People are wired to work on teams. Regardless of personality type or personal preference, our brains thrive when given the opportunity to connect and collaborate with other people. The key to generating successful outcomes is knowing how to use psychology to help teams reach their full potential.

Here is the science behind how to lead a great team.

The Perfect Team Size

Our brains have a limited capacity for managing different types of relationships. As a leader, consider what size team you should have based on the following dynamics:

  • Intimate group: 5 members.
  • Close friends: 12 to 15 members
  • Cooperative Acquaintances: Up to 35 members

In most organizations, these types of teams form naturally. For example, a small team working on a specific product (intimate group) often collaborates with a similar team (close friends), and both are a part of the larger product development department (cooperative acquaintances). The key is to be strategic about who ends up in what group.

The Neuroscience of Teams

Here are two of the biggest driving forces of team dynamics:

  1. Mirror neurons: These allow us to look at other people and adopt their emotions by mirroring their expressions. They are what cause entire teams to share the same feelings. As a leader, your emotions are the most contagious so make sure you project what you want your team to feel.
  2. Meta-Memory: One of the most powerful skills of close teams is their ability to share memory. With meta-memory, rather than every person needing to know everything, every person on a team knows who has what information and they are able to rely on that network of knowledge to accomplish goals. Strengthen your team's meta-memory by encouraging members to talk about their individual expertise.

Develop Strong Communication Patterns

MIT researcher Alex Pentland discovered that there are three key communication patterns that are practiced by the most effective teams. They are:

  1. High Frequency: The best teams typically exchange a dozen or so communications per hour.
  2. Talk Ratio: They have members that talk and listen in equal measure.
  3. Outside Sources: They connect with multiple outside sources frequently when they feel their team is lacking in an area.

How You Give Feedback Matters

The emotions you display when giving feedback play a huge role in how it is perceived. In a study, one group of people were given a positive performance review delivered with negative emotional signals while another was given a negative performance review accompanied by positive emotional signals. The group who received the negative reviews felt better about their performance than the people who received positive reviews simply because of the delivery.

Takeaway: When you have to give negative feedback, do so with a warm approach to lessen the emotional impact.

Boost Team Performance with Happiness

Researchers Rich Karlgaard and Michael Malone discovered that when a leader is openly happy, their teams are happier, more productive, and more creative. This is because when leaders are happy, their teams feel more comfortable and experience less stress.

Embrace the Introverts and the Extroverts on Your Team

Extroverts are often the stars of teams because they thrive in group environments and tend to contribute more. However, if you structure your team around meetings and constant collaboration, you'll miss out on some of the best ideas from introverts whose brains are wired to perform their best when they work alone.

To ensure that everyone on your team contributes, put systems in place where they can share their ideas and collaborate through a variety of mediums.

Published on: Mar 1, 2017
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.