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3 Scientific Secrets to Great Team Chemistry

Psychologists are digging into the mystery of why some teams gel and others don't. Here's some of what they've uncovered.

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Great teams, like great dates, depend on chemistry. The members can have all the requisite skills on paper, display competent social skills and a willingness to work hard, but without the certain special something, a team just doesn’t gel. And then it’s just not as productive.

That teamwork special sauce can be hard to put your finger on, but psychologists have been hard at work trying to pin down exactly what sets high-performing teams apart from mediocre ones. Their experiments have dispelled some of the mystery of quality collaboration, offering guidance for entrepreneurs in the business of professional matchmaking.

So how can you help your team success? PsyBlog recently ran through all the recent findings on the subject, outlining an impressive ten steps business owners can take to ensure their teams are high-functioning and backing up the recommendations with the latest studies. Among their suggestions:

Prioritise social skills. Surely if you want to build a fantastic group, you put the smartest people in a room together? Not necessarily. According to research conducted by Woolley et al. (2010), highly performing groups need social sensitivity. In their study 699 people were observed working in groups of two to five. They found that the intelligence of the group is "...not strongly correlated with the average or maximum individual intelligence of group members but is correlated with the average social sensitivity of group members..." And this finding is not an isolated one.

Mix genders. Since women's social skills tend, on average, to be a little stronger than men's, including women is one way of prioritising social skills. Woolley et al.'s study reached the same conclusion: teams which included women did better than men-only teams. But that doesn't mean you should take it to the logical extreme and build women-only teams: it's all about the mix. For example, Hoogendoorn et al. (2011) found that teams with equal gender mixes outperformed male-only and female-only groups in a business exercise.

Spread the story. For people to work together effectively they need to know what the story is in a more general sense. Where have we come from and where are we going?.. Psychologists sometimes refer to these 'stories' as mental models. We construct these mental models of the world outside to help us navigate it and work out what to do next. When the mental models of groups are better aligned, they perform better. For example, Westli et al. (2010) found that when medical staff at a trauma centre shared mental models their performance was better, over and above specific teamwork skills.

If you’d like a whole lot more science on how to build the best team possible, check out the complete post for seven more suggestions, including on the relative value of introverts and extraverts, the best communication style, and the role of humor and trust.

What do you think is the most important ingredient of a highly functioning team?

IMAGE: bolandrotor / Flickr.com
Last updated: Aug 1, 2013

JESSICA STILLMAN is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.
@EntryLevelRebel




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