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The Exact Science of Communication Patterns

by Marta Jasinska on May 04, 2012 |

As numerous studies prove, communication is the key factor in team productivity. Whether you call it team spirit, buzz, a momentum, there is something that characterises a well performing team on its way to a successful delivery. It may be hard to define and measure, but professor AlexSandyPentland of MIT thinks that he and his team at Human Dynamics Laboratory can put some hard numbers behind it.

In an interview, conducted by Harvard Business Review’s Scott Burnetto, Pentland talks about a series of experiments his team did to understand and measure what he calls The “It” Factor. He argues that the way the team members communicate between each other is more relevant to the team’s performance than the content of the discussions. 

In their experiments the Human Dynamics Laboratory group used sociometric badges designed to record certain characteristics of communications conducted by its carriers. The badges were distributed among different team members in groups of up to 100 people. The measurements recorded were:

  • body language of the carrier
  • participants of the discussion
  • the place of discussion

According to Pentland most of the important and delicate conversations in every company are conducted face to face or via phone. The badge gives a way of measuring the factors surrounding these exchanges and gives a fascinating insights in team communications. The characteristics recorded by the badge may make up for 50% of the variations between poorly and well performing teams. 

Pentland believes his research can help organizations adjust communication patters of their less performant teams. Visti hbr.org to read his article on the science behind the experimets. As you can see in the comments under the post the technology used is somewhat controversial. Innovation expert Steve Todd asks some good questions on how this data can affect distributed teams and whether it would be a good idea to make the data collected by the badge available to the carrier in real time.

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