I recall being part of reproducing an experiment in a class in college. It worked so consistently that the professor had his class repeat it every year. Everyone took that NASA test about being stranded on the moon, ranking the items in terms of what you would take with you. It was a reasoning test: We can't use a parachute, there's no atmosphere. But wait! We could carry stuff in it. When the results were in, the class was ranked and separated into four groups. The top 25% were put in one group, the next 25% in a second, etc. People were told which quartile they fell in, but were instructed that they were not allowed to share that information with the group. The groups collaborated and took the test again.
Group B got the best score of all groups, achieving a higher total than any individual, not only in their own group but in the whole class. Pretty cool really.
Groups A & C were about the same, with Group C pretty much holding to the average of its members' scores. They neither helped nor hurt each other much. That score was a significant dropoff for Group A, though. Their group score was worse than any individual score from the top two groups. They made each other worse.
Group D scored even lower together than they had individually, though not by much.
The standard explanation is that the high scorers arrogantly refused to listen to others and insisted on their own way, which depressed team functioning enough to make everything worse. I would note that significantly, the fact that they did not fall much below the overall average could mean that such groups could go undetected in an organisation for years. And as these things go, observers would notice that Group D was clearly worse and start to develop new policies to correct their mistakes - and make everyone do those things as well, which would depress functioning over at least the top three groups. Maybe even Group D, which is what they were specifically trying to fix. But that's another story.
Group B did great when they had that mix of belief that "I am pretty good at this, but other people are better."
I wondered immediately about some other experiments off the same model. What if the top scorers knew they were with other top scorers? Presumably they would be more willing to listen, wouldn't they? What if the worst scorers knew they were in a group together? Wouldn't that trigger at least one person saying "Okay, we need some very different strategy." Also, this was at an elite school where even the worst scorers were likely to be well above average in intelligence and conscientiousness. Maybe not so hot in other things. What happens when you don't segregate by quartile scores and just mix everyone together, which is more often the case in any job or organisation they are going to be in? The "experiment" looks like it provides valuable insights into human behavior, but it also tells us what we want to hear, so we should be doubly suspicious.
As my career developed, it became apparent to me that I had a special ability to rescue dysfunctional teams. I won't bore you with what attributes went into that, but there is an incident that was riveting for me, and allowed me to rethink what I was doing instantly and start applying it. We were multidisciplinary and by program design there had to be a member of each discipline present at the morning staff meeting where we reviewed each patient. Because of this,whenever a team member was out, for example psychology, that department had to send a representative to at least sit in for that day. A particular psychologist had sat in with us for two days and said almost nothing. But he pulled me aside after and said "This team has plenty of people who can sit around contemplating their navels about each patient and getting into extended discussions about them. You are as good as any of them about that, probably better. (This was pleasant, as I was by far the least-credentialed at the table.) But you leave frustrated every day because the team doesn't come to decisions and you have to flounder for the rest of the day, half-doing three different plans in the hopes that something gets decided tomorrow. Your function, though none of them will admit it, is to be the team leader that forces the group to come to a decision every day. Are we discharging this patient today? What will be the risks and who will complain? What can we do about that? Are we discharging them next week? What does that mean for our capacity? Who is going to be pissed? Are we actually helping the patient or just avoiding conflicts with other agencies?" He gave some very clear examples from the last two days and the light dawned for me.
It should be noted over the next thirty years, one marvelous team did not need this in the least and I got to just show up, fill out may forms and make my calls, and banter with that group of geniuses every day, even though these were the most difficult clients in the hospital. But another set of teams, all of which included one particular individual, never became more than functional. She brought out the worst features of everyone she worked with, so that to an outside observer it looked like the whole zoo was out of their cages. But after a year I knew otherwise, and was stuck with her for another seven, as everyone else in my department refused to work with her.
Byron Auguste of Opportunity@Work, the group that got the State Of Maryland to identify a large percentage of its jobs that did not actually require the listed credentials and drop them - and do outreach to previous job applicants who had been screened out for those credentials, reasoning that that would be heavily weighted toward people who could probably do the job anyway dropped an interesting fact in his interview with Tyler Cowan. Google has done the data gathering on a huge number of team members and decided that if you have another measure - pretty much any other measure - of the necessary skills for a job, such as conscientiousness, intelligence, ability to get along with others, having a Bachelor's degree provides no additional predictive value, and a Master's degree almost none. Observing what a person is doing in their current job tells you more than any other factor. Does the job require frequent online training? So give them the first three training modules as a test and weight that more than credits or diplomas.
Which makes complete sense and we all knew that. But at every bureaucratic level people apply their own defensiveness, their own prejudices. HR departments used to be drawn from everywhere in the company, but are now people with degrees in vague subjects who are box-checkers, and they reason "well, it was important for me to have a degree to get this job, because it showed I'm the right sort of person for these important things. Therefore we should require people to have degrees for other important jobs because...well, they're important jobs." Educators absolutely do the same thing. I still remember my silent fury at being made to watch the deceptive video "Who Cares About Kelsey?" (It took place in a poor town in NH, so a NH human services agency was their market), when the Wonderful Teachers who had Believed In Kelsey were congratulating her about graduating from Somersworth HS and were hanging around, and one very slyly presented her with a sweatshirt from the local community college, because she was clearly going to need to go further in order to get a Good Job - oh, you know, a job like the one all of us do! Which requires a degree!
Or the woman at my church who was angrily advocating with the State of NH to pass legislation so that nursery school assistants had to complete at least three college courses to keep their jobs. I asked if there was any evidence that these courses improved their abilities. She was irritated, and explained to me Very Patiently that of course these course would improve their abilities. She found my unwillingness to be convinced by the "it just stands to reason" argument deeply insulting, as if her credentials were being brought into question as well. Come to think of it, they were, though I didn't say that. Nice lady, but a Master's in Education is more likely to be damaging than helpful. I applaud pursuing the degree when it is someone who knows that this is how the system works and is gaming it for their benefit. But I certainly don't respect it as an achievement.
Degrees are like licensing, a less-obvious but even more deadening imposition on the system than the notorious stories about hair-braiding licenses. There is a bait-and-switch (or motte-and-bailey) argument about MDs and civil engineers needing credentials that gets applied to a hundred other areas where there is no evidence at all.
One more thing. Managers and employers complain that employees resist learning new skills, while employees overwhelmingly say they would love to learn new skills but are uncertain which ones are the best to pursue. Let me take a guess at what is happening there, having spent forty years in a state bureaucracy. Managers get so irritated at employees who "resist change" and need to be trained and retrained on new stuff. They interpret this as an unwillingness to learn new skills and accept change. But what they are forcing down their throats is seldom new skills. It is new procedures, new policies, cool stuff to change their attitudes about how ignorant and evil everyone has been for the last hundred years. Maybe it is a change to a new app, which at least has a chance of being a new skill - though it usually isn't, just a new way to fill in the boxes and decide where the information will be sent.
Okay, rant over. If I had more to say, I'll put it elsewhere.