What Produces Effective Engineering Teams


Addy Osmani shares the lessons learned from “Project Aristotle” at Google, a two-year initiative back in 2016 that studied what made teams successful, what they found is that these 5 key factors have the biggest impact:

Psychological Safety: The team’s comfort with taking risks without fear of negative repercussions.

The article covers multiple recommendations on how to achieve this, the most interesting one to me was this TEDx Talk by professor Amy Edmondson on how to build this psychological safety:

Allowing the team to experiment in the open and not feel shame or repercussions for trying, produces more innovative solutions.

Dependability: Team members’ ability to reliably deliver quality work on schedule.

This is mostly dependant on each team members’s reliable performance. We all have had that sense of defeat when working in teams and one team member is not pulling their weight, situations like these discourages the rest of the team from doing their best work.

When a team has this problem it needs to be addressed as soon as possible before it becomes part of the culture.

Structure and Clarity: Clear understanding of job roles, processes, and performance consequences.

Having a clear strategy that is translated to the team’s different responsibilities is the key part of this factor.

Establishing objectives and key results, and making the team members responsible for achieving them is key.

Meaning: The personal significance found in the work or its outcomes.

Team members must find the work they do meaningful. Not necessarily in terms of the company’s goals, as stability, capacity to support their family, or personal self-expression was shown to be enough to serve this purpose.

When an employee is not finding meaning in their work, and they don’t feel well compensated and recognized the productivity takes a hit.

Impact: The belief that one’s work meaningfully contributes to the organization’s goals.

Closely related to the previous one, but this time directly associated with the success of the company. When people can see the effect of their work having an effect in the bigger success of the company they work at, they feel a sense of impact that drives them to be more successful.

Having led a development team for the past several years, many of these hit close to home. Having not had control over several of these factors I have focused on the ones that I have more control over: providing a safe space to try and make mistakes, learn, and share knowledge.

What I can certainly say from experience is that excelling at one or two of these factors is definitely not enoug. Unhappiness and discouragement crops up and productivity takes a hit.