You evaluate individual performance before entrusting a new hire with a big task. Science suggests you should apply the same principle to teams.
Teams, as we've all experienced, aren't simply the sum of their parts. Through good mojo, friendly competition or complimentary talents, some groups wildly outperform what their individual members could accomplish working alone. But sadly, the converse is also true. Some teams produce less than the same people could crank out alone in a cubicle.
What separates the one sort from the other?
The ability of a team to gel together seems magical sometimes, something akin to the inexplicable chemistry that you either do or do not have with a date, but science, it turns out, actually has useful lessons to offer on how you can better ensure the teams at your company have chemistry.
Individual assessment is such a fundamental part of working life, yet we often take it for granted. If you want the best person for a job, you put the candidates through their paces to see who comes out on top. The basic assumption is that if they do well in the test context, they'll also excel on future projects. It turns out the same principle applies to groups – U.S. researchers showed in 2010 that a team that does well in one situation will tend to do well on other challenges too.
He concludes that, "it's a mistake to think that putting together a bunch of skilled individuals will automatically create a gifted team." Social sensitivity matters as much as smarts, according to the same research (which, as a side note, means teams of mixed gender generally outperform all males groups because of women's tendency to be more socially sensitive). So before you hand over a huge pile of work to a newly formed team, consider giving them something smaller to gauge how well they'll perform together.
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