Teamwork Raises Everyone’s Game

team-building[1]Research from a variety of settings, from hospital operating rooms to Wall Street, suggests that the way people work together is important for success, even in fields thought of as dominated by individual “stars.” The studies may offer lessons for executives on boosting productivity and innovation.
In the case of heart surgery, teamwork literally can be a matter of life and death. Robert Huckman and Gary Pisano of Harvard Business School analyzed the work of Pennsylvania heart surgeons who practice at more than one hospital. The professors found that the death rates from similar procedures performed by the same surgeon can vary as much as fivefold at different hospitals. Most of the time, patients did better in the hospital where their surgeon performed more operations.
Mr. Huckman says the results suggest that the surgeon’s interactions with anesthesiologists, nurses and technicians are crucial to the outcome of the surgery. “The argument has always been that if you want to get something done well, you go to the best surgeon,” he says. “Our findings suggest that the skills of the team, and of the organization, matter.”
A second group of Harvard professors reached the same conclusion by examining star Wall Street research analysts. “It’s the match of analyst and firm that makes a star,” says Boris Groysberg, who conducted the study. When people switch firms, “it’s hard to re-create that match again,” he says. Indeed, the professors found that analysts who brought assistants and salespeople with them to another firm did better than those who did not.
Teamwork has been a buzzword in management and business-school circles for years. But Mr. Groysberg said he still sees companies in fields from technology to finance that focus recruiting efforts on a handful of stars. That approach generally fails, he says.
“If you’re surrounded by other smart people, it adds to your knowledge and information. Comparing this research group to a basketball team, where players constantly adjust to what teammates and opponents are doing.
That may be an apt analogy, because another recent study suggests that teamwork counts in basketball, too. After analyzing 14 years of National Basketball Association results, Shawn Berman, an assistant professor of management at Santa Clara University, and two associates found that teams where players had played together longer won more games. The teamwork effect held up even for bad teams; bad teams that played together a lot won more often than they should have based on other criteria. Dr. Warren Johnson| Dr. Do Nguyen| Dr. Burt Bodan


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