Most of us have experienced the frustration of having to collaborate on a work project with colleagues we don’t particularly click with. When it’s 10pm on a Tuesday and hapless Kevin still hasn’t emailed over the PowerPoint slides he was supposed to have finished hours ago, and Maureen is saying she won’t be able to make the presentation because she’s got a bit of a cold, it’s easy to end up wondering why your boss couldn’t have teamed you up with people you actually like.
If you know that you and your best office buddy would make an unstoppable force, but rarely actually get paired up together for tasks, direct your manager to a new study published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. Researchers analysed the results of several different studies into professional teamwork and friendship, and found that sets of friends often performed better than groups of acquaintances or strangers.
In other words, you’re more likely to excel when collaborating with your ‘work wife’ than with someone you’ve only ever exchanged small talk with in the office kitchen. (We know: shocker.)
“Working with friends is not just something that makes us feel good - it can actually produce better results,” says Robert Lount, associate professor of management and human resources and co-author of the study.
The researchers, from Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business, examined the results of 26 studies, encompassing more than 1,000 groups of colleagues and almost 3,500 participants.
Interestingly, it didn’t make a difference whether the task at hand involved ‘brawn or brains’: friendship groups frequently did better at professional projects.
“Friends can coordinate tasks more effectively,” says Seunghoo Chung, who led the study. “They know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and can figure out how to break up the work in the most efficient way.”
Teams with friends were especially productive and effective when groups were bigger, and when the focus was on maximising output (i.e. getting the most amount of work done in the available time).
Chung says this is likely because output-related tasks often require a lot of motivation, which friends can help with.
“When you’re working with friends, you tend to be in a better mood and can work through the adversity and strain that sometimes comes from having to produce a lot in a short time,” he explains.
The only situation in which working with friends didn’t improve performance was when the goal was to find the best solution to a problem, rather than to increase output. Lount says this could be because people who aren’t friends may be more likely to constructively challenge one another’s viewpoints and less likely to go along with the crowd, ultimately leading to a more solid conclusion.
As a result of their findings, the researchers recommend that bosses should encourage friendships in the workplace by introducing non-mandatory social events and team-building exercises - not just to make employees feel happier, but to actually increase the amount of work that gets done.
“When employees are having fun together, it may have long-term benefits for productivity,” says Lount.
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