The secret science behind awesome teams

The book “Social Physics” unveils the latest research about great teams…

Unexpectedly, we found that the factors most people usually think of as driving group performance – i.e. cohesion, motivation, and satisfaction – were not statistically significant. The largest factor in predicting group intelligence was the equality of conversational turn taking; groups where a few people dominated the conversation were less collectively intelligent than those with a more equal distribution of conversational turn taking.

The second most important factor was the social intelligence of a group’s members, as measured by their ability to read each other’s social signals. Women tend to do better at reading social signals, so groups with more women tended to do better.

[I’m skipping the detail about how the experiments were carried out]

What these sociometric data showed was that the pattern of idea flow by itself was more important to group performance than all the other factors and, in fact, was as important as all other factors taken together. Think about it: Individual intelligence, personality, skill, and everything else together mattered less than the pattern of idea flow.

Wen and I found that three simple patterns accounted for approximately 50 percent of the variation in performance across groups and tasks. The characteristics typical of the highest-performing groups included:

1) a large number of ideas: many very short contributions rather than a few long ones;
2) dense interactions: a continuous, overlapping cycling between making contributions and very short (less than one second) responsive comments (such as “good”, “that’s right”, “what?”, etc.)
3) diversity of ideas: everyone within a group contributing ideas and reactions, with similar levels of turn taking among the participants.

More extracts from “Social Physics” to follow soon!


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