Science of Building Great Teams - Final

This a duplicated article from the Harvard Business Journal from April 2012. It is written by Alex “Sandy” Pentland and it is still relevant today.

The ideal team player.

We can also measure individuals against an ideal. In both productivity-focused and creativity-focused teams, we have discovered the data signature of what we consider the best type of team member. Some might call these individuals “natural leaders.” We call them “charismatic connectors.” Badge data show that these people circulate actively, engaging people in short, high-energy conversations. They are democratic with their time—communicating with everyone equally and making sure all team members get a chance to contribute. They’re not necessarily extroverts, although they feel comfortable approaching other people. They listen as much as or more than they talk and are usually very engaged with whomever they’re listening to. We call it “energized but focused listening.”
The best team players also connect their teammates with one another and spread ideas around. And they are appropriately exploratory, seeking ideas from outside the group but not at the expense of group engagement. In a study of executives attending an intensive one-week executive education class at MIT, we found that the more of these charismatic connectors a team had, the more successful it was. Team building is indeed a science, but it’s young and evolving. Now that we’ve established patterns of communication as the single most important thing to measure when gauging the effectiveness of a group, we can begin to refine the data and processes to create more-sophisticated measurements, dig deeper into the analysis, and develop new tools that sharpen our view of team member types and team types.

The sensors that enable this science are evolving as well. As they enter their seventh generation, they’re becoming as small and unobtrusive as traditional ID badges, while the amount and types of data they can collect are increasing. We’ve begun to experiment with apps that present teams and their leaders with real-time feedback on group communications. And the applications for the sensors are expanding beyond the team to include an ever-broader set of situations.

We imagine a company’s entire staff wearing badges over an extended period of time, creating “big data” in which we’d find the patterns for everything from team building to leadership to negotiations to performance reviews. We imagine changing the nature of the space we work in, and maybe even the tools we use to communicate, on the basis of the data. We believe we can vastly improve long-distance work and cross-cultural teams, which are so crucial in a global economy, by learning their patterns and adjusting them. We are beginning to create what I call the “God’s-eye view” of the organization. But spiritual as that may sound, this view is rooted in evidence and data. It is an amazing view, and it will change how organizations work.

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