Margaret Neale on Team management, team performance and innovation

by Wendy Soon on July 1, 2013

While we were students at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, we were fortunate enough to have Margaret Neale, distinguished professor, to teach us how to negotiate. Besides negotiation, her other primary research area includes team collaboration.

She gave a very insightful talk on the power of teams and the psychology of teams, available here. It’s an hour long, but definitely worth it. But, we understand that you are all busy people, so we’ve created a list of takeaways from the lecture! :)

Our 6 Major Takeaways from her lecture on team:

  1. Teams will only do better than individuals if the right (heterogenous) team comes together to experience synergy. A good team leads to having more perspectives of the same problem — generating innovation and creativity. It drives the interpretation of data, removing the rate of being blinded by our own theories, by listening to others’ competing theories. HOWEVER, we don’t like to learn, and we don’t like to think, which leads to a tendency to find like-minded individuals to form a team, instead of forming a team with a wide range of expertise. We thus have to consciously and actively seek team members that have a heterogenous experience and personalities. With minorities in the group (i.e. heterogenous team), final decisions are better, and ideas have greater complexity. It does not matter if the minorites’ ideas were kept in the end, but they still contribute significantly to the complexity and quality of the final ideas.

  1. Process loss (unable to tap into the intelligence of the team) happens most often when the expert team member is female. This could be due to either self-censorship, or the female expert spoke but no one listened.

  1. Teams get frightened of conflicts — leading to a tendency to suppress differences, rather than embracing and resolving them. Having similar team members amplifies the desire to suppress differences, while having obvious heterogeneity through minority group members can reduce this tendency, generating a healthy group conflict culture. This supports the first point that having minorities within a team is beneficial. Also, assigning “contrarian” roles to certain group members, may facilitate discussions by reducing the stress of raising up opposing opinions.

  1. The first team meeting is the most important. Team culture is set in the very first meeting. Structure the team such that each team member understands how and when they should talk, and how the responsibilities and roles are distributed.

  1. Low status people in the group should speak first, high status high influence people should speak last. Because first speaker / first mover makes the biggest influence. Having this structure would balance out the influence of each team member.

  1. Being a great team member/leader requires preparation, connectedness and strong emotional maturity. Having this kind of leader encourages the team to commit to the team enough to want to engage in conflicts and tough discussions.

Margaret Neale, is a Adams Distinguished Professor of Management at the Stanford Graduate school of business. Her research focuses primarily on negotiation and team performance. Her work has extended judgment and decision-making research from cognitive psychology to the field of negotiation. In particular, she studies cognitive and social processes that produce departures from effective negotiating behavior. Within the context of teams, her work explores aspects of team composition and group process that enhance the ability of teams to share the information necessary for learning and problem solving in both face-to-face and virtual team environments.

 

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