Last week I started reading Smarter, Faster, Better by Charles Duhigg on my morning commute in an attempt to be more productive. In his book, Duhigg systematically dissects the habits of highly successful individuals and their habits, but what really caught my attention was his chapter on successful teams. In the chapter, Duhigg examines a study on team building conducted by a group of psychologists from MIT and Carnegie Mellon that took place back in 2008. Researchers had recruited around 700 individuals and divided them into 152 teams to complete tasks that required varying levels of collaboration. The teams took part in activities that ranged from maximizing time grocery shopping together to arriving at conclusions for fabricated disciplinary cases. Each task varied in difficulty and required teams to spend a significant amount of time together. From your own experience, what are some elements you think has an impact on a team’s success? What do you think the researchers discovered?
Did the teams with the smartest individuals succeed more often?
Were the winning teams more decisive or aggressive compared to their counterparts?
Would they establish tasks and distribute work evenly?
Did the interactions between team members appear more casual or strict?
Did they consist of individuals that had similar socioeconomic backgrounds?
The answer is, none of the above. The most successful teams didn’t have any traits that the researchers would’ve deemed obvious, like IQ levels or social dynamics (some great teams were loud and chaotic; others were calm and soft spoken). After taking a closer look at each team’s interactions the researchers came to an unexpected conclusion. Individual intelligence did not correlate to the performance of the team. Neither did logistics like work distribution or approaches to the tasks.
The most successful teams managed to create environments that raised the collective intelligence of everyone in the group. Adversely, the least successful teams created norms that decreased the collective intelligence and productivity of the group. When it came down to it, there were two traits that researchers linked to an increase in collective intelligence.
- Each member spoke about the same amount. On reviewing videos of team interactions, researchers found that all of the members in successful teams spoke in roughly the same proportion. The specifics of how they were talking didn’t matter. Some groups were yelling over each other throughout the task, while others were patient and took turns. The researchers called this trait “equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking.”
- The greatest teams tested as having a high social sensitivity. Before forming teams, researchers tested the social sensitivity of each candidate with an empathy test. This involved showing candidates photos of people’s eyes and asking them to identify what they were feeling. Men on average guess correctly 52% of the time. Women on average guess correctly 61% of the time. Team members with high social sensitivity seemed to know when someone felt left out or had something to say. They spent more time asking each other questions. The most successful teams also contained a higher proportion of women.
If you’d like to test your social sensitivity, click here to take a quick quiz!