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Traits that Define High Impact Teams

Randy RayessRandy Rayess

Workplace environment demands the formation of teams. No one person alone can achieve the standards of excellence demanded by the workplace. Seeing the need for multiple people to execute on a company’s mission, teams are the norm in every organization.

Method to the Madness

Github has a collection of thousands of projects. Michael Klug and James Barow, affiliated to the University of Vermont, decided to analyse the functioning of group dynamics through a mathematical microscope. They considered Github to be the perfect platform to conduct their research, analysing over 150,000 projects bearing the distinction of being self-organised. The research was conducted using network analysis techniques and the results are enlightening, to say the least, for the stakeholders.

Seeing the lack of any quantitative analysis available on the success of high impact teams in an organisation, the authors published their research using primary sources of data. Let’s have a detailed look at their research.

The Overview

Before we dig deep into the mathematical analysis, we need to understand the concept of high performing teams. According to the authors, such teams are characterised by an esteem they have earned in the community. While a number of other features, including financial and project-based success, are taken into account, the defining feature is the regard the community has for these teams. Therefore, high performance teams are the ones the community values highly.

Points of Familiarity

Some of the attributes are considered commonplace amongst the high impact teams. These key attributes are easily distinguishable:

1.  These teams usually comprise several members. The peculiarity amongst the Github teams is that the high impact teams are usually comprised of a low number of members. So much so that only 1 percent of such teams have more than 10 members.

2.  The level of focus amongst the high impact teams is considerably more than other teams of the same size.

3.  The experience shared amongst the members of well performing teams is more diverse than other teams of similar size and functions.

4.  There is a division within the high performance teams with regards to functionality. There is a core group and a support group within these teams. The core group usually performs most of the functions, while the support is rendered by the rest of the group. The core is usually comprised of minimal members, with an individual forming the core at times.

5.  Such teams may include the core members of other teams.

6.  The division of work amongst the high performing team is lopsided. One member may contribute more than the rest of the team combined. Such division is observed very frequently amongst high impact teams.

Trait Identification

When we look at a new team, it is rarely possible to determine whether or not it will develop into a high impact team. But a number of traits can help identify these teams. The authors of the research consider the mixture of experience, size, focus and diversity to be the underlying features of a well performing team.

From the analysis of the projects on Github, the authors have identified the formation of a core committee with strong ties amongst the network to be the defining feature of a high impact team. The core is supported by the rest of the group which has less of a say in the functioning of the team, but render useful advice and expertise to the projects. The support group is also responsible for the social ties and networking, while the core committee focuses on decision making.

The research also reinstates the long held belief that a team is as strong as the weakest member. Teams which have many non-core members and members who do not render any expertise have their work slowed down. On the other hand, teams which are comprised of many members, say tens or hundreds of members, are usually functioning with the formation of small teams within themselves, for decentralisation and effective delegation of work.

Mr. Sandy Pentland from MIT cited the frequency of communication between members to be a determining factor for the success of the team. He concluded, from his research, that these teams have more communication amongst the core members while the support members chip in with their expertise whenever required. In that way, the average frequency of communication is neither too high nor too low.

The authors of this research could not use the same criteria for determining the impact of a non technical teams as their report dealt with projects conducted online. However, it is safe to assume that the criteria of frequency of communication will be just as applicable to them.

CoFounder at VenturePact Passionate about software, marketplace startups & remote work. Previously at SilverLake Partners, Ampush and Wharton.