Why Everything You Think You Know About Teamwork Might Be Wrong!
What would you say makes the most productive team?
- Combining the best people? The smartest people?
- Finding people with similar motivations?
- Putting ‘like’ personalities together or putting a mix of personalities together?
- Making sure teams are friendly away from work by creating opportunities to interact and build rapport in non business settings?
- Making sure people are ‘heard’ by not allowing team members to interrupt each other?
It turns out that while the conventional wisdom around highly effective teams may be conventional – it may not actually be wisdom. According to Abeer Dubey, a manager in Google’s People Analytics division, ‘nobody had really studied which were true’. In other words, a condition may be true for a high performing team – but that does not mean it was the root cause of the high performance.
So what to do? Enter Google with it’s massive data gathering ability. About five years ago Google started a project – code named Project Aristotle – to search for the truth. But who’s truth? Mine or yours? You see, we all have a bias when it comes to truth. Which is why Project Aristotle had to dig deep into the data.
However after studying over 180 different teams and a half century of research to try a discern a pattern, they came up dry. Nada. The only thing that seemed certain was that the ‘who’ was involved in the team did not matter. Dubey said. ‘‘We had lots of data, but there was nothing showing that a mix of specific personality types or skills or backgrounds made any difference. The ‘who’ part of the equation didn’t seem to matter.’’
One thing they did seem to find consistency around was ‘group norms’. Think of group norms as the unwritten rules of the way we interact with each other. After more than a year of research, Google determined that understanding and influencing group norms was the key to highly effective teams. But which norms were most important? Sometimes the norms of one highly successful team clashed with the norms of another equally successful team.
This has huge implications for leaders because group norms that may have worked with one team will not necessarily work with another one!
What the research did show was that there were two underlying behaviors that high performing teams shared, and they determined that these behaviors allowed for the creation of group norms that spurred the higher perfromance.
- Team members each spoke roughly the same amount of time. This could occur by sharing time to speak during the task itself, or taking turns from assignment to assignment. IHowever they got there, the team members had spoken about the same amount by the end of the day. If, on the other hand. one person or a small subset of the team dominated the dialogue then collective intelligence of the team declined.
- Team members had higher ‘social sensitivity’. This is a fancy way of saying that they could figure out what people were feeling from their tone of voice as well as non verbal clues. While this is harder to assess than the amount of time the most team members speak, it is possible to get a read on where your team stands. In fact, you may not be able to get certain team members to speak more if your team is exhibiting low social sensitivity.
So what can you do?
First of all, the research clearly indicates that you must stop thinking of high performing teams in the traditional way. Many different group norms can create a high performing team – as long as they exhibit the two behaviors outlined above.
Second, you have to have a process that has been proven to deliver results. The 4 Faces of Frustration Workshop can help you deliver the kind of teamwork that you know your team is capable of! Or you can register for our complimentary webinar by clicking here.