Margaret Heffernan’s TED talk identifies three characteristics of high achieving groups…

  • High degrees of social sensitivity to each other
  • Giving equal time to group discussion – no one voice dominated
  • Gender diversity

She emphasises the importance of social connectedness, in other words, it is what happens between people that really counts – groups highly attuned and sensitive to each other can flow with ideas and grow.

The helping hand

Helpfulness is seen as absolutely core to team effectiveness, that means ‘I don’t need to know everything, I just need to work among people who are good at getting and giving help’.  What drives helpfulness? People getting to know each other. Sounds obvious, but it doesn’t always happen naturally. By moving away from your own agenda, by stopping what you’re doing and actively working together you can achieve real momentum.

Heffernan suggests that social support and knowing where to go to ask for help are key for team bonding, building trust, and bringing people together. After all it’s the mortar that matters, not just the bricks.

When you put all this together, you get social capital. It gives companies momentum and makes companies robust.

Time is everything…

Social capital compounds with time, therefore, teams that work together longer get better. How can organisations help with this process? Give people the time to get to know each other in new and different ways. E.g. synchronised coffee breaks / communal activities on site – from vegetable patches to group power walks! Increased social capital = increased productivity.

This isn’t about chumminess, as Heffernan says, within high achieving teams ‘conflict is frequent because candour is safe’ – that’s how good ideas turn into great ideas. It is only through generous contribution, faith, and challenge that ideas achieve their potential. That’s what social capital contributes.

Becoming the outstanding collaborator

We’re used to talking about stars, but it’s the ‘outstanding collaborators’ who enjoy long careers. Bringing out the best in others is how they’ve found the best in themselves.

As leaders, how much more can we give each other? Where might rivalry be replaced by social capital? How might you redefine leadership as an activity in which everyone can do their most courageous thinking, together?