What Makes Some Teams Smarter
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.
We have long taught that breakthroughs are most likely to occur when criticism is fully heard and the positive potential of conflict is mined. In her new book, Collective Genius, The Art and Practice of Leading Innovation, Professor Linda Hill, faculty chair of the Leadership Initiative at Harvard Business School, says that leaders whose organizations innovate best are those who act as “social architects,” creating a safe collaborative space where team members can “keep pushing and challenging one another.”
The research of Hill and her co-authors suggests that successful innovation leaders have a capability they call creative abrasion: They are able to spark heated but constructive debates that amplify differences as opposed to minimizing them. “Conflict is what generates a marketplace of competitive ideas,” says Hill in an interview with strategy+business.
Generating a wealth of ideas is pointless without a second capability, creative agility, which Hill says “is about testing and refining ideas with feedback, reflection, and adjustment…The idea is to act and learn as quickly as you can, and then make necessary adjustments. When you do an experiment, it’s OK to get a negative outcome, as long as you learn from it.”
We want to hear: What do you think about the link between conflict and innovation? Can you give us an example of productive disagreement on your team? Join the conversation and click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
Why Employees Stay or Go
With employment on the rise, turnover is once again a key concern for employers. As a preventive measure, reports The Wall Street Journal, companies like Credit Suisse are analyzing data predicting who might have an eye on the door.
What they are seeing is a multi-faceted picture of what motivates retention—or not. Factors like pay, or even workers’ relationships with their bosses, can be trumped by how connected employees feel to their teams. And, “at Credit Suisse, managers’ performance and team size turn out to be surprisingly powerful influences, with a spike in attrition among employees working on large teams with low-rated managers.”
While no single piece of data predicts retention with certainty, many of the numbers appear to highlight the power of employee engagement. When workers are bonded to their teammates and when those teams have effective leaders, the impulse is to see things through. The rewards go beyond the monetary: It is hard to put a price tag on the sense of self-worth, excitement, and accomplishment that engagement generates.
On the other hand, it is easy to put a price tag on unwanted attrition. The median cost of turnover for most jobs, says the Center for American Progress, is about 21% of an employee’s annual salary. William Wolf, Credit Suisse’s global head of talent acquisition and development, says a one-point reduction in attrition saves the bank $75 to $100 million annually.
We want to hear: Why do you stay at your job…or what has made you want to leave a job in the past? Join the conversation and click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
Preparing People for Change
Change can seem frightening. So it’s not uncommon for individuals—and organizations—to resist new ideas and default to justifying their current behaviors. However, a new study suggests that focusing on important values is a less threatening way to initiate new behaviors.
Researchers used brain scanning to observe how people respond when given advice about positive behavioral change (e.g. increased exercise). Before being given the advice, half the group was given a self-affirmation exercise involving thinking about a value important to them. The hope was that these kinds of thoughts would trigger activity in the part of the prefrontal cortex responsible for processing information about ourselves. Then each participant was tracked to determine whether or not they heeded the advice.
The result: Those primed with self-affirming thoughts not only displayed a lot more activity in this part of the brain, but also engaged in actual behavioral change in the following month. The control group showed no changes.
We believe priming for change with shared values can be incredibly valuable in an organization. Leaders can inspire others to embrace change by affirming the long-term goals of their organization and emphasizing the ultimate good that can be accomplished.
We want to hear: How have you been successful in initiating change—either on a personal or organizational level? What over-arching values have helped you navigate change? Join the conversation and click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.