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Teamology - The Science of Teamwork

In 2009 Doug Wilde, a professor at the department of Mechanical Engineering at Stanford published a remarkable book called "Teamology". In it he describes how his department used Jungian typology to form and organize effective problem solving teams.

In the 13 years preceding the use of teamology in his department, 27% of the student teams won the so-called Lincoln awards. After 9 years of teamology this percentage was 73%.

These awards were granted by judging reports student teams submitted. All university identification was removed from the reports and they were judged by an anonymous panel. The increase in award winning performance is staggering. It means that three quarters of the students were performing at the level that previously only one quarter was.

How is something like this possible? Wilde writes,

"The basic idea is to have every team possess among its members the full range of problem solving approaches available to the human race. People who individually have only a few problem-solving strategies can pool these on a good team to make it overcome any obstacle it encounters.".

The formation of these teams was different from the way most teams are formed. The most important criteria became diversity of personality. Conformity, which is probably the most habitual way of forming teams, was avoided. In workshops on personality type the drive towards conformity is called the "Be like me" disorder. You see it in hiring processes everywhere. What this study shows is how that actually weakens team performance.

This type of team formation does come with a challenge: how to get the diverse members of a team to collaborate effectively. Wilde calls this "Organizing the team". Without this, the approach probably would not have worked as well. He used the MBTI, the most widely used instrument for Jungian type, not only to select the teams but to conduct workshops. Wilde writes,

"The MBTI generates in team members the self-awareness and tolerance of different points of view needed in a cognitively diverse team... Different people see things differently, and it is possible to disagree without being disagreeable".

"Teamology" reminds me of the work I did with the Dutch women’s field hockey team that won the gold medal at the London Olympics. The team had a lot of talent but under pressure, whenever there was a big game, they would tend to fall apart. So the important question was how to build a strong unity out of the diversity of all the individual personalities in the team.

After helping the team and their staff understand their own and each other’s personality types we worked on defining a common purpose. After mapping this out and installing it firmly in consciousness, individual players got specific roles that fit their personality. All of a sudden certain less prominent players in the team made an important contribution, based on their individual qualities. Slowly but surely a team emerged that could handle the pressure of the semi-finals and finals at the Olympics.

There is an underlying truth that is either not seen or easily forgotten: polarities are not intended to polarize, they are intended to harmonize. And when they harmonize, they energize the whole and extraordinary human achievement becomes possible. I have seen that over and over with the teams I have worked with, but never more clearly than with the Dutch women’s hockey team.

Their motto: "Teamwork makes the dream work."
I call this the principle of the “four legged table”. When there is one leg missing, the table can still stand but collapses under pressure. A table with four legs is rock solid, even when the weight of insurmountable problems and obstacles is placed on it.  

This principle applies equally to individuals, teams and organizations. And when applied successfully, the power of polarities is experienced.

Wilde's book provides strong empirical evidence for the effectiveness of this approach. If you would like to read more about this approach in his book, you can find it here

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