By the time you’re in fourth grade you’ve already enjoyed (or endured) some sort of team experience. Remember the group art projects where two people (usually girls) did all the work while the other four (usually boys) were off somewhere wreaking havoc? Or the office “team” which isn’t a team at all but rather a bunch of people assigned to hash out a project. Work styles invariably clash, and compromise leads to mediocre results at best.
Is there hope for a reinvention of the dysfunctional team? Anita Woolley, Ph.D., a professor at Carnegie Mellon University decided to find out. In two experiments, Woolley and her colleagues divided 697 volunteers into small teams and had them work on tasks involving problems that individuals might typically be called upon to solve in a real-life work scenario. Some teams consistently performed better and the scientists wanted to know why. Surprisingly, it wasn’t the group’s intelligence that elevated their performance, nor was it a high level of motivation or even a prevalence of extroverts on a team. Good teamwork boiled down to three characteristics.
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Equality When it came to team discussions, everyone contributed more or less equally, as opposed to one or two people dominating the conversations.
Emotional Intelligence Successful team members scored higher on a test the researchers call “Reading the Mind in the Eyes” (yes, that’s real), which measures how well people can interpret the nuances of people’s emotional states from images of faces with only the eyes visible.
Girl Power Finally, the teams that had more female members outperformed the teams with more men. While initially surprised, the researchers chalk this up to the fact that “women, on average, were better at ‘mindreading’ than men.”
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Fine, you say, but what about remote teams? How on earth can you “Read the Mind in the Eyes” when you’re a thousand miles from your teammates? Woolley and her colleagues conducted another experiment that tested whether groups that worked online would mirror the earlier findings. And they did. “Online and off, some teams consistently worked smarter than others,” the researchers reported. “More surprisingly, the most important ingredients for a smart team remained constant regardless of its mode of interaction: members who communicated a lot, participated equally and possessed good emotion-reading skills.”
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