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All posts by David O'Brien

Are “Good Politics, Not Good Policy” Driving Ontario’s Labour Laws?

David O'Brien By David O’Brien,
Vice President, East Region & Government Services at Eagle

Ontario’s “Changing Workplace Review” is Complete — Here’s How It Could Affect Independent Contractors and Temporary Workers

Ontario FlagThe long awaited Changing Workplaces Review, initiated by the Ontario Government over two years ago to review the employment Standards Act, has unveiled its recommendations and Ontario business are braced for the government to adopt changes that many are concerned are based on “good politics, not good policy “.

The expected changes to Ontario’s Labour laws have the potential to be sweeping, wide in scope with 173 recommendations that include everything from minimum sick days, increased annual paid vacation, and workplace unionization. Although there were a number of presentations that proposed potential restrictions around the use of independent contractors, the final recommendations around contract labour were wisely few. Additionally, although not part of the changing Workplace Review, it’s expected the government will piggy back an increase to Ontario’s minimum wage on the proposed legislative changes adopted from the Review either this June before break or this September.

Many employer organizations worked with the Ontario Chamber of Commerce to ensure that there was a focus on the potential economic impact on these policy changes proposed and, although we are not sure what the Government will adopt, there is still uncertainty as to the veracity and thoroughness of what the real effect on Ontario’s economy will be.

We can recall several presentations to the Special Advisers that were focused on the use and definition of temporary labour; however, there was a definite slant towards an interpretation that temporary workers were deemed precarious or at risk workers and were in need of additional legislative protections. Central to this argument were some highly visible cases of situations involving temp workers in general staffing environments being wrongly taken advantage of. Athough a very tiny portion of a large and thriving industry we do have appropriate legislative corrective measures that should be enforced to combat this potential.

To combine the general staffing world with professional or knowledge workers was a dot that the Special Advisers were wisely never able to connect. Many in the Knowledge Worker world make a well thought out career choice to contract and there are many advantages associated with contracting in a necessary and thriving industry. Some of the measures presented and promoted in the 2 year review included limiting contracts to a maximum of 6 months in length, a % limit on the use of contingent labour, and a reverse onus on employee status such that all contract workers were deemed employees unless otherwise proven. These were all solutions for a problem that did not exist. It is very much welcome news that the Special Advisers recognized this and did not move forward with these restrictions.

We do know that legislative attempts making it harder for employers to access workers and workforce options are not a route to increased prosperity or productivity. We have certainly seen in both the UK and undoubtedly Southern Europe (while most of Northern Europe does the opposite and is in much better economic shape) where restrictions in flexibility in labour markets hurts one very important stakeholder: workers.

In a dynamic and highly competitive global market the ability to change, adapt and be flexible are all key components of a growing and prosperous economy. As the world transitions in to a new way of working, efforts to reverse that through policies deemed to appease in an election atmosphere for a tired government will no doubt back fire by making it more difficult for employers to access workers. Organizations will adjust to restrictions by ultimately hiring fewer, automating more or offshoring or expanding in other more competitive markets. The government really needs to understand the economic impact that potential job killing measures may have.

While we don’t know which of the measures will be adopted and ultimately put forward as legislation and no doubt campaign narratives, we do know that without a thorough understanding of labour market competitiveness we, are doomed to repeat mistakes we can’t afford in Ontario. One need look no further than the Governments “fix ” in Energy of the 2000’s and the upside down and and befuddled energy market and extreme costs Ontarioans business and personal are stuck with today.

Artificial Intelligence Will Change the Way Recruiters Find You a Contract

David O'Brien By David O’Brien,
Vice President, East Region & Government Services at Eagle

Artificial Intelligence Will Change the Way Recruiters Find You a ContractArtificial Intelligence, AI, is here and changing our world every day; however, most of what we hear has been quite ominous at best. Perhaps Stephen Hawking’s statement that AI will be “either the best or worst thing” for humanity is a pretty foreboding statement depending on if you are a glass half full or half empty person.

