Google's "perfect" teams reflect Berkeley MBA curriculum

By Laura Counts

Photo: Teamwork in action in the Cleantech to Market applied innovation course

When Lecturer Brandi Pearce opened the New York Times Magazine's "Worklife" issue last week, she was thrilled. The lead story was a fascinating deep dive into Google's search for the ingredients of a perfect team, and the conclusion sounded like a page from the Teams@Haas curriculum Pearce has spearheaded in the Berkeley MBA Program.

After hunting for patterns among 180 teams over more than three years, Google found that their most successful teams share certain "group norms"—specifically, a culture of empathy and communication, where everyone feels comfortable taking risks and has a chance to speak and contribute.

"It was really exciting for me to see a company that so many people recognize come to the same conclusions that we have unraveled through science," says Pearce, who studies group dynamics in global organizations.

"Google highlighted the importance of creating a team climate in which people can read each others' social cues, where everyone's perspective is voiced, and in which members feel safe debating differing perspectives and engaging in reflection and feedback," she added. 

These positive group norms that support the development of "psychological safety," as outlined in the article,  are at the heart of the Teams@Haas curriculum, now in its third year in the full-time MBA program. It's unusual in that rather than being a stand-alone class, Teams@Haas is woven throughout the program, building on itself as students gain new skills.

The program culminates in the applied innovation courses, where students work with outside clients. (Read more about how the Teams@Haas curriculum helped a group break through even the most mundane challenges and build a successful team.)

Though it might sound obvious that teams where people listen to and respect each other perform well, it's sometimes easier said than done—especially in complex work environments where leveraging differences is essential for growth and innovation. Effective collaboration requires a series of skills, such as giving and receiving feedback, that don't come naturally to everyone. Yet they can be learned. 

In addition to defining the behaviors that foster collaboration, the Teams@Haas curriculum gives students specific tools, which Pearce likes to refer to as scaffolds.

“In a construction project, the scaffolding is transparent and strong, and can be reconfigured easily as the project evolves," Pearce says. "We give students a set of collaboration tools that do exactly that. ”

These tools help students develop a shared understanding of the interpersonal capabilities needed to promote a safe team climate, as well as how to recognize each others' motivations, and coordinate work in a fluid and dynamic context.

 The curriculum also extends and reinforces the Berkeley-Haas Defining Principles: Question the Status Quo, Confidence Without Attitude, Students Always, and Beyond Yourself. 

Learn more about team performance at Berkeley Haas

Related stories:

Teams at Berkeley-Haas: MBA Students Learn With—and From—Each Other

MBA Study Teams Yeild Insights on Diversity Leadership 

Posted on March 16, 2016
Laura Counts
Laura is a senior marketing and communications manager at Berkeley-Haas. As a former journalist, she finds no shortage of interesting stories to tell at Haas. As a Cal alum, she loves being able to walk to work through redwood groves along Strawberry Creek.