High Performing Teams Are Social

High-Performing-TeamsIn my recent posts, I’ve been exploring how social scientists have been measuring high performing teams to discover the key elements of team effectiveness.  They’ve been able to measure group members’ interactions with a sociometric device that shows three key patterns.

Geoff Colvin describes this in his book Humans Are Underrated: What High Achievers Know That Brilliant Machines Never Will (Portfolio, 2015). High performing teams:

  1. Generate a large number of ideas in short contributions during conversations (no one dominates).
  2. They engage in dense interactions, constantly alternating between advancing their own ideas and responding to the ideas of others with verbal reinforcements such as “right,” “interesting,” and “say more.”
  3. Everyone contributes ideas and reactions, taking conversational turns equally to ensure a diversity of ideas.

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The New Science of Measuring
Team Effectiveness

Team-EffectivenessHow do we know that social sensitivity outweighs all other factors in team effectiveness? Scientists are using new technology to measure the degree of social interaction in organizations.

Professor Alex Pentland’s Human Dynamic Lab at MIT invented a sociometric badge, worn on people’s clothing. It has the technology to measure the tone of voice a person uses, whether people are facing one another while talking, how much they gesture, how much they talk, listen, and interrupt one another. Now sociometers are measuring what constitutes team effectiveness.

A sociometer doesn’t record the words people say, as they are irrelevant measures of social signals and interactions. Here are some of their findings: Read More »

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3 Ways to Be an Effective Team Member

Effective-team-memberHow can you be an effective team member and help your work group be successful? It may seem unlikely that there could be anything new to learn about what makes teams effective, but there is. More than ever before, work today gets done in teams, and your ability to contribute as a member is vital to your career success.

Every team is a unique social unit. The quality of members’ social interactions —both intra-team and inter-team — determines project success or failure. Effective team members contribute to group outcomes — and some more so than others.

But until recently, there hasn’t been much specific advice on how to improve your value as an effective team member. You’ve probably been advised to “display empathy,” “respect diversity,” and communicate and share openly. As a team member, you’re directed to work for common goals rather than focusing on personal success. Read More »

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Measuring Human Interactions at Work: The Sociometer

What if there were a way to measure real-time human interactions at work, for example in teams and even whole companies? Not just a self-report questionnaire, or observations, but a technology that tracks people’s behaviors, movements, and speech patterns? And what if that data could be used to gauge group effectiveness? Perhaps we could actually see what makes some work groups successful or not.

I recently read about an interesting device that can measure human interactions and sociability called a sociometer device. Have you heard of it? It sounds a bit like a “big brother” spying gadget, but supposedly it doesn’t actually record what people say, just how they speak.

The sociometer, worn around the neck like an ID badge, captures tone of voice, activity level, and location. It can tell who you talk to, how often, and for how long. It can tell whether two speakers are face to face, or turned away from each other. It can measure the energy level of an interaction, and use it to determine levels of engagement. Most important, it can combine its data with email and social media to form detailed maps that reveal the inner workings of a team, company, or classroom. Read More »

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Leadership Positions in the Robotic Age:
Where’s the Job Security?

Leadership-Positions-FutureExactly how secure are leadership positions in this emerging Robotic Age? Are you absolutely sure your job can never be replaced by computers? Think about it. Computers are developing skills fast, including those usually thought of as uniquely human.

In April 2015, I posted on this blog about how robots were increasingly being used in business, and not just in manufacturing (“Help! A Robot Ate My Job”). In my series of posts on the human skills we’ll need if we want to stay relevant, I referred to the book Metaskills: 5 Talents for the Robotic Age, by Marty Neumeier in which he encourages leaders to improve the skills that can’t be performed by computers: creativity, emotional savvy, decisions, visions and planning.

