Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Using the Science of Teamwork to Engage Employees

A recent Harvard Business Review article caught our attention for the way researchers at MIT sought to link a team's effectiveness to the way team members communicated. 

Alex "Sandy" Pentland head of MIT's Human Dynamics Lab noticed, "How we communicate turns out to be the most important predictor of team success, and as important as all other factors combined, including intelligence, personality, skill, and content of discussions. The old adage that it's not what you say, but how you say it, turns out to be mathematically correct."

This prompted us to think more deeply about the "how you say it" part of Pentland's comments. Given our focus on helping companies reward great work in timely ways, we wanted to share three broad trends we have seen which tap right into the HBR findings of how people are communicating at work.

1. Communicate Frequently 
Employee engagement is raised when feedback is delivered frequently and in a targeted way. While this sounds obvious, many organizations haven't equipped managers and employees with ways to deliver informal, frequent praise. 

Increasing the frequency in which your employees communicate can lead to interesting outcomes. 

One example is the effectiveness of the formal employee evaluation. The value of the formal review has declined over time and feels like an administrative obligation more than a chance to develop an employee in many organizations. The reason is that it no longer feels timely.  

These days employees are looking for ways to have on-going conversations around their work and how they can be developed. We call it the "real-time assessment" of how an employee is performing and developing to her goals. 

These conversations can happen with managers, peers, or cross functional team members. The important part is that feedback is given frequently. 

2. Communicate Openly 
IBM’s 2012 CEO Survey revealed that 57% of CEO’s identified social business as a top priority. Helping your employees collaborate, give feedback, and reward great work is becoming a social activity that has a direct business benefit. 

The ROI of open communication through the HR lens can be measured in employee retention, engagement, and productivity. 

Having the chance to amplify great work across teams and in a public way helps companies communicate their values in ways that were not available until recently. 

3. Big HR Data is Here 
In the same IBM survey, more than 73% of respondents indicated they are making significant investments to draw insights into data. 

While this isn't a "how" to communicate insight, we believe organizations that use structured ways to capture the informal communication that occurs among teams can be used to better understand the workforce. Consider this more of a "how to" so that organizations can mine the workplace data generated from these conversations. 

A traditional pat on the back, captured in a formal recognition system can create real time performance reviews of employees and their contributions. 

While technology is just a tool, making these tools natural extensions of how employees want to communicate leads to valuable insight from the analytics that are possible. 

Companies are becoming more social in the ways employees give feedback, share insight, and reward great work are changing. Helping your employees manage how they communicate can lead to developing a great and engaging culture. 

As the tools and ways we interact with our colleagues changes rapidly, Pentland's remarks may extend beyond teams to entire organizations.


  1. Great post, Todd... but what happened to #3? :)

  2. Thank you! Looks like I have to practice my counting skills. Thanks for pointing that out.