Research on What Really Makes Teams Work

by Will Phillips

A striking study led by an MIT Sloan School of Management Professor, Thomas Malone, shows that teams of people display a collective intelligence that has surprisingly little to do with the intelligence of the team’s individual members.  Group intelligence is not strongly tied to either the average intelligence of the members or to the team’s smartest member.

When a team had a high level of collective intelligence, the members tended to score well on a test that measured how good they were at reading one another’s emotions.  They also found that groups with over bearing leaders who were reluctant to cede the floor and let others talk, did worse than those in which participation was better distributed and people took turns talking.

ACTION: Next time you are in a staff meeting, list who is present, then tick their name for about every minute they have the floor.  If it is not somewhat even, you have a dominator or over bearing leader.  And the team’s performance will suffer.

Show this blog and your tick sheet to the dominator.

ACTION: If you fear you may be a dominator, ask someone in the meeting to do a time-tick sheet.

ACTION: Build participation.  Remember the movie Dances with Wolves? Use a talking stick.  The person with the stick does the talking and no interruptions are allowed.  And agree: no one speaks twice until everyone has spoken or had a chance to speak once.

They also found that the proportion of women in the group was a predictor of collective intelligence.  They believe this was likely influenced by women’s generally superior social sensitivity.

ACTION: Build balanced male –female teams.

ACTION: Explore the inexpensive, online assessment of Emotional Intelligence to help you hire staff who are able to read themselves and others.

The tendency to assign credit to a discreet individual, not a group, runs deep so we frequently fail to get the benefits from this insight especially in the club industry.  We understand individual incentives in sales, and then use individual incentives in other parts of the club.  Based on the MIT research this may guarantee lower overall performance by focusing on individual performers.

ACTION: Make at least 40% of all incentives for the team. Even better would be 90%.

ACTION: Explore what might happen if everyone in the club was aware and cared about how their behavior and attitude impacted sales and referrals.  Then consider a team sales commission!

Blogger: Will Phillips, founder of REX Roundtables for Executives.  This is typical of the information shared and used to get an edge in a REX Roundtable.

For more information, visit


About GGFA

The Gold's Gym Franchisee Association is the independent voice of the Gold's Gym franchisees.
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