what google learned about creating effective teams – live blogging from qcon

What Google learned about Creating Effective Teams
Speaker: Matt Sakaguchi
See the list of all blog posts from the conference

In software, we hire the best people, put them together and hope for the best. In sports, we focus on positions and teamwork.

Google was in NY Times for Quest to Make Effective teams

Matt talked about his path to Google. He was a police officer for 7 years until he got injured and physically couldn’t do it anymore. He then worked in retail. Then Matt upgraded the network to be faster and liked tech. THe CEO would “just randomly come and scream at people”. Had to leave toxic environment so went to Sony has manager of security guards 5am-2pm shift. Keep showing up; keep grinding; something will happen. Recognized as being underutiized and asked to look at operations to detect theft. Did that for a few stores. Still not making much money but doing something useful.

Recognized as being good at solving “weird problems” so Sony sent him to teams weird problems and fixing them. Had 27 people under him and an admin. Then moved to Walmart managing system admins and engineers. Got to learn basics of UNIX. First time managing engineers. Then BEA -> Oracle and Nexttag managing websites. At Postini, got to build a team. Postini got acquired by Google.

“snuck in the back door of Google, but still at Google”

Diagonsed with cancer. Greatful because helped realize what is important. Passionate about making work better. “We spend a lot of time at work we spend a lot of time in teams.”

Think about

  1. What kind of team are you on?
  2. What kind of teammate are you?
  3. What kind of learder are you?

On average

  1. 8.8 hours working
  2. 7.8 hours sleeping
  3. 1.2 hours caring for others

Diversity problems result in people not being able to be whole self at work (gender, race, orientation). Shouldn’t have to pause who you are for 8 hours.

With police, “if you aren’t scared, you aren’t human”. Good application to speaking and other “scary” things.

Everything is measured at Google. Even the placement of the tea/water/red bull/coffee. Example: moved M&Ms away from coffee machine, then hid it and then replaced with 100 calorie packs and measured reduction in calories.

Best teams

  1. Effectiveness – means results to executives, ownership/vision/goals to team leads and team culture for team members
  2. Tried to find algorithm for perfect team. Looked at dependendabiity of team, structure, extoversion, manageable worklowad, # of top performaers, tenure, co-location, impact of work, averge eel of team members ,consensus-drriven team, psychological safety, etc
  3. Most important five from most important to least importantL
    • psychological safety – knowing it is safe to make mistakes. Ok to take personal risks. Ok to bring up concerns. Know will be respectful open discussion
    • Dependency: can depend on teammates to do their part
    • Structure and clarity – enough to know what doing
    • Meaning – is work meaningful to you
    • Impact -is work important

Want a championship team, not an all star team.How a team works matters more than who’s on the team.

Components of psychological safety

  • Voice – am I heard. Are people just nodding or actually listening with respect
  • Trust – can I say anything without it being repeated?
  • Inclusion – not just inviting all people to the party, but making sure everyone has a good time

Set tone for psychological safety

  • Frame work as a series of learning problems; not execution problems – don’t just want to grind away DOn’t learn much in a performance environment because always on
  • Model curiosity and ask more questions. If team sees you ask “dumb” questions, everyone learns the answer and that ok to ask questions.
  • Admin your own failliblity. “Here’s my plan; tell me what’s wrong with it”


  • If team too negative, first question must be “how can we make this work”. Helps change mindset.
  • If you are the leader, try not to speak much if not running meeting. Putting your opinion out there too soon makes it harder for more introverted folks to state theirs
  • What are the top 3 things you enjoy doing outside of work. Make sure to spend time doing those things. Helps appreciate life. Do not cheat yourself

“The road to someday leads to a place called nowhere”

Fun talk to start the day! Matt is a great story teller. He had the Mac “machine name” screensaver in the background.When he showed the stats, I like how he just put them on the screen in silence rather than reading them. It really called attention to them.

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