Get Buzzed: The Science of Teamwork

Key point: I believe everything is a process and the process is everything. I also believe that optimization comes from system thinking and executing on a defined methodology. Great teams have this. How do you think about teams you are part of? What makes a great team? How important is communication process versus content?

I have been fortunate to be part of some great teams. There is a palpable “buzz” that comes from the “hive” when the team is really working well together. I have felt the “hum” on a team bench, inside of a locker room, and in the board room. Everybody has a role and clear contribution. Each member is expected to do their part and people have each other’s back. Banter and well timed humor rings off the walls even when working on the most serious of matters. The feeling is so good it makes one feel almost euphoric. Trust is high. The team learns HOW to communicate with each other. You just know the team will win. Our challenge is to better understand, develop and replicate great team process and methodology.

MIT’s Alex “Sandy” Pentland and his team at The Human Dynamics Laboratory, are exploring new mathematical driven methodologies on team building by having research participants using wearable electronic sensors called sociometric badges. Note the following from the Harvard Business Review blog entitled “The Hard Science of Teamwork.”

“According to our data, it’s as true for humans as for bees: HOW we communicate turns out to be the MOST important predictor of team success, and as important as all other factors combined, including intelligence, personality, skill, and content of discussions. The old adage that it’s not what you say, but how you say it, turns out to be mathematically correct.

Just how powerful these patterns of communication are can be surprising. For example, we can predict with eerie precision whether a team will perform well or not, and we can predict with a high rate of success whether or not team members will report they’ve had a “productive” or “creative” day based solely on the data from the sociometric badges. If this seems like a statistical parlor trick, it’s not. By adjusting group behavior based on this data, we’ve documented improved teamwork.”

Pentland’s data shows that great teams:

Communicate frequently. In a typical project team a dozen or so communication exchanges per working hour may turn out to be optimum; but more or less than that and team performance can decline.

Talk and listen in equal measure, equally among members. Lower performing teams have dominant members, teams within teams, and members who talk or listen but don’t do both.

Engage in frequent informal communication. The best teams spend about half their time communicating outside of formal meetings or as “asides” during team meetings, and increasing opportunities for informal communication tends to increase team performance.

Explore for ideas and information outside the group. The best teams periodically connect with many different outside sources and bring what they learn back to the team.”

Character move:

  1.  Observe HOW your team communicates. Recognize that “HOW” the team communicates is the most important predictor of success.
  2.  Determine communication process against the following criteria as noted above: Frequency, balance, informal, and outside learning. Learn more on these from Pentland’s research.
  3.  Continue to practice “crucial or fierce ” conversation skills as emphasized in previous blogs.
  4.  Remember that how you make people feel when you communicate is a vital part of great team and individual dialogue.
  5.  Improving team work involves process, and methodology. Good science can guide and accelerate our success. Develop your team development methodology. Practice getting better.

Team Buzz in The Triangle,


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