I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant. – Robert McCloskey
As you may recall in an earlier post I wrote about the magic ratio (1.618) in mathematics (Fibonacci series), art, architecture and nature. I also alluded to some little known (at least to me) research being done on another set of magic ratios, the relationship of positive to negative interactions between human beings.
I am becoming more and more captivated by the research of Professor Marcial Losada and his colleagues on the ratio of positive to negative interactions among teams. His research is putting some quantitative science behind the techniques I have been using for the past 30 years in improving team performance.
Dr. Losada found three critical bipolar variables at work in a team. The first is the ratio of Positive to Negative dialogue that takes place. Healthy, high performing teams have a ratio of P/N > 3.0. An interesting corollary is that above a ratio of 11, the team seems to break down, and understandably so since with this ratio it’s all good news (positive, positive, positive) and as we all have experienced in our lives, when you only get positive feedback it’s easy to become suspicious and mistrusting. We need and require constructive feedback to fulfill our human desire to improve.
The second variable at work within teams is the ratio of Inquiry (asking) to Advocacy (telling), which in high performing teams is I/A > 1.0. In my experience the real trick here is not asking questions, but how you ask them. When a person is genuinely interested in learning about how the other person sees the world (or in the case of a team how they see the problem), it opens up genuine dialogue and deep listening (what I call listening for understanding).
The third variable is the ratio of focus on Others vs Self. Again to have a high functioning team the ratio is O/S> 1.0. People in a team who are only concerned with their own self interests can easily work at odds with the overall team objective. Besides, they are quite boring to be around.
Now, in case you think these numbers and formulas are too academic and not real world, one of his recent articles on improving team performance concerned four work teams in a global mining company. This is not a white collar management team, this is the dusty, hot work of pit mining, with manual laborers, not knowledge workers. All four teams scored poorly on all business performance metrics, including safety. Losada identified the four teams as having Positive to Negative (P/N) ratios of 1.25, 1.17, 1.14 and 1.07 respectively.
After a series of communication and team dynamics training the scores moved to 3.94, 3.15, 3.42 and 3.72. Overall team performance on important business metrics rose significantly. And the scores were taken 3-6 months after the last training, showing real sustainability.
The words of the mining CEO say much more than the numbers:
The team experimented a notable transformation. You untied knots that imprisoned us: today we look at each other differently, we trust each other more, we learned to disagree without being disagreeable. We care not only about our personal success, but also about the success of others. Most importantly, we obtain tangible results. There are a few landmarks in one’s life; this meta learning training was one of them.
While these team performance concepts have always been part of my senior team alignment workshops, they will now have an even more importance role in improving the alignment and performance of senior teams.
We change through conversation.
Tight Lines . . .