From Google To Disruptive Startups It’s Collaborative Teamwork Rather Than Leadership Alone That Builds Success – But Why Does It Work?

We all know that when a team works well together it’s almost unstoppable, but how can we use the latest science to understand that power and enable our own teams to knock it into the next galaxy?

The Team That Trusts, Wins
When a Google study looked at 180 teams over two years to find what makes a good one, it discovered a surprising truth. The number one dynamic of an effective team was what they called ‘Psychological Safety’, where ‘teammates feel safe to take risks around their team members. They feel confident that no one on the team will embarrass or punish anyone else for admitting a mistake, asking a question, or offering a new idea.’ They trust each other, basically.

This is backed up by a 2016 meta-analysis of 112 studies into 7,700 teams which also found a link between trust within a team and its performance. When it comes to leading a team and being trusted by it, the Handbook of Principles of Organisational Behaviour says leaders need to build their ability, benevolence and integrity.

‘Team intelligence was not strongly linked to team members’ average or maximum intelligence’

Teams Have Their Own IQ
A 2010 study published in Science found evidence for a collective intelligence factor in teams, across a variety of tasks. So what you might ask, put some smart people together and you get an even smarter team, right? Actually, no – the study found that the team intelligence factor was not strongly linked to the average or maximum intelligence of the team members. Instead it was linked to the average social sensitivity of the individuals, the ability of the group to let everyone have their turn to speak and, interestingly, the proportion of females. So, if your team is a bit of a sausage fest, it’s time to change it up!

Hard Work Is Contagious In Teams
Put someone in a hard-working team and they will start to work harder themselves. That’s the conclusion of a 2015 study published in the Psychonomic Bulletin and Review. The scientists observed a team member working on a difficult task sat next to one doing an easy task. They found that the person on the easy task worked harder even when they couldn’t see what the other person was doing. Just the focussed vibes coming from the first worker were enough to make hard work contagious.

Teammates Who Play Together Work Better Too
Some killjoys frown on workplace friendships, imagining that as soon as a team’s professional reserve is broken, it will spend all day playing whiteboard darts or holding meetings in bars. OK, that might happen but a 2015 study in Personnel Psychology also found that performance at work was boosted by friendships within teams, due to increased levels of trust and support. But they warn that this is a double-edged sword because friendships take personal energy to maintain – have enough of them and you can end up exhausted.

‘Having a strong team around you can improve your mental resilience’

Being In A Strong Team Makes You Tougher
A 2016 Journal Of Sports Psychology In Action study by David Fletcher showed that having a strong team around you can improve your mental resilience. You’ll be more likely to be able to ride the highs and lows, but the study found that this required both good levels of support from your team and a challenging goal to aim for.

Success Alone Isn’t Enough
We all like to be on a winning team, but the Google study found that this alone wasn’t enough to sustain the team members. ‘Meaning: finding a sense of purpose in either the work itself or the output is important for team effectiveness,’ it says. This is individual to each team member and can range from self-expression, to supporting a meaningful family life through work. This means team leaders need to find a way to review how team members personally feel about their work, rather than just performance.

WHAT NEXT? Tom Wujec’s Ted Talk on the marshmallow tower problem demonstrates why team intelligence doesn’t rely on scarily-smart individuals...

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