Why are different teams smarter


Professor Sutter: Why does the team concept play such a central role in the world of work?

Even in the early history of mankind, achieving great goals - such as killing a mammoth - was only possible through collective efforts. In economic research, the concept of division of labor was introduced almost 200 years ago. It says nothing else than that different people have different skills and that they can do better by working together. To put it in a more modern way: Through the cooperation of several people in a team, everyone can achieve more together.

You have carried out numerous studies on the decision-making behavior of teams. How do you summarize your results?

In a nutshell, teams act smarter and learn faster than individuals. And at the same time, teams are more selfish and rational. To explain the second observation, I would like to present one of our experiments: In a so-called trust experiment, party A always receives 100 euros and can give an amount between 0 and 100 euros to party B. Party B then receives three times this amount. What can Party B do now? It can return any sum of the tripled amount to party A, but is not obliged to do so. If you look at this game soberly under the assumption that each party wants to win as much money as possible, then this leads to the following prognosis: Party B will not send any money back and party A will correctly anticipate this and therefore will not give any money to party B. .

Our results now show that teams in the role of party A send less money to party B and as party B send less money back to party A than individuals. Proof that teams are more selfish than individuals. In terms of game theory, i.e. assuming profit maximization, teams are therefore to be classified as more rational.

Through the cooperation of several people in a team, everyone can achieve more together.

Did this result surprise you?

No. I was surprised that teams act more efficiently and learn faster than individuals in a different situation. In experiments in which it was a question of decision-makers coordinating a certain action, we were able to find that groups coordinate much better and more efficiently than individuals do - and that they also learn to do this much faster.

In such situations, it creates an efficiency advantage if groups instead of individuals are the decision-makers. Teams obviously better anticipate the decisions of other teams than an individual does. For companies, this could mean that organization in teams results in more efficient workflows.

What makes a good team?

In my opinion, good and regular communication between the members and common, clearly formulated goals that can only be achieved together are important.

There has to be a very good relationship of trust within the team, which is characterized by respect and recognition. Incidentally, the fastest way to form team spirit is to be successful.

Which factors influence teamwork positively or negatively?

Problems in teams often arise as a result of a free rider mentality, i.e. when individual members withdraw and others allow others to “go ahead”. This can be prevented by formulating goals that really require the commitment of each individual. For this it is important that the person who puts the team together clearly assigns the tasks in the team and makes sure that the skills of the team members complement each other. Mutual respect and mutual recognition in the team contribute significantly to success, sometimes even more than monetary incentives. There are studies that prove the importance of social control mechanisms, of so-called peer punishment. An assessment by the team leader such as "I did not find your commitment in this and that situation so good for this and that reason" can make a big difference - however, there must be a very good relationship of trust within the team that is characterized by respect and recognition. Incidentally, the fastest way to form team spirit is through success!

What characters is a good team made up of? How many members does it ideally have?

Even after decades of psychological and economic research, there is no consensus on the optimal group size. It is perhaps no coincidence that most management bodies in companies - such as board members - have three to eight members, because it is also more difficult to achieve efficient cooperation. No general statements can be made with regard to the personality types in a team. The team leader, however, should of course have good communication skills, be able to motivate and act transparently.

Is the importance of teams in companies increasing or decreasing?

In my estimation, it is still increasing. The work processes are becoming more and more specialized in many areas, which means that more specialists are needed. They, in turn, need to be able to work with others to move a company forward as a whole.

Does a good team have to have lone fighters to work with? In other words: does the team imply hierarchies or is a good team devoid of them?

I think that a good team needs a clear decision-making structure. This means that it must also be possible for someone to make a final decision. There is a certain hierarchy associated with this. It becomes problematic when a member tries to satisfy his personal ambition at the expense of the team. Teams now tend to be less hierarchical than they were a few years ago.

Source: ZHAW School of Management and Law

What is the best way to resolve conflicts in a team?

By talking to each other and making their points of view understandable. But if nothing helps, you have to change the composition of a team. When the tensions in the group are so great that someone has to be brought in from the outside, in my opinion it is often too late, the history is too long and stressful. This is the responsibility of the team leader: to recognize tensions early, to address them and to help eliminate them.

Do teams organize themselves or do they necessarily need leadership?

There is no “either-or” in this question. Both are possible. Teams can organize themselves. However, guidance and guidance can also be necessary. That also depends on the degree of independence of the team members.

You are currently working on the subject of patience. Is it more difficult to be patient with others than with yourself?

The opposite is the case. In my book on the importance of patience for success in life, I am interested in the question of whether decisions that are made for other people are more future-oriented. For yourself you often decide in favor of an early reward, instead of possibly improving the situation in the future through more effort or waiting in the present. In a research project, we found that decisions for other people are actually more forward-looking. Applied to teams, this could mean that they decide on a long-term basis - which is of course advantageous for companies. The team doesn't just think for itself, it bears responsibility for others. This brings us back to the ability of teams to anticipate well.

What can a company do for the success of its teams?

The working atmosphere plays an important role, especially for long-term projects. Studies show that children in a reliable environment in which promises are kept, for example, are more likely to be able to be patient. Children, who are often disappointed, prefer to take the sparrow in their hand than the pigeon on the roof. In an analogy, this would mean for companies that in a reliable work environment and a trusting climate, long-term goals can be better achieved and dry spells can be better managed.

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