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Hidden Brain Podcast / – The Secret to Great Teams

Hidden Brain Podcast – The Secret to Great Teams

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In this episode of the Hidden Brain podcast, titled “The Secret to Great Teams,” host Shankar Vedantam explores the science of teamwork and what makes some teams more effective than others. Through real-life examples and research findings, he delves into the dynamics of successful teams and the common errors to avoid when constructing them.

Main Takeaways

Building Effective Teams

  • Great teams have members who like and trust each other, communicate effectively, and get things done.
  • Observing teams where people are constantly at loggerheads can provide insights into the dynamics of effective teams.
  • Avoiding common errors in constructing teams can help build more effective teams.
  • Team coordination is crucial for success, not just individual talent.
  • Leadership is not the only factor in team success.
  • Building a great team is not just about having a strong leader and the smartest, most talented people.
  • The errors we make in building teams can have catastrophic consequences, as seen in the botched invasion of Cuba and the Challenger explosion.
  • Smart people on a team can have the same biases and blind spots, leading to overlooked opposition and counterproductive decisions.
  • Team members need to actively collaborate and contribute for things to come together.
  • “When it comes to building great teams, it’s not just about the individual, it’s about the collective,” says psychologist Anita Wolley.

Collective Intelligence

  • IQ test for teamwork: team-based tasks requiring different processes to solve.
  • Groups can have an IQ, separate from individual members’ intelligence.
  • General intelligence of groups: capacity to perform well in different tasks.
  • Certain teams consistently work well across different task types.
  • Individual intelligence doesn’t have a strong relationship with collective intelligence of the team.
  • No consistent, strong relationship with any particular personality traits.
  • Cohesion, satisfaction, liking, and motivation don’t correlate with collective intelligence.
  • Building relationships and cohesion isn’t necessarily the foundation for productive teamwork.
  • Winning and success can lead to team members liking each other, rather than the other way around.
  • Teams with a majority of women are most collectively intelligent, but gender diversity is still important for optimal team performance.

Effective Team Dynamics

  • Social perceptiveness is an important trait for effective teamwork.
  • Effective groups pay attention to one another and pick up on cues.
  • Teams with higher levels of collective intelligence don’t have one person dominate the conversation.
  • Video conferencing can reduce collective intelligence by disrupting synchrony and sentiment, and leading to unequal contribution to the conversation.
  • The lowest scoring member on social perceptiveness can be the strongest predictor of the collective intelligence of the team.
  • The presence of a grouchy co-worker can negatively affect team communication and performance.
  • Transactive memory is an awareness of what others know and where to get information, and it can improve collective intelligence in teams.
  • Teams benefit from being together for a good period of time to develop shared systems for organizing and coordinating.
  • Changing team members disrupts the learning process, especially when learning something new.
  • Importance of respecting and valuing the capabilities of other team members and being willing to ask questions and clarify goals.


Understanding Effective Teamwork

Building effective teams goes beyond individual talent and leadership. It requires members who trust and communicate with each other, avoiding common errors in team construction. The failures of the botched invasion of Cuba and the Challenger explosion highlight the catastrophic consequences of overlooking opposition and biases within teams. Collective intelligence, separate from individual intelligence, plays a significant role in team success across different task types. Gender diversity is important for optimal team performance, with teams predominantly consisting of women being most collectively intelligent. Social perceptiveness, effective communication, and an awareness of transactive memory contribute to team dynamics and collective intelligence. Teams benefit from stability, as changing team members disrupts the learning process and shared systems for organizing and coordinating. Ultimately, successful teamwork is about valuing the capabilities of team members and actively collaborating for collective success.


Building great teams requires a deep understanding of the dynamics that contribute to their effectiveness. By fostering trust, effective communication, and shared systems for organizing and coordinating, teams can achieve a state of flow where tasks are completed effortlessly. The science of teamwork provides valuable insights into constructing teams that can overcome challenges and achieve success.

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