Judging small group effectiveness 

Attuned to others? Then you’re better able to judge the performance of a team

People who are naturally more attuned to others’ emotions are better able to judge how well small groups are performing, even when observation times are brief, according to a new study.

The innovative new study shows for the first time that that people can make accurate judgements about how effectively small groups are working together – even if they only observe between 10-30 seconds of group interaction.

Moreover, researchers from the University of Exeter Business School, New York University, Harvard Business School and other institutions found that people who are more socially sensitive to the emotional states of others fared even better at judging the effectiveness of teams.

The study, called Thin Slices of Workgroups, is published in the leading academic journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes.

Dr Oliver Hauser, senior lecturer in economics at the University of Exeter Business School and co-author of the study said: “In the current working climate, time is often short and so are the interactions, and a manager might need to briefly join a conference call or just glance through the window at a group working together before hurrying to their next meeting.

“So it’s important to understand whether what they interpret during those brief spells is an accurate portrayal of what’s actually happening. Our research demonstrates that largely, it is.” 

The researchers created 40 groups, each made up of four people who were assigned to different role with different information. The workgroups were videotaped taking part in a group decision-making task to hire a new chief financial officer.

The key to finding the top candidate for the position required effective team work, such as sharing available information and listening to one another. Some groups were more effective than others and therefore succeeded better in completing the team task.

Researchers then showed these groups to hundreds of people and found that most, though not all, were able to accurately predict the success or failure of the groups.

"Across sectors, particularly in healthcare and science, teams are used and emphasized more than ever before. Our research suggests that as you decide whom to appoint to oversee these teams, you would be well-served taking people's social sensitivity into account," said Professor Patricia Satterstrom, of New York University who led the study.

The researchers, however, didn’t find any evidence to support the idea that someone’s “gut” feeling about a group was more accurate than more considered reflection. Instead, what matters more is whether managers can accurately judge the emotional states of other people and group characteristics such as trust.

Date: 20 March 2019