No matter how great their leaders might be, companies don't get anywhere unless their teams can come together and actually produce something worthwhile for the market. How often you should get the gang in one room, though, hasn't been super clear.

But research from Ethan Bernstein, Jesse Shore, and David Lazer, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, might finally provide an answer for you.

Three groups, one clear winner

For their study, Bernstein, Shore, and Lazer took a deep dive into the time between collaborations. In experiments, they had people tackle map optimization issues, essentially having them work out the best way to get around an area.

A third of participants worked alone.

Another third split into groups of three and had access to their teammates' solution whenever they wanted.

The last group worked mostly alone, but they occasionally got together in groups of three, compared notes, and then went off to fly solo again.

When the dust settled, the last group emerged as the winners, having produced the best results both as individuals and together.

The researchers assert that the last group got the top-tier finish because, while the team members weren't breathing down each other's necks squashing individual thought, they could take advantage of social learning, too. There was an ideal balance between independence and grabbing the awesome methods, ideas, or discoveries of everybody else.

Applying the study to your office

The findings are important for two big reasons. First, if teams aren't going to give you good results from more collaboration, then having more meetings just becomes a giant time and money suck. You basically end up paying them to get nowhere, all while stopping them from becoming confident in their own creativity and skill.

Secondly, there is a tendency--at least in American culture--to think that more is almost always better. Coffee boosts energy? Well, have two cups instead of one. Twenty minutes of HIIT exercise burns X amount of fat? Let's do 60 minutes! We tell ourselves winners set the bar a little higher and become like Judy Hopps in Zootopia, aggressively writing 200 parking tickets (before noon!) when we're required to do only 100.

But this research is a reminder that it's OK to back off. To let go. That moderation might be worth applying to more than just your lunch diet.

And once you accept that moderation isn't the enemy, life changes.

The stress of always being "on"--in front of others, no less--drops dramatically.

You can stay in touch with who you are a little better, be a little more self-forgiving.

So yes, there's a quantifiable value in a now-and-then approach to collaboration. But there's a value that comes from the mindset shift involved in applying this way of working, too.

So encourage your team to join up as needed, considering the unique requirements of specific projects on the table. There's no need to force them to be joined at the hip, especially since they'll learn that you trust them individually, a key motivator for wanting to stay in the group in the first place.

Huddle and break, as any sports team will tell you, really does work.

Published on: Apr 10, 2019
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