The reality is that we know AI is present today in our everyday lives and is beyond the realm of science fiction. We see it in the ads presented to us in our social media, our use of Siri, Cortana, smart cars, predictive purchasing, fraud protection and apps like Netfix, Spotify and the like. But where are we in the world of Recruiting and Artificial Intelligence?

There are a number of exciting platforms that will undoubtedly change fundamentally business processes, and I believe very positively and the world of recruiting is one of them. Recruiters have used Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS’s) to source, track and manage candidates for many years. Today, there are a number of AI applications that incredibly enhance and leverage those ATS systems to the next level.

How is Artificial Intelligence Enhancing Recruiting?

The likely biggest challenge for most recruiters is effectively and efficiently screening multiple applicants to find the best candidates. Recruiters can spend upwards of 50% of their time “stuck” in this application and screening phase. Automated screening with AI can reduce this time significantly by eliminating a majority of candidates who may be unqualified while making recruiters significantly more efficient. With analytics and AI, these systems will only become more intelligent, ultimately leading to better candidates and certainly shorter times-to-fill, and allowing recruiters to let their clients know when their requirement will be expected to fill. The biggest win for recruiters and contractors alike will be that with this added efficiency tool, recruiters can focus more time on really connecting with and engaging candidates for true full fit, as well as through the entire hiring and on boarding cycles. Most would say these are the real high value aspects of recruiting that lead to stronger candidate and client relationships — essentially the human elements of the profession.

AI in recruiting also provides the capability to offer deeper, more enriched candidate data that encompasses more data by scraping public social media profiles or any online professional work data or profiles. All of this contributes to better fit engagements, which of course for contractors means more successful placements, better references and ultimately more opportunities.

Additionally, we have seen together with advancement of AI in recruiting the addition of recruiter chatbots that engage with candidates in real time interaction to further pre-qualify and, in fact, digitize early stage interviews, further freeing up recruiter time to create more time to build relationships with contractors. This capability as it pertains to the future of AI in recruiting is often referred to as Augmented Intelligence, which underscores the importance and necessity of the human element in recruiting so that, far from replacing the human component, it rather enhances it.

US Immigration Policy May Help Canada’s Tech Sector

David O'Brien By David O’Brien,
Vice President, East Region & Government Services at Eagle

Canadian Maple LeafRecent events both South of the border and across Europe have brought immigration to the front pages as a hot button issue. Undoubtedly it has been a very polarizing social and often disturbing humanitarian issue. But what can we make of the economic and business ramifications for Canada in these changing times?

There is most definitely a labour problem in the entire Canadian economy and one that by all measure is about to get worse. The demographic headwind that we face is a potentially lethal combination of boomers retiring over the next 15 years and an overall aging population not supported by growing birth rates. Economic growth in Canada is inextricably linked to both labour growth and productivity, both of which can be addressed through strategic immigration.

This challenging future that could see more people leaving the workforce than entering in Canada and the structural problems that would entail can be alleviated to some degree by immigration. Canada is not alone in this; in fact, most major economies in the world are facing these kinds of issues. For example, Japan’s economy has stalled as the combination of a low birth rate and very low immigration intake resulted in one of the poorest GDP growth rates of the world’s largest economies.

Canada historically has and will likely always be a leader in helping the world’s most downtrodden and desperate refugees and for that most Canadians are proud. Additionally, how do we also compete to attract in our immigration policy the marketable skills, education and experience that will help boost an economy? These so called Economic immigrants have made up a larger proportion of the immigrant intake for the last decade or so in Canada and will likely remain a focus of immigration policy.

US Immigration Policy May Help Canada's Tech SectorToday, though, with changes in the US landscape as a result of the election of Donald Trump has perhaps led to a very real opportunity for Canada, especially in the Tech sector. Many Silicon Valley based Tech companies have been vocal in their very real concern that the change in US Immigration policy will be very detrimental to them and what they already contend has been a tough struggle for top talent. Foreign workers have been a crucial piece of the Silicon Valley tech skills gap puzzle and with the changes in policy, and perhaps even the heated atmosphere in the US as a result, many skilled tech workers will look to Canada as an option. There are mechanisms in place already such as Canada’s Global Skills Strategy that allow companies to quickly acquire the skills they need on an initial short term basis.

