Creating Smarter Teams

The science behind selecting people who are good at their jobs is well established. We know, based on large research studies, that there are certain tests and assessments that predict different abilities. Those who possess abilities that are required for a specific job do that job better than those who do not have them.

However, there is a lot of work that takes place in groups where individual performance is difficult to measure and may not be relevant. Once we look at groups, we are not as interested in how well a person does as we are how well the team is performing. It makes sense to ask what are the personal attributes of the members that make for these high performing teams?

This article delves into the question of what makes a smart team. They demonstrate that teams have “intelligence” (as defined by consistent scores on a variety of group problem solving tasks). The authors cite research which shows the following to be predictive of intelligent teams:

  • The less variance in the contributions (conversational turn taking) by team members, the more productive the group. Put another way, if people are participating in roughly the same proportion, the team is more likely to be smarter.
  • The better the individuals in the group are, on average, in attending to the social needs of others, the more intelligent the group. This is particularly interesting because this factor was demonstrated in groups that meet face-to-face and those that meet virtually.
  • The more women in the group, the smarter it was. However, the authors caution that a big part of this is that women are better in attending to the social needs of others. Based on the data, they could have just as easily included Openness to Experience instead of gender to get the same results.

I have some research methods concerns about the studies besides the one above, but I think the main points are interesting. Of most interest to me is that we can quantify what makes for a smart team and the behaviors of those individuals who comprise them. This should allows us to design and use valid pre-employment tests to select people into the teams to make them more intelligent.

Where the research comes up short is in testing whether the smarter teams are better performing teams in real life situations. This would be difficult, but not impossible, to demonstrate for a variety of reasons. However, doing so could unlock a lot of productivity in companies.

For more information on using valid pre-employment testing to create smart teams, contact Warren Bobrow.

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