Better Teamwork? Don't Group Propellorheads with Novelists

Guess what the key to a team is?  Design it around their learning style.

That's according to a new study, as reported at 

Past research on collective problem-solving has come to conflicting conclusions. Some studies have found that people collaborate best when they can communicate with all other group members, emailing or meeting to exchange ideas continuously. Other studies have found that working in smaller subgroups is better, with each member communicating closely with a few neighbors.

Striking the right balance between exploration (searching for new ideas) and exploitation (taking an idea and running with it) requires matching a particular group’s social learning style with the right type of network, the study finds.

I used to be in teams when I worked at a Fortune 500 company where everybody was pretty much a propellorhead and I was the one doodling in the margins.  Safe to say, I didn't propose very many ideas, or have the ones I did, worked on.

The study authors discovered that network structure determines the success of the strategies, and vice versa. “When you copy the best solution your collaborators have found so far, you quickly pick up on promising solutions and explore less, risking zooming in on inferior solutions,” the researchers say. “This fast strategy works well in less connected, slower networks that help strike the right balance between exploration and exploitation.”

“If you are choosing the most frequent solution used by your collaborators,” adds Mirta Galesic, a Santa Fe Institute professor in human social dynamics, “you need to wait for the solution to be adopted by several others before accepting it. This slow strategy explores more and benefits from a more tightly connected network structure that spreads information fast and encourages exploitation.”

 The study highlighted some of the factors that determine how much time a group will spend looking for better solutions, how long it will continue to exploit a known solution that is good but maybe not the best, and whether it will zoom in too quickly on a solution or wait too long to make a decision.

“These results highlight that interventions aimed at changing the social environment," the authors write, "while disregarding social learning strategies might not produce the desired effects.”


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