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How to Create Collaborative Business Teams - The 3:1 Positivity Ratio

Collaborative Business Teams

I was recently working with one of my San Francisco Bay Area executive coaching clients – the president of a professional services firm. My executive coaching client and I discussed how firm leaders could create a more positive work culture. I am coaching my client on to help firm team leaders become more positive, and change how their business teams think and act to create a more positive and productive culture.

The positivity/negativity ratio has been found to be a critical parameter in ascertaining what kinds of dynamics are possible for business teams. It is measured by counting the instances of positive feedback (e.g., “that is a good idea”) vs. negative feedback (e.g., “this is not what I expected; I am disappointed”).

For years, organizational psychologist Marcial Losada, PhD, studied the characteristics of high-performing business teams. Dr. Losada’s research findings can be summarized as follows: If a team is highly connected, its members will tend to maintain an equilibrium between internal and external focus, as well as between inquiry and advocacy. They will also maintain a positivity/negativity ratio above 3:1.

If connectivity is low, the team will be more internally focused, it will advocate strongly, and its positivity/negativity ratio will be below 3:1.

The Tipping Point: 3:1 Positivity Ratio

Dr. Losada’s research correlates with Dr. Barbara Fredrickson’s in her book Positivity: Groundbreaking Research Reveals How to Embrace the Hidden Strength of Positive Emotions, Overcome Negativity and Thrive (Crown Archetype, 2009), in that both independently arrived at a 3:1 positivity-to-negativity ratio for optimal functioning (whether for individuals or teams).

Psychologist John Gottman, PhD, an expert on marital relationships, found similar data for successful marriages. In flourishing marriages, positivity ratios were about 5:1. Similarly, research by clinical psychologist Robert Schwartz, PhD, cites an optimal positivity ratio of 4:1.

Most people (more than 80 percent), when reporting their experiences over the course of a day, report about a 2:1 positivity/negativity ratio.

For a small percentage, however, the ratio will be over 3:1. This correlates with high performance, life satisfaction and other measures of flourishing.

Improve Your Ratio

You can take a self-evaluation of your positivity/negativity ratio at Dr. Fredrickson’s site, To improve your ratio, you must decrease the number and intensity of negative moments, increase the positive moments, or both.

The goal is not to eliminate bad thoughts. Negative emotions are appropriate and useful. Properly used, negativity keeps us grounded, real and honest. It provides energy at crucial moments.

We need to become aware, however, of gratuitous negativity. For example, if you work with someone who’s annoying, you probably plug into negativity with each encounter. This is an entrenched emotional habit—and while it may be justified, it’s detrimental to your success and well-being.

Fortunately, simple awareness of negativity has a curative effect. Once you learn to spot it, you can defuse it. This is similar to the practice of mindfulness meditation, where you observe your thoughts without judgment.

To reduce negative thinking, adopt these useful techniques from the field of cognitive behavioral psychology and Dr. Fredrickson’s book:

  1. Dispute negative, black-and-white thinking habits (always/never, most/least, internal/external).
  2. Break ruminative thinking (use distractions to change mood).
  3. Become more mindful (observe without judgment).
  4. Reduce bad news streams.
  5. Avoid gossip and sarcasm.
  6. Smile more often at people.

Are you working in an organization where executive coaches provide leadership development to grow emotionally intelligent leaders? Does your organization provide executive coaching for leaders who need to create more positive and creative business teams? Enlightened leaders tap into their emotional intelligence and social intelligence skills to create a more positive culture.

One of the most powerful questions you can ask yourself is “Am I part of a high performing business team where members are highly positive?” Emotionally intelligent and socially intelligent organizations provide executive coaching as part of their peak performance leadership development program.

Working with a seasoned executive coach and leadership consultant trained in emotional intelligence and incorporating assessments such as the Bar-On EQ-I, CPI 260 and Denison Culture Survey can help you create a culture where all employees are more positive and fully engaged. Youcan become a leader who models emotional intelligence and social intelligence, and who inspires people to become fully engaged with the vision, mission and strategy of your company or law firm.

About Dr. Maynard Brusman

Dr. Maynard Brusman is a consulting psychologist, executive coach and trusted advisor to senior leadership teams. He is the president of Working Resources, a leadership consulting and executive coaching firm. We specialize in helping San Francisco Bay Area companies and law firms assess, select, coach, and retain emotionally intelligent leaders. Maynard is a highly sought-after speaker and workshop leader. He facilitates leadership retreats in Northern California and Costa Rica. The Society for Advancement of Consulting (SAC) awarded Dr. Maynard Brusman "Board Approved" designations in the specialties of Executive Coaching and Leadership Development.

For more information, please go to, write to, or call 415-546-1252.

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