their tone of voice, their

expressions and other nonverbal cues. One of the easiest ways to gauge social

sensitivity is to show someone photos of people’s eyes and ask him or her to describe

what the people are thinking or feeling — an exam known as the Reading the Mind in

the Eyes test. People on the more successful teams in Woolley’s experiment scored

above average on the Reading the Mind in the Eyes test. They seemed to know when

someone was feeling upset or left out. People on the ineffective teams, in contrast,

scored below average. They seemed, as a group, to have less sensitivity toward their


What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect T…

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In other words, if you are given a choice between the serious-minded Team A or the

free-flowing Team B, you should probably opt for Team B. Team A may be filled with

smart people, all optimized for peak individual efficiency. But the group’s norms

discourage equal speaking; there are few exchanges of the kind of personal

information that lets teammates pick up on what people are feeling or leaving

unsaid. There’s a good chance the members of Team A will continue to act like

individuals once they come together, and there’s little to suggest that, as a group,

they will become more collectively intelligent.

In contrast, on Team B, 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. While

Team B might not contain as many individual stars, the sum will be greater than its


Within psychology, researchers sometimes colloquially refer to traits like

‘‘conversational turn-taking’’ and ‘‘average social sensitivity’’ as aspects of what’s

known as psychological safety — a group culture that the Harvard Business School

professor Amy Edmondson defines as a ‘‘shared belief held by members of a team

that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking.’’ Psychological safety is ‘‘a sense

of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject or punish someone for

speaking up,’’ Edmondson wrote in a study published in 1999. ‘‘It describes a team

climate characterized by interpersonal trust and mutual respect in which people are

comfortable being themselves.’’

When Rozovsky and her Google colleagues encountered the concept of psychological

safety in academic papers, it was as if everything suddenly fell into place. One

engineer, for instance, had told researchers that his team leader was ‘‘direct and

straightforward, which creates a safe space for you to take risks.’’ That team,

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researchers estimated, was among Google’s accomplished groups. By contrast,

another engineer had told the researchers that his ‘‘team leader has poor emotional

control.’’ He added: ‘‘He panics over small issues and keeps trying to grab control. I

would hate to be driving with him being in the passenger seat, because he would

keep trying to grab the steering wheel and crash the car.’’ That team, researchers

presumed, did not perform well.

Most of all, employees had talked about how various teams felt. ‘‘And that made a lot

of sense to me, maybe because of my experiences at Yale,’’ Rozovsky said. ‘‘I’d been

on some teams that left me feeling totally exhausted and others where I got so much

energy from the group.’’ Rozovsky’s study group at Yale was draining because the

norms — the fights over leadership, the tendency to critique — put her on guard.

Whereas the norms of her case-competition team — enthusiasm for one another’s

ideas, joking around and having fun — allowed everyone to feel relaxed and


For Project Aristotle, research on psychological safety pointed to particular norms

that are vital to success. There were other behaviors that seemed important as well

— like making sure teams had clear goals and creating a culture of dependability.

But Google’s data indicated that psychological safety, more than anything else, was

critical to making a team work.

‘‘We had to get people to establish psychologically safe environments,’’ Rozovsky

told me. But it wasn’t clear how to do that. ‘‘People here are really busy,’’ she said.

‘‘We needed clear guidelines.’’

However, establishing psychological safety is, by its very nature, somewhat messy

and difficult to implement. You can tell people to take turns during a conversation

and to listen to one another more. You can instruct employees to be sensitive to how

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their colleagues feel and to notice when someone seems upset. 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.

Rozovsky and her colleagues had figured out which norms were most critical. Now

they had to find a way to make communication and empathy — the building blocks of

forging real connections — into an algorithm they could easily scale.

n late 2014, Rozovsky and her fellow Project Aristotle number-crunchers

began sharing their findings with select groups of Google’s 51,000 employees.

By then, they had been collecting surveys, conducting interviews and

analyzing statistics for almost three years. They hadn’t yet figured out how to make

psychological safety easy, but they hoped that publicizing their research within

Google would prompt employees to come up with some ideas of their own.

After Rozovsky gave one presentation, a trim, athletic man named Matt Sakaguchi

approached the Project Aristotle researchers. Sakaguchi had an unusual background

for a Google employee. Twenty years earlier, he was a member of a SWAT team in

Walnut Creek, Calif., but left to become an electronics salesman and eventually

landed at Google as a midlevel manager, where he has overseen teams of engineers

who respond when the company’s websites or servers go down.

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Illustration by James Graham

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‘‘I might be the luckiest individual on earth,’’ Sakaguchi told me. ‘‘I’m not really an

engineer. I didn’t study computers in college. Everyone who works for me is much

smarter than I am.’’ But he is talented at managing technical workers, and as a

result, Sakaguchi has thrived at Google. He and his wife, a teacher, have a home in

San Francisco and a weekend house in the Sonoma Valley wine country. ‘‘Most days,

I feel like I’ve won the lottery,’’ he said.

Sakaguchi was particularly interested in Project Aristotle because the team he

previously oversaw at Google hadn’t jelled particularly well. ‘‘There was one senior

engineer who would just talk and talk, and everyone was scared to disagree with

him,’’ Sakaguchi said. ‘‘The hardest part was that everyone liked this guy outside the

group setting, but whenever they got together as a team, something happened that

made the culture go wrong.’’

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.

When Sakaguchi asked his new team to participate, he was greeted with skepticism.

‘‘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.’’

The team completed the survey, and a few weeks later, Sakaguchi received the

results. He was surprised by what they revealed. He thought of the team as a strong

unit. But the results indicated there were weaknesses: When asked to rate whether

the role of the team was clearly understood and whether their work had impact,

members of the team gave middling to poor scores. These responses troubled

Sakaguchi, because he hadn’t picked up on this discontent. He wanted everyone to

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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 think one of the things most people don’t know about me,’’ he told the group, ‘‘is

that I have Stage 4 cancer.’’ In 2001, he said, a doctor discovered a tumor in his

kidney. By the time the cancer was detected, it had spread to his spine. For nearly

half a decade, it had grown slowly as he underwent treatment while working at

Google. Recently, however, doctors had found a new, worrisome spot on a scan of his

liver. That was far more serious, he explained.

No one knew what to say. The team had been working with Sakaguchi for 10 months.

They all liked him, just as they all liked one another. No one suspected that he was

dealing with anything like this.

‘‘To have Matt stand there and tell us that he’s sick and he’s not going to get better

and, you know, what that means,’’ Laurent said. ‘‘It was a really hard, really special


After Sakaguchi spoke, another teammate stood and described some health issues of

her own. Then another discussed a difficult breakup. Eventually, the team shifted its

focus to the survey. They found it easier to speak honestly about the things that had

been bothering them, their small frictions and everyday annoyances. They agreed to

adopt some new norms: From now on, Sakaguchi would make an extra effort to let

the team members know how their work fit into Google’s larger mission; they agreed

to try harder to notice when someone on the team was feeling excluded or down.

There was nothing in the survey that instructed Sakaguchi to share his illness with

the group. There was nothing in Project Aristotle’s research that said that getting

people to open up about their struggles was critical to discussing a group’s norms.

But to Sakaguchi, it made sense that psychological safety and emotional

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conversations were related. The behaviors that create psychological safety —

conversational turn-taking and empathy — are part of the same unwritten rules we

often turn to, as individuals, when we need to establish a bond. And those human

bonds matter as much at work as anywhere else. In fact, they sometimes matter


‘‘I think, until the off-site, I had separated things in my head into work life and life

life,’’ Laurent told me. ‘‘But the thing is, my work is my life. I spend the majority of

my time working. Most of my friends I know through work. If I can’t be open and

honest at work, then I’m not really living, am I?’’

What Project Aristotle has taught people within Google is that no one wants to put on

a ‘‘work face’’ when they get to the office. No one wants to leave part of their

personality and inner life at home. But to be fully present at work, to feel

‘‘psychologically safe,’’ we must know that we can be free enough, sometimes, to

share the things that scare us without fear of recriminations. We must be able to talk

about what is messy or sad, to have hard conversations with colleagues who are

driving us crazy. We can’t be focused just on efficiency. Rather, when we start the

morning by collaborating with a team of engineers and then send emails to our

marketing colleagues and then jump on a conference call, we want to know that

those people really hear us. We want to know that work is more than just labor.

Which isn’t to say that a team needs an ailing manager to come together. Any group

can become Team B. Sakaguchi’s experiences underscore a core lesson of Google’s

research into teamwork: By adopting the data-driven approach of Silicon Valley,

Project Aristotle has encouraged emotional conversations and discussions of norms

among people who might otherwise be uncomfortable talking about how they feel.

‘‘Googlers love data,’’ Sakaguchi told me. But it’s not only Google that loves numbers,

or Silicon Valley that shies away from emotional conversations. Most work ​places do.

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‘‘By putting things like empathy and sensitivity into charts and data reports, it

makes them easier to talk about,’’ Sakaguchi told me. ‘‘It’s easier to talk about our

feelings when we can point to a number.’’

Sakaguchi knows that the spread of his cancer means he may not have much time

left. His wife has asked him why he doesn’t quit Google. At some point, he probably

will. But right now, helping his team succeed ‘‘is the most meaningful work I’ve ever

done,’’ he told me. He encourages the group to think about the way work and life

mesh. Part of that, he says, is recognizing how fulfilling work can be. Project

Aristotle ‘‘proves how much a great team matters,’’ he said. ‘‘Why would I walk away

from that? Why wouldn’t I spend time with people who care about me?’’

he technology industry is not just one of the fastest growing parts of our

economy; it is also increasingly the world’s dominant commercial culture.

And at the core of Silicon Valley are certain self-mythologies and dictums:

Everything is different now, data reigns supreme, today’s winners deserve to

triumph because they are cleareyed enough to discard yesterday’s conventional

wisdoms and search out the disruptive and the new.

