Project Oxygen and Project Aristotle –What Makes Google, Google?

Nathan Kolar
4 min readJul 15, 2019


Years ago, physical labour was the central skill of earning income. This was represented over the years of the Agricultural Revolution in which physical labour manifested as farming, and over the years of the Industrial Revolution, in which physical labour manifested as factory work.

What both of these periods of years had in common is principle of clarity surrounding the completion of physical work. There, for the most part, can certainly be more cause and effect with physical labour; such as in this context, the farmer could visually see the completion of their work from the day as the fields were harvested, and the factory worker could visually see the completion of their work from the day as the physical objects were built.

Why this article is recalling history is because times have changed for central skills. Fast forward over the years from the aforementioned periods, and now thought leaders claim the central skill of earning income, for the most part, involves specialized knowledge and working for knowledge-intensive firms (KIF’s), in our knowledge-based economy. This is good nor bad, simply observation. However, what comes with this knowledge-intensive economy of present day is the phrase “VUCA” (volatile, uncertain, competitive, and ambiguous).

Specifically, in a knowledge-based economy, uncertainty and ambiguous tasks can be all too common and at the same time, with the higher value of interdependence in working within teams.

Ask yourself at the end of a day:

- what did I accomplish?

- what value did I add?

- who did I help?

- is the task running on-time?

- was the task fulfilled?


To keep their head above water and maintain themselves as the kid on the playground with the coolest shoes, Google has been conducting internal projects relevant to cooperating in teams and bringing the best out of your employees. Two of these projects, and their findings, are Project Aristotle and Project Oxygen. Google knows, and we must know as well, these findings may be common sense, but not common sense does not equal practice.

Project Oxygen

Project Purpose: what makes a great manager? Year: 2008

Through employee survey data and performance evaluations, Project Oxygen identified the eight most-common behaviours among the highest performing, great, managers (see ‘Good Manager Behaviours’ image). If you are asking why these behaviour are important, just think of the benefit of incorporating these behaviours into your manager trainings to help with outcomes such as turnover, satisfaction, and productivity (engagement).

*Note — in 2018, Google expanded the behaviours by adding two (nine and ten), and updating three and six (3 — creates an inclusive team environment, showing concern for success and well-being, 6 — supports career development and discusses performance, 9 — collaborates across Google, 10 — is a strong decision maker).

Project Aristotle

Project purpose: what makes a team effective? Year: 2016.

Extending the work of Project Oxygen, along came Project Aristotle. To begin, a group of [hierarchy] people are not a team. What makes a group a team is the presence of interdependence to get work done. Google conducted hundreds of double-blind interviews with 180 teams, ranging from 3 to 50 individuals per team, and analyzed survey data to determine team effectiveness. The findings were less about which employees made up the teams, and instead, 5 effectiveness pillars (see image below — in order of importance).

To detail the first effectiveness pillar, psychological safety, Google explains this as:

“If I make a mistake on our team, it is not held against me.”

Psychological safety revolves around how an employee perceives consequences surrounding interpersonal risks, in terms of admitting a mistake or weakness, asking a question, seeking clarification, or offering a new idea, as examples. High psychological safety means that an employee feels safe to take risks and bring their whole selves to work.

To wrap up, these two projects by Google, Project Oxygen and Project Aristotle, serve as examples of findings at Google for effective managers and teams that you and I can apply to our workplace to grow and coach our employee population. At the end of the day, to leverage this information, the answer is acting on these findings (action) and turning the common sense into common practice.


Nathan Kolar,



Nathan Kolar

Nathan helps companies become more productive while simultaneously being humane. #employeehealth #organizationalhealth LinkedIn: