By Yvonne Manzi
Social Media Officer, Profiles Asia Pacific
Teams are one of the most important components of, well, everything. They are the ones who “fight the foes no single hero can withstand”, or simply the ones who come up with the best ideas and solutions.
Great teams are not all about intelligent members – they work on chemistry. You can put the smartest people together in a room but if they are all too similar, or if they don’t connect on a human level, you won’t achieve the results you need. There are a number of psychological dynamics that occur between individuals which need to be understood before you can match the right people into effective teams.
PsyBlog recently compiled various findings on the subject from the past few years, and came up with 10 exteremely insightful points that you should keep in mind when creating a team.
1. Prioritise social skills
Surely if you want to build a fantastic group, you put the smartest people in a room together? Not necessarily.
According to research conducted by Woolley et al. (2010), highly performing groups need social sensitivity.
So it’s not about putting all the biggest brains together, it’s thinking about the social dynamic. Who will listen to others? Who will share criticism constructively? Who will have an open mind? Whose will back other people up?
2. Mix genders
Since women’s social skills tend, on average, to be a little stronger than men’s, including women is one way of prioritising social skills.
Woolley et al.’s study reached the same conclusion: teams which included women did better than men-only teams.
But that doesn’t mean you should take it to the logical extreme and build women-only teams: it’s all about the mix. For example, Hoogendoorn et al. (2011) found that teams with equal gender mixes outperformed male-only and female-only groups in a business exercise.
3. Build trust
It’s very hard for people to work together effectively if they don’t trust each other. They also have to appear trustworthy to others or it may be difficult for them to do their job.
Teams that appear more trustworthy (hopefully because they are!) have been shown to perform better when negotiating with other groups (Naquin & Kurtzberg, 2009). After all, would you do business with a team you don’t trust? Not if you can avoid it.
The problem is that in groups people perceive the trustworthiness of the group by assessing the least trustworthy member.
So, in terms of trustworthiness, one bad apple really can spoil the bunch.
4. Use humour
If a group members don’t seem to trust each other, then perhaps it’s humour that’s missing. One study by Professor William Hampes has found that people whose sense of humour is stronger are rated more trustworthy by others (Hampes, 1999).
Similarly, when group dynamics are strong, people start joking around together and will tend to talk to each other outside work. Humour can be a signal that groups are getting along and can even help create that buzz that makes some groups so great to work in.
Humour has all sorts of benefits including reducing stress, boosting creativity, communication and team cohesiveness (Romero & Pescosolido, 2008).
5. Mix introverts and extroverts
We tend to think of the extroverts as superior ‘team-players’: they mix better, pipe up more in meetings and generally seem to be getting on with others more smoothly.
But introverts have their place as well. Introverts certainly don’t blow their own trumpets and aren’t often noticed at the outset, yet eventually the group comes to value them.
That’s what Bendersky and Shah (2012) found in their study of introverts and extroverts working together. In general, as the team evolves, extroverts do worse than people expect and introverts do better.
6. Define goals and…
One of the greatest barriers to effective team performance is pretty simple: they don’t know what the goal is.
A study of 500 managers and professionals in 30 different companies found that it was an unclear vision of the goal that was stopping them performing effectively.
7. … define roles
OK, everyone knows the goal, but do they know what they’re supposed to be doing to achieve this goal?
It seems like a pretty basic step, yet it’s frequently unclear to team-members exactly what their role is.
Unclear roles become particularly problematic when the situation changes and the team has to adapt. If the roles aren’t clear then each person doesn’t know what they’re supposed to be doing. And that’s a recipe for disaster.
8. Spread the story
For people to work together effectively they need to know what the story is in a more general sense.
Where have we come from and where are we going? It’s about more than just goals and roles, it’s about the assumptions we are using and the knowledge that we share (or don’t).
Psychologists sometimes refer to these ‘stories’ as mental models. We construct these mental models of the world outside to help us navigate it and work out what to do next. When the mental models of groups are better aligned, they perform better.
For example, Westli et al. (2010) found that when medical staff at a trauma centre shared mental models their performance was better, over and above specific teamwork skills.
9. Concise communication
When teams make mistakes, one of the most common reasons is that they failed to communicate effectively.
In complex environments, information will often be coming from many different sources. We’re all awash in information nowadays, or maybe drowning is a better word; emails get cc’d to everyone, and who knows what’s important?
Teams that perform best clearly communicate the most important information before they’ve even been asked for it and filter out the junk.
Teams invariably benefit from good leadership. Naturally it’s about motivation, structuring tasks, analysing what needs to be done, allocating goals and so on, but it’s more than that.
The best leaders are also trying to nurture their teams by addressing some of the soft skills above. They are getting the mix of personnel right, encouraging concise communication, spreading the group’s story, using humour and building trust.
Now can you see why Marvel’s Avengers always triumph?
What do you think are the most important factors in successful teams?