A high-performing team can provide companies with an undeniable advantage over their competitors. However, many managers will tell you that, although it is easy to put together a team with great potential, it is much more difficult to pinpoint what makes a great team work effectively together.
According to Dave Winsborough, partner at New Zealand consulting form Winsborough Limited and co-author of the Hogan Assessment Systems Team Report, a significant amount of literature has been devoted to creating high-functioning teams but most of this literature focuses on the proper mix of skills and experience. This approach ignores other important factors in team performance: personality and social capital. Personality affects team performance by determining how people approach their role within the team, how people interact with the rest of the team and how people’s values align with the rest of the team.
A 2010 study by researchers at M.I.T. put volunteers into groups and gave them difficult problems to solve. The most successful groups shared two characteristics. Firstly, they showed high degrees of social sensitivity towards each other. This was measured by a test for empathy and the groups that scored highly on this test solved the problems more successfully. Secondly, the successful groups gave roughly equal time to each other, so that no one voice dominated but neither were there any passengers. This study showed us that what is key to a group’s success is their social connectedness to each other.
In the real world, this means that what happens between people really counts. In teams that are highly attuned to and sensitive to each other, ideas can flow and grow. Yves Morieux, consultant at Boston Consulting, talks about the miracle of cooperation – how it multiplies energy and how each effort contributes to the efforts of others. With cooperation, we can do more with less.
Organisations often place value on star employees who outperform others, yet this isn’t what drives the most high-achieving teams. Business leader Margaret Heffernan observes that it is social cohesion — built every coffee break, every time one team member asks another for help — that leads over time to great results. As Heffernan points out: “Companies don’t have ideas. Only people do.”