The Five Practices of Smart Teams

Teams, like individuals, can be stupid or smart.

Stupid teams consists of smart people who engage in stupid behaviors.

The 5 practices of smart teams:

#1. Team members disagree with the team leader.

Smart teams don’t have dominant leaders. The lid of a team’s intelligence is the dominant person who controls the team.

Effective leaders keep teams focused on important issues. (That’s skill, not dominance.)

Effective leaders establish and control the direction of conversations. Dominant leaders control the content of conversations.

Dominant leaders stifle conversations. Effective leaders ignite conversations.

#2. Conversations feel unscripted and spontaneous.

I heard an ineffective leader say, “I never hold a meeting until I’m sure of the outcome.” That leader has a stupid team.

It doesn’t matter how smart the individual players are if meetings are scripted.

Tip: Get heads turning toward each other, not the head of the table.

#3. Team members engage in vigorous debate.

Smart teams engage in respectful conflict.

Constructive dissent challenges thinking and sparks creativity.

#4. Team members notice emotional states.

Smart teammates say, “Something seems to be bothering you,” when a fellow team member isn’t them self.

Smart teams connect and care. Stupid teams bury their heads and stick to business.

Strong connection is the foundation for vigorous debate. (See behavior #3.)

#5. Smart teams explore crazy ideas.

Creative ideas don’t fit the mold.

Smart teams ask, “What if?”

3 ways to develop smart teams:

#1. Create psychological safety.

Anything that makes a team unsafe makes a team stupid.

Teams get smarter when the people around the table speak freely.

#2. Eliminate monologues.

Expect equal participation from every member, on average.

Monologues move teams from dumb to dumber.

#3. Practice social sensitivity.

Explore, don’t ignore emotion. “Professional” teams are dumb.

Smart teams may not be soft, but they are safe.

Have you been on a smart team? What made it smart?


Amy Edmondson, “The Fearless Organization.

Patrick Lencioni, “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.”

How to Avoid Distraction and Focus on Real Issues

Evidence for a Collective Intelligence Factor in the Performance of Human Groups

I first read about smart teams in Charles Duhigg’s book, “Smarter Faster Better.