Crisis Management Team-Building Ideas: If It’s Good Enough for Google…

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Love Google or hate them, you have to admit they are good at accomplishing their objectives. One of the main ways they do this is by creating effective project teams. In today’s post, we’re going to look at the Google approach to team building, with a special emphasis on how you can utilize Google’s ideas to build an effective crisis management team.

 

PROJECT ARISTOTLE

A few years ago, Google took a stab at figuring out what the ingredients of a successful team are by conducting a study called Project Aristotle. The study was given that name because Aristotle coined the phrase, “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”—the ultimate aspiration for any team.

According to Google’s Re:work blog post discussing the study, the researchers looked at over 150 Google teams from around the globe. Some of the teams were made up of engineers and some of sales people.

The researchers gathered data and interviewed people from the various teams, measuring their effectiveness based on a combination of four factors:

  1. How executives evaluated the team.
  2. How the team leaders evaluated the team.
  3. How the team members evaluated the team.
  4. Sales performance against quarterly quota.

Google executives thought that a combination of subjective and objective evaluations would give the most accurate picture of each team’s effectiveness.

From their analysis, the researchers identified certain qualities that the most productive teams have in common. They also identified qualities often thought to be keys to team success that in practice were actually not very helpful.

 

THE BOTTOM LINE

For the full ins and outs of the study, I suggest you check out Google’s Re:work post or the New York Times Magazine article What Google Learned from Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team. In this post on crisis management team building in particular, I’m going to skip the ins and outs and cut to the bottom-line findings.

The bottom-line findings are:

  1. The best teams are those in which everyone speaks about the same amount in meetings, and
  2. Those in which people go out of their way to listen to each other (for example, by closing their computers and paying attention when others are speaking).

(For a humorous video summarizing these ideas, check out How Google Builds the Perfect Team, a YouTube video by Charles Duhigg, the author of the New York Times article mentioned above.)

Continuing with the bottom-line findings that apply to crisis management teams, the researchers also found that the best teams are characterized by the following qualities, according to Google’s Re:work blog:

  • Psychological safety. Team members feel safe to take risks and be vulnerable in front of each other.
  • Dependability. Team members get things done on time and meet Google’s high bar for excellence.
  • Structure and clarity. Team members have clear roles, plans, and goals.
  • Meaning. Work is personally important to team members (by providing them financial security, enabling them to support their family, giving them a chance for self-expression, etc.).
  • Impact. Team members think their work matters and creates change.

So that’s Google’s recipe for effective teams. How does this recipe translate to team building in business continuity, and in particular crisis management teams? Let’s take a look.

 

DOES IT WORK FOR CRISIS MANAGEMENT TEAM BUILDING?

I don’t think Google’s findings about what makes a great team are necessarily very original. However, I also think their ideas are exactly right, and that they provide very good advice for anyone trying to build an effective crisis management team.

It all comes down to the human factors.

Google’s five qualities are as good a description of what works as any I have seen.

Let’s look at those five qualities again, this time in the special light of how they pertain to building a good crisis management team:

Psychological Safety

Do I think this is important? I know it is. Because I’ve seen what happens in CM teams where people don’t feel psychologically safe versus those where they do. The stakes are high enough as it is in CM. When you add to the pressure of the emergency the pressure of being unfairly judged by your teammates—no one can be at their best in that situation. When people feel safe on a team, they care, commit, and give their best. When people don’t feel safe, they clam up and shut down and the team misses out on their contribution. When that happens, the egos of the team’s bigshots might win, but the team as a whole and the organization lose. Good teams evaluate ideas based on the merits, not on the professional or social status of the person who suggested the idea. Good teams are personal in that everyone is treated with respect. They are impersonal in that the focus is on ideas and solutions, not personalities, ego, and taking credit.

Dependability

Does dependability matter? Absolutely. People should feel safe, but they also have to deliver the goods. Everyone’s contribution is respected, but at the same time, everyone’s best effort is expected. A crisis management team, like a chain, is only as strong as its weakest link. The team should look out for its members, but the members need to be strong in support of the team.

Structure and Clarity

Are these important for CM? You better believe it. So much depends on getting off on the right foot. Senior management needs to set clear expectations from the start of the life of the team and for each new person as the team’s roster evolves. The BC manager should work with the senior executives to set the tenets that guide the CM team. This includes letting people know the authority they possess and encouraging them to use it.

Meaning

This one is huge. It’s also one of the ways that a crisis management team has a built-in advantage over other kinds of teams. By definition, the situation is one of crisis. It’s high stakes, high tension, high drama. The welfare of the company and its employees and customers are depending to a greater or lesser extent on how well the CM team does its job. Most people find this highly motivating. Sometimes, the trick is to keep it from getting too motivating, too overwhelming, too stressful.

Impact

Ditto above. Usually, people working on a CM team are in no doubt about the importance and impact of what they’re doing. They can see that a situation is threatening the organization and that they have a role to play in protecting it. Beyond that, it’s important that everyone on the CM team clearly understand what the bottom line is for the team. The bottom line for any CM team is to protect life and safety then respond to the emergency, resume operations, and recover the business.

SUMMING UP

Google’s team-building study identified the five qualities that characterize the most productive and effective teams: the members feel safe, they can be depended on, their roles and responsibilities are clearly structured, the work has meaning, and people feel their efforts have a significant impact. Google was looking specifically at engineering and sales teams, but these qualities are also highly beneficial on crisis management teams.

FURTHER READING

For more information on crisis management teams and other hot topics in business continuity and IT/disaster recovery, please see these recent posts from BCMMETRICS and MHA Consulting:

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