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What Makes a Better Team? More Women

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Thursday, February 12, 2015
The teams with the smartest members aren't necessarily the smartest teams.

Researchers who teamed up with Alex Pentland and Nada Hashmi of MIT grouped 697 volunteers into teams with two to five members and studied how they performed several short tasks that required such common skills as logical analysis, brainstorming, planning, coordination and moral reasoning. Volunteers took individual IQ tests, but teams with the highest average IQs weren't necessarily the most successful. Nor were the teams with most extroverts nor the most highly motivated members.

The most successful teams with the best collective intelligence, it turned out, had three characteristics. Their members contributed equally to group discussions rather than having a few members who dominated. Teams with more women outperformed teams with more men. And the most successful teams had members who scored highest on a test called Reading the Mind in the Eyes. That test is designed to measure how well people can read emotional states by looking at facial images that only show the eyes. The study is described in a New York Times story by researchers Anita Woolley, Thomas W. Malone, and Christopher F. Chabris.

An Atlantic story by Derek Thompson stresses the importance empathy and social sensitivity. Generally, the story says, women outperform men on the Eyes test, which helps explain why teams with more women tend to have higher collective intelligence. Elements of that trait include an ability to read complex emotions and skill at interpreting nonverbal clues.

Interestingly, another study showed that good collective intelligence was just as important for teams working virtually as it is for teams working face to face. A study by Woolley, Malone, Chabris, David Engel and Lisa X. Jing in PLoS One examined teams that worked together face to face and teams that worked virtually. Emotion reading skill was just as important in the success of online teams. The other characteristics that helped in person teams-frequent good quality conversation and equal participation-also were crucial online.

Henri Lipmanowicz and Keith McCandless wrote the book The Surprising Power of Liberating Structures and created the Liberating Structures website, which describes simple methods to improve the way we meet, interact and collaborate. Lipmanowicz says the use of Liberating Structures (LS) can help people learn the communication, participation and emotion reading skills that create good teamwork. While traditional paths to learning these skills is slow, expensive and unreliable, Lipmanowicz says, people who experience using LS can learn them quickly.

Are you skilled at reading emotions? Take the Reading the Mind in the Eyes test here. Read some thoughts on the test here.

Tags:  buscell  complexity matters  liberating structures  research 

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