Fundamental Dynamics of Successful Teams

Being part of a highly effective team can be a rewarding experience. The study of group dynamics and team effectiveness has been a popular topic over the past few years. Companies such as Google have invested significant time and energy into understanding how effective teams build trust and interact internally. While the basics of effective teamwork may seem intuitive to many, there is often an implementation gap preventing teams from realizing their full potential.

Since Google’s founding in 1998, there has been a consistent focus on organizational health and workplace effectiveness. One of the best resources on this theme is re:Work, a “curated platform of practices, research, and ideas from Google and others; it’s designed to help you use data and science to make work better, no matter where you call work.” Last fall, a post was shared on the re:Work blog outlining the findings from a five year study of teams at Google. The original purpose of this study was to understand what components led to the perfect team.

A major finding from their study was that “who is on a team matters less than how the team members interact, structure their work, and view their contributions” (Google, 2015). Analysis of employee interviews surfaced five fundamental dynamics of successful teams (see list below).

The most important dynamic emerging from Google’s interviews was what Amy Edmondson, Professor of Leadership and Management at the Harvard Business School, calls psychological safety. Edmondson (2008) defined psychological safety as behavior that ensures “that no one is penalized if they ask for help or admit a mistake”. This dynamic is especially important in “organizations where knowledge constantly changes, where workers need to collaborate, and where those workers must make wise decisions without management intervention” (Edmondson, 2008).

While the scope of Google’s work is vastly different from our experience in K-12 education, the success of our students and our commitment to continuous improvement hinges on the ability to collaborate and take risks. Psychological safety assumes that “no one can perform perfectly in every situation when knowledge and best practice are moving targets” (Edmondson, 2008). Simon Sinek built on the concept of psychological safety in his book Leaders Eat Last where he discusses the circle of safety. In the video below, Sinek describes the vital role that trust and organizational climate play in teamwork.

So there you have it. Effective teamwork has its foundation in a trusting and psychologically safe environment. The difficulty lies in acting upon this understanding and strategically putting systems in place to monitor the effectiveness and impact of leadership practices. Several links and resources related to this theme are provided below.


Duhigg, C. (2016). What Google learned from its quest to build the perfect team. New York Times Magazine.

Duhigg, C. (2016). What makes a winning team? SNL and Google have the formula. (VIDEO). Big Think. 

Edmondson, A. C. (2014). Building a psychologically safe workplace. (VIDEO). TEDxHGSE.

Edmondson, A. C. (2011). Strategies for learning from failure. Harvard business review, 89(4), 48-55.

Edmondson, A. C. (2008). The competitive imperative of learning. Harvard business review,86(7-8), 60-7.

Feloni, R. (2015). Google has found that its most successful teams have 5 traits in common. Business Insider.

Garvin, D. A., Edmondson, A. C., & Gino, F. (2008). Is yours a learning organization?. Harvard business review, 86(3), 109.

Google. (2015). Five key dynamics of successful teams. (GRAPHIC). re:Work blog.

Google. (2016). Google’s five keys to a successful team. (VIDEO). re:Work blog.

Lebowitz, S. (2015). Google considers this to be the most critical trait of successful teams. Business Insider.

Rozovsky, J. (2015). The five keys to a successful Google teamre:Work blog.

Sinek, S. (2013). Simon Sinek on building trusting teams in the US Marine Corps. (VIDEO). Capture Your Flag.