Thursday, 16 January 2014

Year in Review: Meshing with the rest

Reviewing the research we featured in 2013, one theme that jumped out to me was the search for that elusive formula that helps people align and click with each other. We talked about managers last post, but as important as they are, most of us spend as much or more time interacting with peers. How do we make that work?

First impressions matter. Putting yourself in a positive and empowered mindset before meeting a new team leads to people giving you a higher status during the meeting - and that tends to get fixed long-term. However, we also learned that initial status can shift in unexpected ways: extraversion is a good short-term tool for getting people to pay attention to you, but after a couple of months the novelty wears off (or becomes actively overbearing). By this point, quieter and less positive neurotics have busied away with getting stuff done, to acquire social approval and appear competent. As a consequence, their value rises in team-mates’ eyes. The lesson from is that it's good to take a positive, empowered and more extraverted stance early in team relationships, but not hang on too hard to extravert behaviours. A less extraverted, more neurotic individual who takes a moment to get into a good mental state before their first team meeting may be on to a winner.

What about team diversity? The research here is getting more nuanced, and we now have evidence that teams that split into two effective identities - old-schoolers versus overseas MBAs, for instance - tend to perform worse due to tribalism and lack of communication. More than two is actually a better situation for assimilation. And teams that have a clear emphasis on learning as an outcome benefit more from diversity, as taking the time to better understand the different points of view offered by a diverse team is seen as sensible, rather than a distraction from getting-it-done. So to make more of diverse members, prize learning and avoid forming binary factions.

Sometimes, helping out is just a matter of recognising that you need to pull your weight. When slackers find out that they are spoiling the system for others, they get more proactive and helpful in all sorts of ways. And some people just tend to help out - including people who have ADHD, who may prioritise assistance of others over their own tasks and deadlines. Overall, we're getting a better picture of what 21st century helping behaviours look like, as part of the broader 21st century organisational citizenship behaviours that differentiate a great place to work.

Offer advice when it's likely to be heard - such as when people are in the right emotional states. It's not simply about good and bad moods, however. When we're feeling good about other people, we're generally open to input. But when we feel good about ourselves, we  inflate our sense of competence and are less interested in other perspectives. Negative emotions show a flip-flop effect. So if you think someone needs to hear some advice, pay attention to the state that they are in and time your contribution accordingly.
  • If you are shaping a team, you should design for best use of diversity: promoting learning outcomes and balancing membership to avoid us-versus-them situations.
  • If you are joining a team, start with a positive attitude but be aware of what the team really needs long-term.
  • If you want to make your team run better, you should communicate what acceptable behaviour looks like, what poor behaviour costs us all, and what standout behaviours help the organisation go beyond expectations.

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