"Our musical taste is a sonic mirror," music psychologist David Greenburg has said. But it seems our taste in tunes does more than reflect our personality. Apparently, what music we listen to can shape our behavior too.

That was the conclusion of previous research that showed teams that listen to music together at work feel more bonded, are more willing to cooperate, and coordinate their actions more easily. In short, they work collaborate better.

But that leaves bosses looking to harness the incredible power of music to boost teamwork with one burning question -- what type of music should you play?

Of course, you could leave it to your employees to duke it out over the playlist, but at most offices I've ever worked in that's likely to cause more conflict than it soothes. Luckily, science has a better idea: a research-backed suggestion for which type of music exactly will do the most to boost collaboration.

Sorry, metalhead bosses, science has some bad news for you.

The recently published study was led by Kevin Kniffin of Cornell University and highlighted on the Greater Good Science Center blog. It involved mimicking an office environment by recruiting students to play a collaborative game for monetary rewards while listening to one of two different types of music -- either rhythmic, happy music (think pop ditty "I'm Walking on Sunshine") or unhappy, non-rhythmic music (something like this tune from metalcore band Attack Attack!)

The results were not entirely shocking. "Participants who listened to happy music were more likely to cooperate, regardless of their age, gender, or academic major, than those who listened to unhappy music," reports Greater Good.

Slightly more surprising was the fact that cheerful music seemed to improve collaboration even if study subjects themselves felt it had no effect on their mood. The researchers suggest that this shows it's not the happy vibes of feel-good music that are producing these effects. Instead, it's the bouncing beat.

"When people are presented with a steady rhythm or beat, they are inclined to mimic that beat and, in turn, get in sync. That translates naturally into more cooperation during decision-making," Kniffin commented.

A cheap and cheerful team building tool

For employers the takeaway couldn't be simpler -- playing up-tempo and cheerful music at the office when you're working on group projects will only cost you the price of a Spotify subscription and can make a real dent in how well your team collaborates.

"Compared with expensive off-site team-building retreats, our findings suggest that inexpensive modifications to the office soundscape can boost mood and performance," Kniffin says.

Now all you have to do is figure out how to placate that grumpy Attack Attack! loving metal fan on your staff.

Do you think your team could agree on a collaboration-boosting playlist?

Published on: Oct 5, 2016
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