Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Mixing oldbies and newbies

Old players and new players make the best teams, according to this article. I've read this somewhere else as well -- I think in The Wisdom of Crowds -- it's important, when building teams, to have some people who are new, who haven't drunk the Kool-Aid, who don't really understand what is going on.

In a paper to be published April 29 in the journal Science, Northwestern University researchers turned to a different type of team -- creative teams in the arts and sciences -- to determine a team's recipe for success. They discovered that the composition of a great team is the same whether you are working on Broadway or in economics.

The researchers studied data on Broadway musicals since 1877 as well as thousands of journal publications in four fields of science and found that successful teams had a diverse membership -- not of race and gender but of old blood and new. New team members clearly added creative spark and critical links to the experience of the entire industry. Unsuccessful teams were isolated from each other whereas the members of successful teams were interconnected, much like the Kevin Bacon game, across a giant cluster of artists or scientists.

"Do people go out of their way to collaborate with new people?" said Luís A. Nunes Amaral, associate professor of chemical and biological engineering and the corresponding author on the paper. "Do they take this risk?

"We found that teams that achieved success -- by producing musicals on Broadway or publishing academic papers in good journals -- were fundamentally assembled in the same way, by bringing in some experienced people who had not worked together before. The unsuccessful teams repeated the same collaborations over and over again."

It's hard to say why this works. Perhaps the introduction of new practices and habits enlivens a group. Maybe a newbie, needing a lot of coaching and assimilation causes a group to better define itself and its objectives. Maybe people who frequently work with new people have a propensity for collaboration, or an innate social intelligence. (via Kottke.)