Thursday, April 19, 2012

Healthy teams . . .
Reading this post from Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day has left me with some creative tension as I apply the findings from Alex Pentland’s, “The Hard Science of Teamwork” to my work teams. He and his team at MIT have studied 21 teams over seven years resulting in a mathematical model that allows them to monitor and predict a team’s effectiveness by following team members. The good news is that lower performing teams can improve.

The team I lead at MIT's Human Dynamics Laboratory has done just that. Using wearable electronic sensors called sociometric badges, we capture how people communicate in real time, and not only can we determine the characteristics that make up great teams, but we can also describe those characteristics mathematically. What's more, we've discovered that some things matter much less than you may suspect when building a great team. Getting the smartest people, for example.

The study is in this month’s Harvard Business Review that requires a subscription to review. If anyone has access to the article I would appreciate a legal electronic copy. Following Ferlazzo’s link to a article leads us to the main finding.

And in the 21 organizations he’s studied over the last seven years, one central idea has emerged: What really matters is the pattern of communication. It is so powerful, Pentland argues, that the communication pattern - who is talking to who, when, how - is a more significant factor in excellence than any of the more obvious possibilities, such as the intelligence of team members, their personalities, and skills.

In a healthy team, all the individual members talk to each other, not just the boss. Everyone listens as much as they talk. There is frequent communication, but it tends to be fairly fast. And people regularly make forays outside the team, learning new things, and then share when they come back.

So, what do I see in teams where I engage. For the most part I believe that our interactions are characterized by the above findings. There are times, however, where I can see myself or someone else dominating the conversations and I still experience times when others wait for me or at least a cue from me that it is “safe” to engage. We and I am better, but I still have work to do to create and support healthy teams. I need to keep in my mind this suggestion from the article.

The best ones, Pentland says, are “charismatic connectors.’’ They talk to everyone, not just the bigwigs. They listen as much as they talk. They put people in touch and understand that the good ideas are not going to just pop into their heads, but are a product of people sharing what they know.

As you think about the interactions on your team(s) and the author's insights, how would you rate the health of your teams?

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