April 6, 2012
How do you feel when I say the word ‘teamwork’? Does it make you cringe a little? Work groups, sports teams, committees and project teams are all part of most of our lives these days. Basically, if you depend on a collection of people working together to achieve a task, you are working in a team.
But, why do some teams just seem to work together better than others?
In 1999, a group of researchers set out to find that answer. They invited 60 business teams to conduct a yearly planning meeting in the research lab*.
Now, you might question – how anyone can study team dynamics in a lab? Did the teams know they were being studied? Yes. But the research environment was a meeting room and the researchers were behind 1-way glass and after a short time, the teams reportedly just got on with the business at hand.
The researchers focussed on communication and interactions. Specifically, they observed (and scored) these teams’ utterances based on frequency of:
- Self vs other-focussed comments
- Inquiring vs advocating statements (ie asking vs. telling)
- Positive/negative statements
Researchers compared those communication scores against external performance factors of the companies represented – things like profitability, customer satisfaction, and 360 degree feedback. There were some pretty remarkable trends between company performance and team communication .
- In low performing companies, team members talk mostly about themselves…rarely about others
- In low performing companies, team members do lots of telling, but not much asking
- In low performing companies, team members make 3 times more negative statements than positive (whereas high performers make 5 times more positive statements than negative).
Now, before your roll your eyes on that last one…by positive statements, I don’t mean ‘corporate cheerleading’. I mean genuinely positive, encouraging statements. How willing are you to share ideas in environments that always shoot you down?
In other words, how your team members talk and listen to each other matters. It matters to your ability to innovate. A team that is able to encourage ideas from group members creates a healthy dynamic – a pattern of thinking and communication that perpetuates.
So how do you improve?
If you are trying to improve how your team performs, why not do a little study of your own? How often are positive statements made? How open are team members to listening to alternative thoughts and ideas? How is conflict handled?
Once you know how you rate, it’s time to think about the harder question: How open is this group to change? Just suggesting a change doesn’t make it happen. People have to want it – and want it strongly enough that they are willing to stop doing some things and start doing others. That can be uncomfortable…and will often require support, leadership, and trust from the rest of the team – the cultural building blocks of change. Is your organisation ready?
*You can read more about this study on Wikipedia under “Losada Ratios” or read the original study, which is:
Losada, M. (1999). The complex dynamics of high performance teams. Mathematical and Computer Modelling, 30(9–10), 179–192