Project Aristotle: Assembling A Dream Team

What Google Learned In Its Quest to Build The Perfect Team.

The world feels busier than ever and it only seems to be getting faster and faster (in actuality, it’s not). While the amount of hours and the amount of physical exertion has not increased, to thrive in school, work or entrepreneurship you have to be able to multitask. A few years ago this need for multitasking in the workplace led to the rise of the super-employee, the quintessential Swiss army knife employee whose fluid and versatile skill set allows them to single-handedly carry the workload of a small team. The super-employee has since given way to the quest to learn how to leverage the individuals on a team to make them better collectively — a true super team.

Google is virtually synonymous with innovation, so it should come as no surprise that Google is right there at the forefront of trying to uncover how to unlock the peak potential of the super team. The internet behemoth launched an initiative codenamed Project Aristotle to find out how to build the perfect team by intensively surveying and observing their own employees at work, 180 teams, altogether. The Project Aristotle researchers were looking for patterns, something Google is world class at as an organization. The only problem — the researchers didn’t find any strong patterns.

Some teams had vocal leaders and a hierarchy, other teams were informally structured. Some teams almost mirrored other teams in terms of member backgrounds and skill sets, and yet, one would vastly outperform the other. But why?

The Unwritten Rules

In the middle of struggling to find any strong patterns, the Project Aristotle researchers kept stumbling across research by sociologists and psychologists that focused on “group norms.” Norms are the behavioral standards, traditions and unwritten rules that determine how we function in groups. For example, some groups decide to debate, others just agree to disagree and others, still, decide to find the best solutions through groupthink. These norms have a profound impact on the productivity of the group.

After assessing hundreds of groups for over a year, Project Aristotle researchers concluded that understanding and influencing group norms were critical for improving Google’s teams. But they couldn’t operate blindly. They needed to figure out which norms mattered most. Sometimes the norms of one highly effective team contrasted the norms of another equally successful team. The answers seemed to lead to more questions. Was it better to let people meander in conversation or to be hyper-focused, even rigid at times? The data was inconclusive about many of these behaviors.

Raising The Collective I.Q.

The researchers recruited 699 people, separated them into small groups and gave them assignments to complete, all of which required different types of cooperation. Here’s what they found out about the teams that succeeded:

  • Individual I.Q. didn’t necessarily help the team’s performance
  • The effective teams spoke in roughly the same proportions
  • If one person spoke the entire time, the teams collective intelligence dropped
  • The high-scoring teams had high social sensitivity or the ability to intuit how others are feeling


Google basically proved that the whole conventional wisdom of not being an asshole holds true. In a group setting, psychological safety and the ability to feel comfortable is paramount to collective I.Q. Project Aristotle is data-driven proof that as we try to optimize productivity, it’s easy to focus on skill sets and a hardline approach, but the emotional interactions are as important as any other factor when it comes to making things happen.

As a student in a group project or an entrepreneur building out your team to scale your business, the culture you establish and the norms you set, will determine how far you go. The magic happens when everyone feels validated and now there’s proof of that.

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