As a BME student, you probably know by now that the department believes it is essential for students to learn how to create, and be an effective member of, high functioning teams. This is because high functioning teams produce better solutions and more innovative designs than less effective teams or individuals. But what are the characteristics of great teams and great teammates?
This is a complex and evolving topic, but recent research shows that the best teams are diverse (e.g., NPR and Harvard Business Review). That is, members of the team have a wide range of backgrounds, perspectives, skills, and ways of thinking. Equally important, each member of the team listens to and respects the contributions of each person, which enables them to realize the full benefits of their diverse ways of thinking.
Interestingly, Google launched a research initiative called Project Aristotle in 2012 to study hundreds of Google’s teams to figure out why some stumbled while others soared. The researchers noticed that good teams exhibited two kinds of behaviors.
First, they allowed each member of the team to have equal amounts of time to talk and share their thoughts and ideas. This is something social scientists call equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking.
Quoting from a NY Times piece that describes this study:
On some teams, everyone spoke during each task; on others, leadership shifted among teammates from assignment to assignment. But in each case, by the end of the day, everyone had spoken roughly the same amount. If only one person or a small group spoke all the time, the collective intelligence declined.
Second, good teams excelled at reading how others were feeling and reacting to things, based on nonverbal cues. Researchers would say the team members had high “social sensitivity”. Again, quoting the NY Times piece, good teams:
seemed to know when someone was feeling upset or left out. People on the ineffective teams, in contrast, scored below average. They seemed, as a group, to have less sensitivity toward their colleagues.
Are you interested in learning more about Project Aristotle? Read this fantastic piece in the NY Times: What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team