How to Build a Smarter Team

Meetings are important.

For better or worse, most organizational decisions are still made in groups. Meetings are a ubiquitous element of organizational life even as teams are now often geographically dispersed and collaborating online as well as in person.

A productive meeting energizes, coordinates and galvanizes a team.

Dysfunctional meetings, on the other hand, lead not only to bad decisions, which undercut an organization’s ability to meet its goals, but also produce demoralized, discouraged and alienated employees.

Odds are you have seen your share of dysfunctional meetings and the dispiriting effects of endless recapitulation and posturing,  group-think drowning out independence and honesty, and blowhards competing for attention.

Organizations that are serious about high performance need to be diligent in their pursuit of better meetings.

So what do we know about what makes meetings and teams more productive?

Why do some teams get better results than others?

One thing we know is that if you want a meeting “that is energizing and productive, populate it with the most heterogeneous group possible, mine that diversity and don’t be afraid of the ensuing drama.”

Thanks to some recent research conducted by a group of M.I.T. psychologists we also know that smarter teams are not simply the result of having smarter individuals (as measured by an I.Q. test) or more extroverted or motivated people on the team.

The M.I.T. team found that the smartest teams were distinguished by 3 characteristics:

  1. Their meetings were notable for the equal contributions of all members to the discussions and decisions. The highest performing groups were not dominated by one or two people doing all the talking.
  1. Their members scored well on a test called “Reading the Mind in the Eyes” which is a measure of empathy, or how well one can read the feelings of others.
  1. Teams with more women outperformed teams with more men. (This result may be, in part, accounted for by the fact that women generally do better than men on the “Mind Reading” )

A new study by the same M.I.T. research group demonstrated that these 3 ingredients for a smart team remained the same when groups were collaborating online.

This finding suggests “emotion reading” is more than simply the ability to read facial expressions and that smart groups are populated, more broadly, by people who can “read” what other group members feel and believe.

All these ideas about what makes meetings more productive fit together like a well-made watch.

If you want to capitalize on the superior breadth of experience offered by a diverse team, you need team members who can effectively listen to different points of view.

If you want to leverage the power of dramatic tension in your meetings, you need team members who can read, and genuinely respect, the feelings of others so that passionate advocacy does not devolve into resentment and infighting.

If you want equal participation from all team members, you need meeting leaders who trust the collective wisdom of the group and encourage everyone to speak as well as listen.

Smarter teams make better tactical and strategic decisions, work out conflicts, get everyone on the same page and keep people energized and motivated.

Best of all, the research clearly demonstrates that you don’t need a genius to create a smarter team.

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