Lately, I’ve been reading Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg. In the second chapter, Charles explains the factors that make a great team. He cites research from cognitive and behavioral scientists as well as corporate research such as “Project Aristotle” conducted by Google.

The results of these studies tend to point to the same three qualities. Furthermore, no correlations were proven between factors like individual excellence and even IQ to team effectiveness.

Safe Environment

A team’s long-term effectiveness is usually determined early on in the team formation. A team quickly develops social norms within the first few interactions that determine the culture and behavior of the team going forward. For instance, if one person interrupts another team member on the first day, interruptions will likely become a norm of that team.
The specific norms that a team develops are crucial to its effectiveness. One norm that is perhaps most important is the ability for every member to speak and contribute equally and safely.


Teams with higher collective empathy perform better. This may be because individuals who are more socially intelligent can pick up on subtle social cues. They may get the idea that they are rambling by reading their team’s collective expression. More importantly, they respect each other and value each other’s opinions and efforts.

Charles cites research that concludes if you must choose between working with a group of motivated, intelligent, efficient team with low empathy, vs a random sample of individuals with high empathy, you should choose the team with the most empathy every time.


Not every team has a leader or manager but those who depend on one better have a good one. Most importantly, the leader must strive to reinforce positive norms and encourage as well as display empathy.
For a leader, this means allowing every team member to speak freely. A leader can display empathy by repeating, addressing, or summarizing each team member’s point when they have finished speaking. It shows that the leader is listening and understands.
Some of the most effective teams have managers that will not close a meeting until every team member has spoken an equal amount.

Through reading Smarter Faster Better and during my internship this summer, I’ve understood that a team does not need the most qualified individuals for the job. They don’t even need to be in the same country together. They need only to embody a few key traits. As a leader myself, I’ve taken note of these practices and intend to practice them so that I may be a part of the best team possible.

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