The paradox, of course, is that Google’s intense data collection and number

crunching have led it to the same conclusions that good managers have always

known. In the best teams, members listen to one another and show sensitivity to

feelings and needs.

The fact that these insights aren’t wholly original doesn’t mean Google’s

contributions aren’t valuable. In fact, in some ways, the ‘‘employee performance

optimization’’ movement has given us a method for talking about our insecurities,

fears and aspirations in more constructive ways. It also has given us the tools to

quickly teach lessons that once took managers decades to absorb. Google, in other

words, in its race to build the perfect team, has perhaps unintentionally

1/13/19, 2(39 PMWhat Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team – The New York Times

Page 20 of 21

demonstrated the usefulness of imperfection and done what Silicon Valley does best:

figure out how to create psychological safety faster, better and in more productive


‘‘Just having data that proves to people that these things are worth paying attention

to sometimes is the most important step in getting them to actually pay attention,’’

Rozovsky told me. ‘‘Don’t underestimate the power of giving people a common

platform and operating language.’’

Project Aristotle is a reminder that when companies try to optimize everything, it’s

sometimes easy to forget that success is often built on experiences — like emotional

interactions and complicated conversations and discussions of who we want to be

and how our teammates make us feel — that can’t really be optimized. Rozovsky

herself was reminded of this midway through her work with the Project Aristotle

team. ‘‘We were in a meeting where I made a mistake,’’ Rozovsky told me. She sent

out a note afterward explaining how she was going to remedy the problem. ‘‘I got an

email back from a team member that said, ‘Ouch,’ ’’ she recalled. ‘‘It was like a punch

to the gut. I was already upset about making this mistake, and this note totally

played on my insecurities.’’

If this had happened earlier in Rozovsky’s life — if it had occurred while she was at

Yale, for instance, in her study group — she probably wouldn’t have known how to

deal with those feelings. The email wasn’t a big enough affront to justify a response.

But all the same, it really bothered her. It was something she felt she needed to


And thanks to Project Aristotle, she now had a vocabulary for explaining to herself

what she was feeling and why it was important. She had graphs and charts telling

her that she shouldn’t just let it go. And so she typed a quick response: ‘‘Nothing like

1/13/19, 2(39 PMWhat Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team – The New York Times

Page 21 of 21

a good ‘Ouch!’ to destroy psych safety in the morning.’’ Her teammate replied: ‘‘Just

testing your resilience.’’

‘‘That could have been the wrong thing to say to someone else, but he knew it was

exactly what I needed to hear,’’ Rozovsky said. ‘‘With one 30-second interaction, we

defused the tension.’’ She wanted to be listened to. She wanted her teammate to be

sensitive to what she was feeling. ‘‘And I had research telling me that it was O.K. to

follow my gut,’’ she said. ‘‘So that’s what I did. The data helped me feel safe enough

to do what I thought was right.’’

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.

Sign up for our newsletter to get the best of The New York Times Magazine delivered to your inbox every week.

A version of this article appears in print on Feb. 27, 2016, on Page 20 of the Sunday Magazine with the headline: Group Study


Bridging Faultlines in
Diverse Teams

S U M M E R 2 0 0 7 V O L . 4 8 N O. 4

R E P R I N T N U M B E R 4 8 4 1 1

Lynda Gratton, Andreas Voigt and Tamara Erickson

Please note that gray areas reflect artwork that has been
intentionally removed. The substantive content of the
article appears as originally published.


O r g a n i z at i O n

ompanies create diverse teams to take on their most complex challenges —

tasks across boundaries, functions and geographies that no single department

or function could accomplish. Yet guiding these diverse teams to success re-

quires some counterintuitive management practices. In particular, team

leaders should focus on tasks at the early stages, rather than on interpersonal relationships,

and then switch to relationship building when the time is right.

In a recent study of teams at large companies, we found that diverse membership of

teams and task forces is becoming the order of the day. Take Nokia Corp., which frequently

brings together disparate talent from different departments among its businesses around

the globe, while at the same time partnering with many external suppliers. Or consider the

British Broadcasting Corporation, which routinely creates huge teams for events, such as

the production and broadcast teams for the 2006 FIFA World Cup and the 2008 Olympic

Games. These typically involve groups of more than 100 people, a high proportion of whom

are not full-time employees. Team members often represent more than 15 different nation-

alities, with skill sets ranging from electrical work to intellectual property, from scheduling

to production. The BBC’s teams also face the daunting challenge of a one-shot deal for

which execution has to be right the first time.

The challenges that Nokia and the BBC face are by no means unique. Between 2004 and

2006, we partnered with executives from 15 large European and American companies to study

55 of their teams. What was most striking about these teams was their sheer size and complex-

ity. The diversity of Nokia’s design team — with men and women of many nationalities and

with a wide range of ages, representing multiple functions from many different businesses

— was repeated in companies in many different industries from across the globe. Companies

in the media industry (such as Reuters Group PLC and the BBC), in telecommunications

(such as France Telecom and Canadian wireless giant Rogers Communications Inc.) and in

banking (such as Royal Bank of Scotland and Lehman Brothers Inc.) all employ large and

diverse teams to attack some of their most difficult problems. Many of the teams in the study

numbered more than 50 people, all had more than three nationalities represented and most

brought in people from several functions and businesses. (See “About the Research,” p. 24.)

Bridging Faultlines
in Diverse Teams

Lynda Gratton is professor of management practice at London Business School. She is the author of Hot
Spots: Why Some Teams, Workplaces and Organizations Buzz With Energy — and Others Don’t (San Fran-
cisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2007). Andreas Voigt is a research assistant in organizational behavior at
London Business School. Tamara Erickson is president of the Concours Institute, the research and education
arm of the Concours Group, a professional services company headquartered in Kingwood, Texas, and a coau-
thor of Workforce Crisis: How to Beat the Coming Shortage of Skills and Talent (Boston: Harvard Business
School Press, 2006). Comment on this article or contact the authors through [email protected]

Project teams can fly

or founder on the

demographic attributes

of team members and

the fractures they can

create. Here’s how to

recognize the potential

for division, and how

to respond in time when

team fractures do arise.

Lynda Gratton,

Andreas Voigt and

Tamara Erickson



Companies form these teams precisely because they bring to

bear the range of experiences and attitudes that will ensure that

the final product or service will be market-sensitive and innova-

tive — more so than an offering designed by a group of people

with similar characteristics.1 Paradoxically, however, the very

nature of team diversity often creates challenges that reduce the

team’s innovative capacity and even significantly lessen its overall

effectiveness. So while business heads may wish for innovation

through diversity, what they sometimes achieve is reduced pro-

ductivity and efficiency.2

How Diverse Teams Fail, and How Some Succeed
The teams in our study failed in many different ways. Some

could not deliver on time; others fell short of the hoped-for

productivity; still others were unable to produce innovative re-

sults. Some teams broke up in acrimony and

bad feeling; some foundered in incompe-

tence. They were a litany of what could go

wrong. Many executives had been trained to

manage rather simple teams but were sur-

prised at just how hard it is to create a

high-performing team of diverse people.

Analyzing these problems uncovered two

root failures. The first was a failure of collabo-

ration, in which team members did not

develop trust and goodwill among them-

selves.3 The second was a failure of knowledge

sharing, in which team members withheld

their individual knowledge from other team

members or from other teams.4

Why is it so fiendishly difficult to enable

high-performing, diverse teams? To under-

stand the nature of the collaborative and

knowledge-sharing failures, we looked closely

at the demography of the teams. Using com-

plex statistical modeling, we created a unique

demographic profile for each team that took

into account team members’ ages, genders,

nationalities, education levels, functions and

tenures within the company. The model ex-

amined the configurations as a whole and the

interplay of different demographic attributes.

Close examination of these team dem-

ographic profiles revealed that in many cases

the failures in collaboration and knowledge

sharing were a direct result of faultlines —

subgroups or coalitions that emerge naturally

within teams, typically along various dem-

ographic lines. (See “An Overview of Faultline

Theory,” p. 25 for causes and characteristics

of faultlines.) These faultlines split the teams into subgroups

that were based on shared demographic characteristics. When

faultlines emerge, subgroups rarely collaborate with other sub-

groups, instead tending to share knowledge only within their

subgroup. Yet knowledge sharing across subgroups is critical for

complex teams to operate effectively.5

Despite the emergence of faultlines in many of the 55 teams,

some teams were able to work collaboratively and share knowl-

edge. Deeper analysis of these productive and innovative teams

showed that a defining factor was the behavior of the team leader

and the way in which she or he structured the leadership role.

Thus, although faultlines are a common hazard, some executives

are able to reduce the problems associated with diverse teams

and, indeed, to enhance the benefits.

In particular, the executives’ leadership style and the manner


in which they prioritized actions significantly reduced the extent

to which faultlines hindered collaboration and the flow of knowl-

edge. By studying the way these executives behaved, we are able

to make recommendations about leading diverse teams. How-

ever, while some of the recommendations are straightforward,

others are deeply counterintuitive and defy the received wisdom

about good management practice.

The Emergence of Faultlines
To illustrate this seeming paradox, consider a team from a tele-

com company in our study. Think of the faultlines in this team

as analogous to geologic fractures in the Earth’s crust. Like geo-

logic fractures, faultlines can remain dormant and invisible for

some time. Geologic fractures explode as earthquakes when put

under immense pressure. The same is true of team faultlines,

which cross multiple layers of demography. In many cases, the

tensions of the faultlines emerge under the pressure of a com-

plex, time-dependent task.

The stated goal of the telecom team was to bring together

several parts of the business to build an innovative product and

service offering for one of the company’s major multinational

clients. Many of the client’s needs were standard, but meeting

their expectations would require the creation of a rather complex

service and delivery process. A business unit head was assigned

leadership of the new project and given charge of a core group of

22 people. She had to bring together the remainder of the team,

which was expected to total 48 people, from the four countries in

which the client had significant operations (Germany, the United

States, Japan and France), drawing from three functions (tech-

nology, marketing and operations). Although this may seem a

rather large and diverse team, many of the teams studied were of

a comparable size and complexity.

