The Perfect Team — Quotidian — 396

(Transcript of video originally posted on 30 May 2022)

This man, a “just another good player” of the Mumbai Indians team… how.. how did he become the captain, the winning captain of Gujarat Titans? What is the actual formula for winning teams? Shall we take a look?


How did Hardik Pandya, the “just another good player”, become the winning captain? The answer to that question, I think, lies in the team, and its composition.

That is what this lady thought too. Her name is Julia Rozovsky. She is a Yale graduate, and she worked at Google for many many years. One of the most important contributions she made at Google was called Project Aristotle. Whaaat? Why Aristotle here? Is that what you are thinking? Well, it was Aristotle who contributed this most interesting quote. This is what he said.
We have heard of this one before, but perhaps, now, we learn that it was he who contributed this to the world first! “The whole is actually greater than the sum of its parts”. If you bring two and two together, to think the answer will always be four is… wrong! Could be five! Wait.. Could even be twenty-two. It is in how they come together! That is what really matters! So, they called it Project Aristotle, and they did a multi-year research on what kind of teams exist, do they perform very well, what makes them perform well, what are the common characteristics among teams that are excellent, and so on.

Before getting into the results of the research I want to distinguish between a Workgroup and a Team here. In a Workgroup, the interdependence is minimal. I do my work. You do yours. Just get the work done, and get a move on. The hierarchy is very clearly laid out. You can’t, just like that, go and interact with somebody, do a joint project with somebody else, and so on. And, meetings are all well-aligned, regular, scheduled, timely, with an agenda, who is supposed to speak what, what decisions, etc… That is a Workgroup. It is focused on a particular delivery being done.

On the other hand, a Team is dependent on a lot of interaction. Everything is interconnected. It is almost as if nobody can do their work without everybody else contributing! It is cohesive! And that structure is called a Team.

While Workgroups are Results-oriented, Goals-oriented, here, the Teams are actually focused and oriented on Team Synergy. And, over time, one thing we have all realised is, when you work and perform as a team, you tend to innovate faster, you see mistakes, made by yourself, made by others, more quickly, and actually, you are able to find better solutions faster.

Workgroups and Teams — if you were to look at a sports analogy for this whole thing, you would say a Workgroup is like a Tennis team… Remember The Davis Cup, for example? A will play with B. C will play with D. A will play with D. C will play with B. That’s it. When I am in the tennis court, I am an individual doing my own thing, and I have to win.. And I win or lose based on my abilities. That is not the case with a game like football or basketball. Over there, there is a team orchestration. Everybody has to depend on everybody else for anybody to think of winning. That is where the beauty lies. If we were to take an example company, we saw Creative Selection by Ken Kocienda. The repeated refrain in that book is that they were actually working in airtight silos. They were Workgroups. “This is me. This is my work. And that’s all that matters. Sometimes, we couldn’t even let others know what we were working on!” If you were to take a counter-example, my company, Zoho Corp, is a team-driven company. Everything is interconnected with everything else. Beautifully orchestrated, almost like a symphony!

That lady, Julia, before telling us what WORKS, she also lays out what doesn’t really matter. You want a good team structure? You want a long-sustained life for your team? You don’t need to bother about these, for that — she lays out very clearly. What are those? Well, here is one that is extra-important because of the current Covid situation.

Should we all be in the same location? Should we all come to office?? No. Not needed. Should all be outspoken? Straightforward? Gossippy? Talkative? Jocular? Extroverted? No! Not needed!

Do we need superstars? One or two top performers? Will the team somehow grow and prosper around them? No! Not needed! Seniority? Do we need golden oldies who have been there, done that? Who have seen it all? No! Not needed!

And, does team size matter? Will a team be cohesive only if it is less than twenty people? Remember that Two-Pizza rule by Jeff Bezos we have encountered before? Is a large team bound to collapse and eventually die? No! Not again!

Finally, does workload matter? Will the pressure at work have a negative impact? This is actually a surprising discovery. The kind of work you do, the workload does not matter, when you are talking about the perfect team composition, and long-lasting team happiness.

Well, what matters then? She gives us five beautiful answers.

Number One is Psychological Safety! What is Psychological Safety? Well, it will be immediately apparent, the moment you see this picture. In 2020, RCB had sacked their batting coach and their bowling coach. Do you think that was the right decision? Do you think RCB won in ’21 and ‘22? Wait.. Do you know where Nehra and Kirsten are today? They are the bowling coach and the batting coach of Gujarat Titans! Do you get the irony? So, when you are part of a team, you need to have the confidence and the courage to take a risk! You need the rights to “bungle” and “screw up madly”. If you accept your mistake, there shouldn’t be any punishment for it! If you offer a silly idea, it should still be acknowledged, even if it is not welcomed! It is okay to seem ignorant, nobody is going to mock at you with “Don’t you know even this simple matter?!” Those form psychological safety! And that is such an important ingredient, according to that research!

