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The science and research behind the products.

An introduction to how we set about researching the science of CoachBot

At Saberr we take research very seriously. Whenever we are looking to add a new feature to our products, we follow a process to ensure we make informed, smart decisions that will actually bring value to our customers. We then monitor the impact of our products on team performance and iterate on the design accordingly.

As a result, CoachBot is based on 100 years of research into what makes teams effective combined with practical field work with leading team coaches. CoachBot offers a unique way of using proven techniques to improve team performance. All evidence indicates that teams that practise the disciplines built into CoachBot are likely to out-perform teams that do not. As teams practise these disciplines and discuss challenging issues with each other, their environments become “safer” and individuals become more engaged with their team and work. Teams that work in a psychologically safe environment perform better; innovation is fostered, expertise is utilised, processes are improved.

However, we are not naive. Helping teams improve performance is not clean, linear or simple. Teamwork is messy. There isn’t a single set of rules that can guarantee team success. The team’s performance is also governed by organisational factors and market factors beyond the control of the team. External factors must be considered as part of any serious review of team performance.

With that in mind, CoachBot also generates insight that will drive future research into collaboration and teamwork. Saberr is keen to conduct research across large groups of teams to understand the impact of team interventions at scale.

This help guide will take you through the eight core research principles that CoachBot is built on, summarised below.

  1. Teamwork matters. Evidence indicates that teamwork has a positive impact on performance and on business outcomes.
  2. Interactive team interventions are effective. Team training interventions have a real impact on behaviours and performance, compared to other types of training. Interactive team training is by far the most effective format.
  3. Coaching the team as a unit is critical. Improving teamwork cannot be achieved by individual coaching or individual development alone.
  4. High performing teams have established clear “foundations”. This includes clarity around purpose, goals and behaviour.
  5. High performing teams reflect regularly and collectively. One of the most important activities of team meetings is collective reflection, with experts encouraging teams to set aside time periodically for reflection.
  6. High performing teams have effective one-to-one meetings, whereby both parties contribute to a shared agenda.
  7. Psychological safety is a critical condition for, and predictor of high team performance.
  8. Engagement with the team is a critical condition for, and predictor of high team performance.
    1. Teamwork matters
    There's significant scientific evidence for what is mostly common knowledge - that teamwork has a positive impact on organisational and business performance. In fact, teamwork interventions are amongst the most effective ways to drive better performance.

    Out of a variety of organisational change interventions, team development interventions were one of the interventions that had the greatest impact on financial performance.
    Macy & Izumi (1993) presented the results of a meta-analysis of 131 field studies of organisational change that appeared over a 30-year period. Group-oriented interventions showed evidence of improving behavioural measures of performance such as turnover and absenteeism. In summary, team-oriented interventions are one of a few subsets of interventions that have the most notable effects on organisational effectiveness, and team-oriented interventions affect both financial and behavioural measures of performance.

    Teams that demonstrate better teamwork processes are 20 to 25% more likely to succeed.
    LePine et al. (2008) examined over 130 team effectiveness studies. They used meta-analysis to quantify what most of us know from experience – that teamwork matters – and found that teams that demonstrate better teamwork processes are more likely to believe their team can succeed, more committed to their team, and 20 to 25% more likely to succeed.

    There is a significant effect of team building interventions on economic performance.
    Wolfe et al. (1989) tested whether a team building intervention was associated with economic performance. At the end of the first year of the business simulation, teams that had received the intervention had earned approximately $157,870, whilst the control counterpart had earned $82,890. The conditioned groups made better initial decisions and then proceeded to maintain their advantage over the length of the simulation, suggesting that initial team building will have long lasting financial outcomes.

    Organisations adopting teamwork practices as an important element of organisation design tend to excel on several performance dimensions such as employee relations and product quality.
    According to Kalleberg & Moody (1994) who analysed the relationship between performance and the team-based work practices.
    2. Interactive team interventions are effective.
    Teamwork training has positive effects on behaviours and performance. Giving people the chance to actively learn and practise teamwork, through interactive training methods and simulations is the most effective training method.

    People who go through teamwork training engage in more teamwork behaviours and perform better.

