The Wisdom of Teams

Clarity Leadership

TeamsLike many workplace conventions, the idea of teams is often subject to same razzing as other office realities like meetings and cubicle culture. I think this might be in part because the workplace is still adjusting to the shift from the idea of relying on individual superstars in favor of teams in getting necessary tasks done. There is no doubt, though, that teams are the future of the organizational structure of businesses. Not just teams made up of individuals who work in the same geographical location, but virtual teams made up of individuals who may reside in different cities, states and even continents.

Just as individuals vary in their levels of success, so do teams. Some teams are just more effective than others. And, as it turns out, there are quantifiable reasons for this. In a recent article in the New York Times, Anita Woolley, professor at the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon, Thomas W. Malone, professor at M.I.T. Sloan School of Management and director of the M.I.T. Center for Collective Intelligence, and Christopher Chabris, a professor of psychology at Union College, wrote about the findings of studies done on the effectiveness of both teams who work in physical proximity as well as teams that work online.

The most effective teams were those with the highest collective intelligence. And, interestingly, the collective intelligence of the team was not necessarily a result of the members of the teams’ individual IQs being higher, or the teams having more extroverted and/or motivated members.

The smartest teams demonstrated three characteristics:

  • Equal contributions: all members participated rather than one or two dominating.
  • A high score on a test called “Reading the Mind in the Eyes”: being able to determine emotions from “images of faces with only the eyes visible.”
  • Having more women on the team. Because women scored higher in the “mind reading” test, having more women on the team added to the team’s collective intelligence.

A second series of studies tested if there was a difference in whether the teams were face-to-face or virtual. It turns out that the same characteristics determine the collective intelligence of the team regardless of whether they were physically together or linked electronically. And that includes reading emotions through signals other than the eyes.

Take Away: There are quantifiable ways to build successful, effective teams.

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