Teams can make great decisions – or truly awful ones. What differentiates smarter teams? In two groundbreaking studies, Carnegie Mellon’s Anita Woolley, M.I.T’s Thomas Malone, and Union College’s Christopher Chabris attempted to find out.
In one study, the researchers grouped nearly 700 subjects into teams of two to five members, assigning each team a diverse array of tasks. In the next study, 68 teams were assigned tasks – the difference being that half collaborated face-to-face and half online. In both studies, the more successful teams shared certain attributes: 1) team members communicated a large amount with each other; 2) they contributed more equally to discussions, and 3) team members possessed strong emotion reading skills*.
Teams with more women tended to do better, which researchers believe is because women score higher on tests of emotion reading, such as “ReadIng the Mind in the Eyes”. But emotional intelligence played just as strong a role online. What makes teams smart, they say, is not reading facial expressions, but rather a more general ability known as “Theory of Mind,” the ability to consider what others feel, know, and believe.
We have been researching and consulting with teams for decades and are thrilled to see so much of what we teach validated here. As teams—including remote teams—become increasingly crucial, the ongoing science of teamwork can help teams form and perform at optimal levels.
We want to hear: Are you part of a smart team? What qualities does your team possess that make it successful? Join the conversation and click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
*For more on contributing effectively in team meetings, see our previous Communication Capsule.