What sets high-performing teams apart? Strong leadership? Skilled team members? Shared goals? Maybe. But what if we told you some of the key drivers of team performance were bottom-up leadership, external focus, social perception--and the number of women on the team?
Looking out, not just in
MIT Sloan Professor Deborah Ancona is the founder and faculty director of the MIT Leadership Center whose pioneering research has focused on how successful teams operate. Her work has highlighted the critical importance of managing outside a team's boundaries as well as inside them. This research has led to her concept of "X-teams" as a vehicle for driving innovation and her book, X-Teams: How to Build Teams That Lead, Innovate, and Succeed.
"Part of what we do at the MIT Leadership Center is think about people who are not just great individuals themselves but create what we call distributed leadership within their organizations," Ancona shared with Forbes. "These leaders realize that true leadership is not about them individually but about what they are able to create."
In today's world, where everything can change under our feet in an instant, Ancona advises an "X-Team" approach, where the X refers to external focus. An X-team is an adaptive structure that gives individuals and organizations flexibility in dealing with changing circumstances and with different kinds of tasks that shift over time. Successful teams emphasize outreach to stakeholders both inside and outside their companies. Their entrepreneurial focus helps them respond more nimbly than traditional teams to the rapidly changing characteristics of work, technology, and customer demands. X-teams manage across boundaries--lobbying for resources, connecting to new change initiatives, seeking up-to-date information, and linking to other groups inside and outside the company.
You can learn more about X-teams and distributed leadership in Ancona’s MIT Sloan Executive Education webinar, Leading in a World of Uncertainty, in this conversation between Ancona and MIT’s Hal Gregersen, and in Ancona's Executive Education programs, Transforming Your Leadership Strategy and Neuroscience for Leadership.
Women, women, and more women
The way teams are structured is clearly relevant to performance, but what about the individuals who make up those teams? Numerous studies continue to show the value that gender diversity has proven in boosting productivity and the bottom line within all levels of a company, from entry level to the boardroom, as well as the critical role women play in enhancing the collective intelligence of groups--as demonstrated by the research of MIT Sloan Professor Thomas Malone.
Malone, who is the head of the MIT Sloan School of Management’s Center for Collective Intelligence (CCI), says that corporations are missing out on tremendous opportunities when they lack women in senior leadership roles and on boards. Why? Simply put, Malone's research shows that the collective intelligence of a group rises when there are women involved in that group.