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Two important articles on mental illness and Teams

Two important articles on mental illness and Teams

The New York Times SundayReview had two remarkable articles on January 17th, on the same page no less, if you happened to be reading it offline as I was that morning.

The first, “Redefining Mental Illness,” by T. M. Luhrmann, interprets a recent report by the British Psychological Association and compares it to  new thinking by the National Institute of Mental Health. This is pertaining to diagnoses and labels, such as “mental illness, psychosis or schizophrenia.” The conlusions are that some people find that identifying themselves as having an illness is useful and works for them, while, for others, its “‘an aspect of their personality which sometimes gets them into trouble but which they would not want to be without.’” There is also evidence in that sometimes medication helps “‘but that there is no evidence that it corrects an underlying biological abnormality.’”

At this point you should just read the whole article, because I’m out of my league here. However, my takeaway is this: it turns out that ‘diagnoses’ and labels are very risky things when it comes to understanding how people behave, and that they don’t necessarily make things better for the sufferer. ‘Sorting people into types’ comes naturally to humans. When encountering different behaviour its counterintuitive not to try and sort it or label it. Forget about serious mental illness; how about just labels like ‘passive aggressive,’ ‘introverted,’ ‘bully,’ or ‘anxious.’  I take it from this newer research that doing so just isn’t productive; it doesn’t make things better. It might feel good, and natural, to use these labels, but actually it may take us off-course. As Luhrmann says “defining people by a devastating label may not help them.”

The second article, on the same page, is “Why Some Teams Are Smarter Than Others,” by Anita Woolley, Thomas W. Malone and Christopher Chabris, who conducted research on…why some teams are smarter than others. You should read this one in full too, but her is the gist of it: its not the mix of a group’s intelligence, extroversion or motivation that makes it a smarter team. Rather, three characteristics distinguish ‘smarter’ teams: equal contribution to discussion by all team members, sensitivty to others’ emotions (measured by how well people pick up on others’ states as ‘read’ through their eyes and facial expression) and presence of presence of women. (“Teams with more women outperformed teams with more men.”) So: equal talk time by all members, emotional sensitivity and women. The authors link the last time together since their findings indicate “women, on average, [are] better at ‘mind-reading’ than men.” I think we can all agree to that.

It seems to me there are many implications to this research and to “a new science of effective teamwork.” How will we ensure that every on the team speaks? How will we get better at mind-reading? How the heck will we do that online, since so much team work is now done over the ether? How will maintain diversity on the team? I look forward to hearing more about this research in the future!

 

 

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Richard Toker