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The constructive interactions
tipping point leads to superior team performance



Marcial Losada, a researcher in mathematics, has measured how, above the constructive interactions tipping point, mutual learning and mutual trust are correlated with team performance . He has recorded the interactions of 60 business units management teams in their sessions to prepare their strategic plans (Losada 2004) . Based on their sustained financial results, customer satisfaction and internal 360 evaluation, the teams were separated into 15 high, 26 medium and 19 low performing teams. Their recorded interactions were measured with the 2 following ratios:
  • Mutual learning was measured with the ration E/A :
    E: number of interactions based on enquiring with an open question
        divided by
    A: number of interactions based on advocating one’s point of view
  • Defensiveness of interactions was measured with the ratio C/D :
    C: number of constructive interactions showing open enquiry, support or appreciation
         divided by
    D:  number of defensive interactions showing avoidance, disapproval, sarcasm or cynicism
Their mutual trust was measured with their “connectivity” (CN): the willingness of each team member to let himself be influenced by the interaction behaviour of the other team members. The match between these measurements (E/A, C/D and CN) and the variables in the root team building issue system are indicated in the figure 1 below.

Losada measurements
Table 1 indicates the results Losada found, with less than 7% variations within each group:

Table 1

Team Performance

High

Medium

Low

Average E/A over whole session

1.1

0.7

0.05

Average C/D over whole session

5.6

1.8

0.6

CN: connectivity

32

22

18


Losada found also that average defensiveness over extended periods (C/D) is directly derived from the connectivity (CN) and is much easier to measure. The variations of E/A and C/D during the sessions, illustrated in figure 2, show that high performance teams exhibit a high flexibility and creativity from their wide range of behaviours in term of E/A and C/D ratios. Low performance teams have a behaviour narrowly focussed on advocacy and defensiveness.

Learning versus constructiveness

Medium performing teams started their meetings flexibly and creatively with almost the same E/A and C/D ratios than high performing teams, but confronted with some difficult interactions – C/D going down –, they lost their resilience and got stuck in a behaviour focussed on advocacy and defensiveness until the end of the meeting.

By finding mathematical equations with the same behaviour than the values measured for the 60 teams, Losada found that the constructive interactions tipping point from low/medium to high performance – keeping high E/A and C/D for the whole meeting – is reached by teams that can maintain a ratio of C/D higher than 3 over sustained periods of time. These teams have enough resilience to face difficult interactions without falling down into advocacy and defensiveness and getting stuck there. Thus, the following 3 variables are strongly correlated:
  • High team performance, measured by financial and leading indicators
  • Average E/A bigger than 1: slightly more enquiries – open questions – than advocacies
  • Average C/D bigger than 3: at least 3 times more constructive interactions than defensive ones.
They are interlinked into a feedback system composed of 2 reinforcing loops: see figure 1 and the root team building issue system.  And the natural stability of this sytem creates two complicating factors:
  • The team members composing the system are not fully aware of their system dynamic – see figure 3 –, and they could misinterpret or counteract the intervention intended to help them !
  • The system – the team – is also stable: the feedback loops – the team members’ actions – will tend to bring the variable we try to change back under the constructive interactions tipping point.
So we have developed the constructive interactions technique to coach a team to reach the constructive interactions tipping point to improve its performance over a period of a few months.

  
Return from constructive interactions tipping point  to techniques

Return from constructive interactions tipping point to team results





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