Corporate culture depends on social capital. That’s what was discovered in a study conducted at MIT by Anita Woolley , Thomas W. Malone and Christopher Chabris, the researchers divided 697 volunteer participants into teams of two to five members and gave them various complex tasks to perform and problems to solve. The groups were observed while they worked and their behaviors noted. Then they were ranked, based on the results of their work.
(BTW My friend Verne Harnish gave me a heads up on this amazing information.)
It turns out that the most successful groups were not necessarily the ones with the highest IQs (which had been assessed before the experiment began.) Instead, levels of group success were correlated to three sets of behaviors:
Corporate culture depends on:
“First, the members of the more successful groups contributed more equally to the teams’ discussions, rather than letting one or two people dominate the group.
Second, their members scored higher on a test called Reading the Mind in the Eyes,(1) which measures how well people can read complex emotional states from images of faces with only the eyes visible. (Put another way, how much empathy did they show one another.)
Finally, teams with more women outperformed teams with more men. Indeed, it appeared that it was not “diversity” (having equal numbers of men and women) that mattered for a team’s intelligence, but simply having more women. This last effect, however, was partly explained by the fact that women, on average, were better at “mindreading” than men.”(2)
The authors concluded that it’s not so much how smart the players are but how the team works together that makes the difference. This thought was reinforced by Margaret Heffernan, who, in a recent TED Talk, described Carol Vallone, a past CEO of WebCT.
Vallone felt that having her managers be able to empathize with each other was so important to the her management team’s overall functioning that at budget time she insisted that “each department head draw up a budget for that department — but then had to explain it so cogently to one colleague that the colleague could defend it at the leadership team meeting.”
According to Heffernan, Vallone found that the impact of this simple exercise was “profound.”
“Everyone had to see the whole company through eyes not their own. They felt duty-bound to do the best job possible — if only to ensure their counterpart did likewise. They had to listen to everyone, not just wait their turn. In effect, Vallone was teaching empathy: getting each executive to see the company through the eyes of others and to appreciate the vital connections and dependencies between one another.”(3)
Heffernan goes on to make the point that it’s not only the bricks that make a strong corporate culture wall, it’s the mortar. In other words, it’s the relationships among the people on each team that creates the synergy and passion to find great solutions to complex problems. She calls this relationship mortar “social capital,” which consists of people knowing, liking and trusting each other. When they do, they’re more likely to give each other honest feedback with candor and honesty; conflict isn’t avoided as much but is embraced as a healthy part of teamwork; communication occurs more often and with greater accuracy; and difficult conversations are less likely to be avoided.
She explains that smart companies go out of their way to develop social capital among team members. For example, some hi-tech companies now insist that people don’t drink coffee at their desk in an effort to get people to go to the break room where they will interact with their colleagues. ASE Global won’t let employees eat lunch at their desks.(4)
We’ve all heard about Google’s famous cafeterias that offer gourmet free food to their employees. The method in their madness is not so much to offer a perk that will keep employees happy, though it certainly contributes to that effort. Rather, it provides a meeting place where smart people can sit at a table, break bread together, exchange ideas, and get to know one another. Google considers the corporate culture benefits of this process worth every penny of the millions they spend each year providing the meals.
The Swedish researcher Terry Hartig calls this “collective restoration,” arguing that the synchronicity is what gives the time and money spent developing providing opportunities for it its social and business value.(5)
Question: what can you do to encourage collective restoration and build social capital among your teams?
(1) Simon Baron-Cohen, Sally Wheelwright, Jacqueline Hill, Yogini Raste, Ian Plumb, ‘The Reading the Mind in the Eyes’ Test Revised Version: Normal Adults, and Adults with Asperger Syndrome or High-functioning Autism,” Cambridge University Press, 2001, http://docs.autismresearchcentre.com/papers/2001_BCetal_adulteyes.pdf
(2) Anita Wooly, Thomas W. Malone and Christopher Chabris, “Gray Matter,” New York Times Sunday Review, January 16, 2015.
(3) Margaret Heffernan, “THE SECRET INGREDIENT THAT MAKES SOME TEAMS BETTER THAN OTHERS,” TED, 05/05/2015
(4) Heffernan, Margaret, Beyond Measure: The Big Impact of Small Changes, TED Books, Kindle Location 314. Simon & Schuster/ TED. Kindle Edition, (2015-05-05).
(5) Op cit, Heffernan,TED 05/05/2015.