Equipping People with Basic Team SkillsYou can get an overview of some fifty years of research on the factors driving team performance by reading the survey article (purchase required) Steve W. J. Kozlowski and Daniel R. Ilgen, psychology professors at Michigan State University, published in the June/July 2007 issue of Scientific American Mind.1
Instead of summarizing a summary, I'll focus here on what Kozlowski and Ilgen say about helping team members develop the skills they need in order to work together effectively. Kozlowski and Ilgen make three key points:
- Best results come from training team members together. "Members of groups that had trained together remembered more details, built better-quality radios [the task in the research experiment] and showed greater trust in fellow members' expertise."
- General teamwork skills, i.e., skills not specific to any particular task, are best taught in classroom mode because they can be covered in a tightly organized way (as opposed to depending on catch-as-catch-can acquisition on-the-job). The amount of time required is surprisingly small. In fact, Ilgen's research team "has demonstrated that knowledge of these team competencies can improve significantly with only 30 minutes of individual training."
- With the help of the team leader, high-performing teams learn from their experience and are able to adapt to changing circumstances and new ideas increasingly effectively as time goes on.
1 The Scientific American Mind article is a condensed version of a much longer monograph available here (pdf).