Sunday, January 25, 2015

What Makes Teams Work Well?

According to researchers Anita Wooley, Thomas W. Malone, and Christopher Chabris: it's not average team IQ, it's not extroversion, and it's not feeling motivated to work.

So what is it? Three factors: (1) equal contribution from all team members; (2) ability to keep track of what others feel and believe; and (3) proportion of women on the team.

That's right: gender equality in team membership was not a factor for success. The more women on the team, the better the team tended to do.

This was at least partly explained by the fact that women tend to do better than men on factor (2): the ability to keep track of what others feel and believe (called Theory of Mind), which includes as an important sub-factor the ability to read complex emotional states from faces (Reading the Mind in the Eyes).

The authors initially conducted a study using only face to face teams, and then conducted a follow-up study which tested both face to face and online teams. The initial results held up, including the importance of the ability to keep track of what others feel and believe. (Indeed, it was the online study that made them realize that factor (2) consists of more than just Reading the Mind in the Eyes, because this is not something that the online team members were able to do; this led the researchers to postulate the importance of Theory of Mind for team success.)

I have a pedagogical interest in this result, since I have started to use team-based learning in all of my classes. But this research is important for all human organizations . . . probably for all humans, period.
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