It has always been very tough for Canada’s high tech companies to compete with the allure and frankly other worldly perks and compensation of Silicon Valley but these days perhaps they now have a leg up.

So Now You’re a Manager

David O'Brien By David O’Brien,
Vice President, East Region & Government Services at Eagle

So Now You're a ManagerFor many of us, after toiling in the trenches for years, aspiring to move up and into Management is a natural progression; in fact, we all probably know of the coworker who would say “what took you guys so long to promote me?” That, however, is a topic for another day.

Technology contractors generally benefit from being independent, but they are more often than not working as part of a bigger team. At some point or another, you may find yourself at the head of that team and managing a group of contractors or your client’s full-time employees. While such responsibilities tend to come with higher rates and valuable experience for a resume, it isn’t always sunshine and roses.

No matter the field, most professionals are thrilled with their first opportunity to manage people, but may be painfully unaware how their new job will change so drastically. When one goes from doing whatever it is you have become so adept at — programming, sales, accounting — to assuring others or a team of your peers accomplish what you may have seemingly mastered, well… now the “fun” begins.

Many organizations make the assumption and sometimes serious mistake that the star developer is the next Team Lead or Project Manager, but often that path is not natural. The business world needs look no further than the sports community. In sports, it is widely accepted that the star or legendary athletes very often do not make good coaches. Wayne Gretzky holds every NHL record there is and many that will likely never be broken, but suffered a post-playing career to a very unimpressive sub 500 record while coaching.

There are likely many reasons why the “star athletes”, who often have an extraordinary skill set at doing what they do alone (ex. sales, healthcare, programming), are abject failures in driving others to excel and accomplish the way they did. We can reasonably ask why those who are so accomplished inherently fail in the ability to coach, motivate, develop and truly lead others on a Team. Is it that different from managing oneself? The short answer is yes.

Star performers have an intense focus and ability to perform and accomplish at the highest level. They control their single most important resource — themselves. A Manager or Coach, on the other hand, must prioritize, multi task, coordinate and motivate a multitude of others, often like a Symphony Conductor and his orchestra with the hope the end result is sweet music. First time Managers will often struggle with this lack of “control” and will mistakenly try to do the job themselves, reverting back to their “me” instincts or micro-manage their way to success. Their new job, though, is a “we” job that requires an entirely different skill set to manage a team of people. An ability to delegate and empower others is not natural to the recently promoted “star”.

While we know the micro-manage scenario is a morale killer that often diminishes productivity on teams, it is a leap for many new managers to understand how important communication is to a Team. They may know what to do inherently but are poor at communicating that skill or ability. New managers or Team Leads will need time to acquire these skills and in the interim will likely need a ton of resiliency and perhaps a thicker skin as they take on the added responsibilities of other people’s actions.

Nothing Happens if Nobody Buys Anything

David O'Brien By David O’Brien,
Vice President, East Region & Government Services at Eagle

Nothing Happens if Nobody Buys Anything In the late 90’s and through the Tech Boom of the early 2000’s, Ottawa was a hot bed of technology and technology startups. Burgeoning companies like Cognos, JDS Uniphase, Corel,  and NewBridge Networks were full of world class engineering and R&D talent, many of whom came from Nortel. And still, other small companies sprung up around them, led by some of the brilliant engineers from those early breeding grounds of Nortel. All of these organizations were very much technology driven; similarly, all were severely challenged in bringing their “game changing” technology to market, in short, selling. Companies would evangelize to investors their incredible technology but the vision required to market it and the talent to sell it was as rare as Haleys Comet. That skill was and is a continued obstacle for IT companies both big and small.

