Measurement · Observations · Reflection

Unusual predictors of team success

I was reading Daniel Pink’s book “Drive” and I came across a passage about predicting which teams are likely to be successful.  It describes a guy who counts the number of times he hears people use the word “we” and the number of the times they used the word “they” when referring to their own company.

Apparently the “they” teams are likely to fail and the “we” teams are generally successful.

This made sense to me because when I have always listened when managers use the terms “we”, “you” and “I”. The dodgy managers I have worked for tend to use pronouns like this:

  • “They” or “management” want us to … rather than “I would like to … “;
  • “You” messed up or “team member x messed up”; and
  • “I delivered” something.

I even heard a manager once say “if it was up to me I would do … but you know that management wouldn’t accept that”.  Which was interesting since the person I was talking to was “management”.

On the other hand I have also had good managers and I have noticed that they tend to say:

  • “We” messed up or “We” have a problem;
  • “You” did a good job; and
  • “The team” delivered something.

But I have not previously thought about actually counting the times members of the team say “they” versus “we” so I think I will try that next time I am auditing a project or coaching a team.

A similar thing I have used in the past though was to see if the team (particularly IT teams) refer to their internal customers by name (eg Brian or Mary) or whether they refer to them as “the business”.  It’s interesting how often people refer to “the business” as the customer. 

So my new predictor of success for teams I coach is going to be based on

  1. The number of the times they use the term “we or us” versus “them” and the number of times they refer to stakeholders by name versus using the terms “they”, “management” or “the business”.
  2. The number of times team members use the term “we delivered something” versus “I delivered something”. 
  3. The number of times the team say “we stuffed up” versus “x stuffed up”, “they don’t know what they are doing”, or “that’s not how I think they should have done it”.

What do you think – will there be a strong correlation between the use of different pronouns and team success?


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