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We Still Need Human Connection When Working In Teams

In many ways, technological advances have made us simultaneously better connected and more isolated. The internet provides us access to near-infinite amounts of easily accessible information and mobile devices allow us to work wherever, whenever. All of this would allow us to believe that independent work is now more efficient.

Yet, in a new LinkedIn Pulse article, bestselling author Geoff Colvin tells us that teams and collaboration have become more critical to success than ever before.

Colvin writes, “… as information technology has grown more powerful and influential, the importance of human groups—as distinct from individuals—in creating knowledge has increased enormously.”

“The trend is starkly clear in a massive study of 20 million research papers in 252 fields within science and engineering, the social sciences, and the arts and humanities over 50 years, plus 2 million patents of all kinds over 30 years. In nearly 100 percent of the fields, more research is being done by teams, and the teams are getting bigger.”

While working in teams has always been a beneficial skill to have in any job function, it turns out it might be even more important than ever. Why is this?

According to the article, “As knowledge increases, people must specialize in narrower slices of it to achieve mastery. For almost any given problem, more people’s contributions are required to find the best response.”

“The trend is so broad that it has apparently become self-reinforcing: As teams increasingly produce higher quality work than individuals, individuals become less likely to match it and thus more likely to become part of teams striving to produce even better work. The result is that humans working in groups are more crucial to the success of organizations (and whole economies), and the ability to work in groups is more crucial to the success of individuals.”

So, as Geoff Colvin asks, “what makes teams effective?”

Researcher Alex Pentland of MIT has provided insight into this question through the invention of an inconspicuous device that people wear on their clothing while interacting with others. This device is known as a sociometric badge. This badge “measures the tone of voice a person uses, whether people are facing one another while talking, how much they gesture, and how much they talk, listen, and interrupt one another. It does not record what peo­ple say; in explaining team performance, the words themselves turn out to be practically irrelevant”, says Colvin.

Pentland and his team’s research unveiled three distinct ways in which the best teams interact. First, each person kept their contributions to the conversation in moderation. No one person was dominating and while the depth of the ideas was not constrained, the amount spoken was kept in proportion for each person.

“Second, they engage in what Pentland calls ‘dense interactions,’ with group members constantly alternating between advancing their own ideas and responding to the contributions of others with ‘good,’ ‘right,’ ‘what?’ and other super-short comments that signal consensus on an idea’s value, good or bad. Third, everyone contributes ideas and reactions, taking turns more or less equally, ensuring a wide diversity of ideas.”

It seems that the most effective teams were those who were able to listen effectively, talk without dominating, and demonstrate patience in their arguments.

Colvin writes, “the most important factor in group effectiveness turned out not to be what everybody thinks – cohesion, motivation, leadership. Instead, it’s the social sensitivity of the team members, their skills of social interaction. That’s what encourages those patterns of “idea flow,” to use Pentland’s term. Those three elements of interaction were about as important as all other factors—individual intelligence, technical skills, members’ personalities, and anything else you could think of—put together.”

So it seems that the most effective teams are those who demonstrate high levels of Social Intelligence. Social Intelligence refers to the ability to understand and manage our Behavioral Style, Mindset and Emotional Intelligence to optimize interpersonal relationships. It deals with unconscious biases that we may not yet understand, but that can be learned and controlled. At its heart, Social Intelligence is the science of productive relationships. Learn more here.

To read the full LinkedIn Pulse article, “What Really Makes Teams Work”

To learn more about Social Intelligence click here.

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