Monday, 23 March 2015

Team effectiveness is disproportionately influenced by your group's best performer or "extra-miler"

The quality of a team's best performer
(the "extra miler") is diagnostic of
the group's overall effectiveness.
In The Hobbit, fifteen companions come together on a quest for a dragon’s treasure. Traditional team analysis would judge "Thorin and Company" on the sum of its parts: Ori is stalwart, and Dori strongly stalwart, and, ok, Bifur seems stalwart enough … a fairly stalwart team, then. But we’re beginning to understand that single individuals can have a disproportionate impact on group performance. A new paper from the University of Iowa demonstrates how extra milers put in remarkable efforts to make sure the team holds together.

The study looked at patterns of performance in a Chinese petrochemical company of 87 teams each of about seven members. Ning Li’s data showed teams performed better when they exhibited key processes, including: agreeing minimum working standards for the team, keeping tabs on progress to balance out members’ different workloads, and having extra help on hand when necessary. These team-level processes need to come from somewhere, so each team member rated their team-mates on qualities that might be useful: willingness to help, and expression of ideas and concerns (dubbed “voice”).

Team-member scores on helping and voice turned out to be good predictors of strong team processes … but here’s the thing: once you took into account the team’s stand-out helper, there was no value in looking at helpfulness of the other members; you already had your best guess at how constructive the team as a whole was likely to be. The same was true with voice: once you know where the strongest member stands, you can throw the other scores away. Li considers these maximally helpful individuals “extra-milers”, and when their extra is a mile, rather than just an inch, teams perform better.

Actually, it’s a little more complicated than that: there was one aspect of the other team members that mattered. This was how much their work thrust them into contact with the extra-miler in their team. Evidence suggests that minorities can influence behaviour in wider groups, but they need the opportunity to interact and model superior norms of behaviour. Accordingly, when the extra-miler was huddled away in the back room, their influence was minimal.

If you have a committed extra-miler well-embedded in a team, you don’t need to worry about measuring what everyone else is doing. What you do have to worry about is that the extra-miler has opportunities to interact with the team, spreading their positive way of doing things. In the case of Thorin and Company, success seemed to owe the presence of a headstrong hobbit willing to mix it up and act as a conscience. His inclusion was a wise wizardly choice. I mean, a solid managerial decision.


Li, N., Zhao, H., Walter, S., Zhang, X., & Yu, J. (2015). Achieving More With Less: Extra Milers’ Behavioral Influences in Teams. Journal of Applied Psychology DOI: 10.1037/apl0000010

--further reading--
Why your team should appoint a "meta-knowledge" champion - one person who's aware of everyone else's area of expertise

Post written by Alex Fradera (@alexfradera) for the BPS Research Digest.


Research Digest said...

The extra milers are the best on a team because they encourage people thru their work ethics and knowledge. They seem to get things done in a fun and positive way. Often, they are not self seekers.

Research Digest said...

The point about the distraction tasks used in research is interesting. The distraction task described here (watching letters appear on a screen and respond when they see an 'x') is not the type of task I thought of when thinking about distractions from painful experiences. Instead, I thought of tasks that might have the purpose of increasing positive emotion (i.e. doing something you usually enjoy, such as playing sport or listening to music). The type of task used to act as a distraction task might have an effect, so the results might not apply to all types of distraction.

Research Digest said...

First of all, all you introverts here, stop defending yourself with pseudoscience and other stupidities. You're statistically less happy. Deal with it.
My interpretation of this is that introverts actually have a more active reward system. The problem is that common strong rewards, such as sugar, porn, games, tv, are unnatural. They stimulate the desire system so much that it's sensivity is downregulated, a process we call addiction. We have progressed to the point in time that everyone is somewhat affected by common addictions. Since introverts are naturally more easily aroused, they are more prone to it. This is why their reward sensivity is lower. It is a result rather than a cause of introversion.
So, what can we do as introverts? We can limit our amount of arousal, both positive and negative. At the same time, practice extraversion. Focus your attention outward.

Research Digest said...

I have been troubled as I was growing up and felt great comfort in the ability to write. I felt that i could write in two ways negative and self pitying but also in a manner that when writing becoming my own councilor being able to answer questions in several ways being able to support an outcome that may be more positive to a situation, or healing myself x

Post a Comment

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.