Team Culture and Dynamics Key to Success

The New York Times recently published this article that describes efforts at Google to identify what makes teams great.  I think the findings are not surprising and align with Scrum values.

According to the NYT, Google researchers noticed two behaviors that all good teams shared:

  1. Equality in Distribution of Conversational Turn-taking.  On the good teams, members spoke in roughly the same proportion. On some teams, everyone spoke during each task; on others, leadership shifted among teammates from assignment to assignment.  But in each case, by the end of the day, everyone had spoken roughly the same amount.  "As long as everyone got a chance to talk, the team did well . . . But if only one person or a small group spoke all the time, the collective intelligence declined."
  2. High Average Social Sensitivity.  On the good teams, members were skilled at intuiting how others felt based on their tone of voice, their expressions and other nonverbal cues.  People seemed to know when someone was feeling upset or left out.  People on ineffective teams, in contrast, scored below average.  They seemed, as a group, to have less sensitivity toward their colleagues.

In psychology, these traits are referred to as aspects of what's known as psychological safety--a group culture that the Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson defines as a "shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking."  Psychological safety is "a sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject or punish someone for speaking up.  It describes a team climate characterized by interpersonal trust and mutual respect in which people are comfortable being themselves."

The Google researchers recognized the presence or absence of psychological safety in teams they studied.  One engineer, for instance, had told researchers that his team leader was "direct and straightforward, which creates a safe space for you to take risks."  That team was among Google's accomplished groups.  By contrast, another engineer had told the researchers that his "team leader has poor emotional control."  He added: "He panics over small issues andkeeps trying to grab control.  I would hate to be driving with him being in the passenger seat, because he would keep trying to grab the steering wheel and crash the car."

Recognizing the value for psychological safety is one thing; establishing it is another thing altogether. Small persistent teams that are able to focus on a goal and work closely together to improve themselves over time are a good setting for creating that type of safety.  When a team bases its relationships and activities on a solid set of values, it's chances for success are even greater.

Scrum Values

All work performed in Scrum needs a set of values as the foundation for the team's processes and interactions. And by embracing these five values, the team makes them even more instrumental to its health and success.


Because we focus on only a few things at a time, we work well together and produce excellent work. We deliver valuable items sooner.


Because we work as a team, we feel supported and have more resources at our disposal. This gives us the courage to undertake greater challenges.


As we work together, we express how we're doing, what's in our way, and our concerns so they can be addressed.


Because we have great control over our own destiny, we are more committed to success.


As we work together, sharing successes and failures, we come to respect each other and to help each other become worthy of respect.

As an organization applies Scrum it discovers its benefits. At the same time, it sees how these values inherently contribute to the success of Scrum and understands why they are both needed, and bolstered, by Scrum.


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