Tuesday, May 5, 2009

You Got Virtual Rhythm?

A recent research report (Synchrony and Cooperation, Psychological Science, Volume 20-Number 1)) by Scott Wiltermuth and Chip Heath of Stanford University reinforces the view that human beings - along with much else in the natural world - are built to synchronize - coordinate their actions. Cultures abound in rhythmic rituals like group dancing and chanting (e.g., football fan singing)that have the appeal of enabling us to perform together in time. Synchrony appears to be built into our brains in the form of mirror neurons - imitation has been key to the emergence of cultures and human survival.

The researchers wanted to find out if collective movement triggered a more cooperative spirit, and to do this they devised some experiments. In one experiment, To quote from a Scientific American article about the study, "Relative to students in a control condition, who had simply ambled about, the students who had walked in lockstep around the campus were more cooperative in subsequent economic games, felt more connected to each other and trusted each other more . . . Participants were willing to incur direct costs to themselves to cooperate with the students with whom they had synchronized."

In both of the experiments, the participants were physically together. How do we support the 'urge to merge' in a virtual environment and build the cooperative spirit. Rhythm is the key, creating that sense of marching, dancing or singing together - finding the heart beat of the team. Rhythm created in team rituals, communications, meetings, and processes. Without rhythm, a virtual team loses any sense of cohesion.

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