We like to think of teamwork as the ultimate organizational good. Team players support co-workers, sublimate their egos for the benefit of the larger group, and help bring about greater innovation and productivity.

It follows, then, that the more tightly knit the team, the better the team will perform. Or does it?

Such a thing as too close
Two faculty members at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School recently published a research paper suggesting that teams which are too tightly knit may resist outside input and end up hurting themselves.

The researchers studied the reaction of 252 subjects to new information, and found there was a big difference, depending on whether the subjects worked alone or in teams of two.

Subjects working alone on the research task – estimating answers to questions like “What percentage of Americans own pets?” – adjusted their estimates by 33% on average when presented with outside estimates that differed from theirs.

But those working in teams adjusted their answers by just 20%, showing greater resistance to outside information – even when it was potentially helpful.

The researchers suggested that a couple of factors were at work here:

  • Team members believed since both their opinions went into the initial estimate, it was more reliable than if just one person had come up with it.
  • Team members wanted to maintain the team’s social cohesion.

What’s all this mean for your organization? For one thing, managers may want to make special efforts to “open up” their team to new members and/or reshuffle teams that have been together for extended periods.

Source: knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu

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