Statistically, Teams Survive Longer Than Individuals

We have a core set of values that we are pretty rabid about.  We talk about our values all of the time.  They’re painted on the doors.  We give people awards in our Team Meetings for being the best at exemplifying the values.  It’s a big deal for us.

One of the top values is about teamwork, and we spend a lot of time on it:

“Teams Survive Longer Than Individuals.”

Quarterly Team Day

To reinforce our tight company culture, we hold a quarterly Team Day, in which we do three things:

  1. Volunteer in Childhood Education in Durham – We have made long term commitments to Crayons2Calculators, Book Harvest, and Healthy Start Academy, and every quarter we send the entire team out to humbly serve these organizations as they strive to help at risk youth in Durham.
  2. Science of the Team – Human relationships take work, so we spend several hours on each Team Day working on a specific item, like “How to Have Difficult Conversations” or studying our Myers Briggs profiles together.
  3. Funishment – Oh, and we like to drink beer and arm wrestle.  That definitely tends to bond people together. I should know better than to challenge Henry, who is 20 years younger than me and has some pretty big guns.  Look at those things.  Just sayin’.

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Statistical Evidence That Teams Survive Longer Than Individuals

(Credit: Gabi Huiber for the work, the text below and the graph)

 

During Science of the Team yesterday, as a group we did the “Lost at Sea” Survival Simulation and collected the results.

Basically, you’re lost at sea and have to rank 15 items in order of importance to helping you survive the ordeal.  You do it first as an individual, then in small groups of 4 people, and then you compare your individual rankings and your team rankings to the rankings of experts from the Coast Guard who theoretically would know best how to survive.

There were 61 participants grouped into 16 teams. We found that teams, even if assembled on the spot without regard to individual preferences, improved expected individual survival as measured in two ways:

  1. Team scores — achieved by deliberation among members, according to the rules of the game — were better than the average of individual member scores for 15 of the 16 teams; the exception also had the worst team score of all.
  2. The mean team score was better than the mean individual score and its standard deviation was also lower. This means that teams both improve the rate of survival and reduce the risk.

A summary table of scores is below. The score is the sum of the absolute difference between an individual or a team’s ranking of the 15 items and that of the experts at the US Coast Guard. Lower is better (meaning your rankings were less different from that of the experts).

Count Mean Median Standard deviation
Individuals 61 54.8 54 14.2
Teams 16 44.4 44 12.8

 

A density plot of the observed scores is below.  Again, lower scores are better, and note how the team scores are significantly lower than the individual scores.  The “curvy” lines are the standard deviations.  Basically, you are more likely to conform to a good score if you are in a group.  As an individual, you are more likely to be all over the map.

In essence, working in teams both increases your performance, and your likelihood of a good performance.  If you can reduce risk and increase return…  man…  that’s a ringer.  Do more of that.

Go Team.

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