Friday, February 15, 2019

How Does Team Size Affect Innovation?

Source: Wikimedia Commons
Lingfei Wu, Dashun Wang & James Evans have published a paper in Nature titled, "Large teams develop and small teams disrupt science and technology."   The scholars assembled a dataset of more than 65 million papers, patents, and software projects from 1954-2014.  They discovered that larger research teams tended to develop incremental improvements, while small teams conceived disruptive innovations.   

The findings remind me of Steve Jobs' preference for small teams.  Ken Segall, formerly an advertisting agency creative director, worked with Jobs for many years.  He described Jobs' philosophy on super-smart, small teams in an article for Fast Company several years ago:

Start with small groups of smart people–and keep them small. Every time the body count goes higher, you’re simply inviting complexity to take a seat at the table... The idea is pretty basic: Everyone in the room should be there for a reason. There’s no such thing as a “mercy invitation.” Either you’re critical to the meeting or you’re not. It’s nothing personal, just business.

Steve Jobs actively resisted any behavior he believed representative of the way big companies think–even though Apple had been a big company for many years. He knew that small groups composed of the smartest and most creative people had propelled Apple to its amazing success, and he had no intention of ever changing that. When he called a meeting or reported to a meeting, his expectation was that everyone in the room would be an essential participant. Spectators were not welcome.

For more on the Wu, Wang, and Evans study, check out this interview with two of the authors:

Thursday, February 14, 2019

What Should You Ask Your Job Interviewer?

Source: Pixabay
Adunola Adeshola has written an interesting article for Forbes about the types of interview questions that can help you stand out as a job applicant.  She points out that many candidates spend a great deal of time preparing answers to the questions that their interviewer may ask.  However, they often do not spend a sufficient amount of time coming up with distinctive and thoughtful questions to pose during the interview.  Joseph offers three suggested questions:

1. Ideally, if offered this role, what are the biggest priorities you’d like me to tackle immediately in my first 90 days?

2. I noticed that you all are big on collaboration and failing fast [or other aspects of the company’s culture], what other qualities are you looking for in the new hire that will make fitting in with the team a no brainer?

3. Is there anything that concerns you about my background being fit for this role?

The first question enables you to picture yourself in the role.  What will the work be like?   How much autonomy and responsibility will I have?  What are the expectations for me, and what will I need to deliver on during the early part of my tenure?  It helps the applicant determine whether they will be engaged and enthused, as well as to identify whether they can succeed in this role.  On the other hand, it also shows the interviewer that you are forward-thinking and doing your best to prepare to be successful in this new role.   The second question enables in the candidate to make a strong case for why they fit culturally with this organization, or perhaps to discover ways in which he or she might not be a good fit.  Finally, the last question is risky if you are not prepared to address possible shortcomings in your candidacy.  On the other hand, if you are prepared, it enables the applicant to discuss some possible worries that are likely to be on the mind of interviewers.  

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

How Do You Compare Very Similar Options?

Source:  JBSA
You face a tough decision, and there appear to be two very similar options.  How do you choose?  University of Texas Professor Art Markman discusses this topic in an article for Fast Company this week.  He describes research that he has conducted about alignable vs. nonalignable differences.  He explains:

Research I did early in my career found that there are two kinds of differences that emerge from comparisons. Some differences are directly related to what a pair of options have in common. For example, if you are deciding between two apartments, one might be on a higher floor in the building than the other. These differences are called alignable differences, because they relate to how the information about the options is placed in correspondence.  Some differences are unrelated to what the options have in common. For example, one apartment might have a breakfast nook, while the other does not. These differences are called nonalignable differences.

When we compare options, we often focus intently on the alignable differences.  If there are few of these distinctions, we conclude that the alternatives are quite similar.   We struggle to decide.  However, we need to make sure that we are also examining the nonalignable differences.  These might be quite important, and they ought to be considered carefully.  Markman suggests stopping the comparison and contrast for a moment.  Use your imagination for a bit.  Try to imagine what it will be like to live with a particular option, and that may help you understand the attributes that you care about a great deal.  Then do the same thing with the other alternatives.  As you examine each option in this imaginative way, you might come to understand that some of these nonalignable differences matter a great deal more than others.  

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

How Does Narcissism Affect Team Performance?

Source: Wikipedia
Emily Grijalva, Timothy D. Maynes, Katie L. Badura, and Steven W. Whiting have published a new research article titled, "Examining the “I” in team: A longitudinal investigation of the influence of team narcissism composition on team outcomes in the NBA."  Narcissism in the NBA?  I'm shocked!  LeBron James?  Kevin Durant?  These folks are narcissistic? Come on! Actually, the research is terrific, because they collected detailed information about game-level performance. What did they find? The authors report that, "Teams with higher mean and maximum levels of narcissism as well as higher narcissism members in core roles (i.e., central and influential roles) had poorer coordination and in turn performance than teams with lower levels."  That finding should not surprise us at all.  

Perhaps even more interestingly, they looked at how narcissim related to performance over time.  They found that coordination improved over time for teams with low levels of narcissism.   You get to know one another better, understand each other's strengths and roles, and your collaboration is enhanced. On the other hand, teams with high narcissism did not experience similar types of improvement in coordination among the players.    Narcissism, then, appears to get in the way of the type of collaboration, information sharing, and integrated action that high performing teams must exhibit.   

