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077: Google Discovers Five Keys to a Productive Lab

Google is data-obsessed, so it should come as no surprise that the company sought to apply its analytical expertise inside the organization.

In an endeavor dubbed “Project Aristotle,” Google sought to answer a vexing question: What factors are important for a successful, productive team?

Their findings may have profound impacts not just at Google, but in a lab near you…

Hi, My Name is Norm

Google’s HR department approached the problem with an eye toward data:

Over two years we conducted 200+ interviews with Googlers (our employees) and looked at more than 250 attributes of 180+ active Google teams. We were pretty confident that we’d find the perfect mix of individual traits and skills necessary for a stellar team — take one Rhodes Scholar, two extroverts, one engineer who rocks at AngularJS, and a PhD. Voila. Dream team assembled, right?

What they found surprised them.  It wasn’t the backgrounds or individual talents of team members that made the difference.  They found that teams with a similar mix of individuals could perform in vastly different ways.

Instead, it was the team’s culture and accepted norms that helped to predict their success.

The five key features are revealed in five questions you can ask about your team:

  1. Can we count on each other to do high quality work on time?
  2. Are goals, roles, and execution plans on our team clear?
  3. Are we working on something that is personally important for each of us?
  4. Do we fundamentally believe that the work we’re doing matters?
  5. Can we take risks on this team without feeling insecure or embarrassed?

This week on the show, we unpack these critical features of a high-performing team, and relate them to the research lab environment.

We tell you how to assess a new lab before you join, and how to make improvements if you’re already committed to a lab that is underperforming.

Sunshine and Sarcasm

This week, Science in the News brings us three stories in rapid succession.

First, it’s almost time for the solar eclipse to pass over North America. You still have time to get (the right) goggles and find a spot to watch the show.  As usual, NASA has you covered.

Next, we hear about how some researchers are trying to teach computers about sarcasm.  Hey.  Great idea guys.  That’s going to be SOOOOO useful. Said no one ever. </sarcasm>

And a Coal Museum in Kentucky finds that solar panels might actually be a useful and affordable energy source.  Who would’ve guessed? </sarcasm>

We sample a special ethanol that is bargain priced for the inner grad-student in all of us.  It’s the Boatswain Double IPA (Twin Screw Steamer) from Rhinelander Brewing Company and sold by Trader Joe’s for just $4.99 for a six-pack!

Is this the best beer ever?  No.  But is this the best tasting beer you can get at this price?  Almost certainly, yes.

Last, but not least: concrete.  They just don’t make it like they used to.

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