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New research finds the key trait in people who help their teams outperform

synchronized swimmers on the French olympic team
AP Photo/Felipe Dana
All together now.
  • Sarah Todd
By Sarah Todd

Senior reporter, Quartz and Quartz at Work

Group projects are a minefield for high-achieving students. They often wind up doing the bulk of the work—whether because they don’t trust their classmates to meet their standards, or because their teammates simply aren’t as invested in building a truss bridge out of string and toothpicks. Alternatively, if there’s more than one go-getter in the mix, group projects can devolve into power struggles with multiple students vying for control, leaving swaths of toothpick detritus in their wake.

Why do schools put kids through this particular form of torture? Well, it’s excellent preparation for the world of work. Group work is a very important part of the job for 78% of occupations in the US, according to O*NET, an online database sponsored by the US Department of Labor.

That means employers need people who know how to get things done as part of a team. And the most valuable people in that respect may not be the superstar types who got straight A’s in school, but team players with a high degree of social intelligence. In fact, social skills improve group performance about as much as IQ, according to a new working paper by Harvard researchers issued by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

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