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Group Problem Solving: Equal Participation of Members . . . and Then Some!

People often say that teams are more effective when all members participate in solving problems. This is true, of course, because a variety of viewpoints are being offered and discussed. New research confirms that team discussion is related to more effective problem solving, but also finds some results that may surprise you. In addition, this research points out ways that team leaders can better manage Style differences and promote Versatility.

As reported in Science magazine, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University found that groups who conversed with equal participation produced better results on tasks than groups that were dominated by a single individual. What they found is that when group discussion was dominated by a noisy person, that group’s effectiveness was significantly diminished. In contrast, groups where conversation was more evenly distributed among members were more effective at considering multiple perspectives and solving problems. In addition, the individual intelligence of group members was unrelated to the group’s outcome, indicating that participation of multiple members was more important than any individual’s IQ.

These results are interesting, and maybe not too surprising. But one finding that was not expected was that groups with more females had better problem solving results. The lead researcher, who happens to be a woman, points out that this finding probably has less to do with gender per se than with previous research showing that women have greater social sensitivity. Similarly, TRACOM has found that, on average, women have higher Feedback scores than men, which certainly can relate to interpersonal communication and effectiveness.

The real value of this research is that it reinforces the importance of not only having a mix of people with different Styles on a team, but also that team leaders need to manage Style-related behavior. If an individual tries to dominate discussion, it is up to the team leader to discourage this behavior and provide equal opportunities for quieter individuals to have their say. Failing to do this can lead to resentment among the majority of team members, and also less effective teams. Further, the importance of Versatility cannot be overlooked. It is clear that social skill is related to group conversation and hence, greater effectiveness.

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