What do top-performing teams do differently that contribute to their success? originally appeared on Quora: the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Answer by Shane Snow, founder of Contently and author of Dream Teams, on Quora:

Top-performing teams are like cake. Let me explain:

The idea that two heads are better than one is usually a myth. Most teams are only as smart as their smartest or most powerful member. However, some teams manage to add up to much more than the sum of their parts. The difference boils down to the following:

  1. Breakthrough teams have a lot of cognitive diversity (perspectives, heuristics--ways of seeing and thinking that are shaped by the lives they've lived and who they are). I.e. You can't make cake out of five different types of flour, no matter how high quality the flour is.
  2. Teams with potential for breakthrough problem solving can't achieve it if they don't engage in cognitive friction, meaning they need different ways of thinking or approaching problems to mash together. There needs to be a battle of ideas. I.e. You can't make cake if you leave the eggs, milk, flour, and sugar in their respective bowls and don't beat them together.
  3. A team with cognitive diversity and healthy friction between their ideas won't make progress if its members aren't willing to adapt what they think. You can argue with no intention of changing your mind. In other words, a breakthrough team needs a high level of intellectual humility. I.e. For cake batter to turn into cake, it needs to be put in the oven and change its state.

All this is the underlying framework for my book Dream Teams, which gets into this in depth with all sorts of teams, from sports to business to music to pirate armies to social movements.

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