Work skills for the future: Social Sensitivity

One of the fascinating paradoxes of small group performance is that the IQ scores of individuals in the group is not a good predictor of group success. What is?
Anita Wooley of Carnegie Mellon University and her colleagues researched the question by dividing 600 test subjects into groups of 2 to 6, and had them attempt various problem-solving tasks. Afterward the interviewed the participants, and measured factors possibly relevant to performance, like  individual intelligence and personality, and group cohesion and motivation. The only factors that rose to the top were social sensitivity, gender (women are more socially sensitive than men), and balanced participation in conversation.
I find it fascinating that group cohesion matters little, as is individual intelligence, motivation, and happiness. Let’s think about these points.
One of the mantras we hear all the time is that businesses need to have cultures based on group cohesion. This is why people are constantly droning on about cultural fit, and getting and keeping people ‘on the same page’. This research upends that. Group cohesion might make people more comfortable, but it doesn’t correlate with performance. We know from other research that diverse groups working on critical projects are likely to have higher performance than non-diverse groups, but the pressure and tension can be so great to make the experience uncomfortable, despite the outcome.
Motivation has fallen a bit from its place in management theory, but there is still a strong presumption that extrinsic motivation is a powerful inducement to increase performance. Not so, says this research.
The balanced communication finding is very interesting. In high-performing groups there is a lot more sharing going on in meetings, which likely uncovers more diverse opinions and insights, and surfaces objections and concerns as early as possible. The participants are more likely to feel that they are being heard, and more likely to understand what the viewpoints of all the members of the group are.
This last point is linked to the notion of ‘theory of mind’, which is the capacity of socially sensitive (or ‘socially intelligent’) people to comprehend the feelings and perceptions of others. Bob Johanson, formerly of the Institute for the Future, writes about quiet transparency as a key skill for the future, and it basically is the complement of social sensitivity, because quiet transparency is about being open and authentic, which makes it easier for others to ‘read’ you.
Social sensitivity is not purely genetic: its both inherited predisposition and learned behavior. And, as Woolley’s research shows, this is where individuals and businesses should be putting their efforts. It would be interesting to see if this information has actually reached the world of business, yet.

Small wins beat stretch goals in collaborative projects

While there’s no single way to kick off a group in a collaborative process, the available research says you should start small with a specific, achievable goal, rather than trying to implement a full technology platform at the same time as you’re organizing the project.

Are You Making Time for Your Team to Innovate?

Using a team isn’t just a way to get things done faster, it’s also a way to do things better. Gone are the days when innovation was handled by management. Smart businesses know that idea generation happens on the ground. But that innovation takes time.

Establishing Team Culture in a Teleworking Environment


Throughout my online career, I’ve been part of several web working teams. On most teams I am just a regular member, but there’s the rare occasion when I find myself the team leader. Like now, for example, when my former graphic design classmates asked me to lead their new studio.

Here’s the problem: we’ve never worked together before. How could we work together and have a united approach to design? What’s so unique about us? Can we figure this out even if we’re working remotely? Read More about Establishing Team Culture in a Teleworking Environment

Google Docs and Google Groups Come Together: It’s a Good Thing

groups_logoGoogle (s goog) is trying to get ahead of the game before Microsoft (s msft) gives it a real run for its money with Office Online, coming in 2010. One way it’s doing that is by enhancing the collaborative abilities of Docs, and further integrating all of its services. Which is why Google Groups recently got an upgrade that allows for sharing of documents, calendars and sites.
What this really means is that I finally have a decent reason to use Google Groups. In the past, I think I’ve belonged to a maybe one Group, and it didn’t work out all that well. The members generally forgot it existed, and it acted more or less as a glorified mailing list. Now, though, since I already use Docs and Calendar and often want to share content from both with multiple people, Groups has matured to become a full-featured business tool. Read More about Google Docs and Google Groups Come Together: It’s a Good Thing

Building a Team With Inexperienced Online Freelancers


I was recently asked to manage a team of graphic designers, all of them fresh graduates with hardly any professional experience. Always eager to help, I accepted the opportunity, knowing that it would be challenging and educational, for both myself and the team.

