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.
5/5/2015 03:29:51 am
I believe the capability for leadership is inherent in most people, but only a few actually reach that potential. I think it would be hard to teach somone to be a leader. Teaching them to be proficient in a particular area, and putting them in charge of people in that area, will either bring out the leadership qualities in them, or cause them to feel badly out of their depth. Personality, self-esteem, and so many factors can determine if a person can, or will, lead others.
8/4/2015 05:12:17 am
I truly believe this is the main reason people loose hope and respect towards others in an office setting. I also believe this is why you have so much anger and frustration in the workforce and it continues to grow.
8/4/2015 05:42:36 am
Yes, Jacquelyn: People experience frustration, anger, and loss of hope when the teams they are part of don't communicate well. So much happens in teams; so little happens to make those teams great. Thanks for your thoughts.
8/4/2015 05:39:27 am
Thanks for your vote of confidence, Merry! So many personal characteristics define people and their leadership. As life long educators, we have deep confidence that leadership learning can happen!
5/5/2015 04:18:55 am
Thanks Merry. Thanks for your generous words about our work. So much does go into leadership ability, and you have identified a serious problem: When someone is promoted to a leadership role because they have expertise in a particular job task, that can spell disaster without great coaching and training.
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