In my first article, “Are you a Connected Member” I discussed how you can learn to be a better team member and help your work group be effective. I shared that it may seem unlikely that there could be anything new to learn about what makes teams effective, but there is. In the article I shared that every team is a unique social unit. The quality of members’ social interactions —both intra-team and inter-team — determines project success or failure. Each member contributes to group outcomes — and some more so than others.
How do we know that social sensitivity outweighs all other factors in team effectiveness? Scientists are using new technology to measure the degree of social interaction in organizations.
Professor Alex Pentland’s Human Dynamic Lab at MIT invented a sociometric badge, worn on people’s clothing. It has the technology to measure the tone of voice a person uses, whether people are facing one another while talking, how much they gesture, how much they talk, listen, and interrupt one another.
A sociometer doesn’t record the words people say, as they are determined irrelevant in measures of interactions. Here are some of their findings:
- Successful team members generate a large number of ideas in short contributions to conversations. No one goes on for great length.
- They engage in “dense interactions;” that is, they alternate between advancing their own ideas and responding to the contributions of others with “good,” “right,” “what?” and other short comments that signal consensus on an idea’s value, good or bad.
- Successful members contribute ideas and reactions, taking turns more or less equally, ensuring a wide diversity of ideas.
The above findings are embedded in the SEMCO Group Emotional Intelligence program offered by The Liautaud Institute, in which I am Chief Learning Officer. These three elements of interaction are more important than any other factor in explaining excellent performance of the best teams. In fact, they were about as important as all the other factors — individual intelligence, technical skills, members’ personalities and anything else — combined.
Team-Based Social Interactions
Human interaction in teams is so powerful that increasing it just a little improves group performance a lot. Here’s a case study, reported in Geoff Golvin’s book, Humans Are Underrated: What High Achievers Know That Brilliant Machines Never Will (Portfolio, 2015):
In a Bank of America call center of 3,000 employees, productivity vastly improved simply by changing the schedule of break times so that workers spent more time together socially. When the bank switched to aligned team breaks, productivity rose and turnover fell. Performance improved as workers had more time to interact with each other. The bank estimated a savings of $15 million a year.
In my work at The Liautaud Institute, I’ve seen companies spend a lot of money to try to boost performance. However, the above example of how aligning breaks so that more team members can interact socially does the trick. It didn’t cost a penny, and it saved $15 million in turnover and lost productivity. The SEMCO group program (Systemic Empowerment Communites) serves three biogenic human needs:
Membership: the need to be part of something bigger than oneself Connection
Empowerment: the need to innovate and improve one’s work environment, job or careerContribution
Meaning/Purpose: the need to end the day feeling you made a difference aligned with your Purpose
Groups that completed the SEMCO program showed an average 23%increse in group emotional intelligence, higher engagement scores and higher social attractiveness. Yes, positive social interactions do yield bottom line results!
How can you encourage more social interaction in your company? What’s been your experience? I’d love to hear from you. I can be reached here email@example.com and on LinkedIn.
About the Author
Cynthia Kivland, Author and President Smart2Smarter Coaching, Training and Assessment Services has over twenty five years of accomplished career and leadership coaching experience working with very smart people, leaders and teams including MBA’s, military, scientists, CEO’s, and healthcare professionals. Join Cynthia’s Career and Workplace Resilience group on LinkedIn. To have a chat about emotional intelligence coaching, training and career resilience resources Contact Cynthia.