Good Teams: What’s the Secret?

Posted by jlubans on March 17, 2015

Caption. Bridging the gap.

It’s an eternal question for me, why some teams do well and others fail. Is it luck or circumstance, personality, leadership, or urgency? All of these, none of these? Some of my work teams would take off and soar far above others . I try to explain this phenomenon in my classes by exploring the team theory espoused by Katzenbach and Smith, by discussing Tuckman’s “form, storm, norm, perform” and by introducing the students to Kurt Lewin’s studies on democratic leadership of groups.
And, I interweave the notion of leaderless teams, the idea that shared leadership can help a team realize its potential.
Still, it seems that teams fail much more easily than succeed.
Recently, there’s new research that claims to have found the lodestone for what makes a good team, something called “Factor C” or “collective intelligence”. “Why Some Teams Are Smarter Than Others” – an article I will assign to my students - explains the new theory.
“C” is a predictor of group failure or success and includes three elements: participant emotional or social IQ; the number of engaged participants; and, interestingly, the number of women on the team. Here’s an explanatory quote:
“(T)he smartest teams were distinguished by three characteristics.
“First, their members contributed more equally to the team’s discussions, rather than letting one or two people dominate the group.
Second, their members scored higher on a test called Reading the Mind in the Eyes, which measures how well people can read complex emotional states ….
Finally, teams with more women outperformed teams with more men. … This last effect, however, was partly explained by the fact that women, on average, were better at “mindreading” than men.”

Now, keep in mind, C or collective intelligence is a predictor of team success on group tasks performed in a laboratory setting. Six hundred and ninety seven participants (N=697) were randomly assigned into teams of 2 to 5 people. The tasks to be “solved” included brainstorming on the uses of a brick;
Caption: A RAPM test question.
answering Raven’s Advanced Progressive Matrices questions (depicted); dealing with the complexity of a disciplinary cases study, and planning a group shopping expedition, along with a couple other tasks. Statistically, the groups with the highest collective intelligence – the highest C score - performed best of all.
A big plus for this research, at least in my book, is that these teams had to achieve quantifiable results – the research was more about achieving goals than it was about how happy team members were with each other. I emphasize this because sometimes we think that a happy team is a productive team. That is rarely the case. I recall an organization that was convinced its teams were the best because team members felt good about being on teams – no productivity figures were kept. It was as if expecting improved results – faster, better, more innovation and higher production – were repulsive concepts. For me, an effective team has to improve on what it does – group feelings may be important but not as important as group productivity.
As expected, some believe C is “mumbo-jumbo” and has little to do with real world teams, teams that have to do real work. One Fortune 500 consultant says all that good teams need is “checking-in”, a quick process to clear the decks of hidden agenda, bad vibes, etc. Each member’s revealing what’s “eating his lunch”, results in increased honesty and respect among participants; from there good work can be done. Then there are the die-hard Myers–Briggs Type Indicator test proponents. Apparently, this vastly popular personality test is used by organization to assemble teams, supposedly well-balanced and diverse teams which anecdotally are better than teams selected on participant IQ or other criteria.
So far, the research on C appears to offer us some useful insights into teamwork, why some team get the job done while others spin their wheels.

NOTE: Sarah Brown’s intriguing chapter “The biology of librarian leadership” in the book, “Leading the 21st-century academic library : successful strategies for envisioning and realizing preferred futures” (edited by Bradford Lee Eden and published by Rowman & Littlefield, in 2015) cites Leading from the Middle several times.

© John Lubans 2015
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Posted by Miriam on March 18, 2015  •  10:13:44

John...once information to me...and important information for any need to be teaching at Harvard in their masters program for MBA's...the intell you have on true leadership (not being an old style CEO) priceless....I wonder how many business schools share ideas like yours...try to find out and let me know...loving you from afar...alway...xxoo m

Posted by jlubans on March 19, 2015  •  06:34:44

Thank you, Miriam, my biggest fan!

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