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How teams communicate is the best predictor of success, study says

  • Published Wednesday, March 6, 2013, at 4:20 p.m.

The data is in: How we say something is more important than what we say.

Research conducted at MIT’s Human Dynamics Laboratory has shown that how people communicate within teams is the most important predictor of a team’s success.

Not only that, these patterns of communication are as significant as all other factors combined: intelligence, personality, skill and the content of what is being discussed.

While it seems counterintuitive to suggest that how we communicate is more important than what we communicate, MIT’s research has demonstrated across multiple industries and teams that the key to high performance lies not in the content of a team’s discussions but in the manner in which team members are communicating.

The original article, “The New Science of Building Great Teams,” was published in the Harvard Business Review in April and outlined three key elements of effective communication:

• Energy – This is measured by the number and nature of exchanges among team members. A single exchange is defined as a comment and some form of acknowledgment. (The Process Communication Model teaches a concept called Channels, which are the fundamental building blocks of communication exchanges – individualized for personality.)

• Engagement – This reflects the distribution of energy among team members. Teams make more profitable decisions when energy is evenly distributed among team members.

• Exploration – This involves communication that team members engage in with other teams, i.e. the energy between the team and other teams with which it interacts. Higher-performing teams seek more outside connections.

Other key findings:

• Individual talent and reasoning skill contribute far less to team success than previously thought.

• The least valuable forms of communication are texting and e-mail.

• Social times are deeply critical to team performance.

• The best leaders circulate actively, engaging people in short, high-energy conversations; are democratic with their time; feel comfortable approaching others; and listen as much or more than they talk.

Nate Regier, Ph.D., is a founding owner of Next Element Consulting, leadership development and communication training firm in Newton. Contact Regier at www.next-element.com.

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