    McEwan et al. (2017) examined teamwork training and its effect on how well the team performs its task, and how many teamwork behaviours people actually show. They selected 51 studies (from a total of 16,849 reviewed) for a detailed analysis. All these studies compared teams receiving teamwork training to teams with no intervention, a control group. Their meta-analysis found that from all the people receiving the training, 66% show more teamwork behaviours, such as defining the team’s mission or coordinating with each other while working, compared to those who were not trained.

    Furthermore, teams also performed better on their tasks after going through teamwork training. This effect was also medium-to-large, and was present both on performance measured objectively (e.g. number of items produced) and subjectively (e.g. by external raters).

    In a meta-analysis, summarising research on team training effectiveness, Salas et al. (2008) find that 12–19% of the variance in team effectiveness can be explained by team training: “To know that team training can explain 12% to 19% of the variance of a team’s performance . . . can mean reducing medical errors (in healthcare), saving an aircraft (in aviation), increasing the bottom line (in business), or saving lives (in the military).

    Giving people the chance to actively learn and practise teamwork, through interactive training methods, had the largest effect on their behaviours and performance.
    Those are workshop-style exercises involving all team members, simulations of tasks that the team has to do, and indeed team reviews and debriefs on their real work together (like CoachBot’s retrospectives). The aim is to stimulate people’s critical thinking regarding teamwork in the workplace, and simply lecturing them might not do it.

    3. Coaching the team as a unit is critical.
    Coaching the team as a unit is critical. Improving teamwork cannot be achieved by individual coaching or individual development alone.

    Hackman and Wageman (2005) define team coaching as direct interaction with a team intended to help members make coordinated and task-appropriate use of their collective resources in accomplishing the team’s work. Coaching a team focusses on improving its effectiveness, which makes a team more likely to produce sustainable and repeatable performance in their outcomes.

    All members of a team can receive individual coaching to improve their personal capabilities and yet the team’s performance may not show any notable improvement, according to a study of 100+ top teams from around the world by Wageman et al. (2008).

    “A surprising finding from our research is that teams do not improve markedly even if all their members receive individual coaching to help develop their personal capabilities. Individual coaching can indeed help executives become better leaders in their own right, but the team does not necessarily improve […] Team development is not an additive function of individuals becoming more effective team players, but rather an entirely different capability. The reason for that is not immediately obvious. In essence, it is the because the team itself is an entity separate from the individuals who constitute it. For the team to get better, that entity needs to be coached while members are actually carrying out their collaborative work.”
    4. High performing teams have clear foundations.
    High performing teams have established shared “foundations”. This includes clarity around collective purpose, goals and behaviour.

    60% of a team’s effectiveness comes down to setting up the right team processes

    Wageman & Hackman (2005) describe this as pre-work and include creating compelling purpose, goals, behavioural norms and work practices. This set-up work also constitutes two of Peter Hawkins’ (2011) disciplines of high performing teams; clarifying and co-creating. Based on extensive research we consider purpose, behaviours and goals to be foundational topics with others forming a ‘long-tail’ of issues teams can face.

    Defining a clear team purpose

    Having a clear and shared purpose for the team is a clear form of motivational coaching. With CoachBot, we consider Shared Purpose to be a foundational area for teams.

    • Having a sense of shared purpose helps to build a personal attachment with the organisation and results in better performance, engagement and satisfaction (CIPD Study, 2010).
    • Furthermore, deliberately aligning a team’s purpose with the organisation’s mission allows teams to become more clearly integrated, supported and resourced (Mickan and Rodger, 2000).
    Agreeing clear expected team behaviours

    A team’s norms are the informal rules and expectations that team members have about how to act within that team.

    • Collectively agreed ‘group norms’ are often cited as having a consistent and important influence on how team members act and expect each other to act (Feldman, 1984).
    • A study of 60 self-managing teams found that higher levels of collectivistic group norms are related to higher perceived efficacy, higher levels of team performance (Celani & Tasa, 2010).
    • Consciously discussing team behaviours can serve to rectify any unspoken norms which the team are conforming to and which at times could be negatively impacting project performance or team effectiveness (Fung, 2014).
    Committing to clear team goals

    Not only is clarity of objectives a topic in most teamwork models, but having defined goals is an important foundation to allow teams to reflect about their performance and progress.

