At some point in our lives, most of us have worked as part of a team. From executive teams to athletic teams, we all have a sense about the importance of teamwork and the impact it can have on getting jobs done and projects completed.

The urge to work within the context of a group doesn’t diminish as we age. In fact, it often expands exponentially as part of our desire to – for example – alleviate loneliness while being part of a group project with tangible objectives which members of that group share. But what is it that makes teams and groups work effectively?

Take The Beatles for Example

A recent edition of The Economist looked at that precise question recently using – perhaps improbably – The Beatles as a case study. That exploration, which was refreshingly down-to-earth and insightful, went a long way to explaining how the foundations of one of the world’s most influential rock bands were built.

The story showcased the development of one of The Beatles’ greatest hits, Get Back, as profiled in a recent documentary – The Beatles: Get Back – by filmmaker Peter Jackson, adding that in addition to being exceptionally entertaining it was something that executives should watch, too.

As the article observes: “Management research is always asking the question, ‘What makes a team sing?’ The Beatles documentary gives you a rare opportunity to see a world-class team in action. It reinforces established principles and adds new ones.”

Group Dynamics at Their Best

What we’re talking about here is, at root, “group dynamics” – a term introduced by social psychologist and change management expert Kurt Lewin in the early 1940s. In an assessment of his work mindtools explained:

“…people often take on distinct roles and behaviours when they work in a group. ‘Group dynamics’ describes the effects of these roles and behaviours on other group members, and on the group as a whole.”

Mindtools added: “A group with a positive dynamic is easy to spot. Team members trust one another, they work towards a collective decision, and they hold one another accountable for making things happen. As well as this, researchers have found that when a team has a positive dynamic, its members are nearly twice as creative as an average group.”

…researchers have found that when a team has a positive dynamic, its members are nearly twice as creative as an average group.

Teamwork in Action

That’s what The Beatles managed to accomplish, especially in their early formative years, before personality differences tore them apart. The Economist reports:

“Paul is strumming his guitar in a studio in London. Ringo watches in silence while George yawns. John is late as usual. Suddenly, magic. The melody begins to form; George plays his guitar, and Ringo dances along. John arrives and the Beatles’ next single, ‘Get Back’, is instantly recognisable.”

The article made an interesting, and decisive, point about Ringo – widely regarded as the group’s weakest cog: “Take the role of Ringo, for example. The drummer of the band spends his time looking confused or asleep when he’s not playing. Ringo smiles a lot when the three other musicians are arguing. He might seem dispensable to casual observers. He is a musician, but musically, there is no music without him. As a member of the team, he helps to ease conflict and creates bridges between people.”

What Makes a Good Group a Great Team?

As anyone who has looked critically at how teams function effectively – whether formed as part of a retiree dramatic society, a reading or walking group, or a dining or travel club – will conclude and The Economist accurately points out:

  • Psychological make-up matters to how teams come together
  • The performance of groups does not correlate with members’ intelligence but with the characteristics of the group such as sensitivity or how well teams give everyone time to talk

Concludes The Economist: “Ringo is a backbone to the band; without him, it would be less cohesive.”

The article also cites a study from McKinsey, the management consulting firm, which asked more than 5,000 executives to describe the environment in which they had their own best experiences of being in a team.

“The consultancy identified the importance and value of ‘renewal’, which is the ability to keep staleness at bay through taking risks, learning from others, and innovating.”

You don’t have to be a hotshot ambitious millennial executive to know how true that observation is.

Key Characteristics

Interestingly, Google embarked on an initiative in 2016 called Project Aristotle, through which the organization tried to define the characteristics of its most effective teams.

  • Goals should be specific, challenging, and achievable
  • Technical ability isn’t the only factor that determines success—talent is
  • Loving what you’re doing is crucial
  • Esprit de corps, though hard to build, is key

As The Economist concludes:

The best-performing teams get the most satisfaction from their work together, not from one another.

The Beatles in their hey-day makes that proposition crystal clear.