Research Findings on the Characteristics of Successful Teams


If you are like me, you are an avid reader and always trying to learn from, others. For example,  I have found that often the advice on the characteristics of a successful team relies on observation and anecdotal evidence. So, I was interested in a recent article in Harvard Business Review that applied research discipline to the analysis of successful team behavior. Here is a summary of their process and findings. Original article by Alex “Sandy” Pentland, professor and director of MIT’s Human Dynamic Laboratory, Media Lab, Entrepreneurship Program and chairman of Sociometric Solutions. (“The Science of Building Great Teams”, Harvard Business Review, April 2012).

Believing that communication patterns, as opposed to content of communications, offer a window into successful and unsuccessful teams, Dr. Pentland’s research team selected and then monitored communication patterns in 21 organizations across multiple industry sectors including, innovation teams, customer-facing teams, personnel in a post-operative hospital setting, and backroom operations teams.

Each member of a team was outfitted with an electronic device to collect data on tone of voice, body language, how frequently they communicated and with whom the communication occurred. Badges, which generated more than 100 data points per minute, were worn for six weeks. (My first thought here was that this intrusiveness – wearing an electronic badge – would skew the data. However, the researcher’s observations and subject reports suggest that individuals desensitized to the device in about an hour.)

Significant Conclusion 1: The best predictor of productivity was the energy and engagement among team members outside of formal meetings. The engagement is not facilitated by off-sites and parties, but can be improved with areas set aside for informal conversation such as break areas, cafeterias and hallways.

Research results on communication style:

  • Team members communicate is rough equal proportions. Most communications among team members were short.
  • The communication style of successful teams was face-to-face and included frequent gesturing.
  • Team members communicate directly with one another, not just through the team or project manager.

Significant Conclusion 2: The most valuable form of communication is face-to-face. Least valuable forms are email and texting. Phone and video conferencing are okay, if there are not too many people. According to their data analysis, 35 percent of the variability in team performance can be accounted for just by counting face-to-face interactions.

Significant Conclusion 3: Effective teams have members who often engage in communication outside of the team with other teams or key players – bringing information and ideas back to the team.

Significant Conclusion 4: Team communication can be improved through training, feedback, modifications in the physical environment and management role models.

If you find interesting articles or readings please share with a comment.


Top ten signs you might not be a project manager

Congratulations! You finally received that much-coveted title of Project Manager — a position you really wanted and dutifully placed on your career planning job appraisal every year. Well I may have a surprise for you. Not everyone who is titled a project manager is a project manager, just as there are professionals acting as project managers without the title.

How could this happen?

Reasons for the disconnect vary with Individuals and organizations. In the later instance, you may have a qualified developer who does not want to be a project manager because he or she is on a technical tract and fears being pigeon holed into management and kept away from technical growth and interesting problems. However, they are willing to do typical project management tasks when asked.

In the first group though are individuals with the title project manager but unfortunately

  1. Believe that management is only about numbers — how much, how many, how quickly and at what cost per item
  2. Believe that management is management, whether it is running a baseball team or developing software
  3. Think that PMBOK may be a type of bird
  4. Do not notice that no one actually reports to them
  5. Are kept away from customers and client meetings
  6. Think “risk” is a board game
  7. Consider product requirements to be large documents primarily useful as a paperweight
  8. Prefer spending time in a large, windowed office sitting behind a clean desk with a tasteful credenza that is covered with sports trophies from high school
  9. Never work nights, weekends or carry home a full briefcase
  10. Believe that Dilbert is a fairytale about a whiny employee and the Pointed Haired Boss is tragically misunderstood

If you find yourself agreeing with any of these top ten, perhaps it is time for a career change — I am sure you would do well as a car salesman.

The Lazy Project Manager's Blog

The Home of Productive Laziness Thoughts

Thoughts, experience, tips and tricks on issues affecting managers and project management

A Girl's Guide to Project Management

Project Management musings for one and all

LeadingAnswers: Leadership and Agile Project Management Blog

Thoughts, experience, tips and tricks on issues affecting managers and project management

Project Management Hut

Thoughts, experience, tips and tricks on issues affecting managers and project management

Herding Cats

Thoughts, experience, tips and tricks on issues affecting managers and project management


Pushing the Edges Out ...


Just another site