Though the misanthropes among us may be disinclined to agree, teamwork is at the heart of almost everything we do as a society. Whether the goal is to win a basketball game, write up a killer proposal for a client, or organize a potluck, more often than not it takes a group of motivated people working well together to make things happen.
And given how often we rely on teams, in both a professional and personal context, you’d think we’d be experts at teamwork – but that’s simply not the case, as anyone who’s ever had to do a group assignment at school or work can tell you.
So what separates a successful team from an unsuccessful one?
MIT’s Human Laboratory set out to find out just that a few years ago. In a study of a number of workplaces across a diverse range of industries, the team at MIT collected data on the ways human beings in teams communicate with each other.
They found that successful teams share five defining characteristics. They are:
- Everyone on the team talks and listens in roughly equal measure, keeping contributions short and sweet
- Members face one another, and their conversations and gestures are energetic
- Members connect directly with one another – not just with the team leader
- Members carry on back-channel or side conversations within the team
- Members periodically break, go exploring outside the team, and bring information back
The MIT data also uncovered another fascinating fact – the talent of the individuals that make up the team contributes far less to success than you’d expect. The key to success, according to MIT, is not to stack a team with the smartest and most accomplished people you can find, but to guide your team in adopting successful communication patterns.
However, not all forms of communication are created equally. During MIT’s research, the team identified three key aspects of communication that impact team performance. They are:
- Energy: The energy in team communication is measured by the number and nature of exchanges between team members – that is, a comment or some kind of acknowledgement, be it verbal or otherwise.
- Engagement: Engagement refers to the distribution of energy between team members. If all members of a team have relatively equal and reasonably high energy with all other members, engagement is extremely strong.
- Exploration: The third aspect, exploration, refers to the energy team members have with other teams with which they interact.
High-performing teams will, invariably, have high levels of engagement and exploration. Energy levels will tend to ebb and flow depending on the format and content of team meetings, but will also err on the high side.
Clearly, communication is the key to creating and building great teams – the research indicates that socialization within teams is critical, accounting for more than 50% of positive changes in communication patterns.
Looking for more ways to build successful teams? Team building activities and games can be invaluable. Ento’s comprehensive list of 35 team building activities and games that strengthen bonds between team members and aid communication is a great resource for teams of all sizes and scopes.