Secrets of the Science of Teamwork

By Mo Bunnell

Below is a transcript of this video, modified for your reading pleasure. Have a question that you'd like answered? Drop us a line!

In today's video, we are going to talk about the secrets of the science of teamwork.

What is so interesting about this psychology that we are sharing today is that so few people have heard of it. A lot of times in our GrowBIG classes, we talk about the proper ratio of positive reinforcements to negative reinforcements. Over time, we have discovered that a good rule of thumb is four to one. But some research by Dr. Marcial Losada, at the University of Michigan, has put a finer point on it.

In Dr. Losada's research, what he found when he studied high performance teams, is that the teams that had a positive vibe and who were very specific about positive events, performed better because they maintained a higher ratio of positive to negative comments.

In his findings, the data pointed to a specific ratio of 5.6 to 1 that he found corresponded to the highest performing teams. These teams were the best at creating a proper, positive environment when giving feedback to somebody else on their team, relative to constructive conversations. Meaning that teams that built people up at a ratio of 5.6 positive comments to one constructive comment tended to perform better. In other words, for every one constructive criticism that should be said, they said 5.6 positive comments.

Here are three valuable ways that you can use this ratio.

  • The first way is to use it for your own teams.
    Your focus here is to be really specific about what people are doing great and maintain a nice ratio of about five or six times that you are positive. Doing this, you will have built up goodwill in the bank for people that report to you, earning yourself the right to give them some constructive criticism should it become necessary. So, that's one way to use it - for people who report to you.
  • Secondly, you should use it in cross-functional teams.
    I think it's even more powerful for cross-functional teams. It's one thing to bark out orders to somebody that reports to you. They sort of have to follow you, but cross-functional teams don't have to follow you. For example, in your typical job, there are specific people that report to you that you regularly interact with day to day. You have time to build up a bank of good will. Cross-functional teams, however, are not the same. You don't work together day to day. You might not know each other well. Therefore, having the right ratio of positive to constructive comments is even more important for cross-functional teams because you want everyone to be listening and following you every step of the way.
  • The third and most important way you can use this ratio is with your clients.
    Yes, with your clients! This may appear contradictory, but, in practice, it makes a lot of sense. If you are always positive with your clients, like so many of us are, eventually the client will stop believing what you have to say. Especially if you are over the top with praise. If everything they are doing is great, they are perfect at everything -  pretty soon the client doesn't believe you anymore.

They know that not everything they are doing is perfect or great. Conversely, if you're always beating them down (and hopefully you don't do this), but if you have the wrong ratio and you're being too negative with a client, they will likely not be a client for long. When you have too much negativity, telling people, "You didn't do this right, you didn't do that right...", they are probably not going to hire you for anything.

If, instead, you can keep ratio of 5.6 to 1 while remaining very honest, transparent, and authentic about things you think they could do better, then you've earned the right and respect to make constructive criticisms. This way, the clients realize that they need you around because you're not afraid to point out when they are about to make a mistake, while improving your relationship with them even further.

Those are all great ways that you can use the science of teamwork. But to apply them, you must identify the situations that could best benefit from this ratio. To do that, you may want to start by auditing yourself and figuring out what you think your ratios are in these three specific environments that we mentioned today.

Then decide whether or not you need to adjust your behavior. Practice deliberately and hold yourself accountable for always being at the highest performing ratio of 5.6 to 1. The end result will be high performing teams and amazing client relationships.

As always with these videos, we're hoping that we help you help your clients succeed. We hope you enjoyed it!

Footnote: Marcial Francisco Losada (born 1939) is a Chilean psychologist, consultant, and former director of the Center for Advanced Research (CFAR) in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Losada received a Ph.D. in organizational psychology from the University of Michigan. He works on developing "high performance teams."