Four studies identify the critical dynamics that contribute to team success.

When putting teams together, who do you pick to lead them? The individual with the highest IQ? The most extroverted? Or, the most dominant “driver”? New studies will have you rethink the characteristics of great team members and allow you to have effective and innovative teams and improve employee retention and company performance.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology completed a study on the characteristics of the smartest teams in 2015.[i] Contrary to popular belief, smarter teams were not based on who had the highest intelligence, as measured by I. Q. tests, the teams with the most extroverts, or the teams whose members reported being the most motivated to succeed.

Instead, the smartest teams had these characteristics:

  1. Members contributed more equally to the team’s discussions, rather than having one or two people who dominated.
  2. Members scored higher on a test called “Reading the Mind in the Eyes,” which measures how well people can discern complex emotional states from images of faces with only the eyes visible.
  3. Teams with more women outperformed teams with more men. The authors explain that this last effect was partially due to women, on average, being better at “mind reading” than men.

Another MIT study compared the performance of physically co-located teams with that of virtual teams.  They found that the same three characteristics above applied to the better-performing teams, regardless of whether they were co-located or virtual. Teams that had members who communicated effectively, participated equally and were good at reading emotions did better.

These findings match research published in The Harvard Business Review in 2012.[ii] Researchers at the MIT Human Dynamics Laboratory used electronic badges on team members to collect data on their individual communication behavior, including tone of voice, body language, whom they spoke with and how often.

Here is what the researchers concluded: “With remarkable consistency, the data confirmed that communication indeed plays a critical role in building successful teams. In fact, we found patterns of communication to be the most important predictor of a team’s success. Not only that, but they are as significant as all the other factors-individual intelligence, personality, skill, and the substance of discussions—combined.”

The researchers found the elusive group dynamics that characterize high performing teams. They are energy, creativity, and shared commitment. The secret wasn’t what the team communicated but how they did it.

In the Fall of 2017, Google’s People Operations published the results of its study on team effectiveness. As with previous studies, they found that group dynamics and especially the key dynamic of psychological safety (trust) was most important.

The People Operations analysis conducted more than 200 interviews with their employees and analyzed 250-plus attributes they identified from more than 180 active Google teams. They compared high performing teams with low performing teams.

According to Google’s rework website, they discovered that “who is on the team matters less than how the team members interact, structure their work, and view their contributors”[iii].

They discovered five key dynamics that set successful teams apart from the rest:

  1. Psychological safety: Can we take risks on this team without feeling insecure or embarrassed?
  2. Dependability: Can we count on each other to do high quality work on time?
  3. Structure & clarity: Are goals, roles, and execution plans on our team clear?
  4. Meaning of work: Are we working on something that is personally important for each of us?
  5. Impact of work: Do we fundamentally believe that the work we’re doing matters?

According to Google, psychological safety was far and away the most important of the five dynamics found, and it is the underpinning of the other four.

The Google post explains that new team members are all reluctant to engage in behaviors that could negatively influence how others perceive their competence, awareness and positivity. Although this kind of self-protection is a natural, it is detrimental to effective teamwork. Conversely, the safer team members feel with one another, the more likely they are to admit mistakes, partner and take on new roles.

The Google post goes on to explain another significant finding:

Individuals on teams with higher psychological safety are less likely to leave Google. They are more likely to harness the power of diverse ideas from their teammates. They bring in more revenue, and they are rated as effective twice as often by executives.

The results of these studies underscore the importance of group dynamics and the structure, meaning and impact of the team’s work for team success.

Victor Assad is the CEO of Victor Assad Strategic Human Resources Consulting and is a Managing Partner of InnovationOne. He consults and provides “hands-on” support for innovation, global talent strategies, developing agile leaders and teams, and other strategic initiatives. Visit for valuable free reports. For research on innovation visit

[i] Anita Wolley, Thomas W. Mallone and Christopher Chabris (January 18, 2015) “Why some Teams are Smarter than Others.” The New York Times. Sunday Review, pp 5.

[ii] Alex “Sandy” Pentland (April, 2012) “The New Science of Building Great Teams.” The Harvard Business Review.

[iii] Julia Rozovky (November 17, 2015), The five keys to a successful Google team, Google. Found at



  1. Nice work,Victor. It all goes back to emotional intelligence. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough of that to go around.

  2. All goes back to EI? Give me a break. The performance of any individual, team or organization is a combination of factors. I use Alignment, ability, motivation and opportunity as a good starting point, which conveniently can be turned into an acronym (ALAMO).
    Victor’s overview touches nicely on all these factors. Thank you!

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