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Team Building Essentials Proven by Google

In 1990 I wrote a description of Team Building practices to help my facilitators understand the process when working with our groups. My program at YMCA Storer Camps utilized low and high ropes course initiatives and rock climbing to foster team building. The goal of every group was to get to a new level of Trust among the members. Sometimes we got there, sometimes we didn’t.

That’s me leading a rock climbing expedition to Rattlesnake Point in the summer of 1991.

The process, however, was the key. Even the groups who never got to a level of fully trusting each other did learn to communicate better, did learn to cooperate better, and saw the power of coordinated effort. Those are often seen as the Three C’s of Team Building.

I want to add a fourth C to that list, one that I think is most important …


That was the differentiating characteristic between groups that made it to Trust and groups that did not. Only when a group started to put the needs of others ahead of their own did they show they cared. Only when a group looked at everyone’s emotional and physical safety as being the top concern did they show they cared.

Caring was the stepping stone to Trust.

You don’t get to Caring easily. It takes a whole bunch of other C’s. You have to first become Comfortable with each other. Then you have to learn to Communicate effectively. Then you have to learn how to Coordinate your efforts and Cooperate with each other. Even then, Caring is not a certainty.

When I was training my facilitators we often talked about the Transformation. Caring happened when the focus of the group shifted from “getting to the end of the task” to “getting everyone to the end of the task. Caring happened when inclusiveness was more important than successfully completing a task, even though inclusiveness was often the best way to complete a task

There are several ways to complete any task. The first is to have a powerful, talented individual who gets the group to the end line through sheer brute force of their abilities and/or leadership. The second is to have every member included, every member supported, and every member working together. The former disappears as soon as the individual leader is gone. The latter stays around and becomes the culture that continues success even as the parts change.

That’s why our true goal of every team building activity was to cross over the bridge from Cooperating to Caring. That leap was where the transformation occurred and changed the culture of the team. The step from Caring to Trust was much shorter and easier.

Of course, this was all theory from my own practices and observations in Team Building, until Google went about proving it.

Google did research of their teams to see if they could figure out why some teams were more successful than others. They found “five key dynamics that set successful teams apart”. Those five key dynamics in order of importance are:

  1. Psychological safety
  2. Dependability
  3. Structure and clarity
  4. Meaning
  5. Impact

Psychological Safety is Caring. It is making the group and the individuals within the group feel supported. A group of individuals who are feeling supported are more willing to think out of the box and take better risks, which leads to better performance in the long run. This was the most important dynamic for successful teams.

Dependability is Trust. In team building terms, we get to Trust after we get to Caring. But once we get there, we have the two most important dynamics found in Google’s study.

The other three items on the list match up nicely with Daniel H. Pink’s book Drive and his three keys to motivation. Pink says your team needs:

  • Autonomy
  • Mastery
  • Purpose

Structure and Clarity is the same as Autonomy in that you have given your team the guidelines to do what they need to do and have left them to do it within those guidelines. Micromanaging takes away that structure and clarity because everyone is second-guessing the rules, waiting for you to change them on the fly.

Meaning and Impact are the Purpose of what you are doing. Make sure your team always knows Why you do what you do and how that affects the customers and the company.

Google’s research is fascinating because it confirms exactly what I started teaching 27 years ago, and validates everything Daniel H. Pink wrote in his book about motivation.

So how do you get that kind of a team?

First, hire individuals who care about others, who show empathy. Caring is a tough character trait to teach, so look for it in your applicants.

Second, train them. Team building doesn’t have to be a corporate-retreat-three-day-weekend-activity. Team building can happen over the long run, fostered by the other C’s of being Comfortable, Communicating, Cooperating, and Coordinating. Work on those skills in your training. The better your team learns to communicate and cooperate, the more likely the leadership of those who care will take the team to the next level. You’ll see the transformation when it happens.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Yes, I still do Team Building for groups when you want to kickstart the process. I also do training for Managers, teaching them the basics of Team Building and how to foster short-term and long-term growth in their team. The cool thing is Google just confirmed that what I have been teaching creates the most effective, successful teams.

PPS What should you do about your team members who don’t care about others? Unless you have a job where they work completely on their own with no interaction with the team or the customers, fire them and start over. Seriously. They’ll never serve your customers the way your customers want to be served. They’ll never let the team get to its highest level of productivity. They’ll never grow your business. Don’t take my word for it. Listen to Google.