New Science Behind Smarter Teams 

Management Respect Teamwork


Key Point: “A new science of effective teamwork is vital not only because teams do so many important things in society, but also because so many teams operate over long periods of time, confronting an ever-widening array of tasks and problems that may be much different from the ones they were initially convened to solve. General intelligence, whether in individuals or teams, is especially crucial for explaining who will do best in novel situations or ones that require learning and adaptation to changing circumstances.” That’s the summary of important work underway by scientists trying to understand why and how some teams work smarter than others. 

As most of my readers know, I’ve been stressing the renewed importance of advanced teamwork impacting innovation/adaptability, and have been gathering this thinking under the umbrella of a reenergized movement I refer to as “Peer-To-Peer Power.” That’s why the insights outlined by these researchers are important for leaders to consider when making teams smarter. Contemplate two studies with practical applications on why some teams have a collective higher IQ and get better results.

One study highlights the following as differentiators:

First, their members contributed more equally to the team’s discussions, rather than letting one or two people dominate the group.

Second, their members scored higher on a test called Reading the Mind in the Eyes, which measures how well people can read complex emotional states from images of faces with only the eyes visible.

Finally, teams with more women outperformed teams with more men. Indeed, it appeared that it was not diversity (having equal numbers of men and women) that mattered for a team’s intelligence, but simply having more women. This last effect, however, was partly explained by the fact that women, on average, were better at mindreading than men.”

Another study looked at teams working online and off, and again some teams consistently worked smarter than others. The researchers’ conclusions:

More surprisingly, the most important ingredients for a smart team remained constant regardless of its mode of interaction: Members who communicated a lot, participated equally and possessed good emotion-reading skills.

This last finding was another surprise. Emotion-reading mattered just as much for the online teams whose members could not see one another as for the teams that worked face to face. What makes teams smart must be not just the ability to read facial expressions, but a more general ability, known as Theory of Mind to consider and keep track of what other people feel, know and believe.

Character Moves:

  1. We need to challenge ourselves to discover why some teams work smarter than others. Think of the number of teams in your organization. How much conscious time is given to investing in their true effectiveness? A good agenda and process is no longer sufficient for effective teamwork. We need to put intentionality behind full participation, having more women in the discussion and perhaps most importantly, what the researchers refer to as “Theory of Mind:” The ability to track what other people feel, know and believe. 
  2. Let’s explore the latest work/advancement in emotion reading skills. By the way, one cannot effectively read emotions without full attention and presence in team environments. This is just as, or perhaps even more important in on-line team peer-work versus face-to-face. 

In the end, smarter teams need to get smarter results.

Smarter teams in The Triangle,


One Millennial View: I think being able to “read a room” is as important of an IQ/EQ skill as many book-learned qualifications. I hope many Millennials might have an edge up on this. It’s a puzzle we should always be working on. Figuring out what our teammates feel, know and believe is crucial and the way piece together the true character by your side. Ironically, “reading a room” is unfortunately tougher than learning some things you can just read in a book.

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis