History, techniques and approaches to the most crucial issue for business success: harmonious coexistence and smooth operation within groups.
By Mia Kollia
Translated by Alexandros Theodoropoulos
The history of the team and the value of collaboration
From a very early age man realised that he can achieve much more when coexisting and cooperating with others. Humans as a team were able to survive more easily, move more safely and invent more creatively. Hunters, foragers, nomads and then farmers realised the power of the group in the first agrarian revolution and after thousands of years they passed from living in tribes to the major urban centers of today.
The thousands of years of our biologically integrated ability to work together have enabled us to impose ourselves on the natural world. About 200 years ago, the industrial revolution reshaped the concepts of the city, work and team, leading to ever-increasing evolution, paving the way for the technological revolution we are experiencing today.
The concept and biology of a team
This distant story of ours couldn’t possibly pass over us without leaving marks: our own body has evolved for cooperation.
The rapid development of our brain neoplasm was done so that our minds could support the increasingly complex interpersonal and social relationships required by larger groups, and our frontal lobes swelled to process what collaboration gives birth to; superior thinking, problem solving, reaction models, emotional responses, concentration and intelligence. Inevitably, our psychology was shaped so that we could function better as members of large, complex and collaborative societies.
Today, we live in the largest team that has ever existed. The society in which the 21st century Homo Sapiens lives is global, post-industrial and is made up of growing and interacting groups. The interaction of these groups is the whole essence of our existence.
The nuclear family, the extended family, the friends circle, our group at work, the neighborhood, the city, the state, the world community; all sets operate simultaneously, autonomously and interactively with the rest.
The enormous technological changes that have taken place since the second half of the 20th century have changed the field of work forever. The development of digital media has also changed the workplace.
The last decade has meant a revolutionary understanding of the importance of creating and maintaining the right teams, as evidenced by the evolution of the fields of industrial and organisational psychology.
More and more big companies invest in the well-being of their workforce and the formation of well-formed teams in order to increase their productivity and efficiency. Every large company now has on its roster a specialist in organisational psychology to supervise and support the good functioning of the groups internally. Sometimes, this means that the experts study in depth the physiognomy of the groups, take care of the good communication between the members and give people tools to help maintain good relationships and productivity.
The real test came in the form of the coronavirus pandemic. The continuous and long-term lockdowns and the isolation that they brought to people's lives, made the reasons we need teams to be productive but also happy and healthy even more obvious.
Although digital technologies have made remote collaboration possible for teams, the lack of human contact - even if it was just coexistence in the same space - has resulted in reduced productivity and deteriorating employees' mental health.
The importance of teamwork at work
Despite what we believe, there is no absolutely individual work. Regardless of the field or specialty, there is always communication and cooperation, even if it is indirect. No one succeeds alone. Around every successful person, there are people, partners, small teams and systems that support him and his work.
It's a fact: teams are better than individuals. Team workers are more efficient, happy, cheerful and focused.
Creating teams increases corporate loyalty. The different periods of the financial crisis brought evidence that showed that in companies where there was a positive climate of cooperation and camaraderie, employees were more willing to support the company in difficult times. Either this meant that they showed more patience in late payment, or it meant their active participation in creating solutions to the company's problems.
It is widely accepted that teams are an ideal corporate operating system that large universities such as Yale and Harvard require in their Business & MBA courses for students to coexist in working groups. These groups are structured in such a way that, in combination with the way the work is done, they reproduce with high accuracy the work environments in which the students will probably find themselves when they graduate and enter the workplace.
Since 2016, the Harvard Business Review has observed that in large companies, employees spend 2/3 of their working day in communication activities (mainly email, telephones and physical contact).
How is the ideal team made?
Google has invested millions of dollars in the study of people - in particular, its employees. For over a decade, Google People Operations (HR) has been studying the smallest and most insignificant details of employees' working lives. The basic data is that teams (employees and managers) must have clear and good communication to avoid micromanaging.
In 2012, Google launched Project Aristotle, which involved statisticians, organisational psychologists, sociologists, and engineers, that sought to unravel the mystery: why do some teams succeed tremendously while others fail and disintegrate?
After a year of systematic study of 180 teams in the company, Project Aristotle experts had a lot of data but, apparently, no obvious pattern. They approached multiple characteristics such as the intelligence or specialisation of a team member, gender or racial balance and interpersonal relationships between members, but failed to come up with a specific and measurable feature that would define the successful outcome of each team.
The only thing they managed to notice as a finding, was that the successful teams seemed to have "unwritten rules" and a specific culture in the way they worked together.
In a similar study by the psychology department of the M.I.T. researchers approached the issue of group efficiency based on their physiognomy and collective intelligence. They concluded that the success of teams is based on Psychological Security: a team in which all members speak equally and are not afraid of being judged negatively by other team members for what they suggest has a very high chance of success.
The M.I.T. concluded that groups in which parity and empathy are displayed have increased Collective Intelligence. Each member feels safe that, as strange as their proposal may be, the other members will listen to it and no one is going to diminish them or their idea. They feel accepted and safe.
Troubleshooting for teams
Here are some of the common problems faced by working groups and suggestions for addressing them.
1. Lack of trust
Trust is not built in one day. Each of us wins it through his actions, behavior and cooperation. A new team will need some time to adjust and get to know each other before it can develop the right dynamics.
• The company or team manager can help build psychological security by organising meetings between members before the group project starts, sending information to members via email, promoting relaxation between members through fun group activities and always being available to support each member and the team in every obstacle.
2. Poor communication
Communication is the key tool for the performance of each member and the achievement of goals by the whole. Poor communication is usually the source of decision-making difficulties and conflict resolution.
• When a team realises that they have a communication deficit, it is important to stop any action (in order to avoid critical mistakes) and meet with the manager to find and resolve communication problems. After this reboot, it is important to decide on specific ways of communication (e.g. meetings, email) and to agree on the frequency with which each member will check in.
3. Limited participation / creativity
Too often, cases in which team members show a reduced willingness to participate and be creative are the result of unclear goals.
• The manager or the company must restore sympathy, clearly clarifying the goals of the team. Once the goal is clear, members can again agree on the division of labor and work together properly, safely and calmly.
Grouping is in our DNA. No one can survive without other people and this is no different in the workplace, where empathy and cooperation form the framework of success. The new social structures that emerge from the transformation of the way we work and the transition to a digital work reality make the need for teamwork even more important and central to man. Healthy groups make healthy people.