Deconstructing team dynamics

Teams perform better when they share similar ideas about how to get things done, according to research from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.

Katherine Klein, a professor of management at Wharton, and her colleagues examined what they call the shared mental models of work groups — how team members organize their tasks and determine their goals. Klein observed that when team members think alike about how to execute a project, they are able to anticipate one another’s actions and coordinate their behaviors. Thus, they are likely to perform better than teams whose members have different ideas about how a project should proceed, said Klein.

Provided the team shares “mental models about goals, values and priorities,” it’s also important that team members possess a diverse set of skills, she said.

Klein also studied the interpersonal dynamics among team members. She found that the most valuable members of a team are high in both intellectual and social capital, meaning they are experienced and even-tempered. Team members who exhibit these traits are more likely to have good relationships with other group members, and individuals are more likely to come to them for advice.

At the other end of the spectrum are the “social loafers” — team members that rely on others to get things done. There can be social loafers in both large and small groups.

Having a leader who is clear about task delegation and deadlines, and who provides a structure for the team’s work, discourages loafing, said Klein. Performance evaluations that incorporate 360-degree feedback also help.

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