Number Two is Dependability. What is Dependability? Every time, consistently, high quality work, in a timely manner, … if everybody has the sense to do work this way, you have it made! They should all have that sense deeply ingrained in them. Reliable. Complete. High quality work. On time. Yesterday, I was having a chat with one of my colleagues. Look at our “chemistry”. I asked him about a summarised report that I wanted… by 4 PM today. And, he responded with “Done!” It was 2 PM then. I had given that work just then. I was shocked! “Wow! Already? That’s amazing! Send it over!” I exclaimed. And that’s when the cat was let out of the bag… “I meant ‘consider it done’… (Just assume that it will be done soon!)” Here I am. Already on the job. Will be ready soon”. So, this understanding.. The meaning of the word “Dependable” comes only over time. Comes only when you deliver, reliably, on time, high quality. If you bring that about, you near perfection a bit more!

Number Three is Structure and Clarity. Structure is all about who do you report to, who do you work with, who works for you, the hierarchical structure… And beyond that, Clarity is about “What is my role here, What is expected out of me, How do I fulfil them? What are the consequences if I fulfil? If I don’t fulfil? What are the goals?” Are these clear to every individual in the team? This is a question you need to keep asking your team, at least once in a while. You cannot assume people already know. That they would ask if they are in doubt. The reason I used this picture from the Second World War is pretty simple. This is from the Pearl Harbour Bombing. A very important moment in World War II. America was not part of the war yet, and Japan bombed Pearl Harbour and won a little battle… but it lost the war. It woke up a sleeping giant… The United States.. without having any idea how formidable an opponent it was.. and got thrashed. Why? Structure and Clarity were missing. They didn’t have an understanding of what was expected of them. They didn’t have to win the battle.. They had to win the war.

Number Four is the question that faces probably every teenager who is about to enter the workforce today. What’s in it for me? Why should I do this? That existential question. I have used the picture of a greyhound chasing a rabbit. There is an Aesop Fable about this too. The story goes that the hound is chasing the rabbit and two people are commenting? — Do you think the hound will win? Do you think the rabbit will win? — The hound’s supporter and friend shouts — “The hound will win! Of course! Of course!” — To which, a person who knows the rabbit only too well, quips, “No way the hound is going to win. Because, the hound is doing it considering it a job… its master has asked it to chase, and it is chasing. What about the rabbit? The rabbit is running for its life! Do you think the hound will ever win? No way!” This is it! What is your sense of purpose? What motivates you? What is the meaning of your work? Are you doing it for the pay? Are you doing it to take care of your family? Are you doing it for personal fame? Or, are you here to scratch a personal itch? Or, are you trying to bring about lasting social change and societal transformation!? That question! We need to help our team members answer that question and that’s how you get closer to perfection.

Finally, What is the impact?! This is the classic photograph featuring Sculley, John Sculley, and Steve Jobs. John Sculley was the CEO of Pepsi at that time. Steve Jobs approached him, told him that Apple was poised to become a world-class company, implored him to come over! “Let’s change the world, join us!” — he encouraged! But, Sculley was two-minded… He felt he was all settled at Pepsi already, to which Steve Jobs is famously known to have closed the historic deal with “Do you want to continue selling sugared water for the rest of your life, or do you want to join me and make a dent in the universe?! We will change the world, come, here is an opportunity like never before!” — He is supposed to have said thus, or at least the myth or story says so. Making a difference. Beyond my own circle… My benefits. My job. My career. My calling.. We have seen “Start With Why” and its importance already. What is that Why? And, is what I am doing going beyond just helping me get better? Is it making the organisation reach its goals? Beyond organisational goals, does it help the society reach its goals? That alignment, if you can get that done, you are part of an amazing team.

Interesting thing she does, this lady, she talks about something called Average Social Sensitivity. For a team manager, or even for the members of the team, there has to be this thing called Average Social Sensitivity. What is that? From a person’s tone of voice, from a person’s expressions, from their nonverbal cues, can we find out if that person is upset? If that person is feeling left out? Can you detect it? They also give an interesting test for that, and I found out that this test is available for free online! It is called the “Reading The Mind In The Eyes” Test. Just by looking at the eyes, can you guess what they are thinking? What they are feeling? I have created a short URL for you. Visit and take the test! It might take a max of fifteen minutes.

This is how the test is going to look. You will be shown “eyes”. And you’ll have to find out. What the person is actually feeling. Are they playful? Are they comforting? Are they bored or irritated?! In this case, they are Playful.

Are they joking? Or, are they flustered? Or, are they convinced? Or, is there desire in the eyes? In this case, there is desire in the eyes.

It goes on. About thirty-six questions, one after the other. I got thirty-three out of thirty-six, and they claim it is a good score! You take your score, and tell me how you did! Because, it seems you will be good at understanding someone’s mental state based on facial cues, and if you do that well, you can be part of an amazing team, you can lead a team into success and greatness.

Okay…! Closing thought?! Nothing else. I am just going to do that! And, tell me? What my current emotion is?! We will meet again, on June 4th. Thank you!



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Rajendran Dandapani

Rajendran Dandapani

Business Solutions Evangelist at Zoho Corp. President at The Zoho Schools Of Learning.