In 2001, less than five years after it was founded, Google had already opened its first international office, offered search in 15 different languages and built a team of 400 employees. Larry Page, one of its founders and now CEO, was determined to continue growing while keeping the company nimble and bureaucracy-free. So he did something bold: he decided to fire all engineering managers.
The experiment didn’t go down well and in the end failed. After only a few months, the engineering manager role was restored. It turns out that far from creating an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy, a good manager is actually key to a happy and productive team. Google’s latest research, which they published last week on their new platform, re:Work, confirms this: “Teams with great managers were happier and more productive,” they concluded.
But what exactly makes a manager “great”? They’ve also done some research into that, through their Project Oxygen. Using data from staff surveys and performance reviews, along with double-blind qualitative interviews, they found eight common characteristics shared by all great managers.
Google hasn’t just released its findings on what makes a good manager: it has also published guides and tools to help people develop those skills. For example, those interested in learning more can find out how to create and communicate a clear team vision, support and develop their teams both professionally and personally, and motivate people.
All the tools and guides are based on the training Google’s managers receive – and seem to value highly. Speaking to the Harvard Business Review in 2013, Eric Clayberg, a Google software engineer manager, praised the training, saying it helped him see the bigger picture: “I now spend a third to half of my time looking for ways to help my team members grow.”