As a manager, one of the things you’ll struggle with the most is getting your team to work well together.
If you can figure out how to optimize your team for ultimate productivity, your team will be unstoppable.
I’m going to share with you the secret to having a high-performing team: empathy.
I once wrote a post called The Most Important Leadership Skill To Have where I argued that empathy is the most important skill a leader can have.
Not only is this true for leaders, but it turns out that this is true for achieving a high-performing team.
Margaret Heffernan argues in her TED talk that social cohesion is what makes great teams. The problem is, many companies run according to “the superchicken model” that favors competition and rewards top performers.
At the beginning of her talk, she talks about a study involving chickens working together:
Chickens live in groups, so first of all, he selected just an average flock, and he let it alone for six generations. But then he created a second group of the individually most productive chickens — you could call them superchickens — and he put them together in a superflock, and each generation, he selected only the most productive for breeding.
After six generations had passed, what did he find? Well, the first group, the average group, was doing just fine.
They were all plump and fully feathered and egg production had increased dramatically. What about the second group? Well, all but three were dead.
They’d pecked the rest to death. The individually productive chickens had only achieved their success by suppressing the productivity of the rest.
She then goes on to talk about a study at MIT about what led to high-performing teams:
What was really interesting was that the high-achieving groups were not those where they had one or two people with spectacularly high I.Q.
Nor were the most successful groups the ones that had the highest aggregate I.Q. Instead, they had three characteristics, the really successful teams.
First of all, they showed high degrees of social sensitivity to each other. This is measured by something called the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test.
It’s broadly considered a test for empathy, and the groups that scored highly on this did better.
Secondly, the successful groups gave roughly equal time to each other, so that no one voice dominated, but neither were there any passengers.
And thirdly, the more successful groups had more women in them.
Teams Have An Intelligence Of Their Own
Researchers at MIT and Carnegie Mellon have discovered1 that similar to individual I.Q., teams have their own collective intelligence.
According to the authors of the study:
Collective intelligence is significantly correlated to group composition, and is higher with a higher concentration of females in the group.
In their incredibly interesting research, they looked at 192 groups of different sizes to see if they could find collective intelligence.
The groups were asked to perform tasks like brainstorming, puzzle solving, and moral decision making.
Group collective intelligence was found to exist separately from individual intelligence.
The results were true regardless of group size.
Reading The Mind In The Eyes
When looking for what trait made a group more effective, the most important thing by far was social sensitivity.
The “Reading The Mind In The Eyes” test is the most widely used test for measuring empathy and social sensitivity.
The test requires you to choose a word that best describes people’s thoughts or feelings based only on photos of their eye region.
If you wanted to predict a group’s effectiveness, the best thing to do was look at the team’s average score on that test.
Women generally perform better on measures of social sensitivity, which makes women more valuable in the workplace.
If you want an effective team, hire more women.
What you want to do is create an environment where everyone respects each other.
Tips For Managers
The trick is to get the team closer to each other.
Once they are comfortable with each other, they’ll start to collaborate better.
Here are a few ideas for you to use to bring the team closer together.
Get To Know Each Other
Go for happy hour, go out to a restaurant, spend some time on the weekends, whatever you want. As a manager, you want to encourage those social interactions.
Something as simple as eating lunch together can make all the difference.
It’s during those moments where you stop talking about work and really get to know the true person.
Remove The Fear
Everyone on the team needs to feel comfortable enough to express their opinion without retribution.
You’ll need to work hard to create an environment of inclusiveness, where everyone’s ideas are welcome and listened to.
Encourage Peer Recognition
Recognition means more when it comes from your peers, since they’re closer to your work.
If you can create a culture where employees are constantly patting each other on the back, it will bring them closer and get them to work better together.
Hire More Women
This one is easier said than done, but I think you should make a concerted effort to get more women on the team.
I’m proud to say that at GSOFT (Officevibe’s parent company) we have 21 women out of 132 employees.
For a company in the IT field, that’s pretty impressive!
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How Do You Optimize Your Team?
Any tips you can share with us about how you get your team to collaborate? Let us know in the comments!
- Evidence from a Collective Intelligence Factor in the Performance of Human Groups ↵