Building a great team is becoming a science with companies like Google reinventing HR by using people analytics, a highly sophisticated data analytics system that uses feedback to improve HR processes and alignment with the company’s work culture through the use of quantitative and qualitative data.  

According to the Global Human Capital Trends 2016 report from Deloitte University Press, people analytics is set to become an even bigger part of how business is done. Thirty-two percent of the more than 7,000 companies surveyed said they were ready to start using people analytics, an increase from 24 percent of companies in 2015.

When looking for the perfect formula for creating effective teams for one of its projects, Aristotle, researchers interviewed and collected data from more than 180 active team members.

According to Google, the basic premise of the people analytics approach is: “Who is on a team matters less than how the team members interact, structure their work, and view their contributions.”

Successful teams are clearly vital to the company, as each Google employee generates nearly $1 million in revenue, according to a 2013 figure quoted by Dr. John Sullivan, an HR thought leader from Silicon Valley.  

Project Aristotle revealed that “psychological safety” – a shared belief that it is safe to take risks and share ideas without the fear of being humiliated – is the most important factor to building a successful team. Team members can also count on each other to do high-quality work on time, have clear goals, roles, and execution plans, work on something that is personally important and believe that the work they do matters. 

“From sales teams in Dublin to engineering teams in Mountain View, California, we’ve seen that focusing on this framework helps all types of teams improve,” says Julia Rozovsky, an analyst at Google People Operations.

High-tech approach

Data-based decision-making programs are also used to create teams at major companies such as ExxonMobil, Ford Motor, E.ON, KPMG, Hewlett Packard, McDonald’s and IBM.

“Historically, HR decisions used ‘gut and intuition’ to drive decisions. Now the use of data in the form of people analytics is providing value, allowing better decisions to be made,” says David Green, People Analytics Leader at IBM.

He cites an example of a large, global company that was considering opening in China. The head of analytics looked at the data and discovered that it was not an ideal place to locate the company “as talent in the region was considered very thin.” As a result of the data, the company decided not to open in China, thus saving money and potential future recruitment problems.

However, Green says that there are still areas where the use of people analytics may be questioned by the business community, such as whether the business can adequately analyze the data and can they afford to invest in it. 

Green’s response is that people analytics is a long-term investment. He suggests starting small. If an organization has an idea of what might be valuable information to gather – start there. 

“Don’t waste time and money on predicting for something that is not a problem for the organization, so give it some thought before you make time and money investments,” he advises.

Traditional team building       

There’s no doubt technology is adding exciting new options for engaging the workforce, but some traditional team-building methods such as helping an employee fulfill long-held ambitions are also in operation. 

At home services firm O2E Brands, the company’s employees are encouraged to share a life goals program of 101 activities they wish to complete.

“We hold team meetings where we share life goals and the successes we’ve had, and give updates about how we help others accomplish their dreams,” says Brian Scudamore, founder and CEO of O2E Brands.

He recalls getting a text from one of his IT workers who was terrified of water. Scudamore says: “I told him, ‘I will help you conquer that fear. I will buy you your first three swimming lessons – let’s get you going.’”

“When people feel more personally fulfilled and supported in their personal goals by their employer, they feel more respected, more psychologically safe and do better work,” he adds.

These points are echoed in the “Twelve Cs for Team Building”– a checklist for managers and executives by human resources expert Susan M Heathfield to identify areas that need attention in the teams they lead or work with. 

According to Heathfield, consideration of all 12 Cs – cultural change, communication, control, consequences, creative innovation, coordination, collaboration, charter, competence, context, commitment and clear expectations – is needed to build the perfect team. 

Heathfield explains: “Executives, managers and members of staff are constantly exploring ways to improve their business results and profitability. Since at least the 1980s, many organizations think that team-based, horizontal organization structures are the best way to involve employees in helping their organizations to create business success.” 

However, Heathfield says that few organizations are totally pleased with the results that their team improvement efforts produce. “They must pay attention to at least these 12 areas of team development to ensure success from the time and energy they have invested in teams,” she says.

Dr. Maxine Craig of Hart Consultancy in Hartlepool, U.K., was listed as a Top 50 Innovator by the Health Service Journal in both 2013 and 2014 for her innovative work on team performance with the South Tees Hospitals National Health Service Trust. 

“Good team building is where all team members understand, believe in and work towards a shared purpose,” says Craig, a certified coach and psychometrician, and Visiting Professor (Leadership and Management) at Sunderland University. 

Now advising both the public and private sectors, Craig says team leaders should develop a “teaming strategy” to plan how people will act and work together, including effective use of communication technology to help them make better use of face-to-face time.

“Many team leaders think a monthly meeting and occasional away day is sufficient to ensure a healthy team; experience tells us it is not,” she says. 

Craig believes a teaming strategy should hold a diverse group of individuals together, ensure they communicate effectively and raise issues of concern. “It is also how you as a group deal effectively with conflict and pressure, and develop and maintain relationships.”

Irregular working hours and shift patterns in sectors such as healthcare can make it extremely difficult to bring large numbers of people together to discuss issues as a team.  

“We need a different mindset about face-to-face leadership work and how communication technology can help us,” adds Craig. 

She says communications such as policy updates and performance indicators can all be shared on secure social media. While larger organizations can make use of networks such as Yammer, Craig says healthcare teams can make good use of file shares, closed Facebook pages, inexpensive digital workspaces and WhatsApp groups for personal real-time messaging. 

“Opening your mind to what is possible, acceptable and accessible to your organization can give you a whole new approach to teaming,” says Craig. —  Angela Singleton

Published: June 2017

Images: Pia Bublies