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Commenting on Team Building

20 Mar

While I have managed a team at various times during my career, my most recent assignment was more of an individual contributor role, and, I’ve not had to ‘inherit’ a team in quite a while.  With this in mind, I found this blog over at Harvard Business Review to be very interesting.

The blog was called “The Hard Science of Teamwork” reported by Alex ‘Sandy’ Pentland.  The author is the Director of MIT’s Human Dynamics Laboratory and the MIT Media Lab Entrepreneurship Program.   The ‘Hard Science’ in the title refered to the use of ‘sociometric badges’ to mathematically measure communication.  The blog stated with points related to the ‘new science of building great teams’.

Our data show that great teams:

  • Communicate frequently. In a typical project team a dozen or so communication exchanges per working hour may turn out to be optimum; but more or less than that and team performance can decline.
  • Talk and listen in equal measure, equally among members. Lower performing teams have dominant members, teams within teams, and members who talk or listen but don’t do both.
  • Engage in frequent informal communication. The best teams spend about half their time communicating outside of formal meetings or as “asides” during team meetings, and increasing opportunities for informal communication tends to increase team performance.
  • Explore for ideas and information outside the group. The best teams periodically connect with many different outside sources and bring what they learn back to the team.

An interesting point made by Mr. Pentland was that content of communication (the ‘what‘) did not matter as much as they way that communication took place (the ‘how‘).  This makes sense to me.   Material presented in dull monotone will not have the effect as the same material present with passion.

One learning from this blog that did suprise me was Pentland’s assertion that communication (charisma?) can be taught:

In our work we’ve found that these patterns of communication are highly trainable, and that personality traits we usually chalk up to the “it” factor — personal charisma, for example — are actually teachable skills.

This bears watching.  In my new role, an effective team will be key to our continued success, and communication will be a very important factor.

More to come….



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