I soon discovered that working with new freelancers is very different from working with my more accomplished peers. It required me to get back to basics and deal with issues that I hadn’t encountered before. Just as I had expected, there’s a whole new set of opportunities and problems that come from working with “newbies”. Read More about Building a Team With Inexperienced Online Freelancers

Psycuity: Using Psychometric Measurement To Build Teams

As web workers are generally spread across countries, timezones, cultures and organizations, creating and applying coherent management to distributed teams is challenging.
Late last year, Celine shared some tips on avoiding conflicts within a teleworking team. Around the same time I came across UK-based “business psychology” consultants, Psycuity, a company that asserts that it can help design better teams through understanding the underlying psychology of individual team members. Could this type of understanding be useful in figuring out how distributed web workers could work together more effectively?
Using psychometric testing and a long pedigree in psychology, Psycuity has codified a lot of the personality types, compatibilities and behaviors we might ordinarily find difficult to measure. Using these measurements, we can make helping more informed decisions about our teams.
After completing a short online questionnaire — it took about 20 minutes — I was called by one of Psycuity’s cofounders, Ian Hudson, who talked me through my test results. Ian had no prior knowledge or understanding of my work or personality, but spent half an hour or so breaking down his analysis of my interpersonal style, thinking style, coping strategies, leadership qualities, influencing styles and where in teams I would best fit. Frankly, I was astonished at Ian’s insights, which he later provided to me as a printed report. They accurately reflected probably around 90-95 percent of my self-image.
Psychometric testing is by no means a new tool for those managing and recruiting personnel, but the Psycuity guys have managed to package and streamline the experience to require minimal input from the test subject, while still providing a rich and very detailed analysis of their capabilities and qualities.
Circling back to Celine’s original thoughts on avoiding conflicts within teams, I wonder if it’s possible to use a company such as Psycuity to predict how well a group of untethered workers will work together. There are some interesting questions to consider:

  • Could Psycuity-style tests help prepare guidelines on how best to coalesce a diverse group of people into an effective team?
  • How would this type of screening be applicable to assess the “fitness” of a coworking community?
  • Can it only really work for people that work together in the same organization — or  would it also be useful for a group of collaborating freelancers.

Individually, I found a great deal of insight into my own behavior, but I’m curious to hear what others think. Can business psychology be used to enhance team spirit between disconnected, untethered, web workers?
Do leave your thoughts in the comments below — I’d love to hear everyone’s views on this.

Quickword App Submitted for Apple’s Consideration, Can Edit Word Docs

quickoffice_iphone_bannerA lot of apps have been promising to bring Microsoft (s msft) document editing capabilities to the iPhone, like DocumentsToGo, which enjoyed prominence on the Palm OS, and continues to be a popular choice for BlackBerry users. But now it looks like Quickoffice might be the first app out the door, though it all hinges on Apple (s aapl) giving it the green light. They submitted their app for approval to Cupertino late this week, and if all goes well, it could be available for purchase in the App Store sometime early next week.
With Quickoffice, users can view and edit Microsoft Word and Excel files and share them over a wireless connection. Quickoffice is actually a collection of three individual apps, two of which are already available for the iPhone now. These are Quicksheet ($12.99, iTunes link), for editing Excel spreadsheets, and Quickoffice Files ($3.99, iTunes link), for viewing a variety of files, and transferring them to and from your device. The third application in the series is Quickword, which brings the crucial addition of Word document editing. Read More about Quickword App Submitted for Apple’s Consideration, Can Edit Word Docs

Introducing GigaOM Daily

This past weekend at Word Camp 2008, we announced GigaOM Daily, a Twitter-style micro-newswire that is going to take editorial inputs from our team and our growing network of blogs. Some might call it the Twitterization of news. If you want to be super-simplistic, then you also can think of it as a constantly updating LiveBlog.

Inspired by the thinking behind Dave Winer’s concept of “river of news,” it is a reflection of the changing nature of news in our time-constrained life. Many of our readers and sources have lamented that they have to read the full story when the real information can be wrapped up in two lines. At the same time, I was finding that my growing network on Twitter was feeding me more interesting stories to read than I could find myself.

So why not combine the two and come up with a live microblog-based newswire? Bloomberg, Reuters and Dow Jones have been using headline and news alerts forever. Except now we can do this on the Internet, using an open source platform (WordPress) and some clever hackery. (More details, along with notes about current and future features, below the fold.)

Read More about Introducing GigaOM Daily