    • Mickan & Rodger (2000) found that not only individuals, but also the team as a unit, needs regular feedback and recognition of their progress towards the team’s goals.
    • Cotton’s (2009) research in a military setting showed that prioritising collective goals above individual goals was related to a participant’s degree of successful teamwork behaviour.
    • Aube & Rousseau’s (2005) study into 74 teams working in 13 Canadian organisations showed that higher levels of team goal commitment were related to higher levels of team performance.
    • Finally, higher levels of cooperative (shared) goals correlate to departmental effectiveness and even interdepartmental effectiveness in Chen & Tjosvold’s (2008) study across 35 financial organisations in China.
    5. High performing teams reflect regularly.
    Reflective coaching, where a team considers what has and hasn’t worked, and whether they have or haven’t worked together according to their own rules, can be an effective ongoing approach to improving effectiveness.

    Reflection is linked to outcomes directly: Regular team reflection has been found to significantly impact effectiveness and innovation, two of the most sought after qualities of high performing teams.
    • Schippers et al. (2015) showed that the relationship between reflexivity and innovation was significant, accounting for around 12% of the explained variance. Teams are more effective and innovative to the extent that they routinely take time out to reflect upon their objectives, strategies, processes and environments and make changes accordingly.
    • De Jong & Elfring (2010) showed how increased reflection and focus on actively improving performance are likely to translate into higher team performance.
    • West’s (2009) report on developing teamwork in NHS Trusts found that the most important activity of team meetings was was collective reflection. West encourages team leads to set aside time periodically for reflection.
    • The employee training research of Di Stefano et al. (2014) in a tech-support call centre also supports the effect of collective reflection on performance. The study group spent 20 minutes of their daily job training reflecting on their lessons of the day and sharing these with fellow trainees. The study group outperformed the control group by 25% in tests.
    Reflection (or reflexivity) is important on an ongoing basis

    End-points, where a team completes a block of work, are typically considered to be a good time for reflection. At this point, it is usually clear whether work has been a success or failure, and that knowledge can lead teams to misattribute blame or praise to individuals (often the leader), rather than to consider how they worked as a team. This makes end-of-work reflections a particularly important place for coaching structure to be introduced.

    However, in the mid-point of a team’s work, reflection and strategic interventions are particularly useful. Woolley (1998) showed how drastically team performance could be increased (in an experimental setting) by introducing mid-point reflections. When a team has enough experience to reflect on, but still enough time to make use of new strategies, they have the most to gain.
    6. High performing teams have effective one-to-ones.
    One-to-ones are found to be critical to employee engagement. They are most effective when they are frequent, regular and participants share the job of setting an agenda.

    Employees of managers who don’t have one-to-one meetings are 4 times as likely to be disengaged, whilst employees who have regular one-to-one meetings with their managers are 3 times more likely to be engaged, according to a study by Gallup (2015).

    Findings from Saberr’s primary research

    Saberr interviewed 100 people across industries, countries and seniority levels. Almost everyone interviewed, had engaged in some form of one-to-one in the last year, however, there was some confusion around the terminology of a one-to-one. In less tech focussed circles the term one-to-one was often associated with six month-yearly reviews.

    Participants found frequent, regular one-to-ones most effective. Most positive feedback about one-to-ones came from people who have them more frequently, anywhere between once a week to once a fortnight. Monthly one-to-ones were the limit for effective meetings. Beyond that either they misunderstood what a one-to-one is or the outcome was negative

    One-to-ones were found to be more effective if participants shared the job of setting an agenda. Agenda setting was overwhelmingly decided by the manager in most cases. It was interesting to note that whenever Saberr spoke to an employee who was either given full control of their agenda or had a fair amount of input, the one-to-ones were consistently praised for their effectiveness. When those who were not so positive were asked what would be one way to improve a one-to-one, almost everyone quoted agenda setting as their number one improvement.
    7. Psychological safety is key to team performance.
    A vast amount of research shows that psychological safety is a critical factor to team performance, employee engagement and therefore organisational performance.

    Psychological safety refers to an individual’s perception of the consequences of taking an interpersonal risk or a belief that a team is safe for risk taking in the face of being seen as ignorant, incompetent, negative, or disruptive. In a team with high psychological safety, members feel safe to take risks with each other. They feel confident that no one on the team will embarrass or punish anyone else for admitting a mistake, asking a question, or offering a new idea.

