Consensus Building, Collaboration and Other Google Strengths

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If you saw my earlier post today about Google's corporate culture, portrayed in a former employee's blog post as an impediment to winning favor with enterprises, you may think that Google is a success despite itself.


You certainly won't be the first. Earlier this year, Fortune writer Adam Lashinsky ran down a laundry list of Google's recent troubles -- an exodus of high-level executives and an inability to leverage any of its acquisitions, among them -- before posing the question:

Which is more important, process or innovation?

The former Google worker, a software developer named Sergey Solyanik who returned to Microsoft after putting in a year at the search giant, makes a similar point. It's a more devastating indictment coming from Solyanik, however, since he actually had a hand in creating Google products.

Yet Solyanik did find some aspects of the Google work environment to praise:

  • An emphasis on the opinions of peers, rather than managers, in the review process. This is based on the truism that managers are generally easier to fool than one's co-workers, writes Solyanik, and it also tends to foster better relationships among team members.
  • Committees of Google employees called "Intergrouplets" that help the company improve internal functions ranging from internal engineering documentation to food service. This is where many employees opt to spend their 20 percent time, writes Solyanik.
  • The much-publicized free food. As Solyanik writes, group lunches provide a valuable opportunity for team-building and collaboration. There's no real replacement for this kind of face-to-face interaction, as I wrote earlier this year in a post about the director of an incubation and technology transfer center at University College Dublin who offered cheap coffee as an incentive to get geeks there to mingle.
  • Committees that take an active role in hiring and resource allocation. As Solyanik writes: If you are to achieve anything at Google, you must learn how to build this consensus, or at least how to not obstruct it. This skill comes in very handy for every other aspect of work.