Thursday, February 07, 2019

Brainstorming with Green, Yellow, and Blue Questions

Bob Tiede has published a guest post by me on his excellent Leading with Questions blog.  The short piece focuses on how you can sift through your green, yellow, and blue ideas during a brainstorming session, and why that's helpful as you move from ideation to prototyping. The green/yellow/blue technique comes from Emily Ma of Alphabet.  

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

Churchill, Brooke, and Protecting Against a Sanguine Outlook

Source: Wikipedia
As mentioned in a post two weeks ago, I've been reading Andrew Roberts' incredible biography of Winston Churchill. At one point, Roberts describes Churchill's appointment of Alan Brooke as Chief of the Imperial General Staff during World War II.   Roberts writes:

As we have seen, one of the most useful insights Churchill gained from the Great War was the phenomenon he had seen in Haig's Intelligence Department.  'The temptation to tell a chief in a great position the things he most likes to hear is one of the commonest explanations of mistake policy,' he had written.  'Thus, the outlook of the leader on whose decisions fateful events depend is usually far more sanguine than the brutal facts admit.' Churchill therefore appointed men like Brooke and Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham, who told him exactly whaat they thought he needed to hear.  Brooke did not seek out confrontation with the Prime Minister, but neither did he shy away from it.  He tended to choose his battles carefully, not opposing him on trivial matters.  He was to tell Moran that 'every month' of working with Churchill 'is a year off my life.'   Earlier in 1941, Lord Vansittart had told the newspaper editor W.P. Crozier that 'Churchill needs people beside him who can say quite firmly "No" when he wants to do something wrong and insist that he must not do it.  Such a man was Brooke, whom Churchill respected and whom he knew would not allow him to repeat such errors as Gallipoli or Greece.  

That's a fantastic story of the rationale behind a crucial appointment.  Every leader should reflect upon this story and learn from it.  

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Apportioning Blame When a Group Failure Occurs

Source:  Wikimedia Commons
Do all team members receive an equal portion of blame when a group failure occurs? That is the question explored by researchers Ginger Zhe Jin, Benjamin F. Jones, Susan Feng Lu, and Brian Uzzi in a paper titled, "The Reverse Matthew Effect: Consequences of Retraction in Scientific Teams."  To study this question, the schlars gathered data on roughly 500 academic papers that had been retracted between 1993 and 2009.   These retractions occurred due to "ample evidence that a paper fabricated data, plagiarized the work of others, committed a major error, or had other serious problems."   The researchers found that the junior faculty members tended to incur more serious repurcussions than the senior faculty members who had co-authored with them.   The senior people did not experience a drop in their citation rate relative to the control group, while the junior faculty members did.  

What explains the unequal apportionment of blame.   The authors posit two explanations in an article on Kellogg Insights:

The first is that more eminent authors have typically published a larger body of work than their greener coauthors.  “When you’ve seen someone’s prior work,” he says, “you’re confident in that person. But the person without that reputation, you can’t judge. It’s realistic to assume that the person you haven’t seen before is likely to be the source of the problem.”  The other explanation is far less generous: Perhaps the better-known member of the team uses his or her social and institutional power to deflect the blame from him- or herself and to scapegoat less prominent collaborators.

The paper offers a warning to those who experience failure as part of a group project.  They need to be careful about how others judge them, as well as how their more senior teammates might deflect blame.   Of course, the broader implication is that we should evaluate how much finger pointing and scapegoating goes on after failures.  In general, organizations will thrive if they can focus on learning from failure rather than assigning blame.  In fact, finger pointing often crowds out learning and improvement efforts. 

Friday, February 01, 2019

A Downside to Rock Star Employees

Source: Wikimedia Commons
Sue Schellenbarger of the Wall Street Journal published a column this week titled, "The Downside of Carrying the Most Weight at Work." She describes too much dependence on rock star employees can be a bad thing. Schellenarger points to an interesting study by Ning Li and his colleagues published in the Journal of Applied Psychology. The article is titled, "Achieving more with less: Extra milers’ behavioral influences in teams." In that study, Li and his colleagues find that these team rock stars can have a powerful positive influence on team effeciveness. The scholars argue that extra milers enhance a team's "monitoring and backup processes" - thereby enhancing team effectiveness. Li and his colleagues explain:

A high quality team monitoring and backup process involves both monitoring and backup. The monitoring aspect of the process is about developing acceptable behavioral standards and detecting deviations from this standard. The backup aspect, on the other hand, refers to engaging in cooperative behaviors, such as picking up slack, fixing errors and supporting each other. 

Schellenbarger reports, though, that Li's forthcoming publication will highlight a potential negative influence of rock stars. It has to do with the dependency that can form within a team, and how that may adversely affect individual members' creativity. She writes,

Stars who do creative work, however, tend to stifle individual co-workers, discouraging them from developing their own insights, he found in a new study of 94 sales teams and 84 R&D teams set for publication soon. “You somehow create a dependency, so that others rely on you,” says Dr. Li, an associate professor of management and organizations at the University of Iowa.