Why Teamwork Counts

Volume 13 Letter 2

Without good teamwork any strategy, no matter how brilliant, unravels quickly. Consider the following; after three years of R&D a company was poised to launch a significant new product that could revolutionize its industry and save its customers tens of millions of dollars. As per other product launches in the past several years, the sales team assumed they would take on the responsibility of pricing and launching the product. Unfortunately, that hadn’t worked out too well in the recent past and the R&D and Marketing departments expressed their concerns about handing over the product to the sales group without a launch strategy in place.

Marketing organized a meeting of the three groups. One outcome was a decision to conduct a Conjoint study to better understand the market. The launch team wanted to know:

  1. Who was interested in the product?
  2. What price customers would pay for the new product? and
  3. What attribute(s) of the new product brought the most value?

Because the launch date was looming, the study was put together in record time and handed off to the eight regional sales teams to administer to the customers. Out of eight regions only one region participated and completed 15 studies in ten days. The early results showed remarkable differences in perceived value between potential clients. The R&D and Marketing teams were excited as the information was exactly what they needed to design the product launch strategy. Additionally, since new tools were limited in availability the study would be instrumental in deciding where to launch the new product!

Unfortunately, the other seven sales regions weren’t as excited as the first and over the next three months only 15 more studies were completed. For many of those studies it was difficult to determine if it was, in fact, the customer or the sales person who completed the study. Sales managers claimed customers refused to do the study but further investigation showed they were no refusals. Customers were simply never asked to participate and in the end the full study was never completed and neither was the launch strategy. Exasperated, company executives launched the product the same old way. The sales team won.

As a manager how do you know when your team or teams aren’t working well together and how can you pinpoint where the problems are before they damage your business? A group from MIT claims they can predetermine which teams are working well together and which teams are not. To determine this they place iPod size badges on each member of the group. These badges pick up communication patterns measuring the number of interactions, the length of those interactions, voice tone and body movements of the individuals and conversation interruptions. By closely analyzing the data the crew at MIT can determine how well a team is working together. Check out the communication patterns of the two teams below. Note that the lines show the communication patterns between team members; darker lines show more communication, thick lines indicate communication dominators, light single lines show non contributors. Can you tell which of the two teams was bringing in 300% more business?


Here is what the people at MIT tell us to watch for in any team:

  1. Teams with conversation dominators as found in hierarchical businesses do not perform well. See the dark lines on the right hand matrix.
  2. Teams with people who are not integrated into the team (low conversation time) also do not perform well. See the three outliers on the right hand matrix – these employees are not integrated into the team.
  3. Groups where the conversation is more equal and measured do extremely well. See the graph on the left – this team brings in 300% more business than the team on the right!

In the case of the new product launch the communication between R&D and marketing was unproblematic. The communication lines within the sales team however would have shown a few strong dominators who were determined to retain control. The sales team claimed the launch was a success but in reality opportunities were lost and one recent business article even suggested that the company may have “lost its way”.

The MIT Human Dynamics Labs’ people tell us that groups with unbalanced conversation patterns (groups with high dominators) consistently underperform. These patterns are extremely accurate predictors of success! Don’t wait for a product launch to fail or a business unit to deliver poor results. Be proactive; monitor group behaviors and try to put together effective teams with balanced interactions to increase performance.

Recent Posts