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What’s the secret to a great team?

 

 

Don’t just throw the best people together. How members get along is far more important than their capacities as individuals.  

What makes for smart teams?

It’s not average IQ. It’s social skills. From MIT:

A new study published in Science  found that three factors were significantly correlated with a group’s collective intelligence — in other words, its ability to perform a variety of tasks collectively, from solving puzzles to negotiating. 

The three factors are: the average social sensitivity of the members of the group, the extent to which the group’s conversations weren’t dominated by a few members, and the percentage of women in the group.  (The women in the study tended to score higher on social sensitivity than the men.) In other words, groups perform better on tasks if the members have strong social skills, if there are some women in the group, and if the conversation reflects more group members’ ideas. The groups studied were small teams with two to five members.

What’s the best predictor of team success?

How the team members feel about one another.

Via The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work:

The better we feel about these workplace relationships, the more effective we will be. For example, a study of over 350 employees in 60 business units at a financial services company found that the greatest predictor of a team’s achievement was how the members felt about one another. This is especially important for managers because, while they often have little control over the backgrounds or skill sets of employees placed on their teams, they do have control over the level of interaction and rapport. Studies show that the more team members are encouraged to socialize and interact face-to-face, the more engaged they feel, the more energy they have, and the longer they can stay focused on a task. In short, the more the team members invest in their social cohesion, the better the results of their work.

How well do they need to get along?

Remember the 5 to 1 ratio.

From The Ape in the Corner Office: How to Make Friends, Win Fights and Work Smarter by Understanding Human Nature:

It turned out that the fifteen high-performance teams averaged 5.6 positive interactions for every negative one. The nineteen low-performance teams racked up a positive/negative ratio of just .363. That is, they had about three negative interactions for every positive one…

Do people touch each other more if they like each other or does touching actually increase performance?

Can’t be sure but we do know one thing: “The teams that touched the most cooperated the most, and won the most.”

Via Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior:

So are touchy-feely people more successful at getting things done? There is no data on whether bosses who dole out the occasional pat on the head run a smoother operation, but a 2010 study by a group of researchers in Berkeley found a case in which a habit of congratulatory slaps to the skull really is associated with successful group interactions. The Berkeley researchers studied the sport of basketball, which both requires extensive second-by-second teamwork and is known for its elaborate language of touching. They found that the number of “fist bumps, high fives, chest bumps, leaping shoulder bumps, chest punches, head slaps, head grabs, low fives, high tens, half hugs, and team huddles” correlated significantly with the degree of cooperation among teammates, such as passing to those who are less closely defended, helping others escape defensive pressure by setting what are called “screens,” and otherwise displaying a reliance on a teammate at the expense of one’s own individual performance. The teams that touched the most cooperated the most, and won the most.

For creativity, mix it up a bit. The most creative teams are a mix of old friends and new blood.

Via Imagine: How Creativity Works:

“The best Broadway teams, by far, were those with a mix of relationships,” Uzzi says. “These teams had some old friends, but they also had newbies. This mixture meant that the artists could interact efficiently— they had a familiar structure to fall back on— but they also managed to incorporate some new ideas. They were comfortable with each other, but they weren’t too comfortable.”

Teams with men and women performed better:

We investigate whether the gender composition of teams affect their economic performance. We study a large business game, played in groups of three, where each group takes the role of a general manager. There are two parallel competitions, one involving undergraduates and the other involving MBAs. Our analysis shows that teams formed by three women are significantly outperformed by any other gender combination, both at the undergraduate and MBA levels. Looking across the performance distribution, we find that for undergraduates, three women teams are outperformed throughout, but by as much as 10pp at the bottom and by only 1pp at the top. For MBAs, at the top, the best performing group is two men and one woman. The differences in performance are explained by differences in decision-making. We observe that three women teams are less aggressive in their pricing strategies, invest less in R&D, and invest more in social sustainability initiatives, than any other gender combination teams. Finally, we find support for the hypothesis that it is poor work dynamics among the three women teams that drives the results.

A team is only as strong as its weakest link. Team trust is not determined by an average of the members, it’s at the level of the least trusted member:

In a team negotiation context, the authors empirically explored how judgments of team-level trust are derived from individual-level trust. Basing their argument on both the negativity bias and the discontinuity effect, the authors posit that people will focus most on the least trustworthy individual member of a team when making judgments about collective team-level trust. Findings from two studies demonstrate that perceptions of team trust are indeed lower than the average ratings of individual trust and are statistically equivalent to the least trusted member. In addition, compared with average individual trust levels, perceptions of collective team trust were found to be more predictive of (a) impasse rates in distributive negotiations and (b) the level of joint gain in integrative negotiations.

What inspires team morale? Great stories:

Institutions that can communicate a compelling historical narrative often inspire a special kind of commitment among employees. It is this dedication that directly affects a company’s success and is critical to creating a strong corporate legacy,” said author Adam Galinsky, Morris and Alice Kaplan professor of ethics and decision in management.

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About Eric Barker