Initial Faultline Formation Is Based On Surface-Level Attributes
The telecom team members began to get to know one another

through face-to-face encounters and e-mails. Within a short

time, however, the initial faultlines began to emerge. These fault-

lines were drawn around readily detectable demographic

attributes — for example, the team members’ age, gender and

functional background. Team members typically use obvious

characteristics to assign themselves and others to subgroups. In

this team, an early faultline emerged between a subgroup of male

technical engineers and a subgroup of female marketing special-

ists. Other subgroups rapidly emerged: for example, between

people of French nationality (many of whom had been in the

company for years and were typically in their 40s and 50s) and

Americans (many of whom had joined the company recently and

were in their 20s and 30s). Note that none of these subgroups was

based on a unitary dimension but rather on the combination of

multiple dimensions (gender and function in the first case; na-

tionality, age and job tenure in the second). A strong faultline

emerged because the team members fell into distinct, nonover-

lapping subgroups based on demographic attributes. (See “The

Emergence of Faultlines in a Telecom Team,” p. 26.)

As a rule, when subgroups emerge within complex teams, each

tends to see itself as an “in-group” — people like us, who we like

because we have something in common — and those across the

boundary of the faultline as an “out-group” — people not like us,

whose interests we may find puzzling. Each subgroup within the

telecom team collaborated closely among its members, who all

got to know, like and trust one another. In a sense, what each

subgroup was doing was learning more about what its members

already knew. This deepening of knowledge can be crucial as a

team builds professional insight and muscle. However, for a team

to become truly innovative, the combination of knowledge across

subgroups is essential.6

As members of the telecom team’s subgroups began to iden-

tify more strongly with one another, the team leader came to

understand that the emerging faultlines had negative conse-

quences. The dealings across the subgroups became a source of

tension and conflict, particularly under the pressure of task dead-

O r g a n i z at i O n


We studied 55 workgroups in 15 European and American

companies (ABN AMRO, BBC, BP, Citigroup, France Telecom,

Lehman Brothers, Marriott, Nokia, PricewaterhouseCoopers,

Reuters, Rogers Communications, Royal Bank of Scotland,

Siemens AG, Standard Chartered Bank and XL Global Serv-

ices). The study was based on a quantitative survey of

1,543 members of the workgroups and their leaders. The

teams ranged in size from four to 184 people, with an av-

erage team size of 43 members. Most of the teams were

diverse in terms of gender (32% women), age (ranging

from 4% under 25 to 15% over 46), nationality (26% Brit-

ish, 23% American, 23% European, 15% Asian and 13% rest

of world) and education level (7% high school diploma,

50% undergraduate degree, 37% master’s degree, and 6%

doctorate). We achieved a 64% response rate.

We measured demographic faultline strength along six

demographic variables: gender, age, nationality, educa-

tion, work function and tenure in the company. We

applied a statistical procedure that produced an overall

quantitative index of faultline strength by combining the

effects of all individual attributes. We used multiple re-

gression analyses to identify the faultlines and to control

for the size of the group, the degree of task complexity,

the geographical distance between team members and

industry-level differences.

About the Research


lines. For example, the predominately male engineers at one stage

refused to allow the predominately female marketing group ac-

cess to some of their product findings. The story was that this

information was too technically sophisticated for the marketing

function; the reality was that the engineering subgroup did not

want to let go of their valuable knowledge. The subgroups just

didn’t seem to understand one another — they did not know the

other’s interior language, and they did not understand the other’s

key concepts and models.

Deep-Level Attributes Come Into Play At Later Stages of Team
Development As complex teams develop and group members get

to know more about one another, a deeper layer of faultlines

becomes visible — this time based not on surface-level attri-

butes but rather on subtler, deep-level attributes such as personal

values, dispositions and attitudes. At the time of a team’s forma-

tion, these deeper-level attributes are not visible. They emerge as

team members interact with one another and reveal themselves

through their actions, words and what they choose to disclose

about their personal lives.7

In the telecom company team, a later set of subgroups also

formed around values, disposition and

attributes. A faultline surfaced between

those members with cooperative values

and a subgroup of people with more

competitive values.

The Leader’s Role in Faultlines
In the geological analogy to faultlines,

various external factors (such as pres-

sure) have an impact on how a fault

actually fractures. Similarly, many as-

pects of a team’s context can affect the

extent to which faultlines impact the

team’s performance. Two examples are

the extent of the cooperative culture in

which the team operates and the de-

gree to which team members believe

senior executives work across bound-

aries. The most important factor in

determining whether destructive fault-

lines emerged was the style of leader,

and in particular the extent to which

the group’s leader was task-oriented or

relationship-oriented.8 Some leaders in

the study were able to adjust their lead-

ership styles as the project progressed,

beginning with a task orientation and

then switching to a relationship orien-

tation, or beginning with a relationship

orientation and switching to a task orientation. (See “The Four

Paths of Leadership Style,” p. 27.)

Path 1: Task Orientation In this pathway, the team leader uses a

strong and consistent task-oriented leadership style, as perceived

by team members, during the entire life of the team or project.

The leader can do this by creating a detailed project plan, build-

ing tight schedules for the work and emphasizing performance

goals that are high but realistic. This type of leader places great

emphasis on the task at hand, so he or she strives to remain ac-

cessible at all times and provide information that team members

need to carry out their day-to-day work. Leaders who follow this

pathway are often technically proficient — and they see their role

as providing the team with the technical and specialist assistance

critical to the task.

Path 2: Relationship Orientation This type of leader places par-

ticular emphasis on the culture of the team and on the extent

and depth of relationships among team members. They do this

by treating team members with kindness and respect, encourag-

ing a climate of trust and cooperation and providing recognition


Faultline theory explains how a combination and the configuration of the attributes of

team members can influence the team’s behavior and ultimately its performance. The

attributes that drive faultlines can be surface-level or deep-level. Readily detectable at-

tributes such as gender, age, nationality and education are surface-level. Underlying,

or deep-level, attributes include values, personality and knowledge.

Strong faultlines emerge in a team when there are a few fairly homogeneous

subgroups that are able to identify themselves. Weak faultlines can emerge in two

rather different configurations. Faultlines generally do not emerge, or do so only

weakly, when all the members of the team are rather similar (for example, the same

age and job function). However, at the other end of the spectrum, faultlines also are

unlikely to emerge when there is heterogeneity — when the members of the team

are all very different from one another (for example, different ages and working in

different job functions).

Strong faultlines are particularly likely to emerge when all the demographic attrib-

utes of the members of the subgroups form distinct, nonoverlapping categories. For

example, a strong faultline will emerge if all women in a team are over 50 years old and

all the men are under 30. In this example, gender and age have formed a single, strong


Whether a faultline emerges depends on how apparent the attribute is to members

of the team. As the team members get to know each other better and learn what is

similar and what is different, the possible sources of potential faultlines increase.

Strong faultlines can create a fracture in the social fabric of the team. This fracture

can become a source of tension and a barrier to the creation of trust and goodwill and

to the exchange of knowledge and information. Inevitably, therefore, when strong

faultlines emerge, the team’s creative and innovative capacity is severely limited.

An Overview of Faultline Theory


and appreciation for individual and group accomplishments.

These leaders are often skilled communicators and listeners.

Path 3: Task Orientation, Switching to Relationship Orientation In this

pathway, the leader begins with a strong task-oriented style by

setting targets and scheduling work. As the project progresses,

these leaders encourage team members to collaborate with one

another and work to increase the general trust and goodwill

within the team.

Path 4: Relationship Orientation, Switching to Task Orientation This

type of leader begins by creating a feeling of trust within the

team, putting an emphasis on socialization and meetings. As the

project progresses, these leaders move to a more task-oriented

approach by setting clear goals and standards and carefully

monitoring the group’s progress.

Which, if any, of these leadership paths is most appropriate

when there are strong faultlines in a team? Where it is likely

strong faultlines will emerge, the natural tendency of many lead-

ers is to encourage team members to come together through

meetings and socializing. In effect, these leaders take Path 2.

However, this leadership action actually increases the likelihood

that faultlines will strengthen: when team members simply so-

cialize, their differences become more apparent, and the fractures

in the team can solidify.

In fact, a leader can significantly mitigate faultlines — but not

in the most obvious manner. To increase collaboration and

knowledge sharing across teams with strong faultlines, leaders

need to vary their leadership style according to how long the

team has been together. There are times when a task-oriented

style works very well and other times when a relationship orien-

tation would be more appropriate.

Recommendations For Leading Diverse Teams
The leaders of complex teams should take four actions:

1. Diagnose the Probability of Faultlines Emerging At the outset of

a project, team leaders should think very carefully about the

diversity in their team and strive to predict as accurately as pos-

sible the probability of faultlines emerging. (See “The

Probability of Strong Faultlines Emerging in a Team,” p. 28 for

a short questionnaire that provides a way of gauging this likeli-

hood.) It is important to remember that faultlines are not a

natural result of diversity per se but are found in situations of

moderate diversity, when a team is neither very homogeneous

nor very heterogeneous in member attributes. A medium de-

gree of diversity leads to the emergence of only a

few fairly homogeneous subgroups. The divides

between these subgroups create the tensions that

can impede the team’s functioning.

If there is a high probability of subgroups and

faultlines emerging, then the leader should empha-

size a task-oriented leadership style in the early

stages of the project.

2. Focus on Task Orientation When a Team Is Newly
Formed As previously mentioned, the inclination

for many leaders when they saw faultlines emerg-

ing in a new team was to focus on the relationships

between members of the subgroups. The leaders

created opportunities for people to get to know

one another better, hoping that socializing would

cause the faultlines to be bridged. Yet this exacer-

bates the problem. Simply put, in a team’s early

going, the more people interact with one another,

the more likely they are to make snap judgments

and to emphasize their differences.

A better strategy for leaders of teams with poten-

tial faultlines is to create energy around the task

itself. This was clearly visible in teams at the Royal

Bank of Scotland. In these teams — even those with

strong faultlines — collaboration and knowledge

sharing were strengthened through a host of task-

O r g a n i z at i O n


Faultlines quickly emerged around obvious demographic attributes with

the formation of a team in a telecommunications company. None of the

subgroups was based on a unitary dimension but rather on the combina-

tion of multiple dimensions (gender and function in the first case;

nationality, age and job tenure in the second).

The Emergence of Faultlines in a Telecom Team

Male Engineers

Female Marketers




oriented characteristics. At the beginning of team formation,

leaders created very detailed descriptions of realistic perfor-

mance goals. Next, the work was planned and scheduled with

precision: Every project was on a 30-day, 60-day or 90-day time-

table. At this early stage, much effort was focused on providing

the necessary resources and coordinating team members’ activi-

ties. Team members learned about one another’s skills and

competencies rather than about their personalities and lives.

This task orientation focused the attention of team members on

performance and requirements. Subgroups did emerge, but they

revolved around task-oriented characteristics such as functional

expertise and education, rather than personality differences. By

learning who they could go to for particular types of informa-

tion, the subgroups at Royal Bank of Scotland were able to move

swiftly into the task itself

However, while this approach increases the early effectiveness

of teams, it is not as useful for dealing with some of the tensions

that later emerge, such as around deeper personality traits and

differences in values. To do this, team leaders must learn how and

when to switch leadership styles.

3. Learn When to Make the Switch Focusing on the task is crucial

to the early effectiveness of a team in which strong faultlines are

expected to emerge. However, if the team is to be effective in the

longer term, then the leader has to switch styles from task ori-

entation to relationship orientation. If the leader fails to make

this switch, the team will slowly become less effective, as ob-

served in one of the media teams in our study. The team leader

began with a task orientation, coordinating the

team’s activities, creating clear schedules and

providing technical support. This support from

the top initially ensured that the subgroups

learned more about each other and began the

process of sharing knowledge. At the same

time, the leader’s capacity to clearly state the

team’s mission and create a common goal en-

sured that the subgroups became strongly

aligned to a common purpose despite the fault-

lines already running through the team. The

members of the team began to feel that they

were united in a goal that was greater than the

differences among the subgroups.

Over time, however, deep-level faultlines in

this complex and diverse team began to emerge

and become increasingly important. The major

faultlines initially had formed around func-

tional specialization and nationality. The

media team’s creative designers came mostly

from the West Coast of the United States, while

the production teams were located on the East

Coast and in Germany. These differences were bridged by the

clear sense of a shared task and goals created by the team

leader. Later, though, subgroups began to form around the at-

tributes and personalities of group members. A subgroup of

high-energy, highly competitive people (known as Type A per-

sonalities) began to form. These are people who like to work

under pressure and create pressure for others, who enjoy the

rush of adrenaline and love competing.9 Members of this sub-

group were drawn from the West and East coasts of the United

States and from Germany; some were men, some were women;

some old, some young. Their deep-level Type A characteristic

cut across the surface-level characteristics.

As the original faultlines began to be bridged through a

shared task, this new personality-based, deep-level faultline be-

came an increasing source of conflict and tension. Those outside

the Type A category created names for them (“the crazies,” “the

no-lifers”), while the Type A subgroup became frustrated by

what they saw as slowness and a lack of focus from the others.

The task-oriented leader — who also had a Type A personality

— failed at this point to switch styles, instead continuing to plan,

organize, schedule and create tasks. Since the Type A subgroup

was the most vocal (and the team leader was a member of the

subgroup), the schedules simply became faster- and faster-paced

and the task demands more and more frequent. Conflicts arose

often, and those outside the Type A subgroup became more iso-

lated, demotivated and unhappy.

This discord came to a head during a performance meeting.

The business unit head overseeing the project criticized the team


The most important factor in determining whether destructive faultlines

emerged in a team was the style of its leader and, in particular, the extent

to which the leader acted along a continuum of task orientation and rela-

tionship orientation.

The Four Paths of Leadership Style




Path 1

Path 4

Path 3
Path 2


leader for the lack of innovative ideas coming from the team.

The team was fast-paced, but the results were often boring and

predictable. Looking back, this outcome should have been no

surprise: Some of the most creative members of the team were

not among the Type A subgroup, whose members were calling

all the shots. Yet those outside the dominant subgroup lacked the

power to slow down the program, argue for time for reflection

or get their creative ideas heard and discussed.10

The team leader had failed to read the signs that called

for switching from task-oriented leadership to relationship-

oriented leadership. The Type A subgroup was able to dominate

by overly influencing the agenda and taking most of the


4. Switch to Relationship Building When the Time Is Right In the

media company example, the team leader had built an effective

team but not an innovative team. The leader had failed to make

the switch that characterizes Path 3 of leadership.

A team leader did follow the third path in one of the fi-

nance companies studied. At one point, tensions were coming

to the fore around different values and personalities among

team members. The team leader — who previously had been

predominately task-oriented — was able to switch to a more

relationship-oriented style. Over the course of a few weeks, the

leader brought the team together for several social activities,

surfaced and talked openly about the tensions the members of

the team felt and showed respect to the various work styles and

values in the group.

Developing Better Teams and Team Leaders
So how does a team leader know when to switch from task ori-

entation to relationship orientation? The switch will be

successful only at the point at which the team has sufficient

shared experience to have developed a clear protocol for com-

munication and coordination of activities and an established

operational structure.11

As a guideline, when all members of a team have developed

specific expectations for the project and have negotiated a

O r g a n i z at i O n


For team leaders: This short survey will show you the probability

of a strong faultline emerging in your team. Rate your team

members against these four elements:

1. The number of nationalities in the team

a. Team members are all of the same nationality.

b. There are two nationalities.

c. There are three to five nationalities.

d. There are six to 10 nationalities.

e. There are more than 11 nationalities.

2. The current age, education and gender of the team members

a. The majority are the same gender and about the same age

and have the same education level.

b. The majority are the same gender and have the same educa-

tion level but are of different ages.

c. The majority are of the same age and have the same educa-

tion level and are both men and women.

d. The majority are the same age and gender and have differ-

ent education levels.

e. The team contains both men and women of different ages

and education levels.

3. The current business location of team members

a. They are all from the same function and the same business.

b. They are all from different functions in the same businesses.

c. They are all from different functions and different busi-

nesses within the company.

d. They are from different businesses and functions in the

company and from longstanding partners from outside the


e. They are from different parts of the company and include

longstanding partners of the company and new partners

and customers of the company.

4. The values and aspirations of the team

a. All members of the team have very similar values, disposi-

tions and attitudes.

b. Many members of the team share values, dispositions and


c. There is a clear divide between groups with regard to values,

dispositions and attitudes.

d. Many people have different values, dispositions and attitudes.

e. There is a great deal of variety in values, dispositions and


Low probability of faultlines emerging:

Scoring mostly a’s and b’s — The team is relatively simple and

homogeneous, so it is unlikely that faultlines will emerge.

Scoring mostly e’s — The team is heterogeneous. Therefore, it is

unlikely that faultlines will emerge.

High probability of faultlines emerging:

Scoring mostly c’s and d’s — This team has a high potential for fault-

lines to emerge because a medium degree of diversity tends to lead

to the development of only a few fairly homogeneous subgroups.

The Probability of Strong Faultlines Emerging in a Team


widely accepted influence structure, then the time is right to

switch to a relationship-oriented leadership style. Instilling

confidence in the team and creating opportunities to socialize

at that point helps the development of new abilities and allows

the team to grow. However, if the team is still trying to learn

the specifics of the project, clarify people’s roles and negotiate

members’ status and authority, then the switch would come

too early and would only amplify the underlying tensions be-

tween subgroups.

This provides important guidelines for managers who head

diverse teams, which are tasked with some of the most impor-

tant and difficult challenges that companies face. But it also

points to an important new development challenge for execu-

tives. Not only do future leaders need to develop solid program

management skills and confident interpersonal skills but they

also need to learn which leadership style to emphasize, based on

their team’s needs and characteristics. Providing team leaders

with a framework for assessing faultlines will give them the in-

sights needed to overcome the divisions and move teams toward

achieving their, and the company’s, ultimate goals.


1. The power of integration on innovation has been described in L.
Gratton, “Managing Integration Through Cooperation,” Human Re-
source Management 44, no. 2 (2005): 151-158; and S. Ghoshal and L.
Gratton, “Integrating the Enterprise,” MIT Sloan Management Review 44,
no. 1 (fall 2002): 31-38.

2. Richard Hackman’s work on group dynamics provides early in-
sights into the formation and maturation of teams; see, for example,
J.R. Hackman, ed., “Groups That Work (and Those That Don’t): Cre-
ating Conditions for Effective Teamwork” (San Francisco:
Jossey-Bass, 1989). The difficulties of managing complex teams are
described in L. Gratton, “Hot Spots: Why Some Teams, Workplaces
and Organizations Buzz With Energy — And Others Don’t” (San
Francisco: Berrett Koehler Publishers, 2007).

3. The way in which teams collaborate with each other is increasingly
seen as central to their effectiveness. An overview of this argument is
provided in S. Alper, D. Tjosvold and K.S. Law, “Interdependence and
Controversy in Group Decision Making: Antecedents to Effective Self-
Managing Teams,” Organizational Behavior and Human Decision
Processes 74, no. 1 (1998): 33-52.

4. Knowledge sharing has been argued to be central to the innovative
capacity of a company. See, for example, I. Nonaka and H. Takeuchi,
“The Knowledge-Creating Company: How Japanese Companies Create
the Dynamics of Innovation” (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995).

