Nonprofit Management

Do Teams Trump Individuals?

A few years ago a social researcher invited a group of 50 or so participants to enter a room full of balloons, find the balloon with their name written on it, and sit down before 5 minutes passed. The scene was chaotic. Not surprisingly, none of the participants were sitting down at the 5 minute mark.

The speaker then asked the participants to perform the search again as a collaborative group. He suggested they each pick up one balloon and find the owner of that balloon.

If you haven’t already heard about the study findings, which recently began to go viral, all of the participants were sitting down, with their unique balloon, well before the 5 minute mark.

For the past couple of decades, researchers have been performing live social experiments like this one to illustrate the power of teamwork and collaborative effort. Out of this body of work has come some pretty powerful information that can improve your organization—and it’s collaborative results—if used well.

Not least among the information sets that have been discovered, is the fact that companies that have the best collaborative teams are 10 times more likely to reach high financial goals as those who don’t. So what is it that makes the best teams?

According to MIT researchers, the best teams:
 
  • Are socially responsive to one another and pick up on one another’s cues and body language,
  • Collaborate and contribute more or less equally,
  • Operate in a climate of safety that encourages creativity and out-of-the-box thinking, and
  • Provide candid feedback to one another.


If you’re team is not performing as well as you would like them to, or if your team is fairly homogenous—which researchers have repeatedly found discourages a healthy level of creativity— this article from the Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM) suggests appointing someone within your team to play devil’s advocate.

Other suggestions to improve the collaborative working environment within your team include:
 
  • Anticipate conflicts and set down guidelines for how your team will handle them
  • Encourage your team to socialize outside of work—it’s a shortcut to improving collaboration and allowing teams to become more socially responsive to one another
  • Recognize, reward, and celebrate collaborative behavior
  • Think systematically, but make innovation of the utmost concern
  • Let those who benefit from your organization weigh in from time to time