10 Scientific Secrets to Great Team Chemistry

06 Aug 2013

teamworkGreat teams, like great dates, depend on chemistry. The members can have all the requisite skills on paper, display competent social skills and a willingness to work hard, but without the certain special something, a team just doesn’t gel. And then it’s just not as productive.

That teamwork special sauce can be hard to put your finger on, but psychologists have been hard at work trying to pin down exactly what sets high-performing teams apart from mediocre ones. Their experiments have dispelled some of the mystery of quality collaboration, offering guidance for entrepreneurs in the business of professional matchmaking.

So how can you help your team success? PsyBlog recently ran through all the recent findings on the subject, outlining an impressive ten steps business owners can take to ensure their teams are high-functioning and backing up the recommendations with the latest studies. Here is what psychologists have discovered over the decades:

Prioritise social skills.

Surely if you want to build a fantastic group, you put the smartest people in a room together? Not necessarily. According to research conducted by Woolley et al. (2010), highly performing groups need social sensitivity. In their study 699 people were observed working in groups of two to five. They found that the intelligence of the group is "...not strongly correlated with the average or maximum individual intelligence of group members but is correlated with the average social sensitivity of group members..." And this finding is not an isolated one.

Mix genders.

Since women's social skills tend, on average, to be a little stronger than men's, including women is one way of prioritising social skills. Woolley et al.'s study reached the same conclusion: teams which included women did better than men-only teams. But that doesn't mean you should take it to the logical extreme and build women-only teams: it's all about the mix. For example, Hoogendoorn et al. (2011) found that teams with equal gender mixes outperformed male-only and female-only groups in a business exercise.

Build trust

It's very hard for people to work together effectively if they don't trust each other. They also have to appear trustworthy to others or it may be difficult for them to do their job.

Teams that appear more trustworthy (hopefully because they are!) have been shown to perform better when negotiating with other groups (Naquin & Kurtzberg, 2009). After all, would you do business with a team you don't trust? Not if you can avoid it.

The problem is that in groups people perceive the trustworthiness of the group by assessing the least trustworthy member.

So, in terms of trustworthiness, one bad apple really can spoil the bunch.

Use humour

If a group members don't seem to trust each other, then perhaps it's humour that's missing. One study by Professor William Hampes has found that people whose sense of humour is stronger are rated more trustworthy by others (Hampes, 1999).

Similarly, when group dynamics are strong, people start joking around together and will tend to talk to each other outside work. Humour can be a signal that groups are getting along and can even help create that buzz that makes some groups so great to work in.

Humour has all sorts of benefits including reducing stress, boosting creativity, communication and team cohesiveness (Romero & Pescosolido, 2008).

Some studies have even found that humour can increase performance and the effectiveness of leadership.

It has to be the right type of humour though—not (all) put-downs.

Mix introverts and extroverts

We tend to think of the extroverts as superior 'team-players': they mix better, pipe up more in meetings and generally seem to be getting on with others more smoothly.

But introverts have their place as well. Introverts certainly don't blow their own trumpets and aren't often noticed at the outset, yet eventually the group comes to value them.

That's what Bendersky and Shah (2012) found in their study of introverts and extroverts working together. In general, as the team evolves, extroverts do worse than people expect and introverts do better.

The quiet ones can come through in the end.

Define goals

One of the greatest barriers to effective team performance is pretty simple: they don't know what the goal is.

A study of 500 managers and professionals in 30 different companies found that it was an unclear vision of the goal that was stopping them performing effectively.

But not only must goals be defined...

Define roles

OK, everyone knows the goal, but do they know what they're supposed to be doing to achieve this goal?

It seems like a pretty basic step, yet it's frequently unclear to team-members exactly what their role is.

Unclear roles become particularly problematic when the situation changes and the team has to adapt. If the roles aren't clear then each person doesn't know what they're supposed to be doing. And that's a recipe for disaster.

Spread the story

For people to work together effectively they need to know what the story is in a more general sense.

Where have we come from and where are we going? It's about more than just goals and roles, it's about the assumptions we are using and the knowledge that we share (or don't).

Psychologists sometimes refer to these 'stories' as mental models. We construct these mental models of the world outside to help us navigate it and work out what to do next. When the mental models of groups are better aligned, they perform better.

For example, Westli et al. (2010) found that when medical staff at a trauma centre shared mental models their performance was better, over and above specific teamwork skills.

People who share the same story are more likely to know what to do automatically, almost without thinking about it. Psychologists call this implicit coordination.

Concise communication

When teams make mistakes, one of the most common reasons is that they failed to communicate effectively.

In complex environments, information will often be coming from many different sources. We're all awash in information nowadays, or maybe drowning is a better word; emails get cc'd to everyone, and who knows what's important?

Teams that perform best clearly communicate the most important information before they've even been asked for it and filter out the junk.

Leadership

Teams invariably benefit from good leadership. Naturally it's about motivation, structuring tasks, analysing what needs to be done, allocating goals and so on, but it's more than that.

The best leaders are also trying to nurture their teams by addressing some of the soft skills above. They are getting the mix of personnel right, encouraging concise communication, spreading the group's story, using humour and building trust.

 

Source: PSY BLOG

Last modified on Wednesday, 07 August 2013 10:12
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