Google's Research Arm Wants to Identify What Makes a Great Team

Google's Project Oxygen recently vindicated those who refute the claim that managers don't matter. Now the search giant's researchers want to dive deeper and explore the building blocks of team chemistry.

Google researchers at its People and Innovation Lab (PiLab) recently vindicated those who refute claims that managers don't matter, writes Max Nisen of Quartz. According to Google VP Laszlo Bock, an initiative called Project Oxygen had been formed to test the assumption that managers are much less impactful than they get credit for. The initiative's findings instead proved the opposite. A good manager can indeed have a positive influence on productivity. Within their findings, the researchers identified eight traits that typify managerial excellence. These include coaching ability and resistance to micro-management. Rather than tear down the managerial class, Project Oxygen legitimized it and offered an evaluative system by which leaders can be measured.


As Nisen writes, these findings opened the door to PiLab’s next major endeavor. Just as Project Oxygen mapped the anatomy of leadership, its successor tackles team chemistry. Bock's goal is not merely to learn how teams operate most effectively. What he wants is a guiding light that can help leaders form the right kinds of teams to tackle specific problems.

You can think of this like a video game. Whenever you put together a team in an RPG, sports, or adventure game, you want to make sure the squad is built for the challenges ahead. This isn't difficult because the games tend to show information on character attributes so you know what to expect from each team member. Each game has an internal logic that players pick up on. You can determine which skills and attributes are most useful within the world of the game. The key is that the player has access to this attribute information. This, plus an understanding of the game's logical universe, makes choosing a team as easy as adding numbers — so as to make the most logical play.

Project Oxygen accomplished something similar to this idea, but with real-life leaders. The findings pushed Google to modify the way it evaluates managers to allow for the creation of these sorts of attribute systems. The next batch of research could expand this system so that real-life people can be evaluated just like the team members in video games. This way, Google (or any company, for that matter) can make informed decisions about building the best team for projects, problems, or even quests, if that's the sort of game you prefer to play.

Read more at Quartz.

In the Big Think video below, biographer Walter Isaacson examines Steve Jobs' innate ability to build effective teams to tackle specialized problems:

Photo credit: Konstantin Chagin / Shutterstock

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