The Science of Successful Teams – Past the Mystery – Part 1

This weeks blog is part one of a two part series that floats into more of an ancillary place on the district efficiency and effectiveness spectrum, albeit nonetheless important. We’ve talked a lot about the emerging importance of analytics and performance management tools outside of the classroom in education, and the ensuing responsibility that follows for leaders to act on the identified opportunities. This blog series focuses on that responsibility and the potential teamwork needed to make the best out these found areas to improve. To look at a case study to help us connect to this idea, we looked at an article by Harvard Business Review entitled, “The New Science of Building Great Teams” on what makes effective teams tick. It digs past the art and mystery of a team with good chemistry and into the science of what is consistent among successful teams. To our pleasure, as we’ll discuss, the science used was tracked with indicators and projected through visual analytics, giving the reader salient insight on interpreting the blueprints of successful teams.
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In a nutshell, MIT’s Human Dynamics Laboratory had identified through their studies that the most important factor in high performing teams was not the content they discussed but in the manner it was exchanging that content. The group had come up with digital badges that teams would wear to track their interactions with others’ through the company they worked for. The badges collected data on things all across the spectrum from tone of voice they use, whether they face one another; how much they gesture; how much they talk, listen, etc. This technology gives the MIT group valuable insight on the type of communication between team members and others. The findings were rather astonishing — The MIT group found that productive teams have certain data signatures. They were apparently so consistent that…wait for it…they could predict a team’s success simply by looking at the data without ever meeting its members.
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What were those characteristics? What can we learn from this esoteric and enigmatic badge data? MIT found successful teams shared these common traits:
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  1. Everyone talks and listens in roughly equal measure
  2. Members face one another, and their conversations and gestures are energetic
  3. Members connect directly with one another – not just with the team leader
  4. Members carry on back-channel or side conversations within the team
  5. Members periodically break, go exploring outside the team, and bring information back
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And there was one more that rounded these out: the data also found that individual reasoning and talent contributed far less to team success than one may think. They found the BEST way to build a great team is not to select individuals for their smarts but to learn how they communicate and how to form a team that follows successful patterns.
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This insight gives us in the education industry some playdough to mold into the structure and framework for how we go about our actions at the workplace. Not just in making change from findings in district analytics, but in all the processes that help us serve students best: from budget planning, to curriculum strategies, to community transparency — communicating at a high level gives us the best chance for successful execution in every action we choose.
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Next blog, we will look at the three elements of communication that give us a more simplified grasp on the factors that make up the exchanging of information.
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References:
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Pentland, Alex. “The New Science of Building Great Teams.” Harvard Business Review. April 2012: pages 60-68. Print.
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