5. The challenge of team faultlines is currently being studied by several
scholars. For an academic description of faultline theory, see D.C. Lau
and J.K. Murnighan, “Demographic Diversity and Faultlines: The Com-
positional Dynamics of Organizational Groups,” Academy of
Management Review 23, no. 2 (1998): 325-340.

6. The study of in-groups and out-groups has been a central theme of
group analysis. For an overview of some of the key concepts, see, for
example, H. Tajfel and J.C. Turner, “The Social Identity Theory of
Inter-Group Behavior,” in “Psychology of Intergroup Relations,” ed. S.
Worchel and L.W. Austin (Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1986), 7-24.

7. The distinction between surface-level and deep-level attributes
has been explored in more detail in S.E. Jackson, K.E. May and K.
Whitney, “Understanding the Dynamics of Diversity in Decision-Mak-
ing Teams,” in “Team Effectiveness and Decision Making in
Organizations,” ed. R.A. Guzzo and E. Salas (San Francisco:
Jossey-Bass, 1995), 204-261. For a more academic treatment of the
theory, see D.A. Harrison, K.H. Price and M.P. Bell, “Beyond Rela-
tional Demography: Time and the Effects of Surface- and Deep-Level
Diversity On Work Group Cohesion,” Academy of Management Jour-
nal 41, no. 1 (1998): 96-107.

8. Task orientation and relationship orientation are a continuum
of leadership styles and have been examined in leadership re-
search for more than a decade. For an overview of both, see G.A.
Yukl, “Leadership in Organizations,” 6th ed. (Englewood Cliffs,
New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 2005). The distinction was first made in
the 1950s in the seminal research by E.A. Fleishman, “The Descrip-
tion of Supervisory Behavior,” Journal of Applied Psychology, 37,
no. 1 (1953): 1-6.

9. For a more detailed overview of Type A characters, see, for exam-
ple, M.A. Chesney and R.H. Rosenman, “Type A Behavior in the
Work Setting,” in “Current Concerns in Occupational Stress,” ed. C.L.
Cooper and R. Payne (London: John Wiley, 1980), 187-212; and M.
Friedman and R.H. Rosenman, “Type A Behavior and Your Heart”
(New York: Knopf, 1974), which provides a detailed description of the
psychological construct.

10. The potentially negative impact of speed on creativity has been
explored by several scholars. See, for example, C. Mainemelis,
“When the Muse Takes It All: A Model For the Experience of Time-
lessness in Organizations,” Academy of Management Review 26, no.
4 (2001): 548-565. For an overview on time, see D.G. Ancona, P.S.
Goodman, B.S. Lawrence and M.L. Tushman, “Time: A New Re-
search Lens,” Academy of Management Review 26, no. 4 (2001):

11. For an overview of studies on the impact of time on group develop-
ment and processes, see S. Blount, ed., “Time in Groups,” vol. 6,
“Research on Managing Groups and Teams” (Greenwich, Connecticut:
JAI Press, 2004).

Reprint 48411. For ordering information, see page 1.
Copyright © Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2007. All rights reserved.


A leader can significantly mitigate faultlines. To increase collaboration and knowledge sharing across teams with
strong faultlines, leaders need to vary their leadership style according to how long the team has been together.

Reprint 48411.
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Members must commit
to new behaviors to

accelerate innovation
and growth.

A New



Keith Ferrazzi
Founder, Ferrazzi Greenlight


88 Harvard Business Review
September–October 2022

Harvard Business Review
September–October 2022  89


was on a mission to reinvent his
company. As the incoming CEO of NI
(formerly National Instruments),
a Texas-based automated test and
measurement engineering firm, he
wanted to speed up decision-making
and accelerate growth. He wanted
pushback and alternative directions
from his leadership team but was met
with conflict avoidance. One team
member recalls, “We were overly polite
but not necessarily kind to one another.
And people certainly didn’t speak
their minds.”

It was early 2020, and Starkloff
wanted the $1.2 billion company to
become more agile—to operate more
like a tech firm. He believed that cul-
ture change was required. He wanted
his senior leaders to understand that
they didn’t always need to wait for
him to make big calls. He wanted to
spark collaboration and candor. And
he needed to do all that virtually; the
Covid-19 pandemic was about to send
the team remote.


Dillon Marsh photographs the giant communal nests of sociable
weaverbirds, which typically nest in trees but have adapted
to the barren landscapes of the southern Kalahari Desert by using
the utility poles that cut across their habitat.TEAMS

E But fast-forward several months,
and everything was different. The
leadership team had engineered trust
and created a culture of innovation
and speedier decision-making. “The
most tangible change is the ability to
escalate and make critical business
decisions faster,” Starkloff says. “The
process is collaborative, so the buy-in
is greater. In the past we sometimes
thought that collaborative decision-
making and fast decision-making were
at odds. But there are techniques for
achieving both.”

The plight in which Starkloff found
himself is a common one. Companies
have traditionally emphasized leader-
ship competencies, not team compe-
tencies. In focusing so heavily on what
it means to be a great leader, they’ve
often lost sight of what it means to
be a great team. It’s past time to right
the imbalance—to recognize that the
transformation of an organization
must begin with the transformation of
its teams. Leaders and team members
must commit to a new social contract
to escape mediocre or merely good
performance, accelerate innovation,
and unleash growth.

At the Greenlight Research Insti-
tute we have conducted more than
a thousand diagnostic assessments
of teams over two decades. We have

90 Harvard Business Review
September–October 2022

In focusing so heavily on what it means to be a great leader, companies
have often lost sight of what it means to be a great team.


Companies have
traditionally prioritized
leadership competencies
over team competencies.
In doing so they may have
hampered both innova-
tion and growth.

To achieve breakthrough
performance, teams
should commit to a new
social contract that em-
phasizes candor, collabo-
ration, accountability, and
continual improvement.

Team members can
engage in collaborative
problem solving; bullet-
proof upcoming initia-
tives; use candor breaks,
red-flag replays, and
safe words to facilitate
constructive criticism;
and hold open 360s in
which they take respon-
sibility for coaching and
developing one another.

Harvard Business Review
September–October 2022  91

researched and coached established companies including
Unilever, Hitachi, Verizon, and GM, along with a number of
fast-growing start-ups and unicorns. Among our findings
is that 71% of team members aren’t committed to elevating
one another by offering feedback on professional capabil-
ities and business practices and performance. The same
percentage don’t believe that their team collaboratively
engages in the most important business problems across
the organization, while 74% don’t agree that their team is
accountable for shared goals. And 81% say that their team
is not operating at anywhere near its full potential.

In this article I pres ent a simple diagnostic for assessing
your team on the critical dimensions that can ignite or inhibit
superior performance. I then describe several practices
designed to move members away from outdated behaviors
and facilitate lasting, positive change. Although our exam-
ples involve leadership teams, these practices can be used at
any level and implemented in any context—in person, fully
remote, or hybrid—but are especially effective in virtual
environments, which permit a broader range of collaborative
practices than strictly in-person formats allow. Along the way
I show how Starkloff effected a turnaround for NI’s leaders
and other teams across the organization. (Disclosure: Ferrazzi
Greenlight worked with NI to achieve the turnaround.)

Essential Team Behaviors
Before you can change the ways in which your team mem-
bers interact and operate, you need a clear view of how
they are functioning right now. Too often members have an
unspoken agreement to avoid conflict, stick to their individ-
ual areas of responsibility, and refrain from criticism in front
of the boss. And they may be willing to take advice only from
higher-ups, not recognizing the vital role of peer-to-peer
feedback. All that needs to change.

The following points can serve as both a diagnostic tool
and the basis of a social contract for transformation. Begin
by considering the degree to which each statement reflects
your team’s current behavior. (For a digital version of the
assessment, including scoring and proposed actions, see

→ Our team does not avoid conflict. Members challenge
one another openly and speak candidly in service of our

mission, even when it feels risky to do so or when we are
outside our areas of expertise.

→ Our team does not have silos. Members collaborate and
create tangible value from our interdependencies.

→ We are committed to a shared mission that acts as our
North Star. We adapt and iteratively prioritize and manage
competing demands to reach our goals.

→ Our team is not encumbered by hierarchy or control. All
members strategically build authentic, deep relationships
with external stakeholders who are critical to our success.

→ Members meet their goals and commitments. We hold
one another accountable and are dedicated to doing what-
ever it takes to succeed together.

→ We are seekers, aware of and open about the areas in
which we need to grow, and we proactively coach one another.

→ Members maintain engagement and accept respon-
sibility for elevating one another’s energy, celebrating our
successes, and expressing gratitude.

→ Members are deeply committed to one another. We lead
with generosity and make caring, trusting, and supportive

→ Our team is achieving its full potential as it pursues
breakthrough innovation and transformation.

Next discuss the results with your team. Ask: “Is this
the highest performance we’re capable of? Do we have the
desire and the will to relinquish ways of working that don’t
serve us well and to contract with one another to adopt new
ways drawn from these points?” Break into small groups to
explore the behaviors and discuss which could make the
biggest difference to team performance: Those are the ones
to focus on first. Finally, reconvene the team and commit
as a group to the behaviors you have decided to prioritize.
Start with a limited number and expand once practices have
begun to shift.

Ana Villegas is NI’s chief marketing officer. “We really
needed this kind of reflection if we wanted to change,”
she says. “Leaders have to be agile: able to pivot and adapt
to a constantly evolving landscape.” On top-performing
teams, members are equally committed to the goals of their
respective silos and to enterprise transformation. They have
switched from a “stay in your lane” mindset to a determi-
nation to cross the finish line together. “If our values are ‘be
bold, be kind, be connectors,’ it makes sense that we would

Too often team members have an unspoken agreement to avoid conflict, stick to
their own areas of responsibility, and refrain from criticism in front of the boss.

