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Three Heads Are Better Than One

How good team work can increase positivity, performance and productivity

Jo-Rosie Haffenden

March 13 2009 - We all agree that working in groups is not effective. Right? Having to compromise ideals and ideas, meetings about meetings, communicating amongst different personalities and then there is always that bloke. You know the guy I mean, too many buttons undone on his shirt; always getting drunk and a little over friendly at work events; the guy that tells people outside of work that he is the boss - even though he absolutely isn't.

Working on your own is surely better. I, for one, feel like working on my own, preferably in my own office, at my own computer with the phone disconnected and the blackberry on silent, means more work is done and to a better standard. It's just human nature right? Give us a problem to solve on our own and we are much quicker at finding the answer, right? Wrong!

On a study of 760 students, researchers from an American university tested the relationship between group size and performance by comparing how a number of problems were solved in groups and by individual participants. The students, from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, solved two letters-to-numbers coding problems firstly on their own and then in groups of one, two, three, four and five. The study concluded that people solved problems both more effectively and more efficiently in the larger groups, with groups of three, four and five consistently solving the problems quicker and more accurately. Meanwhile, even the individuals that scored the best results, on the same tasks, underperformed the worst groups.

The psychologists attributed this performance to the definitive ability of humans to work alongside one another and generate good combined techniques and eventually better ideas. You know, it's the old "two heads are better than one"; although this in fact proved that "three, four or five heads are better than one or two".

Working with other people helps groups to: "reject erroneous responses and effectively process information," said lead author Patrick Laughlin, PhD, of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

So, is this really the case? Leading by example, Kelloggs uses teamwork consistently throughout their infrastructure to maximise production. Brandon Cornuke, Northwestern, who will graduate from the Kellogg apprentice initiative in 2010 recently admitted to Business Week that: "Teamwork and collaboration are cornerstones of the Kellogg experience. We do practically everything in teams here: we study in groups, plan events in committees, attend class in "sections," and run for offices in "slates." In the fall, packs of about 30 incoming students travel all over the world as part of pre-term orientation."

Working in teams is an extremely effective way to ensure that objectives are met, and according to the latest research, spending time improving the way your business uses teams plays a very important part in increasing productivity. So, what solutions do we have to ensure that your teams are working cohesively? Tom from, a team building and team development company, explains that: "Because the potential performance of a team is greater than the sum of its parts, it is important to get all the participants together to understand these theories as well as the importance of their team and the benefits of working together."

Companies which successfully utilise teams benefit from "team responses". These include a heightened level of responsibility for decisions, greater synergy, higher levels of commitment, clear and honest self-evaluation, and a team willing to seek new approaches to challenges as well as increased positivity, productivity and decisiveness. But how do you know when your team is not working effectively?

Performance psychology looks into how variables affect the performance of teams or individuals. Indicators of teams that are not working effectively include staff moaning and complaining, inability to deal with issues, small cliques developing within teams, over reliance on team captains and a lack of individual/team commitment to projects. These clues indicate that the group has lost sight of the goals, or responsibility towards the project as a whole.

Tom continues: "Once players have realised the importance of teamwork the next stage is to foster an environment which is fun, where people choose a positive attitude and relationships are more than skin deep. We have run many team building programmes focusing on these three key principles of teamwork and the outcome is that participants involved are more able to deal with the stresses and strains of the modern working environment."

Terry Orlick, Ph.D., the president of the International Society for Mental Training and Excellence, describes companies which suffer from low team effectiveness as: "trying to pick up a pencil with only one finger...Even if that one finger is extremely strong, it will prove almost impossible to pick up that pencil unless you use your other fingers or some other part of your hand. Teamwork is a bit like using all of your fingers. Each one is unique and contributes something different, but they unite in pursuit of a common goal."

Who still agrees that working in groups is not effective? Through teamwork we can all connect and consequently become more decisive, more productive and more profitable. A good team should drive a company through the winning posts and ensure every challenge is met with a positive and excited stance.


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