Flash forward 15 plus years and global technology heavyweight based out of Ottawa, Shopify, have voiced their concern about hiring new recruits or graduates in Sales to support their coming growth plans. The Conference Board of Canada notes Sales has one of the top 5 specializations in highest demand, consistently in the last decade. Companies like Dell Canada, IBM, and Google Canada all are participating in a Canada-wide program to promote Sales to students as a viable and rewarding career choice. For most companies, sales are the proverbial “front-end of the ship” yet we continue to see people who backed in to Sales because they were a big personality, or were a really “likeable” individual. Sales is a far more sophisticated and evolved profession that is no longer 3 parts personality one part product knowledge. With newly empowered buyers (see: the Internet!), successful sales people now require an ability to consume data and analytics, be critical thinkers and problem solvers, forecast correctly and more than ever have advanced business and interpersonal communication skills both verbal and written.

So the question begs: Why, in an era of literally hundreds of college and university programs and in a struggling economy that tells us how critical developing tech companies need sales people, are we slow to getting on board in terms of educating and developing sales as a skill? Most of the top universities and even most MBA programs offer few sales- related courses. Additionally demographics tell us the same story we have heard across many functions in the business world — 40% or more of senior IT sales talent is set to leave the workforce, putting significant strain on companies to recruit a declining supply of sales talent. The academic world is now waking up to this realization and has begun to instill in their Business programs at the undergraduate level and beyond sales courses befitting the requirements of a modern sales professional. The days of glad handing your way to a successful sales career are in the past as we realize how critical revenue generation is for companies. After all… “nothing happens if nobody buys anything .”

Plane Lands Safely at Airport!

David O'Brien By David O’Brien,
Vice President, East Region & Government Services at Eagle

Plane Lands Safely at Airport! The complex IT projects we don't always hear aboutBoth the IT community and the Federal Government often bemoan the fact that newspapers and media, in general, feast on failed technology programs and projects as their headline stories, while the successful projects are all but ignored. It is why the politicians and senior government executives have a long standing fear and largely prefer blind ignorance to the role technology can play in transforming and increasing productivity while they know it to be a truism. It’s why the Harper government, and frankly every government, effectively slows down or stops all IT projects in the months and sometimes year or two before elections to avoid potential embarrassments. We’re equally confident that although the media doesn’t report “Plane Lands Safely at Airport,” failed or over budget IT programs in the Federal Government tend to grab the headlines.

One needs only look at the incredible visibility the Phoenix pay system has garnered due to its glorious “failure”. This, of course, is the system that has resulted in 80,000 of 300,000 public servants not being paid correctly or in many cases at all. While it’s not ours to assign who, what or where all is to blame or at fault, let’s look at just some of the moving parts and complicating factors that have resulted in the new government fully engulfed in an IT Project mess that dominates the headlines. Unfortunately, many of these are characteristic and common to many projects and what therefore tend make it far more complicated than just the technology.

Processes. A long and convoluted procurement process that started in 2009 was awarded in 2011, and has now spanned two distinctly different governments. These procurements, although complex, tend to never envision total scope, underlying fundamental complexities already embedded, or difficulty to implement without a huge change management piece. For example, in this case, during the course of the software development work, it became clear that the myriad of union contracts in the Feds were being interpreted vastly differently by payroll specialists in the various regions and departments; furthermore, contract terms weren’t even clear. Re-configuring and “customizing” off-the-shelf software to handle many of the 80,000 pay rules and rates of the Feds is hopeful at best.

People. As always there is/was a huge people piece. The Phoenix implementation involved a government initiative that saw the Feds centralize and move its pay centre and all its pay specialists to Miramachi, New Brunswick; however, as is often the case, many of the experienced and tenured specialists chose not to move and a lot of knowledge capital went out the door (many have since been rehired and are located in Gatineau now). There has been a steep learning curve for many of the new hires as a result that resulted in a huge backlog of case files. Training and specifically training users was, and is, a vastly underestimated component

Specifications. It is now apparent that architects on the Feds initially vastly underestimated both data volumes and users for the new system, resulting in poor and sluggish performance of the system. Vendors and clients can certainly attest to so called post award “‘surprises” after what may have been a seemingly thorough RFI or RFP process. Who is to blame is always contentious but it is almost always real.

Finally there is always the unexpected, (somehow one thinks this should have been anticipated); however, in this case, the curve was the location of the Miramichi Pay Centre evidently had insufficient Internet bandwidth to handle the system load!

