Do best people mean best teams?

According to a study by Jon Kleinberg, a MacArthur Genius grant recipient, there is no test or task that can be developed where a best team consists of the highest individual scores.

Scott page, a professor of complex systems, political science, and economics at the University of Michigan, discusses additive and non-additive economies.

Additive economy represents a scenario where more the ability of the team is the sum total of the abilities of the team member.

In a non-additive economy, the value of a team is determined by its ability to think critically, to solve complex problems, and to optimize outcomes, which doesn’t necessarily correlate with high IQ or academic intelligence.

The key to successfully building a team is to make sure that it is equipped with a wide range of tools to tackle tough problems.

The metaphorical tools are the individual experiences and unique thought processes of each team member and diversity can add tremendous potential value to groups.

A team is the microcosm where the actual tasks get executed, innovative ideas are conceived and tested. However, a team is also the place where inter-personal issues, unclear goals and expectations can cause friction and loss of productivity.

What is a team and what makes a team effective?

Google, in its now famous research project called "Project Aristotle" studied hundreds of teams over a period of time to understand the question "what makes an effective team?"

The researchers found that what really mattered was less about who is on the team, and more about how the team worked together. In order of importance:

  1. Psychological safety - Team members feel safe to take risks and be vulnerable in front of each other. They feel confident that no one on the team will embarrass or punish anyone else for admitting a mistake, asking a question, or offering a new idea.
  2. Dependability - Team members get things done on time and with high quality
  3. Structure and clarity - Team members have clear roles, plans and goals. An individual’s understanding of job expectations, the process for fulfilling these expectations, and the consequences of one’s performance are important for team effectiveness.
  4. Meaning - Work is personally important to team members. Finding a sense of purpose in either the work itself or the output is important for team effectiveness. The meaning of work is personal and can vary, for example, financial security, supporting family, helping the team succeed, or self-expression for each individual.
  5. Impact - The results of one’s work, the subjective judgement that your work is making a difference, is important for teams. Seeing that one’s work is contributing to the organization’s goals can help reveal impact.
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