(Game of Thrones season 6 spoilers ahead. You’ve been warned.)
There’s an art to building great teams. It’s something Jessica Olhausen is passionate about. A graduate of Santa Clara University, Jessica joined the Upsight San Francisco office as our newest HR coordinator back in early October. She’s since applied her skills as a psychological researcher and team analyst to the improvement of our internal benefit programs and recruiting initiatives. We caught up with her to learn about team chemistry and how it relates to her favorite premium network television series.
Hi Jessica. Welcome to Upsight! How are you settling in?
Very well! Lots of training. There’s a lot to cover, but I’m really enjoying it.
Awesome. You come from a pretty interesting background in team dynamics and psychology. Can you tell us a little about that?
So while I was in my last year of college at Santa Clara university I had the chance to pursue some psychology research having to do with the science of teams. The research specifically focussed on NASA space crews and how their long duration spaceflight missions will go. It involved analyzing every single astronaut and cosmonaut (which is a Russian astronaut) aboard the international space station. There are a lot of general psychology principles involved with that in terms of creating the best team cohesion and what the best demographic characteristics are for predicting team success.
It’s the kind of work that’s very easily applied to teams of all kinds. What we did was gather data on all of these different astronauts and cosmonauts, you know, whether it was gender, educational background, number of hours spent flying a plane, marital status, anything like that. Then you run that through an algorithm and analyze it from different perspectives to understand how well these teams will work together.
It all centered around long duration space missions like the mission to mars coming up in 2020. You can have the best spaceships and the best technology and you can try to make all of that error free, but the most dangerous aspects during a long duration mission can end up being the people. That translates easily to business. We can talk about business strategies, methodologies, everything, but it really comes down to how well the people on a team can work together and be cohesive.
That’s very cool. What sort of conclusions did you guys come to through doing those studies?
Right, so, one of the underlying principles that came from that study is this concept of “fault lines”. There can be strong fault lines (which are bad) or weak fault lines (which are good). Let’s say you have a NASA crew aboard the ISS and there are six people. Three females, three males. Every female is an engineer with a biology background and every male is a pilot with a physics background. That would make for some very strong fault lines within that team because they’re divided on so many different demographic characteristics. As a result, cohesion and that team chemistry wouldn’t be as strong.
But let’s say that you had six people, a couple female a couple males with a mix of educational backgrounds, a mix of piloting experience, everything contrasting: those are very weak fault lines. That team would work very well. So when you think about applying that to a business setting, you want to bring people onto your team that come from different schools with different majors, experience at different companies, because everyone will generate their own perspectives and insights and that will lead to more effective and creative solutions. Things like that.
That’s interesting. It seems counter-intuitive, that a greater diversity of opinions and viewpoints would lead to greater cohesion.
Right. It’s kind of a fine balance. You don’t want so much that people can’t connect. It’s important to be able to relate to people and form those bonds, but you also don’t want to be too alike because that does limit creativity and team chemistry.
Very cool. You’ve already had the chance to apply these skills in the tech field. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Yeah, so I had a role on the recruiting team at Pinterest, and that was specifically recruiting for diverse engineers across the whole department. So that was hitting machine learning, mobile, product. It was very interesting to bring in so many people of very different backgrounds. I’ll also be doing some recruiting at Upsight as well, so I’ll be able to apply those same principles.
Now I also heard that you’re a big Game of Thrones fan.
Oh yeah, love it.
I’m curious, given your background, what sort of weak or strong fault lines are you seeing? Any predictions?
Basically I want spoilers. Given your background and propensity for team analysis-
I’m loving it.
-who's going to be on the Iron Throne?
It’s hard to say how everyone is going to interact because people keep getting killed off… but who do I think will be on the iron throne? (pause) You know, I feel like it’s going to be Daenerys. I might put money on her or John Snow since he’s back from the dead, but I feel like they’re the most level headed and most capable of interacting with people.
Now I’m sure you’re aware that there are some fan theories that suggest it’s going to be a trifecta of Tyrion, Snow, and Daenerys. Thoughts?
You know, I wouldn’t complain. They all come from different backgrounds which would make for really weak fault lines. I wouldn’t complain at all about that. I’d be down for three seats on the Iron Throne.