There are many things that can determine the success of a team.
But sometimes, it’s the little things that actually end up making the difference.
1. Number of people
Imagine that you’re walking down the street, and see someone in need of help. How likely is it that you would actually stop to help them?
If you’re the only person around, it’s pretty likely that you would.
If there are some other people there, it’s not quite as likely.
If there are lots of other people around, probably not. People just assume that someone else will take care of it.
The problem is that all too often no one ends up helping.
The same basic phenomenon can happen to almost any type of group or team. People don’t always speak up when they notice potential problems, mistakes, or things that need to be done. On a smaller team, it’s hard to avoid responsibility. The larger a group becomes, the less likely it is that anyone will actually speak up or take action. After all, someone else will do it. Maybe.
2. Range of contributions
Some teams have a relatively even exchange of contributions, while others are more uneven.
Some groups might go around in a circle to solicit input from everyone, or members might take turns in different roles. In other groups, more is contributed by those who talk the loudest, interrupt the most, or have some sort of higher status.
In a way, teams have a collective level of “intelligence” that can be expressed through their performance. Some teams do more intelligent things than others. And researchers can test this, with a sort of “group IQ” test.
So what really makes some teams smarter than others?
The research shows that individual IQ scores of team members don’t actually have much influence on the intelligence of a team as a whole. It isn’t really determined by the person with the highest IQ, or by the average IQ of the group.
The smartest teams are the ones that draw input from everyone.
3. Medium of communication
Different forms of communication between team members can vary in usefulness.
For example, what if you need to come up with a creative solution for a problem? Should you get the team together and have a brainstorming session?
Most previous research has found that groups of people are much worse at brainstorming than individuals working alone. Groups often come up with fewer, lower-quality, ideas.
If you’re in a standard face-to-face brainstorming, there is one person speaking at a time. This creates a problem called “production blocking.” Imagine that you have an idea while someone else is talking. You’re going to be a bit distracted by that, and less able to focus on your potential idea. Your idea can’t influence the discussion until it’s your turn to talk. By the time you might actually express the idea, you may have changed your mind, or forgotten about it entirely.
Perhaps groups don’t benefit from brainstorming because members don’t have access to many of the potential ideas that other people are having.
Interestingly enough, using electronic communication can get around many of these issues. Groups that communicate in formats similar to a group internet chat can actually do quite well—and sometimes larger groups will actually perform better, rather than worse, than smaller groups
Many of the most creative teams probably aren’t even in the same room.