Pi Attitude Zone: Self-Fulfilment

If You Want Results, Stop People Working Together

It is almost axiomatic in business that working together is what gets things done.  Bosses seem to believe this without question. There is a growing number of  experts and management gurus, however, who would beg to differ.

A mounting body of academic studies is finding that an excess of collaboration at work leads to the opposite of creativity and innovation.  Instead, it can actually promote mediocrity, conformity and bland groupthink.  Mark de Rond, a Cambridge academic, has argued from his research that the most successful ‘teamwork’ actually emerges from the clash of egos, opposing voices and internal competition.  Too much harmony, he decided, can be an obstacle to team performance, miring managers in “learned helplessness”, dragging out endless consultations, and putting group leaders in a funk when decisions have to be taken.

Morten Hansen, in studies for the University of California, Berkeley, evaluated the negotiation success-rates of over 180 teams who were tasked with winning a contract for a service-based business.  He established that the more time the teams spent consulting other people, the less likely they were to actually swing a deal.  Teamwork, he decided, could be more of a drag than a benefit.

Yet business continues to espouse togetherness as the default workplace model.  This is at its most visible in America’s offices, over 70% of which are now open-plan in design.  The fundamental idea behind this is that ideas, enthusiasm and co-operation will spread around a workspace when it is freed of walls, barriers and partitions.  Yet evidence is accumulating everywhere of what a thoroughly bad idea open-plan offices really are.  An American design company called Gensler asked office-workers in more than 150 countries, spread across different industries, what they thought of working in open-plan spaces.  They encountered a high degree of vehement antipathy. 

Among the things people hated most was the impossibility of concentrating on the work in hand, due to the irritating distractions of noisy office equipment and their even noisier workmates.  All they seemed to want was a quiet corner in which to focus single-mindedly on what they need to do, free of distractions.  Large numbers complained of the inescapable hubbub of human voices and time-wasting tattle, aggravated by rackety acoustics.  Even when they wanted to talk themselves they found they couldn’t, for fear of disturbing other people or having their sensitive conversations overheard.  Stress levels soar in such spaces, and communicable diseases like ‘flu spread unchecked.  Open-plan offices, it seems, are not just a bad idea, but actively counter-productive.

In spite of this finding, however, Pi has yet to hear of a trend back to closed offices.  Sorry, what was that?  With all this noise I can’t hear you...

Zone: Self-Fulfilment Country: Multiple Geographies Product – Business / Professional