Finally: 500 sources.
When I started TeamTrainers ten years ago, I wanted to make sure I was only telling my clients what really worked. I'd attended some trainings on team development and read some books in the six years I'd been doing it at my work. Few spoke of actions I was finding most effective, and some of the suggestions seem really dubious based on what I had learned of small group psychology. So I fell back on my early career as a journalist and "hit the stacks." Every week for six months, I spent a day in the libraries at the Univ. of New Mexico. In those days, I was able to go through a half-dozen articles a week, focusing on scientific studies, and a book every couple of weeks. I think I had around 350 sources when I finished the first draft of my training method, The SuddenTeams™ Program. Mind you, not all of my sources are scientific. I have to create practical applications from the science, and examples from the real world help me teach them.
After moving to Seattle, for three years I published an e-newsletter, hitting the Univ. of Washington libraries a full day once a month. TeamResearch News has morphed into a collection of study summaries arranged by topic on my Web site. Along with other sources picked up over time, I was over 450 sources when I restarted the business here in Raleigh. Now I walk to the library at North Carolina State Univ. once a month, but usually only half a Saturday. (Fortunately, it's easier to find studies on the Internet these days.) With the typical human penchant for nice, round numbers, I yearned to top the 500 mark. With the personality and performance article I wrote up last week, I did it. You can download the bibliography (PDF) and count them if you like.
Most people seem impressed when they hear about my research into "The Science of Teams™," but I have run into skepticism. A meeting of potential referral partners in Seattle fell apart when one person took an anti-science stance. Speaking as a former reporter, I put a chunk of the blame on the media. When they report on studies without putting them into the bigger context; or make one study appear to contradict the next by not reporting the different methods; and hype books by people on the fringe of scientific thought as if those theories have been proven, the average reader is understandably confused.
But science learns the same way you do: through trial and error. Scientists do this in a very controlled way, however. They eliminate other factors that could have caused the result they saw, and try the same test again with some slight changes to see if that makes a difference, and they invite others to try it. They pore through other scientists' work to get ideas and avoid others' mistakes. And when they're done with their trial, they have to submit the report to an anonymous team of colleagues who critique the article, questioning the scientist's methods and conclusions (hence the term "peer-reviewed journal") . Then the journal editors take a crack.
Tiny differences in how studies are put together can cause very different findings. Over time, however, a trend will develop until most of the scientists in a particular field of study agree on some basic truths. Sometimes new evidence causes a huge shift in thinking. But more often, especially in the behavior sciences, consensus develops in a slow, methodical way over many years, and proves able to predict results. They'll still call it a "theory" though, as in "the theory of gravity." And there are always "outliers," exceptions to the rule.
But the media do not report all this. There have been countless "shifts" reported that from a scientific standpoint are relatively minor. Whether you eat a lot or a little salt, or go on a high-fat diet to shed some pounds quickly, is almost irrelevant. The basic truths of nutritional science have held accurate through countless studies over decades. You have a much better chance of being healthier than the average person if over the long term you:
The same is true in teamwork science. Sometimes the latest fad or buzzword flies in the face of science, with no studies supporting it. It's just an idea somebody has. These eventually disappear, but not before wasting some teams' time, money, and goodwill. Other popular team building solutions are like diets: they might have a short-term, temporary effect, but as soon as you go off the diet/activity, the bigger, underlying issues are still there—and the pounds or problems return.
Winston Churchill famously wrote, "democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried." Scientists make mistakes, have egos, hang onto theories longer than they should, and otherwise show the same foibles as the rest of us. I rejected at least 100 studies for various reasons, including my belief that some were poor science. But scientists follow a process, the scientific method, and subject themselves to checks and balances the rest of us would find highly irritating, for a simple reason: they want the truth.
I'll take that over some consultant pushing his or her latest Big Idea, or popular but unproven practices, any day. And today, I have 500 reasons supporting me.