Army scientists recently found that the best, high-performing cybersecurity teams have relatively few interactions with their team-members and team captain. While this result may seem counterintuitive, it is actually consistent with major theoretical perspectives on professional team development. “Successful cyber teams don’t need to discuss every detail when defending a network; they already know what to do,” said Dr. Norbou E. Buchler, team leader with the U.S. Army Research Laboratory’s Cyber and Networked Systems Branch. … Teams with effective leadership and functional specialization within the team were more successful. Face-to-face interactions, as measured by the sociometric badges, emerged as a strong negative predictor of success in the competition, explained Buchler, a cognitive scientists within ARL’s Human Research and Engineering Directorate. “In other words, the teams whose members interacted less during the exercise, were usually more successful,” Buchler said. U.S. Army Research Laboratory, Public Affairs, April 23, 2018. Photo by Valeriy Khan on Unsplash
The obvious key to this finding, I would argue, is that the better the team members know what to do then the fewer number of interactions that are needed. I’ve long stressed that a high number of meetings is often a sign of an organizational problem that needs to be addressed. More meetings are rarely the solution to any problem.
For example, when we did nothing more than aggressively pushed out our daily status to everyone, then our worldwide team’s didn’t need as many “meetings” as had past teams. I loved it when we did have a meeting and we would find out that a remote team had rearranged things based upon seeing a status update and then had adapted to something that had changed in another part of the project. No one had to tell them directly and no one had to approve their change as they were considered the experts in their areas.
For more, consider: Global Project Management? Further Away Can Be Better!
In another project, the system test chief thanked me for showing, statistically, how defects that his teams were identifying were being resolved. Now that he could see the “characteristic curve” of our defect resolution pace, he no longer needed to have daily meetings to ensure the defects his team found were understood and getting fixed. Additionally, he could see that his detailed meetings didn’t actually help the resolution rate improve, but instead, he saw that the better the initial description of the defect the faster the defect got resolved and then the fewer discussions we needed to have.
Similarly, I had a senior military officer go to one of my cadets and demand to know “what is your tasking?” during a training exercise we were conducting. The poor cadet wasn’t able to provide the senior officer the answer he wanted. The senior officer then came to me and told me with obvious disdain that my people didn’t know their jobs and that that was my failing as their leader. The senior officer and I then marched back to see the cadet and when we arrived, before the senior officer could say anything, I asked the cadet what she would do when a new trainee reported to her (which was her step in the exercise). She quickly outlined what she did when they came in and then looked at me with panic in her eyes probably seeing her career ending before it had even started. I said to her “perfect” (it was) and I then turned and looked at the senior officer, with a similar bit of disdain in my own look and voice and told him “there, she now knows her job.” The senior officer went away and didn’t grill anyone else during the exercise. Here, the individual knew her job, but someone not as intimate with the details of the exercise in this case, didn’t know what to ask nor how to ask it to determine for themselves what was going on. This was a reminder throughout multiple careers that a team could in fact be doing extremely well but when someone, usually with authority, butts in without expertise or insight by usually calling a meeting, that they could then quickly undermine a highly functional team because of their ignorance leveraged by their formal authority and a simple meeting.
How well does your team seem to be performing based upon your observations of the frequency of their day to day interactions?