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  • Writer's pictureEric Luk

Using eye gaze to improve teamwork and business performance

An article titled “The Impact of Leader Eye Gaze on Disparity in Member Influence: Implications for Process and Performance in Diverse Groups” was authored by Shim et al. and published in the renowned Academy of Management Journal in 2021[i]. Through a series of studies and experiments, the article highlighted the impact of leader’s eye gaze and offered practical yet easy to adopt insights for leaders to improve inclusivity and team performance – we summarise some of the key findings and useful tips here.

Eye gazing – when we look into the eyes of others, is a fundamental human trait and a form of common visual and non-verbal behaviour and signal used during social interactions. If a person looks at another individual for an unusually long time (such as staring), it usually signals a threat or dominating intentions. Conversely, if a person looks away from a target person (averted gaze), it usually signals a lack of interest in the target.

In successful organisations, inclusiveness, teamwork and empowerment of junior or frontline workers to speak up can be particularly important. For example, when Johns Hopkins Hospital empowered nurses and frontline workers to speak up more, it prevented 43 infections and 8 deaths and realised US$2 million in cost savings over a period of 2 years. Junior or frontline workers are often less willing to speak up during group discussions, when their status is lower due to their tenure, seniority and education status relative to other team members – but they often have valuable inputs.

The authors found that deliberate eye gazing by leaders during group discussions can help encourage junior workers speak up and contribute more, whilst it did not affect the level of contribution from other more senior team members. The rough rule of thumb of ‘6s and 2s’, based on the authors’ experiments found that leaders alternating 6 and 2 seconds of eye gaze with junior staff and senior staff respectively helped improved contribution and subsequent team performance.

Besides greater teamwork, individual contribution and inclusiveness, the use of eye gazing is easy to adopt by leaders yet powerful – try it in your next team meeting!

[i] Shim, S., Livingston, R. W., Philips, K. W., & Lam, S. S. K. (2021). The impact of leader eye gaze on disparity in member influence: Implications for process and performance in diverse groups. Academy of Management Journal, 64(6), 1873-1900.

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