There is a lot of research on how to develop more effective teams and research that shows what hinders a work group becoming a good team.
And what happens when a group is set up to achieve a particular task? A common problem is that the more confident, extroverted members tend to hog the limelight and the real experts often take a back seat which reduces their contribution.
Bryan L Bonner, at the University of Utah, and Alexander R Bolinger, at Idaho State University, say the following intervention can help to change that dynamic.
Ask the team, early in the meeting, to check what each individual can contribute to the problem. This period of reflection can increase the team’s performance probably because the process of collectively assembling the knowledge within the team increases overall understanding of the task and how to complete it.
In the experiments set up by Bonner and Bolinger – reported in HBR September 2014 – university students were set up in 3-person teams and all given estimation problems e.g. heights of mountains or weight of heaviest person who ever lived.
Some teams were instructed to begin by coming up with two pieces of information each which could be helpful. In some teams this was done individually and then brought to the team (a bit like the improved version of brainstorming) but the rest did it as a group. Other teams, used as controls, were given no guidance.
In the control teams they tended to defer to the whoever seemed most confident – and they had the worst performance.
The best performance came from teams that inventoried their team knowledge as a group and used that knowledge to devise ways of solving problems.
The process sounds simple but is not unique. In Action-Centred Leadership participants in the leadership training exercises are encouraged to check their teams for relevant knowledge and/or experience.
Bonner and Bolinger rightly point out that on their own teams rarely allow time for this kind of intervention so team leaders should encourage the group to assess the knowledge and experience within the team.
This shifts the emphasis from social influence to informational influence and helps the team to filter out irrelevant factors such as confidence, extraversion, status, assertiveness, gender and race.