Focus on Team Optimization, NOT your Low Performers

One of the things I love most about my job is the team I work with. We just seem to get each other. Each of us play to our strengths individually but collectively, we function like a well-oiled machine. After many years of corporate America focusing on employee optimization, studies are showing it’s all about team optimization.

The Harvard Business Review last month, found that ‘‘the time spent by managers and employees in collaborative activities has ballooned by 50 percent or more’’ over the last two decades and that, at many companies, more than three-quarters of an employee’s day is spent communicating with colleagues.

One of the driving forces of innovation in Silicon Valley is not the one or two geniuses roaming around the campus of a Google of Facebook. Software engineers in The Valley are encouraged to work together because studies show groups tend to innovate faster, see mistakes more quickly and find better solutions to problems. 

The time when companies would invest thousands, if not millions of dollars in programs, research and platforms to find ways to optimize individual employees have become obsolete. Five years ago, Google, the gold standard for ingenuity and efficiency, shifted its focus to building the perfect team. As you can guess, the tech behemoth has spent millions of dollars measuring nearly every aspect of its employees’ lives. The firm’s People Operations has reviewed and studied everything from how frequently people eat together to which traits the best managers share.

In 2012, Google’s People Ops team launched Project Aristotle, designed to better understand why some Googlers excelled and why others bombed. The project team reviewed and stumbled through the data but could never find conclusive evidence or a common theme for what made a Googler a top performer. Frustrated, the team shifted its focus to study group norms instead.

They struck gold.

For Project Aristotle, research on psychological safety pointed to particular norms that are vital to success. There were other behaviors that seemed important as well — like making sure teams had clear goals and creating a culture of dependability. But Google’s data indicated that psychological safety, more than anything else, was critical to making a team work. The New York Times

The key to the success for Google, and many more firms, is in its teams. A well built team will allow team members to play to their strengths and succeed in spite of any personal pitfalls they may have.

I can speak for my team that we all know what our strengths and weaknesses are and we understand how to function to accommodate both. Some of us (me), are not interested or good at mundane operational details. When I have to work on something requiring this type of work, I always bring in one or two of my team members to be sure I do it right. Some of us are great at closing deals while others are great at building out a solid research list of talent.

Regardless of the project, we typically come together as a group and determine who would be best to accomplish which task. There’s also a level of respect for each other’s talents that helps us succeed without feeling insecure. I know I’m not good at certain operational tasks but I’m ok with it. I don’t allow myself to feel threatened that someone else on my team could run circles around me in that area.


If you are working with your clients on how to take their results to the next level, do a deep dive on the teams that make up the organization first. Most HR professionals tend to focus first on the low performers rather than looking at the team to find ways it could function better.

Honestly, I’d much rather work with a client on how to maximize teams versus how to maximize an individual’s performance. Not only does it save me time, addressing the whole versus the few, but it will also yield quicker and more impactful results.

So if you want to make your firm the next Google of your industry, take a look at team optimization and run your own Project Aristotle.

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