92 Harvard Business Review
September–October 2022

embrace this form of communication,” Villegas explains.
“We can be honest and kind, and we can see the result in
accelerated growth.”

High-Return Practices for Transformation
Once your team has committed to a new social contract,
it’s time to put the agreed-upon behaviors into use. We at
Ferrazzi Greenlight have identified a suite of high-return
practices that will help you make the transformation.
Adopting them takes hard work and conscious effort at the
start, but they will gain traction and become habits over
time. It can be helpful to appoint a facilitator and team
coach; at NI, Cate Prescott, the chief people officer and a
senior vice president, assumed that role.

Collaborative problem solving. This is a systematic
process of discussion in which a single business-critical
question is the focus of a 60- to 90-minute meeting. A team
might look at prioritizing agenda items for the year ahead,
explore innovations for the company’s retail strategy, or con-
sider risks that might derail the business in the coming six
months. Whatever the topic, members should draw together
data and insights from their wider teams. The aim is robust
dialogue, not consensus. Be clear from the outset about
who will make the final decision. With that understood,
you will avoid resentment over whose ideas are chosen
for implementation.

As teams went remote during the pandemic, digital
breakout sessions became a common tool for moving
discussions forward. Indeed, we’ve found such sessions
to be an important tool in collaborative problem solving,
which derives much of its effectiveness from what we call
the power of three. For half the session the team breaks into
three-person groups to brainstorm. Everyone then comes
together again and the groups report back. People have
more courage in small groups; they are less inhibited about
critiquing ideas and weeding out weak ones. While coaching
teams in collaborative problem solving, we have discovered
that this courage and candor are sustained when the larger
group reconvenes. The temporary tribes formed during the
breakout sessions typically bond in their short time together,
and members would lose face if they watered down their
comments. The team member with decision rights gives

immediate feedback: a clear “Yes, we’ll do that,” a “No, and
here’s why not,” or a “Let’s look at this again after additional
research.” The feedback step is critical: The collaboration
must result in action.

“The concept of candor that starts in small groups and
grows across larger ones is very powerful,” says Scott Rust,
NI’s executive vice president of platform and product.
Having a facilitator capture ideas in a shared document has
been particularly valuable, he adds; that ensures a single,
accurate version of the conversation. “We’ve developed
more trust across the organization,” Rust says. “And that has
given us the confidence to iterate. Previously our style was
to have plans completely buttoned up from the start. But
when you trust your people to understand the intent behind
a plan, they will modify it as needed.” Jason Green, the chief
revenue officer and executive vice president for portfolio,
says, “The tangible outcome is increased sales and greater
collaboration among the business units, with each seeing
the others as empathetic allies.”

Bulletproofing. At some of the most successful com-
panies Ferrazzi Greenlight has studied and worked with,
executive team members keep a partial but constant focus
on the enterprise as a whole, independent of their specific
positions and responsibilities. But such behavior is rare. Far
more frequently we see executives who are strongly turf-
oriented and who prioritize the success of their function or
division above that of the organization.

A practice known as bulletproofing, if used regularly,
can help ensure that teams—executive or otherwise—
collaborate across silos and sustain a strong sense of collec-
tive responsibility and a commitment to enterprise-wide
success. Here’s how it works: A team member pres ents
a high-priority project, ideally in a shared three-column
document detailing what’s been achieved, where the project
is struggling, and what’s planned for the next sprint of
work. He or she then asks for no-holds-barred feedback and
constructive criticism. It is especially easy to manage this in
a virtual context: At the push of a button, members can be
divided into groups of three and sent into breakout rooms
for 10 to 30 minutes, depending on the complexity of the
issue. The three-person groups critique their colleague’s
project, challenging anything that might involve unaccept-
able or unnecessarily high levels of risk, brainstorming ways


Harvard Business Review
September–October 2022  93

to mitigate that risk, and maintaining a respectful, collegial
tone. (Think of it as a kinder, gentler form of red teaming.)
They enter their feedback in a shared document divided
into columns for challenges, innovations, and offers of help.
This ensures that the person responsible for the project has
clear, well-documented input encompassing a variety of
perspectives along with concrete offers of support and that
by the time the project comes to fruition, it has been subject
to rigorous examination and benefits from the full wisdom
of the team.

Bulletproofing can easily be adapted for asynchronous
teams, which face unique challenges and may wonder how
they can collaborate effectively given the limitations on
their ability to meet. Inviting geographically dispersed team
members to submit bulletproofing thoughts via shared
documents can elicit candor and collaboration from even
the most introverted. Ferrazzi Greenlight has found that an
asynchronous context often leads to bolder, more inclusive
collaboration and faster decision-making.

“NI’s leaders sometimes used to feel they had to take some-
thing on and figure it all out themselves,” Starkloff says. “But
this practice allows them to enlist peers in their development
of a solution without lessening their authority or accountabil-
ity. It’s a mindset: You don’t have to solve that on your own.”

Candor breaks, red-flag replays, and safe words.
The importance of candor cannot be overstated. Conflict
avoidance can be corrosive, even deadly, causing teams to
miss opportunities and needlessly exposing them to risk.
Members might recognize hazards but decline to bring them
up, perhaps for fear of being seen as throwing a colleague
under the bus. Instead they confine misgivings and criti-
cisms to private conversations. Senior leaders should make
it clear that back-channel discussions have no place on the
team and should explicitly give permission for the full airing
of feedback of any nature. No matter how sensitive the issue
or how serious the criticism, members must feel free to voice
their thoughts openly—though always constructively—and
respond to critical input with curiosity, recognizing that it is
a crucial step toward a better solution.

Ray Dalio, the founder of the hedge fund Bridgewater
Associates, puts particular emphasis on hiring people who
are comfortable giving and receiving criticism. “We look for
people who think independently, argue open-mindedly and


94 Harvard Business Review
September–October 2022

Harvard Business Review
September–October 2022  95

assertively, and above all else value the intense pursuit of
truth and excellence, and through it, the rapid improvement
of themselves and the organization,” he writes in his 2017
book Principles. “Most important, they must be able to put
their egos aside and assess themselves candidly.”

But what about teams whose established members are
defensive and insecure? In our experience, most companies
struggle mightily with helping such employees acquire
the necessary mindset. Candor breaks can help. During
a meeting, announce a candor break and ask the team,
“What’s not being said?” Divide the team into threes (in
breakout rooms if meeting virtually) to explore the question.
Have each group rec ord its honest thoughts and criticisms.
Circulate the results in a shared document and then orally
after reconvening the full team. Candor breaks can serve as
a coaching mechanism: In time team members will begin
spontaneously sharing their feedback.

You can also use what we call red-flag replays. Much as
football coaches throw down a flag to request review of a
penalty call, any team member—not just the leader—can
pause at any time and ask the team to look back on a recent
interaction by saying, “Let’s have a red-flag replay on that
discussion.” A replay may also be requested if it appears that
a violation of the social contract—such as a back-channel
conversation or an aggressive encounter—has occurred.
In person or in breakout rooms, small groups can discuss
when and how the violation happened and bring their
insights back to the larger team. What could have been done
differently in the moment, and what’s needed to correct the
violation and get the team back on track?

Establishing safe words is another way to foster candor.
Here an agreed-upon word or phrase (it can be just about
anything, from “uncle” to “Yoda in the room”) cues everyone
to take a breath and listen attentively, without interrupting,
to what the person invoking the safe word has to say. (I like to
ask, “May I have a Yoda moment, please?” because I believe
that Yoda’s type of wisdom exists on every team, but only
when everyone’s input is openly shared.) Any team member
may use a safe word anytime he or she feels that a discussion
has gotten off track or has something especially important
(and perhaps controversial) to offer. Having that option on the
table provides the psychological safety needed for members
to speak openly, without fear of igniting destructive conflict.

At NI, where meetings were once marked by conflict
avoidance, candor became commonplace. “The level of
candor on the team was probably the most palpable change,”
Prescott says. “We’re much more confident about having
deep dialogues on crunchy issues—topics where there’s
some contention—because we’re clear that the sole purpose
is to advance the greater good. No one should be looking to
one-up others or make them feel small. It’s about solving
problems together.”

Open 360s. The highest-performing teams we’ve
worked with have had social contracts allowing members
to transparently give one another feedback on performance
and competencies in service of growth. But a full 61% of team
members in our data set said that their peers do not seem to
be exploring areas for growth or seeking any development
opportunities whatsoever, presumably because people are
overwhelmed by heavy workloads and believe they lack the
time. That belief creates a catch-22: Without team-specific
coaching and development, the work is indeed harder than it
needs to be, and collaboration is less effective—so workloads
become even heavier, making people feel even more over-
whelmed and less able to pursue development and growth.

Compounding the problem, many believe that once
they reach the executive ranks, they need less development
than during earlier stages of their careers—and indeed, the
further up the organizational ladder people prog ress, the
less feedback they are apt to receive. But senior leaders need
coaching too, particularly around team behaviors. In today’s
volatile business environment, individuals at every level
must continually improve and grow.

This is where the open 360 comes in. Breakthrough per-
formance becomes far more likely when team members take
responsibility for coaching one another rather than relying
solely on the leader’s input. We’re all familiar with traditional
360 reviews: performance evaluations that solicit feedback
from all directions, typically anonymously and in writing.
In an open 360 every member gets feedback from peers
orally, in a transparent, teamwide forum. We recommend
starting with the leader and asking teammates to take turns
giving feedback in two rounds. In the first round, to inocu-
late against defensiveness, members should celebrate some
aspect of their teammate’s performance—for example, “What
I most admire about you is…” In the second round they should


Most companies struggle mightily with helping defensive and
insecure employees acquire the necessary mindset.

96 Harvard Business Review
September–October 2022

offer constructive, affirmative criticisms. For instance, a
recommendation for improvement might begin: “Because
your success is so important to our success, I’d suggest…”
Villegas says, “The exercise may have pushed us out of our
comfort zones, but that’s where real change occurs. The team
developed more-cohesive trust.”

