How To Build Cooperative Teams

Getting people to work effectively together as a team can be a significant challenge, and supporting effective team work has been a constant source of interest for management thinkers over the years.  The latest entry into this crowded field comes from a new study from Ohio State University.

It suggests that teams work best when people can choose their own team-mates rather than having a team forced together by a manager.  This is largely because people choose to work with those they are already familiar, and therefore comfortable with.

The researchers recruited participants from Mechanical Turk and asked them to play an online game to test their willingness to collaborate.  Players began with 1,000 credits, each worth around $1.  If the player agreed to pay another player 50 credits, the other player would actually receive 100 credits.

The game consisted of 16 rounds, with 25 players per game.  Some of these player pools were generated at random, whilst others had small groups with multiple connections that were designed to mimic real life.  These groups were either static or dynamic, meaning that in dynamic groups, participants could chop and change their groups if they so wished.  What’s more, some of the games included reputation information with each player labeled according to their willingness to share money.

Willing to collaborate

Would reputation play a part in our willingness to work with others?  Surprisingly not, at least in the game.  The results revealed that collaboration rates were highest when players operated in clusters and had the ability to choose who they were playing with.

“What really seems to matter is the ability to alter the structure of a network,” the authors say. “And the pattern of relationships also made a difference. Those in a known cluster with multiple connections collaborated more, which seems intuitive if you think about how we interact in the real world.”

The researchers believe their findings could have implications for the way teams are constructed in a range of settings, not least in the workplace, but also on the battlefield as the study itself was supported by the United States Army, who wanted to better understand how cooperative teams might form in the field.