You are currently viewing Are Women Better Team Players?

Are Women Better Team Players?

No one doubts that high performance teams are meant to be the engines that drive success in today’s business environment. Though much has been written on team theory and there is no scarcity of experiential team trainings, the pathway to team effectiveness has remained elusive for many managers.

We can draw some insights into predictors of team effectiveness from several research studies that have identified “collective intelligence” as a critical team success factor and specified three criteria to measure collective intelligence: social perceptiveness (social sensitivity), higher levels of communication (willingness to let others take turns at speaking) and more equal participation in group tasks.

It might not come as a surprise that groups with higher collective intelligence had a higher proportion of females in the group.  Anita Wolley et all suggested that the reason for better performance was due to the fact that on average women score better on social sensitivity than men and usually display a more egalitarian style and less social dominance related behaviors.

Social awareness is also a critical element of emotional intelligence, a significant predictor of being an effective team member given that in teams, interpersonal dynamics and team mindset come into play.

Furthermore, as management is realizing the limitations of “command-and-control” in terms of engagement, motivation, accountability and ownership, the “Stage Five teams of leaders” have become the desired goal as they show higher performance and accountability.

In such self-managed teams, the other two criteria of taking turns in communication and greater participation distribution in team tasks become desired behaviors and skills. Both of which are more prominent with women than man as pointed out by several research studies such as Anita Woolley et all, John Dovidio et all and Alice Eagly and Blair Johnson.

If we break down the components of social sensitivity, in which our female colleagues on average are more skilled, we can create a pathway towards improvement.

The ability to exhibit empathy is probably the most significant first step.

Cultivating empathy requires switching from an advocacy style of communication to an inquiry style where the use of open-ended questions and the curiosity to understand the other’s thoughts, feelings and wants drives the conversation.

Being in touch with one’s own emotions (thoughts feelings and desires) also comes into play as well as putting oneself in the shoes of another and walking a mile in his or her shoes.

Another source of information comes from body language, facial expressions and tone of voice. It is as simple as paying attention and noticing slight variations while using one’s intuition to respond.

Listening to understand rather than to reply should guide the conversation while acknowledgment, reflection, summarizing and paraphrasing will allow for understanding while also demonstrating that indeed one is listening.

As one practices listening in a communication style of inquiry, taking turns in communication will happen naturally as advocacy usually drives loquaciousness.

Volunteering to help on tasks not specific to one’s role, encouraging team members to participate while expressing one’s confidence, and trust in their ability to add value will lead to a more even participation distribution.

In summary, while women on average have greater social awareness and demonstrate more “inequity aversion”, the skills needed for a higher collective intelligence in teams have been identified and through practice can be mastered by both genders.


Anita Woolley, Christopher Chabris, Alexander Pentland, Thomas W. Malone and Nada Hashmi (2010). Evidence for a Collective Intelligence Factor in the Performance of Human Groups. Science magazine V.330, October 29, 2010

Anita Williams Woolley, Ishani Aggarwal, and Thomas W. Malone (2015). Collective intelligence and group performance. Psychological Science · Dec. 2015.

Paul Gustavson & Stewart Liff (2014). A team of Leaders. Amacom, New York, NY

John F. Dovidio, Clifford E. Brown, Karen Heltman, Steve L. Ellyson, and Caroline F. Keating (1988). Power displays between men and women in discussions of gender-linked tasks: A multichannel study. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 55: 580.7.

Jennifer, H. Berdahl and Cameron Anderson (2005). Men, women and leadership centralization in groups over time. Group Dynamics 9: 45.57

Alice H. Eagly, and Johnson T. Blair (1990). Gender and leadership style: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin 108: 233.56.

Peter J. Kuhn and Marie-Claire Villeval (2013). Are women more attracted to cooperation than men? NBER Working Paper No. 19277. Issued in August 2013