I (Clive) have posted before about the importance – in educational settings – of giving all members of a group a chance to speak. It now seems that similar observations are being made outside the educational realm. In Sunday’s New York Times Magazine (Feb 28, 2016), findings along these lines were noted in two studies from the world of work.
In a 2008-2010 Carnegie Mellon/M.I.T. study, a team of psychologists headed by Anita Wooley found that work teams with “pretty average members” were unusually effective when inclusive “group norms” were established. Wooley reported: “As long as everyone got a chance to talk, the team did well. But if only one person or a small group spoke all the time, the collective intelligence declined” (p. 24).
In a later Google study called Project Aristotle, begun in 2012, researchers built on the Carnegie Mellon/M.I.T. study. They linked “conversational turn-taking” to a sense of “psychological safety” within a group. They found that work teams were more effective when there was a social emphasis and everyone had a chance to contribute. They reject a sharp personal/work dichotomy, stating that “no one wants to put on a ‘work face’ when they get to the office” (p. 72).
It seems hard to explain why group effectiveness and social inclusion would be connected in this way. More theory is needed in the area. But meanwhile I think we should consider these findings as we attempt to enhance our group discussion practices.