T H E C H A N GE I N culture and behaviors on NI’s leadership
team fueled improved performance. The firm reached
$1.47 billion in revenue in 2021—a 9% increase over 2019—
and posted all-time record revenue and orders in the fourth
quarter of the year. The process for making strategic
decisions has been radically transformed, despite all the
challenges of working remotely.

“I remember an all-day Zoom meeting that we were
all kind of dreading,” Starkloff says. “An eight-hour Zoom
meeting—are you kidding me? And the topic was a heavy
one: planning how to operate during Covid. We knew we
would need to make tough decisions and trade-offs. But to

a person, everyone said, ‘Wow, I have more energy leav-
ing this meeting than when we started it.’ It was a bit of
a breakthrough: the realization that you can run a forum
in ways that are motivating and that create energy and

NI used to iterate strategy over several months, he
adds, and decisions came strictly from the top, without
everyone’s buy-in. “That tension would lead to all kinds of
passive-aggressive behavior, and people wouldn’t really
observe the spirit of decisions,” he recalls. “There’s a big
difference between saying ‘We’re all in’ and really believing
it and just reluctantly complying. We’re definitely in the
former category today.” HBR Reprint R2205F

KEITH FERRAZZI is the chair and founder of Ferrazzi
Greenlight, a Los Angeles–based global teams consulting

and coaching firm, and a coauthor of Competing in the New World
of Work: How Radical Adaptability Separates the Best from the
Rest (Harvard Business Review Press, 2022).

Harvard Business Review
September–October 2022  97

Copyright 2022 Harvard Business Publishing. All Rights Reserved. Additional restrictions
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ARTWORK Jeff Perrott, RW13 (Fair Game), 2010
Oil on canvas; Museum of Fine Arts, BostonSPOTLIGHT

70  Harvard Business Review June 2016


Martine Haas is an
associate professor of
management at the
Wharton School at the
University of Pennsylvania.
Mark Mortensen is an
associate professor of
organizational behavior

The Secrets
of Great
Collaboration has become more
complex, but success still
depends on the fundamentals.

Today’s teams are different from
the teams of the past: They’re
far more diverse, dispersed,

digital, and dynamic (with frequent
changes in membership). But
while teams face new hurdles, their
success still hinges on a core set of
fundamentals for group collaboration.

June 2016 Harvard Business Review 71


The basics of team effectiveness were identified
by J. Richard Hackman, a pioneer in the field of or-
ganizational behavior who began studying teams
in the 1970s. In more than 40 years of research, he
uncovered a groundbreaking insight: What matters
most to collaboration is not the personalities, atti-
tudes, or behavioral styles of team members. Instead,
what teams need to thrive are certain “enabling con-
ditions.” In our own studies (see the sidebar “About
the Research”), we’ve found that three of Hackman’s
conditions—a compelling direction, a strong struc-
ture, and a supportive context—continue to be par-
ticularly critical to team success. In fact, today those
three requirements demand more attention than
ever. But we’ve also seen that modern teams are vul-
nerable to two corrosive problems—“us versus them”
thinking and incomplete information. Overcoming
those pitfalls requires a fourth critical condition:
a shared mindset.

The key takeaway for leaders is this: Though
teams face an increasingly complicated set of chal-
lenges, a relatively small number of factors have
an outsized impact on their success. Managers can
achieve big returns if they understand what those
factors are and focus on getting them right.

The Enabling Conditions
Let’s explore in greater detail how to create a cli-
mate that helps diverse, dispersed, digital, dynamic
teams—what we like to call 4-D teams—attain
high performance.

Compelling direction. The foundation of every
great team is a direction that energizes, orients, and
engages its members. Teams cannot be inspired if
they don’t know what they’re working toward and
don’t have explicit goals. Those goals should be chal-
lenging (modest ones don’t motivate) but not so dif-
ficult that the team becomes dispirited. They also
must be consequential: People have to care about

achieving a goal, whether because they stand to gain
extrinsic rewards, like recognition, pay, and promo-
tions; or intrinsic rewards, such as satisfaction and
a sense of meaning.

On 4-D teams, direction is especially crucial be-
cause it’s easy for far-flung members from dissimilar
backgrounds to hold different views of the group’s
purpose. Consider one global team we studied. All
the members agreed that serving their client was
their goal, but what that meant varied across loca-
tions. Members in Norway equated it with providing
a product of the absolute highest quality—no matter
what the cost. Their colleagues in the UK, however,
felt that if the client needed a solution that was only
75% accurate, the less precise solution would bet-
ter serve that client. Solving this tension required
a frank discussion to reach consensus on how the
team as a whole defined its objectives.

Strong structure. Teams also need the right
mix and number of members, optimally designed
tasks and processes, and norms that discourage
destructive behavior and promote positive dynamics.

High-performing teams include members with
a balance of skills. Every individual doesn’t have
to possess superlative technical and social skills,
but the team overall needs a healthy dose of both.
Diversity in knowledge, views, and perspectives, as
well as in age, gender, and race, can help teams be
more creative and avoid groupthink.

This is one area where 4-D teams often have an
advantage. In research we conducted at the World
Bank, we found that teams benefited from having
a blend of cosmopolitan and local members—that
is, people who have lived in multiple countries and
speak multiple languages, and people with deep
roots in the area they’re working in. Cosmopolitan
members bring technical knowledge and skills and
expertise that apply in many situations, while locals
bring country knowledge and insight into an area’s

It’s easy for far-flung team
members from diverse
backgrounds to hold different
views of a group’s purpose.
72  Harvard Business Review June 2016


politics, culture, and tastes. In one of the bank’s
teams, this combination proved critical to the suc-
cess of a project upgrading an urban slum in West
Africa. A local member pointed out that a microcredit
scheme might be necessary to help residents pay for
the new water and sanitation services planned by the
team, while a cosmopolitan member shared valuable
information about problems faced in trying to imple-
ment such programs in other countries. Taking both
perspectives into account, the team came up with
a more sustainable design for its project.

Adding members is of course one way to en-
sure that a team has the requisite skills and diver-
sity, but increased size comes with costs. Larger
teams are more vulnerable to poor communication,
fragmentation, and free riding (due to a lack of ac-
countability). In the executive sessions we lead, we
frequently hear managers lament that teams be-
come bloated as global experts are pulled in and
more members are recruited to increase buy-in from
different locations, divisions, or functions. Team
leaders must be vigilant about adding members
only when necessary. The aim should be to include
the minimum number—and no more. One manager
told us that anytime she receives a request to add a
team member, she asks what unique value that per-
son will bring to the group and, in cases where the
team is already at capacity, which current member
will be released.

Team assignments should be designed with
equal care. Not every task has to be highly creative or
inspiring; many require a certain amount of drudg-
ery. But leaders can make any task more motivating
by ensuring that the team is responsible for a signifi-
cant piece of work from beginning to end, that the
team members have a lot of autonomy in managing
that work, and that the team receives performance
feedback on it.

With 4-D teams, people in different locations
often handle different components of a task, which
raises challenges. Consider a software design team
based in Santa Clara, California, that sends chunks
of code to its counterparts in Bangalore, India, to re-
vise overnight. Such 24/7 development is common
as firms seek to use time zone differences to their
advantage. But in one such team we spoke with, that
division of labor was demotivating, because it left
the Indian team members with a poor sense of how
the pieces of code fit together and with little control
over what they did and how. Moreover, the develop-
ers in Bangalore got feedback only when what they
sent back didn’t fit. Repartitioning the work to give
them ownership over an entire module dramati-
cally increased their motivation and engagement
and improved the quality, quantity, and efficiency
of their work.

Destructive dynamics can also undermine collab-
orative efforts. We’ve all seen team members with-
hold information, pressure people to conform, avoid
responsibility, cast blame, and so on. Teams can
reduce the potential for dysfunction by establishing
clear norms—rules that spell out a small number of
things members must always do (such as arrive at
meetings on time and give everyone a turn to speak)
and a small number they must never do (such as in-
terrupt). Instilling such norms is especially impor-
tant when team members operate across different
national, regional, or organizational cultures (and
may not share the same view of, for example, the
importance of punctuality). And in teams whose
membership is fluid, explicitly reiterating norms at
regular intervals is key.

Supportive context. Having the right support
is the third condition that enables team effective-
ness. This includes maintaining a reward system
that reinforces good performance, an information

Idea in Brief
Teams are more diverse,
dispersed, digital, and dynamic
than ever before. These
qualities make collaboration
especially challenging.

Mixing new insights with a
focus on the fundamentals of
team effectiveness identified
by organizational-behavior
pioneer J. Richard Hackman,
managers should work to
establish the conditions that
will enable teams to thrive.

The right conditions are
• a compelling direction
• a strong structure
• a supportive context, and
• a shared mindset
Weaknesses in these areas
make teams vulnerable to

Over the past 15 years,
we’ve studied teams and
groups in a variety of
contemporary settings.
We’ve conducted nine
large research projects
in global organizations,
undertaking more than
300 interviews and 4,200
surveys with team leaders
and managers. The teams
involved worked on projects
in product development,
sales, operations, finance,
R&D, senior management,
and more, in a wide range
of industries, including
software, professional
services, manufacturing,
natural resources, and
consumer products.
In addition, we have
conducted executive
education sessions on
team effectiveness for
thousands of team leaders
and members; their stories
and experiences have also
shaped our thinking.

June 2016 Harvard Business Review 73


leaders can do by fostering a common identity and
common understanding.

In the past teams typically consisted of a stable
set of fairly homogeneous members who worked
face-to-face and tended to have a similar mindset.
But that’s no longer the case, and teams now often
perceive themselves not as one cohesive group but
as several smaller subgroups. This is a natural hu-
man response: Our brains use cognitive shortcuts to
make sense of our increasingly complicated world,
and one way to deal with the complexity of a 4-D
team is to lump people into categories. But we also
are inclined to view our own subgroup—whether it’s
our function, our unit, our region, or our culture—
more positively than others, and that habit often
creates tension and hinders collaboration.

