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Did you see the New York Times article about “What Google Learned from Its Quest to Create the Perfect Team”? Google spent something like three years studying its teams to find out what contributed to their effectiveness.

The short answer of what makes an effective team, according to Google, is this:

  • there is “equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking;” in other words, everyone gets to talk for roughly the same amount of time;
  • everyone in the group has high “average social sensitivity;” in other words, everyone in the group is good at discerning people’s feelings from nonverbal cues.

I totally agree with those findings. I’ve noticed the same thing when I mediate and when I facilitate. When everyone gets the same amount of time to talk, and they can read each other’s body language, they get better agreements and have better conversations.

However, I have one small criticism about the conclusions Google came to. Take a look at who Google’s employees are. Overall, 70% of their employees are male and 30% are female. 60% are white and 31% are Asian, with the remaining 9% distributed among other races.* So Asian and white men were probably the majority of employees that Google studied.

It’s possible that white and Asian men are only good at equalizing talking time and reading each other, with other white and Asian men. But since they were the majority in their team, they rated the team high in effectiveness.

They may not be so willing and able to give equal time to women and non-Asian people of color, or to discern the feelings of women and non-Asian people of color. They may be used to cutting off, interrupting, and disproportionately disagreeing with women and non-Asian people of color. The women and people of color in the study might not have been so happy with their teams.

I would really like to know what the results would be if someone did the same study in a company in Namibia, or Brazil, or in a company that was equally balanced between men and women, and had a much higher proportion of non-Asian people of color.

But like I said, I agree with the findings. The one thing is, though, if teams are even more diverse, people might need to learn more about how to give everyone equal conversation time, and to read everyone’s non-verbal cues.

* These statistics are from https://www.google.com/diversity/index.html#chart

Photo credit: the photo is from Google’s page at the link just above.

Remember the Human Side of Disputes
The Secret to Successful Collaboration

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