Did you know there are studies that show as the average education level of a team rises the team becomes more likely to disintegrate into unproductive conflict? Highly educated people are less likely to share information vital to the team’s success with each other. In short, they don’t collaborate well. The studies suggest the more driven, high achieving, well schooled individuals you put on a team the less likely it is to succeed.
Obviously that isn’t good news for those of us who realize there is no way one person can know all there is to know about the complex, international projects facing many of us today. Just last week I was telling you to surround yourself with great people if you want great things to happen. Now I’m saying that too many great people can cause a stalemate and confusion abounds.
Do not fear! There are solutions and things you can do now that you recognize there is a potential problem.
- People work best with those who they perceive to be the most like themselves and the least with strangers. When building a new team or adding members to an existing one, give the team time (virtually if you must) to tell funny stories, talk about themselves as people and compare life notes. Even the most diverse people can find a common ground somewhere. This process maybe painful for quiet/shy/introverted people. Ask the gregarious members of the group to make sure they make a point to get to know and introduce the members who are less likely to embrace the social aspects of interacting with the team.
- The leadership must care about more than just the task. In cultures where nothing matters except getting the job done, the job is unlikely to be done well. Leaders of teams of experts MUST genuinely care about the people and model behavior which shows that people are more than just the work they can output. Giving of your time is the biggest gift you can give. True in life, true on teams.
- Teach members how to use effective communication and productive conflict resolution. I realize this is something I talk about all the time and you might feel like I am beating a dead horse. The simple truth is most people, regardless of their education level, simply don’t know how to have successful interpersonal interactions with people who are different from them. People who don’t know how to disagree without burning bridges are unlikely to ask their fellow team members for help. Sad, frustrating but fixable. Unfortunately, it is also one of the most ignored problems/solutions on teams today. If you take nothing else away from this post, remember this point.
- Layout clear roles and goals but leave the path flexible. There is no reason to assemble a team of bright experts and then tell them brick by brick how they are supposed to reach the goal. Make it clear what you need, what resources are available, what they do if they need more/different resources and let them do what they do best. Children come up with more possible uses for a paperclip than adults do because children are not limited by expectations. If you tell your team how you expect them to reach their goal they will only give you what you expect, nothing more.
- Have regular get-togethers (in person is best, video conference is second) to talk about what is working, what isn’t and brainstorm. Don’t try to make them structured meetings. Ask intuitive, thought provoking questions and see where the conversation goes. Create an environment that allows anyone to ask questions about something that confuses them. Sometimes people with less knowledge on a subject can see the gaping hole that others are overlooking. No finger pointing, no blame, just questions, answers and ideas. Remember that sometimes “I don’t know. I will find out.” is the right answer.
I absolutely stand behind what I said last week about surrounding yourself with great people, formally educated or not. Just be aware of the pitfalls of asking them to work together and you will certainly be on your way to achieving great things.
Why do you think education makes us worse team players? Where on the path to becoming an expert do we learn to not play nice with others? We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.