This was the challenge facing Alec, the manager
of an engineering team at ITT tasked with providing
software solutions for high-end radio communica-
tions. His team was split between Texas and New
Jersey, and the two groups viewed each other with
skepticism and apprehension. Differing time zones,
regional cultures, and even accents all reinforced
their dissimilarities, and Alec struggled to keep all
members up to speed on strategies, priorities, and
roles. The situation got so bad that during a team
visit to a customer, members from the two offices
even opted to stay in separate hotels. In an effort
to unite the team, Alec took everyone out to dinner,
only to find the two groups sitting at opposite ends
of the table.

Incomplete information is likewise more preva-
lent in 4-D teams. Very often, certain team mem-
bers have important information that others do
not, because they are experts in specialized areas
or because members are geographically dispersed,
new, or both. That information won’t provide much
value if it isn’t communicated to the rest of the team.
After all, shared knowledge is the cornerstone of

system that provides access to the data needed for
the work, and an educational system that offers
training, and last—but not least—securing the mate-
rial resources required to do the job, such as funding
and technological assistance. While no team ever
gets everything it wants, leaders can head off a lot
of problems by taking the time to get the essential
pieces in place from the start.

Ensuring a supportive context is often difficult
for teams that are geographically distributed and
digitally dependent, because the resources available
to members may vary a lot. Consider the experience
of Jim, who led a new product-development team
at General Mills that focused on consumer goods
for the Mexican market. While Jim was based in
the United States, in Minnesota, some members of
his team were part of a wholly owned subsidiary in
Mexico. The team struggled to meet its deadlines,
which caused friction. But when Jim had the op-
portunity to visit his Mexican team members, he
realized how poor their IT was and how strapped
they were for both capital and people—particularly
in comparison with the headquarters staff. In that
one visit Jim’s frustration turned to admiration for
how much his Mexican colleagues were able to ac-
complish with so little, and he realized that the
problems he’d assumed were due to a clash between
cultures were actually the result of differences
in resources.

Shared mindset. Establishing the first three
enabling conditions will pave the way for team
success, as Hackman and his colleagues showed.
But our research indicates that today’s teams need
something more. Distance and diversity, as well as
digital communication and changing membership,
make them especially prone to the problems of “us
versus them” thinking and incomplete informa-
tion. The solution to both is developing a shared
mindset among team members—something team

The problems that the team
leader assumed were due to a
culture clash were actually the
result of differences in resources.
74  Harvard Business Review June 2016


Returning to Alec, the manager of the team
whose subgroups booked separate hotels: While his
dinner started with the Texas colleagues at one end
of the table and the New Jersey colleagues at the
other, by its close signs had emerged that the team
was chipping away at its internal wall. Over the fol-
lowing weeks, Alec stressed the important roles
members from the two offices played in achieving
the team’s exciting and engaging goal—designing
new software for remotely monitoring hardware. He
emphasized that both subteams contributed neces-
sary skills and pointed out that they depended on
each other for success. To build more bridges, he
brought the whole team together several more
times over the next few months, creating shared
experiences and common reference points and sto-
ries. Because of his persistent efforts, team mem-
bers started to view the team not as “us and them”
but as “we.”

effective collaboration; it gives a group a frame of ref-
erence, allows the group to interpret situations and
decisions correctly, helps people understand one
another better, and greatly increases efficiency.

Digital dependence often impedes information
exchange, however. In face-to-face teams, partici-
pants can rely on nonverbal and contextual cues to
provide insight into what’s going on. When we walk
into an in-person meeting, for example, we can im-
mediately sense the individual and collective moods
of the people in the room—information that we use
(consciously or not) to tailor subsequent interactions.
Having to rely on digital communication erodes the
transmission of this crucial type of intelligence.

Some effects of incomplete information came
to light during a recent executive education session
at Takeda Pharmaceuticals in Japan. The audience
was split roughly 50/50 between employees based
in Japan and those based in the United States. One
of the U.S. managers took the opportunity to ask
about something that had puzzled him. Takeda’s

“share the pain” strategy for dealing with time zone
differences alternated the scheduling of confer-
ence calls between late nights in America and late
nights in Asia, and he wondered why his Japanese
colleagues seemed to take their late-night calls in
the office, while he and his U.S. colleagues always
took them at home. His Japanese colleagues’ re-
sponses revealed a variety of motivations for this
choice—desire for work/life separation, a need to
run language questions by coworkers, and the lack
of home office space in a typical Osaka apartment.
But the result was the same: Though Takeda execu-
tives had intended to “share the pain,” they had not.
The Americans left the office at a normal hour, had
dinner with their families, and held calls in the com-
fort of their homes, while their Japanese colleagues
stayed in the office, missed time with their families,
and hoped calls ended before the last train home.
In this case, however, the incomplete informa-
tion wasn’t about the task; it was about something
equally critical: how the Japanese members of the
team experienced their work and their relationships
with distant team members.

Fortunately, there are many ways team leaders
can actively foster a shared identity and shared un-
derstanding and break down the barriers to coop-
eration and information exchange. One powerful ap-
proach is to ensure that each subgroup feels valued
for its contributions toward the team’s overall goals.

Does Your Team Measure Up?

Then score your team on the following aspects of the conditions
for effectiveness:

Do we have a
common goal
that is clear,
challenging (but
not impossible),
and consequential?

Do we have the
right number and
mix of members?

Are people
for tasks from
beginning to end?

Do we have
clear norms
for acceptable

Do we have
the resources,
information, and
training we need?

Are there
rewards for

Do the team
members have a
strong common

Do we readily
share information
with one another
and understand
one another’s
and context?

This assessment draws on the seminal research of the organizational-behavior
expert J. Richard Hackman. You can find more of his insights in Leading
Teams: Setting the Stage for Great Performance (Harvard Business School
Publishing, 2002).

On a scale of 1 (worst) to 5 (best), rate your team on these criteria:

Are our customers
happy with our output—
with its quality, quantity,
and delivery?

Do our team’s dynamics
help us work well

Are individual team
members improving
their knowledge, skills,
and abilities?

To see how your team is doing, evaluate it on the three classic criteria of
team effectiveness. Then look at how well it meets the four conditions
that drive the success of teams in a diverse, dispersed, digital, dynamic
business. Underperformance on the criteria and weaknesses in the
conditions are usually linked. Understanding the connections between
them can help your team identify ways to improve.


June 2016 Harvard Business Review 75


For ongoing monitoring, we recommend a simple
and quick temperature check: Every few months,
rate your team on each of the four enabling condi-
tions and also on the three criteria of team effective-
ness. (See the sidebar “Does Your Team Measure
Up?”) Look in particular at the lowest-scored con-
dition and lowest-scored effectiveness criteria, and
consider how they’re connected. The results will
show where your team is on track as well as where
problems may be brewing.

If you need a deeper diagnosis—perhaps in the
face of poor performance or a crisis—block out an
hour or more to conduct an intervention assessment.
Carefully examine the links between the lowest-rated
conditions and team effectiveness criteria; manag-
ers who do this usually discover clear relationships
between them, which suggest a path forward.

You can conduct both the quick check and the
deeper intervention on your own or assess overall
alignment by having all team members assign rat-
ings separately. For a team-based check, you should
compare results across the group. For a team-based
intervention, you can increase the impact by holding
a full-scale workshop, where all the members get to-
gether to discuss and compare results. Not only does
this give you more-complete data—shining a light on
potential blind spots—but it also reveals differences
among viewpoints and opens up areas for discussion.
We have found that it is frequently through the pro-
cess of comparing assessments—a leader’s with the
team’s, and the team members’ with their peers’—
that the deepest insights arise.

TEAMWORK HAS never been easy—but in recent years
it has become much more complex. And the trends
that make it more difficult seem likely to continue,
as teams become increasingly global, virtual, and
project-driven. Taking a systematic approach to ana-
lyzing how well your team is set up to succeed—and
identifying where improvements are needed—can
make all the difference.

HBR Reprint R1606E

Many participants in our field research and ex-
ecutive education sessions promote shared un-
derstanding through a practice called “structured
unstructured time”—that is, time blocked off in the
schedule to talk about matters not directly related
to the task at hand. Often this is done by reserving
the first 10 minutes of teamwide meetings for open
discussion. The idea is to provide an opportunity
for members to converse about whatever aspects of
work or daily life they choose, such as office politics
or family or personal events. This helps people de-
velop a more complete picture of distant colleagues,
their work, and their environment. However, team
leaders must make the discussion’s purpose and
norms clear or else face 10 minutes of awkwardness
as everyone waits for someone to speak.

One team we came across had a related tactic:
Its members initially “met” over desktop video and
gave one another virtual tours of their workspaces.
By simply panning the camera around the room,
they were able to show their remote colleagues their
work environment—including things that were likely
to distract or disrupt them, such as closely seated
coworkers in an open-plan space or a nearby photo-
copier. After the tours the team members found that
they were better able to interpret and understand
distant colleagues’ attitudes and behaviors.

Evaluating Your Team
Together the four enabling conditions form a recipe
for building an effective team from scratch. But even
if you inherit an existing team, you can set the stage
for its success by focusing on the four fundamentals.

How will you know if your efforts are working?
Hackman proposed evaluating team effectiveness
on three criteria: output, collaborative ability, and
members’ individual development. We have found
that these criteria apply as well as ever and advise
that leaders use them to calibrate their teams over
time. The ideal approach combines regular light-
touch monitoring for preventive maintenance and
less frequent but deeper checks when problems arise.

Even if you inherit an existing team,
you can prime it for success by
focusing on the four fundamentals.

76  Harvard Business Review June 2016


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