Tag Archives: team working

Can you have too much talent in a team?

people_puzzle_1600_wht_4253Well, yes, according to Professor of organisational behaviour Roderick Swaab at the French business school INSEAD (reported recently in the Sunday Times).

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?

 

 

 

Intact teams perform better

teamwork_pass_the_puzzle_500_wht_7889

If any of you are familiar with the late Richard Hackman‘s work on teams you will know that generally speaking the longer teams work together the better they get.

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’s 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

My most read business posts in 2013

global_touch_connection_1600_wht_9905The techies at WordPress provide me with an annual report with lots if statistics. They remind me I posted a measly 45 posts last year, and many of them I re-blogged – so thank you bloggers who allowed me to do that.

They also told me that January 10th 2013 was my busiest day with a post about women at work.

My blog is read in 93 countries but primarily in the UK, the USA, and Spain.

The top five posts, in reverse order were:

5th: Teams and Diversity not so simple

4th: Stress back on the agenda? This was in top spot in 2012

3rd : No-one wants to be rated as average This was in 2nd spot in both 2011 & 2012

2nd: National Stress Awareness Day 2012 I didn’t write a post on NSAD last year but stress obviously still high on the agenda.

1st: Women are the winners at work

For the second year my most-read posts have been from earlier years which reflects the paucity of my output in 2013. So must try harder!

Influencing ethically

two_figures_sharing_thoughts_1600_wht_9157Influencing is a key skill for leaders and everyone in management positions.

It is seen by some as manipulating people but I believe you can make a distinction.

I regard influencing as an ethical use of skills with a positive intent.

Manipulative behaviour is that described in my post “Leadership – the Dark Side” or as offered by some NLP practitioners training gullible people ie men, in sure-fire dating skills!

Robert Cialdini is one of the most respected experts in this field – and, as suggested by the title of his book; “Influence – The Psychology of Persuasion”, he does see it as a science with evidence to back up his theories.

He believes there are 6 universal principles of social influence. These are:

  1. 9780061241895Reciprocation – we feel obliged to return favours
  2. Authority – we look to experts to lead the way
  3. Commitment/consistency – people want to act in alignment with their values
  4. Scarcity - the less available something is the more we want it
  5. Liking – the more we like people the more we want to say yes to them
  6. Social proof – we prefer to behave in the same way as others

Cialdini and his co-authors set out techniques based on these principles in; “YES! 50 secrets from the science of persuasion”. If you want to know why charities send you small gifts, how hotels can persuade guests to recycle towels, or how waiters can improve their tips, read this book. You can also watch a Youtube presentation here.

So you don’t have to be a mentalist or a master of the black arts of NLP to be a more effective influencer, just try these evidence-based techniques to make a difference in an ethical way.

Updated from original post June 2010

Motivating staff – the Dan Pink seminar

Excited Businessman Speaking on Cell PhoneMotivating staff is not the easiest thing to do. In fact is it possible to motivate someone else to do something at all?

We can coerce or threaten and, to use that horrible word, “incentivise” people but most people only really do things they want to unless in desperate straits. In other words motivation, for most people, is internally generated.

Maslow‘s idea of people seeking self-actualisation may be considered old hat now but you can still see evidence of that human potential philosophy in the field of positive psychology.

Similarly Herzberg’s two-factor theory distinguished between motivators –  which were intrinsic to the job, and demotivators, or hygiene factors, which constantly need attention like money which motivates for a while but then loses its incentive value.

Dan Pink‘s seminar on this topic is interesting and thought-provoking and you can watch it by clicking here.

First posted September 2010

Teams and Groupthink

group_of_business_people_1600_wht_8392It’s two years since the Treasury Select Committee published its findings on the global financial breakdown.

Reading the various reports on the Treasury Select Committee’s findings brought back memories of the CIA-backed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 which failed and probably strengthened Castro’s position.

Irving Janis’s extensive work on the subject of Groupthink included his analysis of the reasons for that and other failures. And it still holds true today.

In recent times it has become a common belief that team working is the key to delivering results and that the more cohesive the group, the more effective it is.

It may be more fun to work in such a group but the evidence also suggests that members of groups may indulge in “social loafing”, there can be diffusion of responsibility in the absence of individual goals, and that sometimes individuals can outperform teams.

Janis proposed that close-knit teams are insufficiently critical of each other, don’t seek alternatives, believe in the group’s invincibility, want consensus, restrict negative information and generally, as the Select Committee said, adopt a herd mentality.

The Select Committee suggested that diversity was the answer – in this example by having more women at senior levels. This is old news now; on a similar note in Management Today at the time Emma de Vita bemoaned the testosterone fuelled culture in the city and made some interesting points about leadership styles.

