Tag Archives: team effectiveness

Get the best out of your team

everyone_has_an_idea_500_wht_12709 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.

 

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

Strong Leadership Undermines Performance

Kindadukish's Blog - I am not a number, I am a free man (The Prisoner)

Despite considerable evidence that hierarchical organizational structures encourages group-think and hamper innovation, forceful individuals such as Jack Welch (pictured bottom), Larry Ellison and the late Steve Jobs (pictured top) are still held up as role models for corporate leadership.

Steve_Jobs_Headshot_2010-CROP

But a new paper published in the October issue of the Academy of Management Journal argues that far from pushing their organizations to greater levels of achievement, strong leaders can actively undermine performance thanks to the twin evils of power dependence and the devaluing of subordinates.

According to Leigh Plunkett Tost of the University of Michigan, a co-author of the paper with Francesca Gino of Harvard and Richard P. Larrick of Duke, “it is widely thought that a penchant for power is basic to effective leadership. Our findings suggest otherwise.”

“Having a formal team leader isn’t a problem per se,” she said. “It becomes one, though, when that leader equates leadership…

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The Problem With Narcissistic Leaders

Kindadukish's Blog - I am not a number, I am a free man (The Prisoner)

 

Post image for The Problem With Narcissistic Leaders

Narcissistic leaders reduce information sharing in groups, leading to poor task performance.

Narcissistic leaders are everywhere. Just think of Steve Jobs, Nicolas Sarkozy or Bill Clinton.

Normally we don’t share narcissists’ self-inflated opinions of themselves, but for leadership it’s different. Narcissists know how to radiate all the qualities of a good leader: they have high self-esteem, they are confident and they display authority. Research has shown they seem to automatically take over leaderless groups (Brunell et al., 2008).

But how does a narcissistic leader affect group performance? That’s the question Nevicka et al. (2011) ask in a new study published inPsychological Science.

One job of a leader is to help the members of a group communicate with each other. If information is flowing between group members, then better decisions can be made. So, what do narcissists do to information flow amongst group members?

What Nevicka…

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What is it about women working with men?

business_icon_group_1600_wht_7729New research shows that women undervalue themselves when part of a male team but are happy to take credit when their colleagues are female.

The researcher, Dr Michelle Haynes at the University of Massachusetts, who wanted to see how women viewed themselves in teams, feels that this damages their earning potential and stops them getting to the top.

She set up experiments where participants worked remotely with people from typical male roles such as a managing supervisor at an investment company.

There was no other person involved however but the participants didn’t know that and they were then asked to both give and receive feedback about their team’s performance.

When they did this the women gave more credit to the supposed male team-mate and took less credit themselves. When their supposed team mates were female however they were happy to take credit for the team’s performance showing that they didn’t undervalue themselves in that setting.

Dr Haynes said “This finding is critical because it debunks the notion that what we found is simply a function of women being modest in groups”  and “if women view their own contribution less favourably than they regard the contribution of their male co-workers, it is likely to impact how women view their efficacy at work and the degree to which they are likely to to vie for competitive projects and promotions”.

This study was published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

Other research about women working in teams has found that:

Women perform worse after receiving feedback in a mixed team

Adding women to a team can increase the group IQ level

And do women actually like working in teams?

The issue of men and women working together is a rich area for research.

Throw children into the mix and you can get some surprising results

It’s good to talk – or maybe not?

An analysis of over 20 years research into team effectiveness revealed that talkative teams are less effective (Journal of Applied Psychology Vol 94 No 2, 2009).

Teams which talk more aren’t necessarily sharing useful information and are not therefore getting better outcomes. And more introverted types will feel entitled to think “I told you so”, because what you talk about is more important for teams than how much you talk.

The researchers also found that teams communicate better when they are told to come up with a correct or best  solution rather than a consensus.

This is yet another report which shows teams aren’t always as effective as people believe.

A report in the Quack Quack column – “We debunk the myths behind the headlines” – in The Times 27 April – cites research from the University of Arizona, reported in Psychological Science, which shows that the more people engage in superficial communication, the lower their morale.

This followed on from criticism of the report that you could measure the happiness levels of celebrities by analysing their tweets, some not very convincing research from the University of Edinburgh.

Updated since first posted 06/04/2010