Many companies actively recruit the friends of employees, believing such relationships lead to better results since it will make employees happier to be working with buddies. But research shows that such a strategy may backfire, which is why leaders need to tread carefully.
It’s much more fun – not to mention a heck of a lot less stressful – to get along with your colleagues at work. It’s even better when you’re friends with co-workers, because who doesn’t want to work with friends, right?
Well, according to a recent study, your company’s bottom line may not like these workplace friendships. Specifically, a study by Ryerson University published in the European Management Journal finds that despite past beliefs that “group cohesion” can only help a team’s performance, it can have a downside: groupthink.
If you’re not familiar with the term, groupthink is a term coined by research psychologist Irving Janis, and is often tied to poor decisions that arise out of teams or groups. The idea is that when ideas aren’t challenged – just simply embraced without debate – then it leads to a less-desirable outcome.
Sean Wise, professor of entrepreneurship at Ryerson, conducted a study that analyzed email communications for 187 teams from one company. Using digital data collection and social network analysis software, Wise found that while social connections boosted a team’s performance at first, too much cohesion eventually led to a diminished performance.
Being so friendly, he found, eventually hurt the team’s performance.
Ben Dattner, an industrial and organizational psychologist and adjunct professor at New York University, says that leaders may find groupthink leads to decisions that can have disastrous outcomes.
For example, President Kennedy’s subordinates used groupthink to jump to the conclusion that the U.S. should invade Cuba in 1961, because they knew it was what he wanted. After the invasion failed, Kennedy tasked his younger brother, Robert, to vigorously vet any decisions that were being considered by the Executive Committee of the National Security Council.
How can organizations and leaders ensure that teams get along – but don’t lapse into groupthink? Here are some tips from experts:
Finally, remember that while collaboration is highly promoted in workplaces today, sometimes leaders need to back off so that it doesn’t lead to groupthink and less-creative ideas.
As Steven Wozniak notes in his book, ‘iWoz”: “I don’t believe anything really revolutionary has ever been invented by committee… I’m going to give you some advice that might be hard to take. That advice is: Work alone… Not on a committee. Not on a team.”
If leaders harness the creativity of someone like Wozniak and channel it into more diverse collaborative efforts, then it may lead to a much better bottom-line – whether the team is friendly with one another or not.