Harvard professor Robert Huckman and his colleague Bradley Staats from the University of North Carolina have also been researching teams across a range of organisations: military, corporate, healthcare and consultancy.
They found that too often managers liked to shake teams up to keep them fresh. Hackman found that the one exception where this can work is in R& D work where adding new members to a team, even by adding less experienced members, keeps things fresh as they ask questions no-one else does.
Basically there is a learning curve for teams just like individuals. they generally do better as they become more familiar with each other.
Research with Oxford University professor David Upton on over 1,000 projects involving over 11,000 staff in a Bangalore-based software services firm found that:
- when familiarity increased by 50%
- defects decreased by 19%
- deviations from budget decreased by 30%
- performance increased by 10% as judged by clients
The message is that managers should try and keep teams together and encourage familiarity between employees so that collaboration is easier.
Research from non-business areas shows that:
- Leaders of Special Ops teams such as Navy Seals try to keep the teams intact as they believe it helps them cope with dynamic environments
- In Pro basketball teams familiarity reduces bad passes but teams with too much familiarity committed more errors – perhaps because opponents could predict their moves.
- In aviation 73% of commercial aviation accidents occur on a crew’s first day of flying together. NASA found that fatigued but familiar crews made only half as many errors as rested but unfamiliar crews.
- The performance of surgeons who work at multiple hospitals varies from facility to facility – perhaps because of differing degrees of familiarity with the OR teams at different locations.
Main sources: HBR September 2013 & Richard Hackman
Teams which talk more aren’t necessarily sharing useful information and are not therefore getting better outcomes. And more introverted types will feel entitled to think “I told you so“, because what you talk about is more important for teams than how much you talk.
The researchers also found that teams communicate better when they are told to come up with a correct or best solution rather than a consensus.
This is yet another report which shows teams aren’t always as effective as people believe.
A report in the Quack Quack column – “We debunk the myths behind the headlines” – in The Times – cited research from the University of Arizona, reported in Psychological Science, which shows that the more people engage in superficial communication, the lower their morale.
This followed criticism of the report that you could measure the happiness levels of celebrities by analysing their tweets, some not very convincing research from the University of Edinburgh!
So like many things in life it’s the quality, not the quantity, that is important.
Originally posted on SGANDA
Harvard Professor J Richard Hackman studied teams in a wide range of settings and was something of a guru when it comes to effective teams.
From his research he identified not causes but core conditions for effective teams;
1. The team must be a real team, not just a group of people doing the same thing (what he calls a co-acting group)
2. The team must have a compelling direction for its work
3. It must have an enabling structure that facilitates rather than impedes teamwork
In addition to the three core conditions there are two supporting conditions viz a supportive organisational context and sufficient support for the development of team members.
Some key questions to ask of team members are:
- Are you dependent on each other?
- Do you know who is in the team and who isn’t?
- Do you know how much authority you have?
- Do you have a stable team?
- Are you energised by your team’s vision?
- Does you team have a sense of direction?
- Do you feel engaged by your team?
- Do you see your work as meaningful?
- Do you feel personally responsible for work outcomes?
- Do you receive trustworthy knowledge of the results of your efforts ie feedback?
- Does your team operate within a supportive organisational context?
- Does it have available ample & expert support and coaching in teamwork?
Clearly you can answer YES to several of these questions.
However whether or not these elite athletes have the same vision as the British Olympic body is questionable.
Usually elite athletes such as these focus on their own performances (Bradley Wiggins was an honourable exception) but that means that they should feel responsible for their outcomes.
It’s doubtful if they are that dependent on each other; and would they know every one of the 550 athletes in Team GB?
They are certainly being provided with coaching and other technical support and regularly receive feedback.
So a lot of boxes are being ticked but you can’t make exact comparisons with business teams (about which there are lots of mistaken beliefs).
