Oxygen – Part I

by Ron Potter

Have you ever been near drowning?  When I was a kid I don’t know how “near” I was but I was afraid that I was drowning.  Swimming at our local swimming hole I got stuck under the 55 gal drum that we had used to create a raft.  There was a point when I thought I was done for but eventually broke free and surfaced to suck and gulp oxygen into my lungs.  That oxygen gave me my life back!

Project Aristotle

in 2012 Google set out on the task of figuring out which teams performed the best and why.  They called it Project Aristotle.  The main researcher at the time was Abeer Dubey.  He said, “At Google, we’re good at finding patterns.”  The problem was that they didn’t find any solid patterns.

Then they looked at the work of Amy Edmondson at the Harvard Business School.  Amy and her team found something they called Psychological Safety.  Psychological Safety meant that team members felt safe for interpersonal risk-taking.  Team members felt confident that they would not

  • Be embarrassed
  • Rejected or
  • Punished for speaking up

They were safe within the team!

This type of team climate is characterized by

  • Interpersonal Trust
  • Mutual Respect

Work Rules

Now comes a book titled Work Rules by Laszlo Bock.   Laszlo leads Google’s People Operations.  Laszlo does a good job of summarizing the findings during that time of searching for what makes the best teams.


So what does this have to do with Oxygen?  In my 30+ years as a coach and consultant to leadership teams, I saw too many people who were going through their days feeling like I did when I was underwater and running out of oxygen.  I experienced this first during one of my summer jobs during college.  It was in a factory and I would watch the employees go through the shift like they were short of oxygen.  Then as soon as the whistle blew, it was like sucking in that oxygen when my head first broke the surface of the water.  They had new life.  They were energized.  They couldn’t wait to get going on whatever it was that gave them oxygen.

Project Oxygen Finding

Laszlo breaks the results into eight “Project Oxygen Findings”

  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. Is 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 him/her advise the team.

I’m going to ask forgiveness from Laszlo at this point but as I categorize these elements into my mental model (Team Leadership Culture) I see many of them fitting into the Leadership category more than the pure Team category.

This is not to say they are incorrect, it’s just a different mental model.

A Good Coach

Future posts will cover each of the eight findings but I’ll close today’s blog with the number one finding – A Good Coach.

Why is a good coach necessary?  Can’t teams just get better on their own?  Do they really need that outside source to figure this out?

The answer to these (and other Team questions) is yes, but!  As good as teams get, sometimes it’s valuable just to have an outside observer and someone who has no fear of voicing opinions.  Good coaches can do that.

One of the projects that I’ve talked with you about in the past is our GPS4Leaders app.  It has been our opinion right from the start that an app will never replace the need for a good coach but can go a long way toward bringing a team closer to the Trust and Respect levels that is required for strong teams.

Project Oxygen Finding

Over the next few weeks, I’ll unpack each of the findings from Project Oxygen.  Stay tuned.


0 comment

You may also like

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.