Duh? Communication is the Key Factor for Team Performance?


Communication is the key factor for team performance. 

In the April issue of Harvard Business Review, MIT’s Alex “Sandy” Pentland penned an article entitled, “The New Science of Building Great Teams,” in which he reported on a fascinating study done at MIT’s Human Dynamics Laboratory.  For the study, he and his colleagues equipped team members with electronic badges that recorded key interaction behavior.  After 6 weeks, they analyzed the data, and do you know what they found?

They found that patterns of communication – not what team members talked about, but how team members talked with one another and with people outside of the team – were the most important predictor of a team’s success.   Furthermore, they found that these communication patterns were as significant as ALL of the other factors – such as individual intelligence, personality, skill, and the substance of discussions – combined.

Can you believe it?

Communication is more important than “getting the right people on the bus” or “getting the right things on the agenda”?

Yes, it is. 

On one hand, I say “duh, those of us in communication have known this all along,” but on the other, I’m glad that purely scientific human dynamics research approaches have confirmed what me and many others have been spouting for a long time.

Communication matters.  A lot.

You can check out the article for more, but, in short, they found that on successful teams, team members:

  • talk and listen in roughly equal measure,
  • face one another, energetically engaging one another,
  • connect directly with one another, and not just with the team leader,
  • connect outside of formal team meetings through back-channeling and side conversations, and
  • engage in networks outside of the team and bring key information back.

Of course, none of these findings are that surprising. But, it is surprising that so few us focus on developing excellent communication structures and dynamics for our teams.  Rather, we focus almost exclusively on hiring the right people, building team camaraderie, and setting up a solid leadership/authority structure.  In so doing, we often ignore learning how to communicate well!

The implications here are quite clear, for teams and small groups: we can increase effectiveness by focusing simply on improving communication. 

 Action Steps:

  1. Reflect for a moment.  What do you think?  Why is communication so essential?
  2. Take action.  How could you help create more positive communication among your team or small group?  If I can help you think more about this, please let me know.
  3. If you’re a member of a Church Senior Leadership Team, you can assess your team’s communication structure (as well as many other key factors) through Dr. Warren Bird’s and my limited-time assessment.  Learn more here.

Photo Credit: Richard-G 


One Comment

  1. […] Structure the team for success.  Team leaders cannot force a team to become great; rather, they can help put the pieces together and encourage greatness.  Great team leaders focus on structuring and facilitating productive group communication. […]

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