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