“Welcome to the Robot Age. Technology is taking every job that doesn’t require a high degree of creativity, humanity or leadership. It seems to me that one thing a machine can’t do (yet) is think like a human. We are creative and imaginative. We can innovate.” ~ Marty Neumeier, Metaskills

But that apparently isn’t a guarantee of job relevance. Computers like IBM’s Watson are now developing the abilities for creative thinking. Companies are developing computers that can make judicial decisions, write narrative stories for businesses, predict prisoner recidivism, make accurate medical diagnoses, recognize facial expressions, and detect human emotions — often better than humans can. Read More »

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Human Interactions:
The Key to Successful Innovations

Human-InteractionsDon’t overlook the value of simple human interactions and social relations in your company if you want your people to innovate. Successful innovations are novel, non-obvious, and useful — all commonsense criteria and requirements for a patent. To stimulate new thinking, you need to foster intuitions and insights, as I’ve been posting about. The more individuals use intuitive thinking and creative insights, the more they will produce fresh ideas and solutions relevant to business problems.

This is key because if a business isn’t innovating, it’s stagnating. And at the rapid rate of change in today’s marketplace, you risk becoming obsolete quickly, as Kodak, Blockbuster and others have experienced.

Every executive I work with is concerned — and rightly so — their business isn’t producing enough cutting edge products and services to stay ahead of the game in their industry. What else should you be paying attention to if you want your people to innovate? Read More »

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6 Ways to Stimulate Creative Insights

Insights-IdeasWhat practical things can we do to stimulate fresh ideas, creative insights and new thinking? This is key to managers and leaders who must be prepared for rapidly changing marketplace demands.

“You are more likely to have creative insights and valid intuitions when your brain is in a general state characterized by remote associations, broad flexible attention, abstract thought, positive mood, a sense of psychological distance, and a promotion orientation.”~ Kounias and Beeman, The Eureka Factor.

To summarize Kounias and Beeman, you are more likely to have creative insights and valid intuitions when your brain state is characterized by: Read More »

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Creative Insights: People and Places Influence the Mind

Creative-InsightsIn my attempt to understand how we can improve our abilities to be innovative and adopt a creative mindset, I’ve been reading and posting about creative insights. What practical things can we do to stimulate new thinking? This is key to managers and leaders who must be prepared for all the rapidly changing marketplace demands.

Studies have shown that even thinking about unusual people or events primes the brain for creativity. On the other hand, thinking about analytical people, conformism, rules, and the way things are done enhances analytical thinking. Surrounding yourself with people who are creative is a good way to stimulate your own imagination. Perhaps there is some sort of contagious mind meld? Read More »

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How We Obstruct Insights and
Creative Thinking: Fixations


Of course if insights and creative thinking were easy, then everybody would be doing it. But the thing to be aware of is that often we obstruct it, albeit unwittingly. Organizations all say they need fresh ideas and innovations to sustain profits. But they aren’t making it easy for people to have ideas, or to express them.

In global studies scientists are finding that overall, people’s IQ scores are rising but their creativity scores are declining. Perhaps our schools and workplaces aren’t conducive to expanding creative thinking.

Part of this is force of habit: Schools and organizations love predictability yet they parrot slogans to encourage “out-of-the-box” thinking. Think about your own workplace. Do they recoil from surprises, crave perfection and extol the virtues of error-free work?

The perfection and predictability traps are what stifle creative thinking and obstruct intuitions and insights. Deadlines, rewards and incentives, and other motivational ideas rarely work to stimulate “aha” moments. So let’s address one element that we all fall prey to: fixating on the wrong problem. Read More »

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7 Places to Hunt for Creative Insights

Creative-InsightsI’ve been reading about innovations and the creative insights that have sparked many of today’s bright new ideas. Several Fortune 500 companies have been founded on a single insight about what customers want.

  • Starbucks brought a little bit of Italy to coffee shops.
  • Home Depot gave do-it-yourselfers access to professional supplies.
  • The Body Shop was built on the notion that buyers of beauty products care about humane animal-testing practices.
  • Fed-Ex was started because over-night delivery was a brilliant insight.

A Harvard Business Review article “Where to Look for Insight” (Nov. 2014) explains insight as an imaginative understanding of an internal or external opportunity that can be tapped to improve efficiency, generate revenue, or boost engagement. Insights can be about stakeholder needs, market dynamics, or even how your company works.

Are there any practical ways to increase the flow of insights? If we accept the premise that performance improvements require more than reducing errors, that it’s also necessary to increase insights, then how do leaders set the stage for creative insights? I don’t think you have to be a genius, but I do think it takes a special mindset to take the leap from the known to the unknown. And, from what I’m reading, most of us can learn how to adopt a mindset that facilitates creativity. Read More »

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