MIT Sloan Executive Education innovation@work Blog

What makes a high-performing team? The answer may surprise you.

More women make teams smarter according to MIT's Thomas Malone

What sets high-performing teams apart? Strong leadership? Skilled team members? Shared goals? Maybe. But what if we told you that one of the key drivers of team performance was how many women were on the team?

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 Center for Collective Intelligence, says that when it comes to team performance, the more women the better. Research by Malone and his colleagues, Anita Woolley and Christopher Chabris, shows that the collective intelligence of a group rises when there are women involved in that group. And in fact, the more women, the better.

"In our study, if there were more women in the group, the group performed better," says Malone. In their New York Times article, "Why Some Teams Are Smarter Than Others," Malone and his colleagues wrote of their study, "Teams with more women outperformed teams with more men. Indeed, it appeared that it was not 'diversity' (having equal numbers of men and women) that mattered for a team’s intelligence, but simply having more women. This last effect, however, was partly explained by the fact that women, on average, were better at 'mindreading' than men."

By "mindreading," Malone is refering to the skill of social perception. Social perceptiveness is a kind of social intelligence; it's the ability to discern what someone is thinking through some means of human observation, especially if they are good at reading emotions from other people's eyes. Malone's research suggests that the performance of teams (and companies) can be dramatically improved when members can improve upon this skill, regardless of the industry.

In his original studies, the average social perceptiveness of group members was measured by a test called "reading the mind in the eyes" in which participants looked at pictures of other people's faces and tried to guess their emotions. When people in a group were good at reading faces, the group on average was more collectively intelligent. In more recent work, Malone and his colleagues extended that prior study to online groups. They used a similar measure of collective intelligence, but with both face-to-face and online groups. In the online groups, the participants could only communicate through text chat. Much to even their own surprise, they found that the average social perceptiveness of group members was equally predictive of collective intelligence in both face-to-face and online groups. People who are good at reading emotion in the eyes also seem to be good at reading emotion in texts and imagining what is going on in others' minds as they type.

Strong corporate decision-making requires the ability to hear and consider different points of view, which comes from people who have different backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives. Companies that have women directors and executive officers lead by example. They send a clear message that they value diversity of thought and experience. Even if for that reason alone, advancing women to positions of leadership is smart business.

If you're interested in learning more about building high-performing teams, consider enrolling in these MIT Sloan Executive Education programs:

Comments

Search innovation@work Blog

Subscribe to Blog by Email

Interested in writing a guest post?

Cutting-edge research and business insights presented by MIT Sloan faculty.