Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The New Science of Building Great Teams

A look at current research led by Sandy Pentland at MIT’s Human Dynamics Laboratory reveals new strategies for building high performing teams.  In the same organization some teams outperform similar teams who work harder for fewer results.  Pentland’s article, The New Science of Building Great Teams, Harvard Business Review, claims high performing teams have one thing in common - consistent communication practices.

We all know what it’s like to work on a team that “clicks”.  The work is interesting, team members are engaged, and results are superior.  Why is it that similar types of teams consistently struggle?  Dramatic differences in comparable teams encourage leaders to make false assumptions about the importance of intelligence, skill and personality in team performance.

Pentland and his research team determined what causes teams to “click”. Data collected from over 2,500 individuals from various industries was completed through the use of wearable electronic sensors.  Individual communication behavior was more important in team building than the content of what was said.  Rigorous research analysis validated that team communication behavior strategies resulted in improved team performance.

Three key communication dynamics that positively affect team performance are energy, engagement, and exploration. Energy was observed by the nature and number of exchanges among team members.  Engagement was measured by equal distribution of energy among team members. Exploration was observed by seeking others outside their team for information and input to bring back to their team. 

Communication strategies of successful teams:

1.    Everyone on the team talks and listens in roughly equal measure, keeping contributions short.
2.   Members face one another.
3.   Conversations and gestures are energetic.
4.   Members connect directly with one another – not just with the team leader.
5.   Members carry on back channel or side conversations within the team.
6.   Members periodically break, go exploring outside the team, and bring information back. 

Next time you are tasked to select members for a high performing team, spend time learning how each individual communicates.  Then guide your team to model successful communication strategies.

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