Charles Duhigg reviewed some new research that reveals the truth about why some work groups thrive and others falter. This research study was conducted by one of the largest Tech companies in Silicon Valley. However, in this post I am going use a pseudonym, Big Tech Company, hereinafter, referred to as “BTC.” You can read the original article here.
Five years ago, BTC became focused on building the perfect team. Over the last decade, the tech giant has spent heavily measuring nearly every aspect of its employees’ lives. The People Operations department almost every aspect of the working lives of their employees.
The executives had some long-held beliefs that building the best teams simply meant combining the best people. They embraced other bits of conventional wisdom such as, “It’s better to put introverts together,’’ or ‘‘Teams are more effective when everyone is friends away from work.’’ But, these beliefs had not actually been studied.
BTC launched a well-organized and funded research study. The researchers began by reviewing academic studies looking at how teams worked. Were the best teams made up of people with similar interests? Or did it matter more whether everyone was motivated by the same kinds of rewards? Based on those studies, the researchers carefully studied the composition of groups at BTC: How often did teammates socialize outside the office? Did they have the same hobbies? Were their educational backgrounds similar? Was it better for all teammates to be outgoing or for all of them to be shy? They drew diagrams showing which teams had overlapping memberships and which groups had exceeded their departments’ goals. They studied how long teams stuck together and if gender balance seemed to have an impact on a team’s success.
No matter how the data was assembled, it was almost impossible to find patterns or evidence that the composition of a team made any difference. Some of the best teams were composed of friends who socialized outside work and those who were basically strangers away from work. Most confounding of all, two teams might have nearly identical makeups, with overlapping memberships, but radically different levels of effectiveness. However, the researchers continued to search ‘‘group norms, unwritten rules, traditions and behavioral standards govern how groups function together.
The researchers formed two groups so they compare behaviors and results. Some teams celebrated birthdays and began each meeting with informal chitchat about weekend plans and other groups got right to business and discouraged gossip.
- The researchers eventually concluded that what distinguished the ‘‘good’’ teams from the dysfunctional groups was how teammates treated one another. The right norms could raise a group’s collective intelligence, but the wrong norms could hobble a team.
- The researchers noticed two behaviors that all the good teams generally shared. First, on the good teams, members spoke in roughly the same proportion, a phenomenon the researchers referred to as ‘‘equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking.’’
- The good teams had high ‘‘average social sensitivity’’ and were skilled at intuiting how others felt based on their tone of voice, their expressions and other nonverbal cues.
- Some teams were sensitive one anothe’s moods and share personal stories and emotions. Although they may not have contained as many individual stars, the sum will be greater than its parts.
- BTC’s data indicated that psychological safety, more than anything else, was critical to making a team work.
- As long as everyone got a chance to talk, the teams did well. But if only one person or a small group spoke all the time, the collective intelligence declined.
- By putting things like empathy and sensitivity into charts and data reports, it makes them easier to talk about and it is easier to talk about feelings when you can point to a number.
These facts or discoveries are not original. The paradox, of course, is that BTC’s intense data collection and number crunching have led it to the same conclusions that good managers have always known. In the best teams, members listen to one another and show sensitivity to feelings and needs.
However, having data proves to people that these things are worth paying attention to and could be the most important step in getting them to actually pay attention. Finally, the study suggests that we should not underestimate the power of giving people a common platform and operating language.
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