The Autonomous Collective

By Douglas Weinstein
Published on: January 22, 2021

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(This is not an article about the Borg. Although it might seem like it!)

Several years ago, Google’s People Operations (HR) set out to discover what makes great teams great. At Google, they have pods, committees, work groups and what I want to join when I grow up, Autonomous Collectives.

They spent a few years conducting interviews with their employees (Googlers) and started categorizing and measuring attributes from over 175 active Google teams. While they figured excellent individual skillsets would combine to create stellar groups, what they discovered is that it’s not who is on a team but rather how the team members interact, structure their work and view their own contributions. They came to the conclusion that five key dynamics set stellar teams apart from their peers. Take a look:

Psychological safety. Can we take risks on this team without feeling insecure or embarrassed?

Dependability. Can we count on each other to do high quality work on time?

Structure and clarity. Are goals, roles, and execution plans on our team clear?

Meaning of work. Are we working on something that is personally important to each of us?

Impact of work. Do we fundamentally believe that the work we’re doing matters?

If you can answer in the affirmative for yourself and your teammates, you’re probably knocking it out of the park. If not, try to figure out how to focus and make individual team members more comfortable with each of these segments. Get together and hash it out – who feels uncomfortable and why, who is and who is not dependable, etc. As Google discovered, who is on the team matters less than how the team members interact.


Douglas Weinstein

Doug is the Editor and co-founder of the Technology Insider Group and Technology Designer Magazine. Previously, he was the Executive Director and co-founder of the Elf Foundation, a non-profit organization that created Room of Magic entertainment theaters in children's hospitals across North America.

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