Quest for the Ideal Team
Studies repeatedly show that teams tend to innovate, solve problems, and spot mistakes faster than individuals—and that people working in teams report higher job satisfaction. But what kind of team do you think performs best?
A. A team whose members—each an expert in their own area—speak strictly on their area of expertise, eschew sidebar chitchat, and part right after meetings; or
B. A mixed team of executives and middle managers whose members contribute an equal amount, who are attuned to one another's communication nuances, and who hang around after meetings to chat about their personal lives.
Five years ago, Google became focused on constructing the ideal team. Its “Project Aristotle” scrutinized everything about the interactions of a vast number of the company’s teams and reviewed a half-century of academic studies. In the end, Project Aristotle researchers concluded that understanding and influencing group norms were the keys to improving Google’s teams—and that successful teams shared the norms of “conversational turn-taking” (over time, everyone speaks an equal amount) and high “social sensitivity” (members were skilled on intuiting how one another felt based on voice tone, facial expressions, and other non-verbal cues).
Long story short: If you have a chance to create or participate in a team, opt for Team B. Team A may be filled with high performing individuals, but the problems is that they remain individuals. Their team norms discourage equal speaking, and there are few exchanges of the sort of personal information that let teammates pick up on what people are leaving unsaid.
We want to hear: Are you part of a team that resembles Team A or Team B? What do you see as its advantages or disadvantages? To join the conversation, click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
If you would like to read more about creating a habit around masterful communication, check out our book: Be Quiet, Be Heard: The Paradox of Persuasion.
3/29/2016 03:43:17 pm
Hello - thanks for posting this article. The Team that I work in is definitely more Team B than Team A, although we still have some way to go. The article made me think that it is incumbent on all members to contribute, and respect the contribution of others. If some team members are naturally quiet and reserved they should be encouraged, gently, to make a contribution to discussions.
4/1/2016 10:09:08 am
Thanks for this Simon. We couldn't agree more! The strongest, most highly performing teams are those where all members contribute to discussions -- and where everyone is committed to bringing the quietest voices into the discussion. Check out our work on PRES/Group Facilitation Skills for specific tips to make this happen.
8/21/2016 02:58:27 pm
A "team" I was a part of for many years (and in many ways it is the team I am still am) was composed of 12-18 or so individuals with expertise in totally different areas--one in conflict resolution, one in recreation, one in ecosystem management, one in fire, one in engineering, etc. We all worked under the same supervisor because we were (and are) all part of an innovative program within the US government where we operate as a small business within the government. Some areas of expertise overlap more than others, but as far as being a true team, we really were not. Early on the team tried (pretended?) to use consensus as its decision-making model, and we were totally unsuccessful. I'm a huge advocate of consensus, but after doing a fair amount of research (and before I was introduced to the Glaser model), I realized that consensus was just not appropriate for this team, because everyone had their own interests in mind, and because of the business model we were working under there was no incentive to truly work together for the overall good of the team. It was a totally virtual team, which didn't help. Very few opportunities to just chat after meetings. The meetings (conference calls) became quite tedious, with a few people willing to speak up, and everyone else remaining silent. I eventually taught the Glaser model to this group, and a few took it to heart. (At an in-person meeting a year or so ago, I saw one person open up their folder for the meeting and right on top were the handouts on Task Skills and Relationship Skills.) But sadly, leadership did not embrace the model. Some of us are getting better at the "social sensitivity" mentioned in the article. But it's tough when we don't have any visual clues. And clearly everyone is not having an equal voice. Very frustrating for someone like myself who is so passionate about being inclusive and using consensus and collaborative problem solving whenever possible.
8/22/2016 10:43:46 am
Thanks for this Melissa. You have identified some clear barriers to creating consensus: virtual team members with opposing agendas and little social interaction. When you add in lack of leadership commitment to the model, the problems multiply. Glad you have incorporated our collaboration models into your life and other groups you are part of.
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