How Google And Apple Build Exceptional Teams

woman looking across a table at two men in an office

Google and Apple are clearly doing something right. Beyond being two of the most successful companies in the world, they have become household names by releasing innovative products and services. Their impressive marketing strategies have built incredible brands that people trust and identify with. And ultimately, what made it all possible were both companies abilities to build exceptional teams. They turned visions into reality. As you might imagine, each of these companies takes team building seriously. Here are some of the most insightful things they have to say about building great teams.

How Google Builds Teams

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Back in 2012, Abeer Dubey, a manager in People Analytics at Google, began “Project Aristotle.” The goal of the research project was about as lofty as its title: to uncover the characteristics that create the perfect team.

Fast forward a few years and Dubey’s team had finished analyzing data that they’d found during interviews with over 180 teams that worked an Google. The analysis yielded plenty of surprising findings about what makes effective teams, but perhaps the most shocking discovery was what didn’t. Despite huge amounts of data, they couldn’t find any evidence that certain personality types or backgrounds had any effect on a team’s overall effectiveness.

This goes against the widespread belief that the effectiveness of a team has a lot to do with how well the people “click.” Though Dubey’s study says otherwise, it’s important to note this isn’t consistent with other studies, which have demonstrated that personalities do play a role in how teams work together. Regardless, the study identified these qualities as the five most important characteristics of great teams:

Psychological Safety: This refers to how safe team members feel about taking risks. If their opinions are often shot down or belittled by other team members, then they will likely be too intimidated to speak up or suggest a new course of action. This can rob the team of fruitful exploration.

Dependability: This is exactly what it sounds like. If team members often shirk responsibilities, miss deadlines, and give excuses for their lack of productivity, then they aren’t very dependable. As you’d expect, being able to take on a hard project with complete faith in your team goes a long way.

Structure and Clarity: These refer to how clear your team members’ short-term and long-term goals are. If there’s ambiguity regarding who is in charge of what task or when they need to do them, it can disrupt the entire project. Teams that have completely clear deadlines, tasks, and responsibilities are better able to gauge their progress and feel like a necessary part of the project.

Meaning: No one wants to put hours of hard work into a meaningless project. If a team doesn’t feel justly compensated or motivated to complete a project, then the quality of their work will plummet. Giving members adequate pay and the option for self-expression, for example, can make them personally invested in the work.

Impact: Even if your employees feel motivated to complete a project, if they fail to see how their work affects the organization at large, then they may feel less obligated to produce the best work they can. Understanding a project’s impact will show team members that they all have a role to play in the bigger picture.

How Steve Jobs Built a Team at Apple

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Steve Jobs was clearly a captivating leader. Many of the people who worked under him at Apple recall long hours and a (very) moody boss, but also deeply rewarding work with a sense of personal investment that few companies can match. Jobs was able to hire, mobilize, and inspire his employees to create cutting-edge technology that had a profound impact on the technology sector and beyond. How did he do it?

Hiring the Right Employees
Here’s what a veteran Apple employee had to say about Jobs’ hiring process: “We agonized over hiring. They would start at 9 or 10 in the morning and go through dinner. A new interviewee would talk to everyone in the building at least once, maybe a couple of times, and then come back for another round of interviews. And then we’d all get together to talk about it. When we finally decided we liked them enough to show them the Macintosh prototype, we sat them down in front of it and if they were just kind of bored or said this is a nice computer, we didn’t want them. We wanted their eyes to light up and them to get really excited. Then we knew they were one of us.”

In other words, it didn’t matter how skilled or impressive the candidates were. That wasn’t enough. Even if they spent hours and days interviewing, candidates wouldn’t get the job if they didn’t show excitement when they saw the prototype. Jobs wanted passion (and even his employees did, which is a testament to hiring workers who embody company culture– everyone was likeminded and wanted to hire similar people).

Finding the Right Leaders
Jobs believed that the best leader is someone who doesn’t want to lead but does it anyway because they think they’re the only one who can do it right. This certainly falls in line with his stubbornness and self-confidence, but it seems to have worked out for him just fine. Just like the hiring process, he was very deliberate when he elected workers to manage a new project. He wanted people who brought something unique to the table.

Though Jobs understood that projects would never be completed without teams, he seems to have thought that the leader had one of the most important jobs. He or she is the one who had to simultaneously show the team how far they’ve come–and how far they must go, recognizing their employees while challenging them to push even harder. You can see this in action in this quote from one of his team meetings:

“There needs to be someone who is the keeper and reiterator of the vision…A lot of times, when you have to walk a thousand miles, and you take the first step, it looks like a long way, and it really helps if there’s someone there saying, ‘Well we’re one step closer…The goal definitely exists; it’s not just a mirage out there.’”

Google and Apple Teams FAQ

What qualities do great teams share?

At the end of the day, different businesses are going to benefit from different strategies–but there are a few “big picture” elements that are relevant for any teams. Thinking back to our Google and Apple case studies, strong leadership, clear tasks and communication, meaningful work, and a friendly environment seem to have helped these companies become the tech giants they are today. By challenging employees while giving them a sense of meaning, they got the best out of their teams.

How can you improve your team?

Google’s study yielded actionable findings that you can easily use. For instance, you can ask your workers about how safe they feel during meetings. Are they willing to share new ideas or are they scared of ridicule? Do they have a clear understanding of their project’s goals and relevance to the company at large? Do they feel like they can depend on their coworkers to pull their own weight? Asking these questions will let you identify specific points of weakness in your team, making it easier to correct them.

Try the team building activity used by companies like Under Armor and Whirlpool and build your top-notch team! Click below!