It’s also a big team, bigger than the majority of companies in the UK, and more like a regiment or a community. However even looking at it as a community it far exceeds Dunbar’s number of 150 ie “the number of individuals with whom a stable inter-personal relationship can be maintained“.
The team is also spread across different venues so is like a virtual team in that respect.
So Team GB is probably less like a real team and more like a co-acting group.
It was later announced that not all the athletes in Team GB would be attending the opening ceremony. BOA chief executive Andy Hunt said that around half of the 541 athletes attending the ceremony would be a “reasonable” outcome.
None of the tennis, swimming or athletics squads would be there, while members of the eventing, sailing and road race cycling teams werealso set to miss out. Others, such as triathlete Alistair Brownlee, were training in other parts of the country and overseas.
They’ve been told to put performance first which means getting a good night’s sleep. So whose idea was it to have the opening ceremony start at 2100? Did sponsorship or TV rights have anything to do with it?
In terms of the team spirit I would have thought that if the athletes felt part of Team GB they would want to be there together.
Which brings me back to my question: Was Team GB rely a team?
They tend to be the centre of attention and take over discussions and are perceived as more effective by both supervisors and subordinates.
In the US only 50% of the population is extraverted, despite what you might believe about Americans, but 96% of managers and executives display extraverted personalities (the percentages showing high levels of extraversion increase from 30% of supervisors to 60% at executive level).
But people can learn extravert behaviours. In fact I remember some research which showed that when introverts were taught extraverted behaviour they could behave in more extravert ways than natural extraverts. And most managers have to learn to stand up and deliver presentations and run meetings.
However work by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, Harvard Business School, and North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, shows that in some situations an introvert may be a better leader than an extravert without having to change their behaviours.
It seems that in a dynamic, unpredictable environment introverts are often more effective, particularly if they have proactive workers on the their teams who are prepared to put forward suggestions to improve the business.
This type of behaviour can make extraverted leaders feel threatened (I think especially so if the leaders are narcissistic). Whereas introverted leaders are more likely to listen carefully and show more receptivity thus making them effective leaders of more vocal teams.
Putting extraverted bosses in charge of talkative teams isn’t a good recipe. Extraverts seem to do better as bosses of teams that perform best when they do as they are told!
To succeed as leaders introverts have to overcome a strong cultural bias as in America at least two out of three senior executives viewed introversion as a barrier in a 2006 survey. And in politics highly extraverted Presidents are seen as more effective.
Source: HBR December 2010
Apparently having too much talent can be as bad as not having enough in terms of team performance.
His research suggests that once 68% of your team is made up of highly talented people, that becomes the point where adding more gives you less in terms of performance.
However this is based on research into elite sports teams and in football and basketball the highly skilled are known to pass the ball less and not provide as many assists to team mates as they would rather go for glory themselves.
Does that apply to business? Despite Swaab’s assertion that it does I have my doubts. Perhaps if you are competing in an investment bank, the example he quotes, you might be less inclined to share information and help colleagues, but that is hardly typical of most business environments.
The problem seems to be that very talented people are used to being recognised for their individual talent and not for being team players.
Swaab says “hiring these people does add value but with potential costs“. Hiring big egos can easily lead to personality clashes and conflict over status when they all want to be recognised as the best.
Of course if you are working in a group that is not strictly a team (in Hackman’s definition i.e. the members are not dependent on each other) then it shouldn’t matter how many talented people you have, in fact the more the merrier to get best results overall.
So it’s probably “horses for courses”. For independent workers in a group there’s no reason to assume a tipping point where performance drops off. In a real team you need the right mix of talent and diversity (and the right supporting conditions a la Hackman’s model).
Swaab acknowledges that the level of interdependence is important and it might also mean recruiting fewer star players to ensure team cohesiveness – or rewarding the team as a whole rather than individuals.
One thing that hasn’t been mentioned is leadership. It might be more of a challenge to manage a team brimming with talent but would a good leader rather have a team of mediocre people?