I was in one of my absolute favourite spots on earth, on safari at my dear friend Jackson’s Tangulia Camp, in the Masai Mara, and I saw a book a guest had left behind.
I gobbled it up and it became one of my favourite books of 2021.
The book was “Smarter, Faster, Better: the secrets of being productive” by Charles Duhigg. Don’t let the title fool you. It’s not another “how to jam even more onto your already full plate so you can be even more productive yet exhausted and overwhelmed” kind of book.
I liked his definition of productivity.
“Productivity is the best use of energy, intellect, and time to seize more meaningful rewards with less wasted effort.”
More meaningful rewards caught my attention. Rewards can be what you define them to be.
Rewards can include a better, more cohesive, collaborative team for example, which is the focus of this post.
I was gobsmacked to read research on what defines a highly effective and highly functioning team. It’s not what you’re thinking.
By 2015 Google’s Projet Aristotle had been studying this very question for two years and had amassed tens of thousands of pieces of data.
There were some surprising discoveries:
- When it comes to great teams, it’s the norms, not the people not that make the difference.
“Norms are the traditions, behavioral standards, and unwritten rules that govern how we function. When a team comes to an unspoken consensus that avoiding disagreement is more valuable than debate, that’s a norm asserting itself.”
“A team will become an amplification of its internal culture, for better or for worse.”
- And “individual intelligence doesn’t correlate with team performance.” In other words, smart people don’t necessarily make a good team.
“There’s a myth we all carry inside our head. We think we need to be superstars. But that’s not what our research found.”
BTW you can exhale – it’s only two things, not a wildly long complicated list.
So what did matter in creating highly effective teams? Two things.
I love the findings as they’re surprisingly easy and able to replicate.
1. Thing one: Team members talk roughly equally
- “That’s it?” you might be asking. I know. I was surprised too. Essentially, in most team meetings, if most of the time, team members are talking approximately the same, then the team flourishes.
- There is “equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking.”
- This means that everyone is included and no one’s thoughts and opinions are getting left out.
- No one person is dominating the agenda and the team.
2. Thing two: Team members have “high average social sensitivity.”
- Meaning team members can ‘read’ each other.
- They can recognize when someone is happy, disgruntled, frustrated, amused, etc.
- Their radars are dialed into how people are feeling.
- They score high on the “Reading the mind in the eyes” test.
The “Reading the mind in the eyes” test is when people can successfully read the emotional expression on pictures like the following. Of the four choices listed on each picture, pick the one that you think best describes how they’re feeling.
See the very bottom of this post for the answers.
How did you do?
BTW there is a gender difference in results. Men on average score 52% while women are right 61% of the time! When I got one of my sons to take the test, he scored 50%. I scored 75%.
So what’s a person to do with all this fascinating information?
I created a sort of cheat sheet for you. Based on the research from “Smarter, Faster, Better: the secrets of being productive” by Charles Duhigg, I created questions to ask yourself and your team, with the intention of amping up your teamwork effectiveness. (You can download the worksheet below.)
Regarding equal participation:
- Who’s talking?
- Who’s doing most of the talking?
- Who’s not talking?
- Are people interrupting each other?
- Do people notice when someone is concerned or upset?
- Is the team leader demonstrating equal participation?
Regarding social sensitivity:
- How are people feeling?
- What expressions do people have on their faces?
- What body language are people showing?
- How are people holding themselves (e.g. arms crossed and closed, or open)?
- What are people’s tone of voice? (e.g. engaged, curious, bored, disinterested, annoyed, etc.)
- Do team members agree on how individuals are feeling?
- Is the team leader demonstrating social sensitivity?
- Are mistakes not held against people but rather talked about openly?
- Do members believe their work is important?
- Do members believe their work is personally meaningful?
- Are there clear goals and defined roles?
- Can team members depend on one another?
- Is the team leader modeling these behaviours?
The next time you’re headed into a team meeting or working on a team project, watch for how equally (or not) team members are talking and how socially sensitive people are.
Use the worksheet to cue and to help you. Get your team on board to use it. Discuss what you all think and see.
Then rest on your well-earned laurels as your team amps itself up.
Now go on and learn, laugh and lead
- Download the worksheet and use it yourself at your next team meeting or next team project (once it’s downloaded you can edit the worksheet online).
- Don’t get fed up with your team and walk off the job, like this ladder does.
- Share the worksheet with your team, use it and discuss.
P.S. It’s not too late to register for this week’s Learning and Development Roundtable: “Communicate better, resolve conflict easier and lessen misunderstandings with Life Lenses®.” Click here for more info and here to RSVP.
P.P.S. Here’s the answers to the “Reading the mind in the eyes” test.