    The term was coined by Amy Edmondson, who continues to pioneer the research on psychological safety. The effects on employee engagement and performance in a wide range of settings (industries, team types, geographies) are summarised below. Further details for each of the case studies below can be found in the appendix.

    Psychological Safety = Increased Performance
    Research showing psychological safety had a positive effect on performance
    • Google's research across 180 teams found that psychological safety was the critical factor explaining why some teams out-performed others (1)
    • Psychological safety increased company performance in a sample of 47 mid-size German firms in both industrial and service industries (2)
    • Data from 60 R&D teams in Taiwanese technology firms found that psychologically safe teams are more innovative and out-perform others (3)
    • A study of 14 innovation teams dispersed across 18 nations showed that psychological safety helps disperse teams navigate challenges (4)
    • A study of nurses in a Belgian Hospital found that
 psychological safety encouraged nurses to report errors whilst also enforcing high standards for safety (5)
    • A study of clinical staff at a large metropolitan US hospital found that psychological safety was related to and patient safety (6)
    • A study of 195 students teams found diverse teams performed well within psychologically safe environments and badly otherwise (7)
    • Study of 117 student teams showed that conflict lead to good performance when teams had high psychological safety and low performance otherwise (8)

    Psychological Safety = Increased Engagement
    Research showing psychological safety had a positive effect on employee engagement
    • A study from 170 research scientists working showed the trust in top management lead to psychological safety, which in turn promoted work engagement (9)
    • A study in a mid western insurance company found that psychological safety predicted work engagement (10)
    • A study of clinical staff at a large metropolitan US hospital found that psychological safety was related to commitment to the organisation (6)
    • The study of US manufacturing and service companies found a relationship between employee confidence and psychological safety (11)
    • Psychological safety played a larger role for minorities in creating engagement and feeling of being valued at work (12)
    • A study of Turkish immigrants employed in Germany found that psychological safety was associated with work engagement, mental health, and turnover intentions (13)
    8. Team engagement is key to performance.
    Team engagement has a positive correlation with team performance, individual employee engagement and well-being and financial returns.

    • Engaged teams produce abnormal returns, over and above those of average companies. On average, about 2 percent [more] profitability a year, so 20 percent over ten years, according Browne (2016).
    • Torrente et al. (2012) found that teamwork engagement plays a mediating role between team processes / team climate and team performance as assessed by the supervisor (i.e. healthier team processes and climates can only impact team performance to the extent that the team is engaged). Team engagement also plays a crucial role in employee health, well-being and productivity.
    • Engagement with the team is also positively related to individual work engagement (Costa et al., 2014). Vast amounts of research shows the impact of individual employee engagement on performance, innovation, absenteeism, turnover and ultimately organisational financial performance.
    CoachBot Data Model
    How much data is the right amount of data?

    The Saberr team iterates on CoachBot’s design and data capture on an ongoing basis to deliver value to three stakeholder groups:

  9. Instant value to end-users; the teams using CoachBot. How do the datasets collected help teams improve their performance?
  10. Organisational value to buyers; the central admins implementing and monitoring CoachBot. How does the data collected help buyers understand the impact CoachBot is having?
  11. Research value to Saberr. How does the data enable us to remain at the forefront of team coaching technology?
  12. These different drivers mean Saberr faces trade-offs that need to be navigated carefully. Saberr has potential to collect a wide range of robust team data (for example, we could ask a dozen questions to measure psychological safety alone). However, we also place great focus on a team’s user experience of our products. After all, if teams don’t want to use our product we will not have a sustainable data collection process.

    Become part of the future of teamwork

    The data collected in CoachBot will enable Saberr, over time, to understand a team’s needs before they become problematic and provide the best solution given that team’s context. In order to continue generating new insight and analysis, we welcome partners for a unique project to both improve and understand team performance better. Combining performance coaching with cutting edge research this project would both improve performance of teams and generate insight understand drivers of team dynamics in your organisation.
    Outcomes & ROI
    For teams that use CoachBot for approximately 1.5 hours per month, after 6 months they find that on average...

