Winning Through Effective Collaboration: Part I


In tech, the problems we solve are almost never one-person large. Most interesting problems require teams of people collaborating to build a high-quality solution. However, the tech industry is notoriously bad at working together. As an engineering leader, I wasn’t satisfied with suboptimal performance, so I started asking,

  • “What makes a winning team?”

  • “What kinds of choices can I make a as a team leader or collaborator to influence the success of my team's work product?”

  • “What behavioral patterns and leadership styles make a difference?”  

In this post, we will explore the research, behaviors, and attitudes that measurably affect the quality of output from any team.

Science Magazine study on collective intelligence

In a 2010 study published in Science entitled: “Evidence for a Collective Intelligence Factor in the Performance of Human Groups”, they studied a quality of groups they called “Collective Intelligence” - in essence, “group IQ” or the effectiveness of coming up with good solutions when given a task to complete collectively. What they discovered was:

“In two studies with 699 people, working in groups of two to five, we find converging evidence of a general collective intelligence factor that explains a group’s performance on a wide variety of tasks. This “c factor” is not strongly correlated with the average or maximum individual intelligence of group members…”

Instead they found that it correlated with:

  • average social sensitivity of group members

  • the equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking

  • the proportion of females in the group.

Google study on norms of high impact groups


Then, In 2016, Google published the results of research they had performed on essentially the same topic: What makes groups of people produce high-impact results? As they say, they:

“...kept coming across research by psychologists and sociologists that focused on what are known as ‘‘group norms.’’ Norms are the traditions, behavioral standards and unwritten rules that govern how we function when we gather.”

And they concluded that:

“understanding and influencing group norms were the keys to improving Google’s teams”

Which norms mattered most?

Well, after several failed experiments and explorations, they came across the research from Science (linked in the first section of this post) . Then from there, they extrapolated, and ended up navigating to a broader idea they called “psychological safety”:

“Within psychology, researchers sometimes colloquially refer to traits like ‘‘conversational turn-taking’’ and ‘‘average social sensitivity’’ as aspects of what’s known as psychological safety — a group culture that the Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson defines as a ‘‘shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking.’’ Psychological safety is ‘'a sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject or punish someone for speaking up,’’ Edmondson wrote in a study published in 1999. ‘‘It describes a team climate characterized by interpersonal trust and mutual respect in which people are comfortable being themselves.’’

Thus, in order to have groups of people produce high-impact results, they needed to do some work to create psychological safety. They needed to enable:

  • Safety in risk-taking, speaking up

  • Interpersonal trust

  • Mutual respect

The key practices of high performance work groups

So if we take all of the above, we have:

  • Conversational turn-taking

  • Social sensitivity

  • Safety in risk-taking, speaking up

  • Interpersonal trust

  • Mutual respect

If you’re a leader of tech teams, you’re probably hungry to take action! How do we create this kind of environment? You’re in luck, on Friday we’ll be releasing a 30 minute workshop you can run with your team or company to help you start to adopt these practices and values.