Optimal Team Construction for a Complex Task

The problem of optimizing team performance by judicious selection of team members has preoccupied management scientists and managers alike for generations. Different theories have disagreed on which individual attributes (e.g. skill, cognitive style, social perceptiveness) are most relevant to team performance, and also whether average level/type matters more or less than diversity. Finally, theories of team performance have been largely silent on the relevance of task complexity; i.e. to what extent does the optimal composition of a team depend on the complexity of the task being performed?

Here we address several of these problems simultaneously, using a novel "two-phase" experimental design. In the first phase,1200 subjects first completed a sequence of tasks of variable complexity and were each scored on skill, cognitive style, and social perceptiveness. In the second phase, the same subjects completed a second sequence of variable complexity tasks, where this time they were randomly assigned either to work again as individuals or in teams of three with high/low/mixed skill and high/low social perceptiveness. Our findings help reconcile previously conflicting claims from the collective intelligence literature and motivate a future research program to identify stable principles of team performance.