The challenges that modern marketing teams face are coming in faster and hitting harder than ever before: Multi-channel attribution. Delivering different messages to different audience targets. Price optimization across a range of feature and service levels. Choosing and implementing the right technology stack.

Forget the old saying about working harder versus working smarter. Marketers today have to solve thornier and more complex problems. And they have to make important decisions as a team.

Building Smarter Teams

So how is your team developing its ability to make complex decisions? Research conducted by social scientists at MIT and Carnegie Mellon have unearthed some interesting findings.

In a paper published in Science, researchers ran two different experiments that both followed similar protocols: participants were split into randomly assigned 2-5 person teams and spent upwards of 4 hours on a diverse set of activities, including solving visual puzzles, brainstorming, negotiating over limited resources, and playing checkers (as a group) against a computer.

After analyzing the performance and team composition across 192 different teams, the researchers came to a series of conclusions:

Groups can be smart: Groups that solve one problem well are likely to also solve other problems well. This suggests that groups can exhibit a general intelligence similar to how a person with a high IQ / general intelligence is good at solving a variety of cognitive tasks

Group smartness goes beyond individual smartness: Average and maximum IQ of the individuals of the group are NOT significantly related to the group’s ability to solve problems as a group

Pep talks don’t make you smarter: Group cohesion, motivation, and satisfaction were not significant predictors of group intelligence / ability to problem-solve

What *was* significant were three factors:

1) Teams where individuals had a strong ability to detect the emotional state of other people performed better

2) Teams where the conversation was dominated by one or two individuals did worse

3) Teams where there were more females did better (authors believe this is related to point one)

In a related follow up study published in PLOS, groups were studied for their ability to solve problems either face to face or via computers and chat (text only). All 3 findings from the previous study held true (reading emotional states, distribution of conversation, females bringing performance) with two additional findings:

1) Greater communication was correlated with team performance, both in face to face and online

2) Online and face-to-face teams both appear to have similar levels of performance


(RME = Score on the Reading the Mind in the Eyes test, which indicates ability to read social cues)

This suggests that the abilities revealed by the emotional intelligence test go beyond simply the direct ability to “read” facial expressions and tie into something deeper.

The takeaway for marketers

Hire for EQ. While individual IQ isn’t irrelevant, it’s critical to filter for social savvy, i.e. emotional intelligence. For this study, participants were tested on their ability to accurately asses people’s emotional states based on only seeing their eyes. You can take the test yourself in just 10 minutes online, and perhaps you should run your whole team through it. (Reading the Mind in the Eyes)

Stop worshipping at the altar of the genius. There’s already a plethora of data that suggests that brilliant high performers don’t do as well in new roles, which underscores the role that great team dynamics play in producing market-beating outcomes. This study is just more data on that front.

Quit yapping. Especially if you’re the boss or the team lead, it can be easy to dominate a discussion. If you care about team performance, you have to learn to bite your tongue, and teach other loudmouths to do so as well.

Remote work works. The online teams showed insignificant differences in performance compared to face to face teams. But social intelligence is still critical when you hire or form those teams.

Consider hiring and promoting more women. Marketing as whole seems to have a decent amount of gender diversity. But if you look around your team, especially at the manager level and above where more important decisions are being made, and see all guys, you might want to rethink your hiring and promotion strategy. Because data suggests you could be raising the performance of your team.