How people work together is more important than SOPs

Culture eats strategy” is one of the most often repeated lines these days.

The question is, what did Peter Drucker really mean?


A few years ago Google decided to launch Project Aristotle, which was designed to uncover what made the best teams function so much better than others. They analyzed hundreds of obvious and not so obvious variables, and for a while were flummoxed as to answers.

They first defined teams by characteristics such as they “plan work, solve problems, make decisions, and review progress in service of a specific project. Team members need one another to get work done.”

That probably sounds a lot like your company works, too.

Ultimately, they discovered that simply put, teams are more effective when they have 5 key dynamics:

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

These five dynamics are quite easy to design for, whether you’re coding at Google, riffing in a writers room, preparing for a trip to Mars, or skating in a hockey rink – teams are essential to the work experience and output.

Below are the fundamentals. Remember, we’re here if you need help with this. Its what we do.


  1. Establish a common vocabulary – Define the team behaviors and norms you want to foster in your organization.
  2. Create a forum to discuss team dynamics – Allow for teams to talk about subtle issues in safe, constructive ways. An HR Business Partner or trained facilitator may help.
  3. Commit leaders to reinforcing and improving – Get leadership onboard to model and seek continuous improvement can help put into practice your vocabulary.

Here are a few specific tips for managers and leaders to support the behaviors the that are most important for effective team structures and norms. These are based on Google’s own experience, combined with our extensive research in designing for effective organizational cultures:

Psychological safety:

  • Solicit input and opinions from the group.
  • Share information about personal and work style preferences, and encourage others to do the same.
  • Watch Amy Edmondson’s TED Talk on psychological safety.



  • Clarify roles and responsibilities of team members.
  • Develop concrete project plans to provide transparency into every individual’s work.
  • Talk about some of the conscientiousness research.


Structure & Clarity:

  • Regularly communicate team goals and ensure team members understand the plan for achieving them.
  • Ensure your team meetings have a clear agenda and designated leader.
  • Consider adopting Objectives & Key Results (OKRs) to organize the team’s work.



  • Give team members positive feedback on something outstanding they are doing and offer to help them with something they struggle with.
  • Publicly express your gratitude for someone who helped you out.
  • Read the KPMG case study on purpose.



  • Co-create a clear vision that reinforces how each team member’s work directly contributes to the team’s and broader organization’s goals.
  • Reflect on the work you’re doing and how it impacts users or clients and the organization.
  • Adopt a user-centered evaluation method and focus on the user.