All to say that just as we know the hundreds of truly successful, on time and under budget IT projects will never be the lead story on the nightly news, we have to always remember every project is a complex amalgam of people, process, “stuff” and finally at the end, technology.

Tenure Limits on Independent Contractors

David O'Brien By David O’Brien,
Vice President, East Region & Government Services at Eagle

Do Tenure Limits Really Mitigate an Independent Contractor’s Risk with the CRA?

Do Tenure Limits Really Mitigate an Independent Contractor's Risk with the CRA?The issue of “tenure limits” or contract length has been coming up again lately, as clients start to debate whether or not it is a necessary way to mitigate risk against co-employment concerns. This means that many large organizations across Canada are implementing a maximum length of time they’ll keep a contractor. Regardless of the status of an IT project, once this time period is reached, the independent contractor can no longer work on that project. The theory being that by limiting the amount of time an IT professional is on contract, the lower the co-employment risk for the organization.

As an independent contractor, you too want to be familiar with all risks that may see you deemed a Personal Services Business (PSB) by the CRA, and how high of a threat they actually pose to you. On this subject, while there are a number of ways clients can minimize such risk, implementing tenure limits is not one of them; in fact, it is not based in law or even precedent in Canada.

The issue of tenure limits is an interesting one as it has been around for a number of years. I believe it can almost be traced back to one of the big US Consultancies who, years ago, started advocating that their clients use two-year time tenure limits to mitigate risk. The key here was that this was likely specific to US, where tax code is extremely specific.

The reality here in Canada is quite different for a number of reasons. At the industry association level, the NACCB’s experience in working with clients, contractors and the CRA on the Personal Services Business (PSB) issue (the one that put the microscope on independent contractors) was that tenure or contract length on its own was largely irrelevant in the assessment process. There are a multitude of other factors to consider in the actual assessment of co-employment that clients and contractors alike should be aware of. A strong contract that outlines the intent of the parties and is descriptive of the work is but one. In addition, this document from the CRA describes some other factors to consider.

As you can see, there are many factors involved, some of which include: control of the work, ownership of tools, financial risk of profit or loss, degree of integration of work and of course the written contract. It is abundantly clear that there is no rule that suggests 2 years is a magic time period.

There is not even much precedent to base this theory. There have been instances of issues and risk for contracts less than 2 years, and yet many IT contractors have been on site for much longer than 2 years. A recent decision saw a contract that initially was for 6 months extended several times to 5 years not deemed a PSB, based on the overall consideration of these other factors.

Perhaps more importantly in determination of status is the issue of control, which is shown in documents such as the contracts. Also of interest to CRA (and other agencies) is (a) how the individual is treated, as in are they treated like an employee, and (b) how they act, as in do they act like an employee.

The other key consideration based on recent industry experience is the issue is very much less likely to affect clients than the contractors.  It is more likely a contractor will be deemed to be on a Personal Services contract as opposed to being deemed an employee and to date, we have not seen any negative result for clients.

Finally, it is important to note that many large organizations have walked away from tenure limits realizing much of the aforementioned but additionally realizing how detrimental the churn is to the success and outcomes of projects as key resources are moved out at critical times arbitrarily. Clients may now begin to walk away from tenure limits as a hard rule as having realized it is not a singular factor in risk together with the adverse effects it has had on projects (taking off key consultants at critical times) . The reality is that many IT projects by their very nature are longer than 1, 1.5 or 2 years and need to have the skills required through the duration for successful outcomes.

Can “Deliverology” Help Government IT Projects?

David O'Brien By David O’Brien,
Vice President, East Region & Government Services at Eagle

Can "Deliverology" Fix the Real Challenges in Government IT Projects“Deliverology” is the term of the day in Government and no we’re not talking about who delivers executive lunches. These days, deliverology is all the rage in the bureaucratic halls of the new Trudeau government as the philosophical foundation with which his government hopes to present a federal civil service capable of successfully delivering on the promises of the most recent campaign. The current guru of Deliverology is Michael Barber, the creator of the UK government’s Prime Minister’s Delivery Unit (PMDU) in the Tony Blair government and, closer to home, used by Ontario’s previous McGuinty government. Mr. Trudeau has twice brought Mr. Barber to speak to public service executive community. It is an ambitious governance model, and certainly not without its detractors, that seeks to make poor performing departments and projects in to successful ones through the use of delivery units. Detractors need only point to the huge increase costs and budget associated with the Ontario government’s use of deliverology in both the Education and Health sectors.