She also and cited some research at London Business School that found that having a 50-50 gender balance produced more effective, stable and innovative teams. A finding that the Norwegian government  put into practice in 2008 so that all public companies are required by law to have 40% of females on the board. Spain had just given companies 10 years to follow suit. http://www.managementtoday.co.uk/news/865053/

It had previously been suggested in The Times suggested that women board members may be better at getting rid of bad bosses (but not as good at making money) as women tend not to meet at the golf course or the club and may be less susceptible to groupthink.

Gender is not the only difference that organisations should explore however. Different socio-economic backgrounds, qualifications, and career experiences are probably more important. See post on Teams & Diversity

And the dangers of creating an inner cabal or kitchen cabinet probably cost the Conservatives electoral victory in 2010. The failure of the Tory’s “Big Idea” to energise voters and the last-minute slide in the polls infuriated many conservative MPs. They blamed David Cameron’s “Leadership by Inner Circle”. He apparently relied on a close group of advisors rather than the shadow cabinet which he informed rather than consulted. Candidates were saying that the public wasn’t interested in the “Big Idea” but more mundane issues such as crime and immigration. Failure to listen to critics and a wider circle is symptomatic of Groupthink.

Original post 12 April 2010

It doesn’t pay to be too nice 

P1000657 - Version 2Professor Adrian Furnham’s column in The Sunday Times is always of interest to psychologically minded executives and his book; “The Elephant in the Boardroom – the causes of leadership derailment”, should be essential reading for all would-be directors.

As a psychologist I liked the piece in which he explained why nice guys don’t always win – because of their Agreeable personality.

Agreeableness is one of the Big 5 Personality Factors (along with Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, and Neuroticism).

He points out that Agreeableness can be a handicap in business as the higher you score on this factor, the less likely you are to succeed as a business leader!

Most of us would prefer to work for an agreeable rather than a disagreeable boss, wouldn’t we? Well perhaps not says Furnham. Agreeable bosses may make you dissatisfied by not dealing with poor performers and being too forgiving, maybe treating you all the same, or being manipulated by your more devious colleagues.

One of my earlier posts Sometimes you just have to tell em” was about research at Roffey Park that showed that we are not very good at dealing with underperformance or telling people what we want, that strong managers get more respect, and that a firm consistent approach is better for morale and performance generally.

And it gets worse – if you’re a female. The Times reported last year on some research carried out by the Institute of Employment Research and concluded that;  “It doesn’t pay for a female boss to be too nice. The research showed that personality factors do come into account and that, for example, nice people earn less.

Too niceApparently nice women are being swept away by openly aggressive ones who know what they want.

A more recent paper presented to the Academy of Management by Beth A Livingston from Cornell University analysed surveys spread over 20 years. She found that  significantly less agreeable men earned 18.3% more than men who were significantly more agreeable. For women the difference was less, just 5.5%.

Livingston said; “Men’s disagreeable behaviour conforms to expectations of masculine behaviour“.

Apparently nice women are being swept away by openly aggressive ones who know what they want.

Working hard obviously helps but if you are too conscientious you may be seen as neurotic (or get bullied), and extraverts do no better than introverts.

Professor Cary Cooper, at the University of Lancaster Management School, agrees but also thinks women have more emotional intelligence than men and are not generally as egocentric.

So agreeable managers have to learn how to toughen up – for the sake of their team and the organisation, just as the disagreeable ones have to learn how to be nice – if only for the PR.

The July 2010 issue of Psychologies magazine has picked up on this topic in their article; “Why it pays to be tough at work“. It suggests that the prevailing view that it’s not the cleverest (presumably meaning IQ) but those with the highest emotional intelligence that succeed is wrong.

That was always a simplistic view at best and one that Adrian Furnham disagrees with as he says there is evidence that disagreeable poeple do better. The German research quoted says agreeable women earned £40,000 less over a lifetime than women who behaved more like ruthless men.

The article’s author then has a go at empathy. She quotes Jack Welch’s wife as saying that; “too much empathy is paralysing” when you have to give tough feedback or make tough decisions, and goes on to talk about women being prone to slipping into “good mother” roles where they create “gardens of entitlement” sowing seeds of future problems (such as?).

After dismissing empathy – by quoting Neutron Jack’s wife for goodness sake – the author next attacks self-knowledge which she doesn’t consider essential for top jobs as it can detract from self-confidence if it makes you aware of your failings (is she serious that these people don’t need feedback ?

Some people have short memories; what about Enron, the banks or BP?. Furnham is quoted as saying that people who get on may be narcissistic – which is not the only dark-side attribute.

If men overestimate their abilities and don’t navel gaze while women underestimate themselves and have self-doubt (imposter syndrome) then women seemed doomed to fail according to the author and people like Suzy Welch.

In fact the author seems to welcome emotional stupidity as it makes less demands on her. She even has a dig at Anne Mulcahy, ex-CEO of Xerox, because, although she has written about what women can bring to the workplace in terms of emotionality which makes them better leaders, she cut 1/3 of the workforce.

Did she not wonder how Neutron Jack got his nickname?

Original published on 12 April 2010