Great teams make great people. If you want to build a great team, you don’t just hire star developers, put them together and poof as if by magic, have a great team. In fact, it is quite the opposite. A great team is formed when the individuals take the time to listen to one another's feedback, building onto their own skills and supporting this development in each other.
Studies have proven that the productivity of a team is heavily reliant on two fundamental factors, individual-motivation and group identification. Every member of the team must have their own personal incentivisation for putting persistent effort into their work for the good of the team (Atkinson, 1964; Vroom, 1964), leading to the accomplishment of the group goal.
This has been found to have an even greater effect when connected with the idea of a “group identity”. Members need to have a high social identity and high social cohesion within the group they have categorised themselves as belonging to. These are only achieved when they feel part of the group, respected and valued. Social identity and cohesion are incredibly important, they encourage the sharing of knowledge, proactive communication and the cognitive division of labour which all contribute to having a highly productive team.
If an individual is personally motivated but has little social identity, they will only work for themselves. It is the unity of both of these factors that motivates people to work with one another, relying on their team members for help to achieve the common goal and developing their own skills in the process. When both of these factors are achieved, there is a synergistic effect of wanting to work both individually and together, meaning that more is achieved.
Promoting the group mentality and valuing the members is clearly vital for team productivity. Now let us examine the individual members that make-up the team. It is reasonable to assume that only hiring highly skilled and talented people would make your team as efficient as possible. It can also be assumed the team will be hindered by the abilities of the weakest individual, especially if the work is performed in series.
However, this does not mean that those with less ability or knowledge are less valuable. Rather it means that it is in everybody’s best interest to help “strengthen” this individual. In fact, it is vital to have people of varying abilities within a team as this creates an environment in which ‘learning’ is the social norm, fostering an attitude of growth and development. The follow on from this will increase the whole teams’ productivity levels as they are always trying to improve upon themselves.
In a series of studies on the productivity of German football teams, it was found that teams with more diverse levels of ability tended to out-perform the other teams, this is thought to be because they had a group-mentality of improvement. The paper suggests that any team should secure “sufficient talent diversity whenever learning is important” (Frank & Nüesch, 2008). Learning and progressing as a team should always be a top priority to ensure all members are achieving the most they possibly can.
Not only is talent-disparity a contributing factor to team productiveness but the number of people within the team is key as well. It was proposed by Brooks (1975) in his 1975 book “The Mythical Man-Month” that a problem will not be solved faster simply by throwing more people at it. A ‘man-month’ is a hypothetical unit for measuring the amount of work that can be done an individual in one month. Brooks’ law explains that measuring useful work in ‘man-months’ is a myth.
Theoretically, it is possible if that person could work completely independently with no need for external help from others but this is not possible on complex programming projects. These types of projects rely heavily on communication and complex interrelationships between tasks and the people performing them. Following this logic, assigning more people to a complex programming task will delay work further rather than help it to progress. With each new member, a great deal of time will be spent teaching them about the project and covering the extra communication overhead because more moving parts requires more frequent and in-depth conversations of progress. Eventually this will negate the additional man-power a new person could provide to the project.
With this in mind we can look at group size and efficiency as being similar to a bell curve. Once the optimum number of people required to achieve a deadline has been reached, the efficiency starts to reduce with every new person added, delaying the whole process. This is why it is vital to put time and energy into the people you have in your team already, building relationships with them and pushing them to reach their greatest potential.
We have discussed a few factors that contribute to making a great team. To recap, people work best within a team when they feel like a valued member. They need to have the freedom to work both independently and in collaboration with other members. Each member needs to be self-motivated but have a group-identity encouraging them to work in collaboration with their team. It is better to have members with varying degrees of skill as this fosters an environment of learning and self-improvement which in turn increases overall productivity. Finally, the members already in the team need to be valued and given the facilities to function to their highest potential before a company hires new people to try and churn out the work faster. When these elements are considered and actively put into practise, the productivity of the team greatly improves and the people do as well.
Atkinson, J. W. (1964). An introduction to motivation.
Brooks, F. P. (1974). The mythical man-month. Datamation, 20(12), 44-52.
Franck, E., & Nüesch, S. (2010). The effect of talent disparity on team productivity in soccer. Journal of Economic Psychology, 31(2), 218-229.
Vroom, V. H. (1964). Work and motivation (Vol. 54). New York: Wiley.