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Baking a cake without a recipe: The study of teamwork processes - Part 3

Updated: May 17, 2021

By Dr Georgia Hay

I don’t know about you, but my favourite cake recipes are the ones where you dump all of the ingredients into a bowl at once. One step wonders! No need to carefully flick back and forth between the bowl and the recipe to check which step you’re at… only to find that you should have saved half of the butter for the end to make a glaze.

Unfortunately, getting multidisciplinary teams to work together effectively often requires something like a recipe.

Starting with the right ingredients is important: having the right people in the room (and the right number of people), with the tools and time needed to tackle the task at hand.

However, I’m sure you’d agree that simply getting all the experts in the room does not guarantee that they’ll be able to solve the problem – let alone get on the same page about what the problem is in the first place. Sometimes it might even seem like everyone’s speaking different languages. And then the inevitable conflict ensues. Disagreement, confusion, frustration. An ineffective and unhappy team.

In this case, the order that the team ‘ingredients’ are put into the ‘bowl’ matters; as does the way in which they are combined.

In this case, a recipe is needed. A process for establishing a shared understanding or ‘mental model’, and for combining the group’s expertise in the right way, allowing individuals to build on each other’s ideas and suggestions – to achieve, as a team, what they could not have achieved alone.

Unfortunately, academic researchers have tended to only measure the ingredients of effective teams.

Yet, in order to fully understand how to facilitate team effectiveness, especially in multidisciplinary teams, we need to understand the recipe that they use. In research, we call these recipes team processes.

However, it’s a lot easier to measure the team ingredients. The ingredients are measured before the teams start working (e.g., surveying each team member on their personality and knowledge), and then the performance of the team is measured upon task completion.

Measuring team processes requires looking at everything the team does – every interaction, every comment, every non-verbal signal – between the when they start working and when they stop. Eeep.

To make measuring team processes a whole lot easier, and to advance the science of team processes, we developed the Communication Analysis Tool (CAT). While it’s not a magic algorithm that measures team processes completely autonomously, it substantially reduces the time and effort required, and it completely customisable to the context of interest. Also, you can offer the team immediate feedback on their behaviours and interactions – or use CAT to produce a report at a later time.

But don’t take my word for it, check out what some of our users have to say!

Melissa Twemlow, who studied the effectiveness of Scrum meetings in Agile Teams:

Sofia Schlamp, who studied gender dynamics in team meetings:

Still not sure if you could use CAT in your work? Stay tuned for the next post in this series, where we will give other examples of how CAT can be used, including videos from our very own ‘CAT lovers!’

For further detail on the functionality and history of CAT, and how to access it, click here.

For the original Curtin University media release on CAT, click here.

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