Alex “Sandy” Pentland did an experiment at MIT’s Human Dynamics Laboratory where people wore electronic sensors called sociometric badges. They captured how people communicated in real time. He discovered that some things matter much less than you may suspect when building a great team – for example, getting the smartest people into the team.
In HBR’s April 2012 Spotlight on Teams, he describes in detail the new science of building great teams, as follows:
- Communicate frequently. In a typical project team a dozen or so communication exchanges per working hour may turn out to be optimum; but more or less than that and team performance can decline.
- Talk and listen in equal measure, equally among members. Lower performing teams have dominant members, teams within teams, and members who talk or listen but don’t do both.
- Engage in frequent informal communication. The best teams spend about half their time communicating outside of formal meetings or as “asides” during team meetings. Apparently, increasing opportunities for informal communication tends to increase team performance.
- Explore ideas and information outside the group. The best teams periodically connect with many different outside sources and bring what they learn back to the team.
You’ll notice that none of the factors outlined above concern the substance of a team’s communication (ie what people said!). The badges only captured how people communicated — tone of voice, gesticulation, how one faces others in the group, and how much people talk and listen.
This is important. It turns out that the ancient biological patterns of signalling that humans developed in the millennia before we developed language — which is a relatively recent development — still dominate our communication.
The old adage that it’s not what you say, but how you say it, turns out to be mathematically correct.
Source HBR Online Apr 2012