How to Unleash the SUPERSTAR Potential of Your Team!

Andrew Carnegie once said that teamwork allows common people to attain uncommon results. But not every team is able to be exceptional. How should we go about unleashing the full potential of our teams, to be more effective and create more value for the organization? Margaret Neale, Professor of Organizational Behavior at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, tells us how.

  1. The ability for different people looking at the same things to think about different ideas, is an organizations’ incredible resource — to be creative and to adapt. We need to train ourselves to look at differences and conflict as a resource. It is the team leader’s role to realize this, and seek to harness this information and expertise of the team members, in a way that creates synergy and generates process gain, instead of a process loss (when more heads lead to less work being done).

  2. We are too good at reaching agreements — sometimes too quick, and too early. We humans dislike conflict and differences so much that we naturally suppress them as soon as we can. People are social creatures, and we always want to be included in a team. If teams tend to form around similar people, team members will also try to suppress their differing opinions just to assure themselves of a position within the team.  We fear exclusion from teams. Think of the times you were a kid in elementary school, when you did things that you didn’t like, but still did them anyway just because everyone else was doing it and you wanted to be part of the group. Peer pressure is a strong outcome of us fearing exclusion from social groups. Similarly, teams with members who fear exclusion will eventually lose the motivation to raise differing opinions, and lose the capacity to learn from divergent views.

  3. Team formation must be an active process. If left to happen ‘naturally’, we will lean towards forming teams with people “who are like me”. Homogenous teams are much more efficient in getting to solutions quicker, and gets things done fastest. They also have less conflict, but also minimises information diversity of the team. Comfort will lead to resistance of opposing arguments within the team, and possibly even from outside sources. Choose your team members for their skills and expertise instead of how similar they are to you. (read more about the importance of heterogenous teams here)

  4. Diversity does not directly lead to better performance. The correlation exists, but the key to this cause-effect relationship, is the presence of conflict in between. Diversity must lead to conflict, before it can result in improved performance. It is the way the group is able to handle the conflict, which allows the team to perform. Differences are not sufficient — they need to be surfaced and addressed before they can lead to improved outcome.

  5. Creating homogeneity of goals will facilitate diversity. We want to encourage conflict that arises from the diversity of the team, but specifically only informational dispute. We need to consciously steer away from the more obvious surface diversity, such as ethnic, gender and social diversity. Instead, focus on what the different expertise, experience and perspectives of the members say about this solution to this problem. Dig deeper into information diversity, the differences in the ways team members think and process information. But before we can achieve that, we need to first create homogeneity of everyone in the team, and make sure everyone has the same goal — why are we here? This common goal will develop a sense of benevolence. By knowing that everyone has good intentions and the same goals, will make it easier to listen to differing opinions.

  6. Contrarian roles need to be changed regularly. Do you want to be right or effective? If one person is always the contrarian in the team, sooner or later, he will become marginalized. Thus even if there is one particular member who loves to be the contrarian, the leader needs to rotate contrarian roles regularly within the team to maintain a healthy relationship.

  7. Large teams need buzz groups. Spectators arise in a team for many reasons. this includes them feeling there is insufficient air time to share their opinions amongst all the team members, or they don’t feel motivated to speak up and are able to fade off into the background. The number of spectators increases with team size. Creating buzz groups will reduce the number of spectators, and increase the amount of air time that is shared amongst the team members, thus stimulating more intellectual input from all team members.

Consolidating the above pointers, here is a simple 7-step rule for you, as a team leader, to create the more efficient and productive team:

  1. Choose your team for their skills and expertise (informational diversity)

  2. Set the common ground (goals)

  3. Assign (and rotate) roles and responsibilities (particularly the contrarian role)

  4. Define task as a problem-to-be-solved, rather than a decision-to-be-made

  5. Encourage participation from all team members

  6. Set up norms that facilitate task conflict

  7. Hold second-chance meetings

Stimulate divergence of intellectual input, then strive towards convergence to one final solution.

Margaret Neale, is a Adams Distinguished Professor of Management at the Stanford Graduate school of business. Her research focuses primarily on negotiation and team performance. Her work has extended judgment and decision-making research from cognitive psychology to the field of negotiation. In particular, she studies cognitive and social processes that produce departures from effective negotiating behavior. Within the context of teams, her work explores aspects of team composition and group process that enhance the ability of teams to share the information necessary for learning and problem solving in both face-to-face and virtual team environments.

 

Margaret Neale on Team management, team performance and innovation

While we were students at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, we were fortunate enough to have Margaret Neale, distinguished professor, to teach us how to negotiate. Besides negotiation, her other primary research area includes team collaboration.

She gave a very insightful talk on the power of teams and the psychology of teams, available here. It’s an hour long, but definitely worth it. But, we understand that you are all busy people, so we’ve created a list of takeaways from the lecture! 🙂

Our 6 Major Takeaways from her lecture on team:

  1. Teams will only do better than individuals if the right (heterogenous) team comes together to experience synergy. A good team leads to having more perspectives of the same problem — generating innovation and creativity. It drives the interpretation of data, removing the rate of being blinded by our own theories, by listening to others’ competing theories. HOWEVER, we don’t like to learn, and we don’t like to think, which leads to a tendency to find like-minded individuals to form a team, instead of forming a team with a wide range of expertise. We thus have to consciously and actively seek team members that have a heterogenous experience and personalities. With minorities in the group (i.e. heterogenous team), final decisions are better, and ideas have greater complexity. It does not matter if the minorites’ ideas were kept in the end, but they still contribute significantly to the complexity and quality of the final ideas.

  1. Process loss (unable to tap into the intelligence of the team) happens most often when the expert team member is female. This could be due to either self-censorship, or the female expert spoke but no one listened.

  1. Teams get frightened of conflicts — leading to a tendency to suppress differences, rather than embracing and resolving them. Having similar team members amplifies the desire to suppress differences, while having obvious heterogeneity through minority group members can reduce this tendency, generating a healthy group conflict culture. This supports the first point that having minorities within a team is beneficial. Also, assigning “contrarian” roles to certain group members, may facilitate discussions by reducing the stress of raising up opposing opinions.

  1. The first team meeting is the most important. Team culture is set in the very first meeting. Structure the team such that each team member understands how and when they should talk, and how the responsibilities and roles are distributed.

  1. Low status people in the group should speak first, high status high influence people should speak last. Because first speaker / first mover makes the biggest influence. Having this structure would balance out the influence of each team member.

  1. Being a great team member/leader requires preparation, connectedness and strong emotional maturity. Having this kind of leader encourages the team to commit to the team enough to want to engage in conflicts and tough discussions.

Margaret Neale, is a Adams Distinguished Professor of Management at the Stanford Graduate school of business. Her research focuses primarily on negotiation and team performance. Her work has extended judgment and decision-making research from cognitive psychology to the field of negotiation. In particular, she studies cognitive and social processes that produce departures from effective negotiating behavior. Within the context of teams, her work explores aspects of team composition and group process that enhance the ability of teams to share the information necessary for learning and problem solving in both face-to-face and virtual team environments.