This article will not seek to fully explain deliverology but rather, with deliverology on our lens, let’s focus our discussion on IT projects and their success or lack thereof in government. This new government will have to tackle what every executive bureaucrat and politician fears the most: the dreaded major IT project (just Google SSC and Email). We know that a significant number of IT projects are not delivered on time or under budget and that in and of itself is worthy of several blogs, but it is particularly acute in government. However, are there fundamental reasons that are tough to avoid that make it especially challenging in government?

Let me offer a few for considerations: 

Procurement in most government is not sophisticated, it is often slow, cumbersome and ill equipped to keep pace with technology… not even close. Although not stated very often, the “process” is far more concerning to the bureaucracy than the outcome; for instance the importance of transparency and fairness are paramount. There are often other key factors and stakeholders to consider in a Public Sector procurement that are not at play in Private Sector, awarding points to minority business or regions or even security considerations. Public procurement has evolved but it is nowhere near the sophistication of private and with some of the aforementioned factors, nor will it likely be very soon.

Can "Deliverology" Fix the Real Challenges in Government IT ProjectsStatus quo in government is not the Bogeyman as it is just about everywhere else. There is very little to gain both professionally and financially for taking risk in government and that certainly plays in to career paths and decisions made as a result. And let’s face it, these are taxpayer dollars and this is not Silicon Valley where risk, reward and failure are part and parcel of modern organizations — taxpayers want their governments to be efficient and bring value, not hit home runs in technology. Innovation is talked about extensively but I think we can agree it is “measured” innovation.

Finally, and perhaps as significantly as others, we have to analyze careers and how they are advanced in Government. We’ve established that risk taking is not at the top of the reward heap when it comes to advancing one’s civil service career but it has become just as apparent that varied and diverse department and project experience is. No longer is a Federal employee who expects to grow his or her career expected to stay at any one department for 30 years and retire, but rather it is expected to include a series of different departments, agencies and projects along the way, often for stints less than 2 years. While this may make for a more well-rounded and diverse experience portfolio for the employee, it presents a number of issues when the vast majority of the fast track government executives and leadership are never in one department or one project long enough to see through the life of a typical IT project.

Not sure how deilverology will tackle some of these over time, but I do know it will make for some interesting months ahead. In the meanwhile, I’m headed to the dock and working on the deliverology of my summer refreshments!

The Future of Work: Technology and Automation

David O'Brien By David O’Brien,
Vice President, East Region & Government Services at Eagle

The Future of Work: Technology and AutomationAs the summer of 2016 rolls in, it would certainly appear that a phenomena that has been 30 years in the making is beginning to come to light. Rapid changes in technology and the job market are affecting the ways we live and work. For one example of major change, have a look at our neighbours to the south where an idea has seemingly and inexplicably risen to a level not yet fathomed other than as a joke mere months ago; the rise of The Donald, as in Trump, looks as though it may be here to stay… a scary thought indeed.

As a Canadian observer on the sidelines, there are some issues we certainly need to be aware of as the Trump vs Clinton presidential contest takes over our airwaves and party talk in the months ahead. For instance, Mr. Trump has made huge grounds on the backs of being anti-trade, anti-NAFTA in particular, claiming that trade is the mechanism with which Americans have lost thousands of manufacturing jobs to China, Mexico etc. Ours here is not to debate free trade but let’s look a little closer at what was the real change, the role technology has played, and crystal ball the perhaps forthcoming for IT jobs.

