How the Kindergarteners Won

In the previous post I related an experiment that was done to highlight aspects that create a good culture in which teams can be productive. As a self-improvement business coach in the Woodlands one of the areas of focus in corporations and small businesses that I collaborate with has been regarding culture and how culture impacts not only a team’s efficiency but effectiveness.

The kindergarteners in the experiment won against teams of business students. They also carried the experiment to other groups. The kindergarteners defeated lawyers and CEOs. So, what was going on that created this unexpected result?

Let’s start with what we focus on, which is individual skills. If you think about it, individual skills are easy to focus on because they are the most visible. But, when it comes to team performance, it is not individual skills that matter. What matters is the interaction.

Let’s take a look at the business students. As a personal business coach in Houston, I have worked with talented young people. The business students had more talent individually than the kindergartners. But they were not engaged in collaboration, so much as what psychologists call, status management. They were figuring where they fit into the larger picture. Who is in charge? Is it okay to criticize someone’s idea? What are the rules here? Their interactions appear smooth, but their underlying behavior is riddled with inefficiency, hesitation, and subtle competition. As a result of managing status their first efforts collapse and they run out of time.

The kindergarteners, on the other hand, appear to be disorganized on the surface. But when you view them as a single entity, their behavior is efficient and effective. They are not competing for status. They work energetically together. They move quickly, spot problems and offer help. They experiment, take risks, and notice outcomes, which guides them toward effective solutions.

The kindergarteners succeed not because they are smarter but because they work in a smarter way. As we know, and the kindergartners prove it, group culture is a very powerful force.

A Contest to Reveal Culture

In the last post I spoke about some of the foundational components to building a strong culture. It is necessary for people to feel safe and to believe they belong to something bigger than themselves. Also, for a culture to thrive it needs a clear mission, vision and an established purpose.

As a business coach in the Woodlands and as a business coach in Houston, a clear sense of purpose makes the possibilities for growth and advancement of an organization much clearer. Why? With clarity comes pointed and focused action. The individuals and teams who make up the culture have a clear purpose.

Several years ago, a designer and engineer, Peter Skillman, held a competition to find out the following: Why do certain groups add up to be greater than the sum of their parts, while others add up to be less?

To this end he assembled a series of four-person groups at three major universities and a few other places. He challenged each group to build the tallest possible structure using the follow items.

  • Twenty pieces of uncooked spaghetti
  • One yard of transparent tape
  • One yard of string
  • One standard sized marshmallow

The contest had one rule. The marshmallow had to be on the top. The most interesting part, to me, was not so much the task but the teams he assembled. Some of the teams were business students and some were kindergartners.

The business students strategized. The kindergartners had a different approach. They did not strategize, analyze or share experiences. They were too young, not only to strategize, analyze and share experiences. They did not know how to ask questions, propose options or hone ideas. All of which the business students knew how to do. Their entire technique was about how to bunch stuff together.

In dozens of trials around the country and in other parts of the world, the kindergartners won. Their structures averaged twenty-six inches tall, while the business students’ structures ended up averaging less than ten inches in height.

The results may be hard to absorb. Suffice it to say, as a personal development business coach, it was the kindergartners who had the greater personal development and self-improvement. In the next post I will discuss how these results came about. In a word, it is surprising.

Culture: When One Plus One Equals Five

I have observed in my in my practice of personal business coaching in the Woodlands and also in business coaching in Houston that certain concepts become the major focus of the time. Time management was big and coming into its own in the 1980’s and 1990’s. You just weren’t with it if you hadn’t taken a time management course. And, time management is still just as important today as it was back then.

Today, much of what I encounter has to do with company culture and how it is either helping or hindering a company. Culture comes from the Latin word cultus, which means care. Culture at its highest level has a clear purpose as expressed in the vision and more importantly, the vision statements.

These statements are more than just words. They define a purpose and a way to get there that is bigger than any one person. It gives the individual something to belong to and helps form a sense of team and cohesiveness. Culture sends a number of signals of how we belong to something. And when we belong to something as a teamwe can do greater things than if we siloed ourselves off and did it alone.

This is where one plus one equals five. This is where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. When it comes to culture, I become more of a personal development business coach in the Woodlands with an emphasis on self-improvement business coaching.

In order to have a geometric progression in growth, efficiency and effectiveness a team must feel safe. This allows them to be creative. The members of the team must feel like they belong. And, the individuals in the team must focus on their personal development or self-improvement. Why? Seldom will whatever we want to achieve individually or as a team exceed our personal development.