Rounds, turn-taking, and team performance

In a team, does it make sense to have those talk who know the most? Or should everyone speak? Does that slow things down, or does it help the group with successful collaboration and cooperation? 

This article gathers insights from research on turn-taking and team performance that shows that the more everyone is involved, the better for the team. And surprisingly, it doesn’t even depend so much on people’s individual talent or intelligence: 

Individual reasoning and talent contribute far less to team success than one might expect. The best way to build a great team is not to select individuals for their smarts or accomplishments but to learn how they communicate and to shape and guide the team so that it follows successful communication patterns.

The New Science of Building Great Teams

Instead, cooperation is about communication – and that’s something one can learn and improve!


Meetings are when teams are together. It’s when teams experience each other and the group. The dynamics during meetings impact quite heavily how the teams perform. 

Google researched a lot of teams and observed their talking turns during meetings and compared it to team performance. They noticed that, on the good teams, members spoke in roughly the same proportion. Researchers call this phenomenon ‘‘equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking.’’

Of course, not everyone knows something about everything. So sometimes, everyone spoke during each topic. But it can also shift among members from topic to topic. 

But at the end of the day, over several meetings, everyone on a productive team had spoken roughly the same amount as others. If not, “the collective intelligence declined.”

So what does it mean to contribute equally? 

1. Everyone on the team talks and listens in roughly equal measure, keeping contributions short and sweet.

2. Members face one another, and their conversations and gestures are energetic.

3. Members connect directly with one another—not just with the team leader.

Harvard Business Review

Between meetings

There is more! People communicate between meetings as well, and how that happens is another predictor of a team’s success in the group’s collaboration. Together, those two factors explained the one-third difference in productivity (measured in $$) among groups. Good leadership fosters cooperation between all team members.

Researchers also found more indicators of high-performing teams:

4. Members carry on back-channel or side conversations within the team. 

5. Members periodically break, go exploring outside the team, and bring information back

Alex “Sandy” Pentland


Group project rounds - Sociocracy For All

In sociocracy, we use rounds to make sure people are contributing evenly – the simple practice of speaking one by one. It’s an old practice, and not only used in sociocracy. But it’s often one of the first things groups adopt. (Read about the first tools from sociocracy groups adopt.)

Rounds are useful because it’s just too tempting for some to dominate a conversation. And often, one doesn’t even know one is doing it. People might have the best intentions and their behavior might still weaken the group.

Rounds change culture. But sometimes, people are worried that people who frequently interrupt will continue to do so. 

Good news! Apparently, we’re not the only people who say this can be learned.

“Most people, given feedback, can learn to interrupt less, say, or to face other people, or to listen more actively.”

Alex “Sandy” Pentland


Rounds facilitate the habits that research shows make teams thrive. Distributing speaking turns is backed by science!


The New Science of Building Great Teams by Alex “Sandy” Pentland. Harvard Business Review Home, April 2012.

What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team. Charles Duhigg. February, 2016