We do know for sure that both Canada and the US have lost manufacturing jobs over the last decade or more, Canada in particular has suffered deeper declines. The US’s lost jobs, though, in terms of productivity or manufacturing output, has increased dramatically, and manufacturers make on average more than twice the “stuff” they did in 1977. Therefore, it is safe to say the disruptive force at play affecting manufacturing jobs dramatically has not been trade, trade agreements, immigration or globalization. The disruptive force is technology and automation. And, while manufacturing jobs have disappeared, the business services sector grew over the same time and is now three times the size of the manufacturing sector.

So now what? The future of work stands to be disrupted like nothing we have seen in history. The pace of change in the way we work and work itself will be exponential in the coming years.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robotics are changing the way we work and live. Google, Facebook, Amazon, and IBM are all working very hard at monetizing their AI portfolio. The likely early leader will be Google and its DeepMind AI, an example of AI capable of deep learning, yes learning. In addition, Amelia is an AI created by IPsoft that has learned how to do the job of call center employees and in 20 languages. And of course, we all are aware of the pending arrival of the self-driving car.

The game changer is that AI is becoming good for more than routine and non-cognitive tasks and beginning to take over the cognitive or learning tasks. The new frontier is any job that humans can do is no longer safe. The so called “Fourth Industrial Revolution” is soon upon us and will undoubtedly change us all. Jobs will disappear BUT new jobs and perhaps new definitions of work itself will emerge, that much we know… I think.

How Google Discovered This Secret to Team Success

David O'Brien By David O’Brien,
Vice President, East Region & Government Services at Eagle

Successful Team CelebratingMost of us, and especially IT contractors, have had a range of experience in dealing with teams, most likely in a work context but not entirely exclusive to work. I would bet we could all cite stories of teams gone sideways and opine as to why. The challenge, though, and hence the real question, is what does make teams successful or work? Why aren’t the best teams just a collection of the top people at the skills needed? Examples abound of this seemingly intuitive notion of “I will simply gather the best developers/salespeople/athletes/actors as needed to make my team win.” As we all know, though, in many of these cases, quite often the whole does not equal the sum of all its parts. Scores of evidence will show the assembly of the highest paid or skilled athletes (see Toronto Maple Leafs, New York Yankees,1980 Russian Olympic Hockey Team vs US) or the multi-chain store that has the same culture, policies and location demographics across its entire chain see huge variances in success in spite of all these commonalities.

Google, arguably the world’s most successful technology company, has a widespread reputation for only hiring the best of the best (just take a look at 41 of Google’s Toughest Interview Questions). In 2012, Google sought to understand what makes teams succeed and created Project Aristotle. The majority of modern work from early education through MBA school, and then on in to the workforce, is done in a group environment, to the extent that time spent in collaboration by employees and managers has ballooned over 50% in the last 20 years.  It is a given today that people are more productive and happier in a collaborative group dynamic. At first, the study, though overwhelmed with data, found that there were no obvious difference makers in terms of types of personality, skills or background that affected successful team outcomes. What they did find, though, as critical were the group “norms”, those unwritten set of criteria, standards and behaviors. There were two very definitive norms that distinguished successful, high functioning teams and they were:

  1. Good teams presented what researchers term a “psychological safety”. That, in effect, means team members on good teams felt free to speak /contribute equally without fear or retribution, and that everyone has an opportunity to speak. As long as everyone had a chance to speak, the team did well; whereas, in teams that were dominated by one person or a small group, “the collective intelligence” declined. This shared safety built by respect and trust was critical to success.
  2. Not surprisingly, good teams all had high “average social sensitivity” or were more empathetic. These teams were made up of people who were adept at reading people’s feelings through things like tone, non-verbal communication and expressions. In other words, the teams had high Emotional Intelligence. Successful team members know when people are upset, whereas people on ineffective teams scored worse, having less sensitivity to others on the team.

What was interesting for the Google researchers was that it was very evident that many of those who may have chosen Software Development as their career did so to avoid “discussing feelings” and were often naturally introverted.

This is a fascinating study that emanated from Silicon Valley, a world dominated by data. These technology professionals now have the data to rethink and reset the course, perhaps in getting away from conventional wisdom.  I encourage you to look into it and draw your own conclusions to perhaps redraw the way you as an independent contractor may operate within teams. As the saying goes: “teamwork makes the dream work.”