Each team in each moment is unique. No two teams are alike. No two moments in one team’s history are identical. And yet there are universal patterns that shape the dynamics of all group processes — even if the group is as small as a married couple.

David Marcum and Steven Smith, authors of the new book Egonomics, report that John Gottman, a psychologist at the University of Washington, “can predict with 91% accuracy if a couple will stay married or divorce after watching and listening to them for as little as five minutes.” They say his work is “by far the highest prediction rate for a scientific study of any kind.”

Not only does Gottman see problems quickly. He fixes many of them. His marital therapy success rate is twice the national average — and it offers some insights for teams and larger organizations as well.

What’s his secret?

Gottman has observed more than 3,000 married couples in his “Love Lab.” He examines their heart rates, facial expressions, and how they talk about their relationship to each other and to other people. With that data, he is able to predict with more than 90% accuracy which couples will make it in marriage and which will not. He has learned to look for five warning signs in relationships:

  • criticism;
  • defensiveness;
  • flooding;
  • stonewalling; and,
  • contempt.

Jesus told us that we should love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Yet, each of these behaviors is a way of showing that one person does not respect another. Instead of putting common good first, these behaviors are all ways we serve our own egos, driven by pride or fear.

“Gottman’s signs are remarkably similar to those found in our research about what makes team relationships break down,” Marcum and Smith report. The culprits they find include defensiveness, showcasing expertise, finding fault, blame, excessive internal competition and seeking acceptance. Again, each of these is an ego issue.

That’s why it’s so important that leaders be mission driven rather than ego driven — and that they are able to create safe environments where all their team members can bring their unique skills and perspectives to the job and contribute the broad feedback needed for their organizations to thrive.

By the way, if you’re interested in Gottman’s seven suggestions for how to keep your marriage (or, we think, any relationship) strong, click here: [LINK]

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