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Maximizing the Smartness of Teams

Posted by Insightlink on 04/22/15

Three Drivers of Success

“All of us are smarter than any one of us” is a favorite phrase of one of our senior analysts. This simple statement effectively summarizes the power of teams – by working together, a group of people can often develop many more creative and powerful ideas than can individuals working alone. And we know from our employee survey experience, a strong feeling of teamwork is often named as one of the strengths of a highly motivating work environment. As several different employees summarized recently:

“I enjoy a challenging, fast-paced environment where you never know what will land on your plate today. Interacting with people, strategizing as a team, and seeing the fruit of your labor enhance the operations of the entire operations is extremely rewarding.”
“Our team environment allows for open speaking about anything.”

At the same time, though, we’ve all been in endless meetings without any clear direction and have been part of teams that achieved little more than to frustrate and anger all of its members. This ambivalence towards teams led three researchers – Anita Woolley, Thomas Malone and Christopher Chabris – to ask a fundamental question:

“Psychologists have known for a century that individuals vary in their cognitive ability. But are some groups, like some people, reliably smarter than others?”

The results of their research into this question – which was summarized in a New York Times article called “Why Some Teams Are Smarter Than Others” (Jan.15) –confirmed that some teams demonstrate a higher level of general intelligence than other teams. They also found, though, neither the IQ levels of individual team members nor how extroverted vs. introverted the members were had any impact on determining which teams exhibited the highest level of “general intelligence.”

Of course, this leads to the really important question, then, of identifying what specific characteristics distinguish smarter teams from the rest? Their subsequent exploration of this question identified three key variables for determining what makes some teams smarter than others:
1. Smarter teams encourage discussion from all members, not just from one or two dominant participants. This finding fits completely with the old adage repeated above, with special emphasis on the “all” part of “all of us.”
2. The members of the smartest teams are more adept Reading the Mind in the Eyes, which is a measurement of how well people can read complex emotions when only the eyes are visible.
3. Finally, smarter teams simply contain more women, which can at least partly be explained by women’s greater ability at reading others’ emotions.

The researchers then “upped the ante” by testing whether teams that worked only online – with no face-to-face contact with other team members – could show the same level of collective intelligence as teams working in close proximity to each other. Not only did they some teams were consistently smarter no matter how they worked together but that…
“More surprisingly, the most important ingredients for a smart team remained constant regardless of their mode of interaction – members who communicated a lot, participated equally and possessed good emotion-reading skills.”

What is the impact of this learning for organizations? The first implication is simply recognizing that “the general intelligence of teams” impacts how successful individual teams will be no matter how they collaborate. Secondly, keep these distinguishing characteristics in mind when forming and leading teams. Although you may not be able to control how well your team members are at “mind reading,” definitely encourage your teams to be sensitive to what their team members feel, know and believe and to get input from all members rather than simply letting the “squeaky wheels” dominate the discussion and the decision making.

Original article here:




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