    • Team performance improves by 22%
    • 31% clearer on objectives
    • 19% better at tracking progress towards goals
    • 43% more likely to discuss how they can improve
    • Employee engagement increases by 12%
    • Psychological safety improves by 43%
    • 23% increase in how well teams feel they know each other
    • Feel more comfortable bringing up problems and issues (77% agree)

    “CoachBot has surfaced some of the underlying niggles in the team that are now openly being talked about. People seem happier to share their thoughts.”

    “Since using CoachBot, people are more patient. We’ve become more polite on conference calls and there seems to be a better understanding among team members.”

    “CoachBot was easy to use and it added value to how we operate... It’s a non-intrusive way to keep on top of things that you don't naturally do on a day to day basis.”
    How does psychological safety improve engagement and performance?

    1. At Google, project Aristotle found that psychologically safety was the critical factor explaining why some teams out-performed others (Duhigg, 2016). Google identified 180 teams to study and conducted hundred of interviews and surveys. The research team found that “psychological safety was by far the most important factor. It was the underpinning of the others.” . It impacted multiple outcome metrics, surfaced for different kinds of teams across the organisation and showed consistent, robust statistical significance. Individuals on teams with higher psychological safety are less likely to leave Google, they’re more likely to harness the power of diverse ideas from their teammates, they bring in more revenue, and they’re rated as effective twice as often by executives.
    2. Psychological safety increased company performance in a sample of 47 mid-size German firms in both industrial and service industries. Performance was measured in two ways: change in return on assets and executive ratings of company goal achievement (Baer and Frese, 2003).
    3. Data from 245 members of 60 research and development teams in Taiwanese technology firms found that psychologically safe teams out performed others (Huang and Jiang, 2012).4. Psychological safety has been shown to help virtual teams manage challenges of geographic dispersion. A study of 14 innovation teams with members dispersed across 18 nations. The study showed that psychological safety helps disperse teams navigate challenges. For example team members felt less anxious about what that others might think of them and were better able to communicate openly (Edmondson, 2018).
    4. A study of nurses in a Belgian Hospital. Psychological safety encouraged nurses to report errors whilst also in forcing high standards for safety (Leroy et al. 2012).
    5. A study of clinical staff at a large metropolitan US hospital found that psychological safety was related to commitment to the organisation and patient safety (Rathert et al. 2009).
    6. A study of Masters students participating in 195 teams in a French university found teams which were diverse in expertise performed well when psychological safety was high and badly otherwise (Martins et al., 2013).
    7. A study of 117 student project teams showed the psychological safety moderated the relationship between conflict and performance such that conflict lead to good performance when teams had high psychological safety and low performance otherwise (Bradley, 2012).
    8. A study from 170 research scientists working in six Irish research centres. The authors showed the trust in top management lead to psychological safety, which in turn promoted work engagement (Chughtai et al., 2013)
    9. A study in the mid western insurance company found that psychological safety predicted work engagement. In turn, psychological safety was fostered by supportive relationships with co-workers (May et al., 2004).
    10. A study in the mid western insurance company found that psychological safety predicted work engagement. In turn, psychological safety was fostered by supportive relationships with co-workers (May et al., 2004).
    11. The study of US manufacturing and service companies. Found an interesting relationship between confidence and psychological safety. A psychologically safe workplace helped people overcome a lack of confidence. The influence of psychological safety and confidence on knowledge sharing (Siemsen et al., 2009).
    12. A study in a Midwestern mid-size manufacturing company highlighted a positive climate for diversity and psychological safety together lead to more discretionary effort.These relationships are stronger for minorities than for white employees suggesting that psychological safety may be playing an especially crucial role for minorities in creating engagement and a feeling of being valued at work (Singh et al., 2013).
    13. A study of Turkish immigrants employed in Germany found that psychological safety was associated with work engagement, mental health, and turnover intentions. They found that the positive effects of psychological safety was higher for the immigrants than for German employees in the same company (Ulusoy et al., 2016).
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    Bradley, B.H., Postlethwaite, B.E., Klotz, A.C., Hamdani, M.R. and Brown, K.G., 2012. Reaping the benefits of task conflict in teams: The critical role of team psychological safety climate. Journal of Applied Psychology, 97(1), p.151.

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