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During in-person, small group discussions, such as those that occur in classrooms and conference rooms, participants rely on human signals — tone, gesture, sentiment — to help them interpret what’s really happening in the conversation.

In highly effective groups, conversation is free-flowing, and energetic. All parties are engaged. Less effective groups typically struggle with fundamentals: having balanced speaking time, allowing others to finish their thoughts, and staying focused throughout meetings. While those who dominate the conversation may feel that they’ve just had a positive experience, quieter participants who are consistently interrupted and marginalized usually feel quite differently.

When working remotely, effective teams will need some help developing a new set of rules and a cadence for working in new modalities. Less effective teams will struggle and need coaching to work together online. Human interactive signals are dampened online, and even in a video call, the absence of the three dimensional experience of being together means you have less information than you may need to navigate the nuances of a multi-party conversation.

In all cases, it can be difficult to develop and maintain self and situational awareness in order to become a good team member, whether you’re meeting and working together in person or online.

How do you build the trust required to collaborate effectively and become a high performing team? Are there ways to measure and learn what makes your team tick? How does an individual know if they are being effective in a team? Will anyone tell them if they’re not?

Thanks to a $991K National Science Foundation (NSF) Phase II Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant, Riff Analytics will continue its and research and development of the Riff Platform, which helps individuals develop essential soft skills in order to become more effective communicating and collaborating in teams.

Riff’s novel approach draws on a decade of research from the Human Dynamics group at MIT Media Lab. Over the last three years, we’ve been focused on improving personal and team performance by helping people become more conscious of how they interact with one another. Riff optimizes collaboration and engagement by providing insights through personalized, real-time feedback to individuals and holistic views of small group interactions. The platform also subtly encourages users to speak more — or less — in order to maintain conversational balance, or to engage others who haven’t been active.

The NSF funds will allow our team to conduct further research to improve group functioning online by modeling conversational behaviors, especially in the context of online learning, professional development, and executive coaching.

We are extremely grateful for this grant — we’ll be able to make progress toward our goal of empowering learners and leaders alike, while creating the most productive online environments in which to collaborate, work, and learn together.

Previously awarded NSF funding allowed us to demonstrate that students who used Riff Video during online learning experiences were 35% more likely to complete the course and earn a higher grade – important findings for schools focused on retention and performance in online programming. We have also shown that teams using Riff on a regular basis become more effective and collaborative over time.

I’m excited for the remainder of 2021. We’re working on some unique features geared toward anyone in higher education, professional development, corporate L&D, and coaching. Specifically, we will look at verbal and non-verbal conversational effects, studying how certain interpersonal behaviors foster better team dynamics. We will also look at real time feedback and how nudging people during meetings may lead to better outcomes.

The future of how we work and learn is in a truly transformative state. As people learn how to adapt to virtual and hybrid modes of work — in offices, homes, coffee shops and classrooms — new habits are being formed and new ways of interacting are being studied. We have developed Riff as a way to evolve how people think about learning and work, and to empower self-development through technology. Riff provides AI-enabled feedback and long-term insights that will bridge the communications gap that is inevitable during this transitional time.


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