Oxygen – Part III

by Ron Potter


Over the last couple of weeks we’ve looked at the Project Oxygen findings at Google related to high-performing teams.

This list is from the book Work Rules by Laszlo Bock who is the person at Google that has helped shepherd the project.

The eight findings that help teams perform at their peak include:

  1. A good coach
  2. Empowers the team and does not micromanage
  3. Expresses interest in and concern for team members’ success and personal well-being
  4. Is productive and results-oriented
  5. A good communicator – listens and shares information
  6. Helps with career development
  7. Has a clear vision and strategy for the team
  8. Has key technical skills that help advise the team

In this week’s blog, we’ll cover the last three findings.

6.  Helps with career development

As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs on this topic, it’s difficult for me to distinguish between Leadership issues and Team issues.  This has mainly to do with my Mental Model of Team, Leadership, Culture.

This is not to say that Laszlo’s approach is incorrect, it’s just that I come at it from a different perspective.

In my mind, it’s difficult for a team to help a member in their career development.  Teams can certainly contribute but it is often the leader who is in the best position to help with career development.  What comes to mind is the lack of career development.  I have often been hired as a consultant to work with an individual who has “gone off the rails” in the mind of their leader.  The leader will tell me that unless this person deals with the issue, they will no longer have a position at the company.    In every case, the individual has held a senior position in the company, often they have been Vice-Presidents.

Shocking News

When possible, I have looked back over several years of performance reviews.  It’s always been amazing to me that if the person has worked for the company for any length of time, their annual performance reviews mention the issue I’ve been hired to help them deal with.  And yet, when I mention to the individual that unless they correct this issue they will no longer have a position with the company, they’re shocked.  They’ll say to me something to the effect that “no one has ever mentioned to me that my continued employment depends on me fixing this problem.”

People Pleasing

Why is there such a disconnect?  The person dealing with the issue says “no one” has ever told me it could cost me my job.  The person hiring me to tell the person will say, “I’ve put this issue in every performance review for the last several years.” Why the disconnect?  I believe it’s because almost everyone wants to be a people pleaser and believe that giving people bad news counters that desire.  Managers will say to an employee “you must fix this issue.”  They might even say “unless this issue is fixed I can no longer keep you in this job.”  But, because people don’t like to give bad news, they’ll almost immediately shift their conversation to tell the person all the things they do well.  The bad news never sinks in or is dealt with.  Think about that for a minute.  My boss says to me: you must fix this issue.  It can’t go on like this.

Yet almost immediately they will say: but I love how you handled such and such or you’re great at dealing with certain kinds of problems.  What does the employee hear?  Blah, blah, blah, but I love how you handle this or how you deal with these issues.  You’re doing great!

If there is an issue that must be dealt with

  • state the issue
  • don’t accept excuses
  • don’t move on until the is a plan in place
  • make sure there are milestones to fix the issue
  • make sure the consequences are clear if the issue is not fixed
People Caring

The way to be people-pleasing is to be people caring.  If people feel they are being held accountable with caring and support, they’ll be the happiest.

7.  Has a clear vision and strategy for the team

Once again this sounds more like a leader issue than it is a team issue.  However, while a leader should have a clear vision and strategy for the team, it should never be used to dictate to the team a course of action.

Team members need to be bought into the strategy/vision

If team members don’t have a shared strategy or vision, the team will never grow and develop together.  I’ve worked with too many teams through the years that didn’t take the time or make the effort to develop a shared strategy/vision.  In every case, competition develops as managers try to implement their own vision at the expense of others.  It becomes a tremendous waste of resources.

Leaders must have a strategy/vision but leaders must also be humble enough to see beyond their own vision and they must have enough grit to bring the team together around a joint vision.

8. Has key technical skills that help advise the team

This final “Oxygen” is true at both the leader and the team member levels.   Trustworthy teams and members must have both character and competence.  It never works to have one or the other, there must be both.

Information Technology

From a leadership standpoint, I believe the Information Technology (IT) area of the business is the most vulnerable.  The IT portion of the business is:

  • Complicated
  • Fast-moving/changing
  • Many faceted

I’ve seen too many IT leaders that fall short on one or all of these issues.  When that happens, the IT department can buffalo the leader.

Tyranny of Competence

With team members, I have more often seen what Robert Quinn calls the “Tyranny of Competence” in his book, Deep Change. This happens when an individual has so much competence in a given area that it is felt the competency must be protected at all costs and therefore, the individual may have a lack of character and there are no consequences.

Character and Competence must be present for teams to thrive.

Project Oxygen

This covers the eight elements found to be meaningful in building great teams.  Think about them.   Incorporate them.  Discuss them.  The more you can build these into your own makeup or a team’s makeup, the more success and satisfaction you’ll experience in life.

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