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In my last post I wrote about how teams are critical to success in sports, business, and actually other activities, and how individuals determine the success of the teams.

Earlier this year the New York Times Magazine published an article titled, “What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team.” They did a five-year study, titled Project Aristotle, to find out “why some work groups thrive and others falter.” The article’s author is Charles Duhigg, who is also the author of “The Power of Habit” (a great book) and he also drew on information from other studies.

It took the researchers a long time to make any headway. They struggled to find what exactly made a team successful. They couldn’t find patterns. And then they found too many patterns, which is just as bad, or worse, than no patterns.

A major conclusion was there are two behaviors all good teams share.

“On the good teams, members spoke in roughly the same proportion, a phenomenon the researchers referred to as ‘‘equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking.’’”

“The good teams all had high ‘‘average social sensitivity’’ — a fancy way of saying they were skilled at intuiting how others felt based on their tone of voice, their expressions and other nonverbal cues.”

As I write this I’m thinking of some focus groups I facilitated for a client earlier this year. One day I had two groups of employees, with a pre-selected mix of management, production people, and admin staff. One group had a couple dominant people and the other had multiple people who could have become dominant.

The first group was a lot less productive. It was tough to draw out comments from the non-dominant subset. The second group had numerous outspoken people but they engaged in dialogue not control and more ideas flowed from this group. There was more of a willingness to speak.

It’s easy to say we all know what happens when one or two people in a group take over. Others shrink and just want to get the meeting over. But it seems there’s a lot more to it. And understanding how to make people gel for the common good is a true skill.

“When the enemy is making a false movement, we must take good care not to interrupt him.” Napoleon

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