Charles Duhigg on What Makes a Winning Team

Charles Duhigg is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter for the New York Times. He’s also the author of The Power of Habit and his latest Smarter Faster Better. Duhigg is also the winner of the National Academies of Sciences, National Journalism, and George Polk awards.

In his Big Think video “What Makes a Winning Team?,” Duhigg looks at Google and Saturday Night Live (SNL) as prime examples of productive team-making.

He begins with Google, the company that determined that group interaction is what creates a successful team.

“Groups develop these unwritten rules and that’s how they function. And it turns out those group norms are the things that determined whether a team was successful or not,” says Duhigg.

Duhigg discusses two norms that influence whether a team can work together and be productive: Quality and conversational turn taking, and high social sensitivity.

“Teams in which people all speak up and where there’s high social sensitivity, where people pick up on each other’s nonverbal cues, those – according to the data – are the most effective teams,” says Duhigg. “If you can create this conversational turn taking, equality of voices, if you can convince people to really listen to each other and be sensitive to the nonverbal cues we’re giving off then you create psychological safety. And psychological safety is the single greatest determinant in whether a team comes together or whether it falls apart.”

SNL and pyschological safety

Duhigg says one of his favorite examples of psychological safety is with Saturday Night Live and its producer Lorne Michaels.

“Lorne Michaels is like known for being productive, right,” says Duhigg. “But the way he runs meetings is that he makes sure everyone in the room has something to say. And if you look like you’re thinking something and not verbalizing it he makes you verbalize it. Or he takes you aside and he says ‘what’s going on with you?’

“What Lorne Michaels does is he creates psychological safety and as a result, he’s able to take all these huge outsize egos and all these actors and writers who are comedians (and so almost by their very nature they hate other people) and bring them all together into this cauldron of pressure, of creating a live television show in a week, then it all works out,” continues Duhigg.

In looking at Google and SNL, two completely different teams with completely different goals, Duhigg proves the effects that conversational sharing and psychological safety have on successful team building.

View the full video here.


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