Why does being friends foster group performance?
While the new meta-analysis can only tell us that it helps, but not why, previously published individual studies give us some clues. Put simply, friends are better at coordinating their actions. And people are more motivated to perform when they work in a group of friends.
This motivation boost can explain why it depends on the specific task as to how much working with friends can help performance. Friendship groups are particularly successful when it comes to tasks where they need to be quick, or to get a lot done. In work of this kind – think, for example, of collecting as much money for charity as possible – being persistent matters a lot. In tasks that are less about motivation than about having the right skills – for example when a team has to come up with the solution for a mathematical puzzle – friendship does not help group performance. But it doesn’t hurt it either.
The take-home message
When we want to perform well as a group, working with friends helps in many cases and is harmless in others. So, this is one of the rewarding cases where scientific findings match personal experience: both as a group researcher and as someone whose favourite collaborators are also friends, I can give the same recommendation as many managers do. Given the benefits that being around your friends has for well-being – and as we now know also for performance – work in a group together with your friends if you can. Or perhaps, try to become friends with your colleagues.
Nadira Faber is a research fellow at the University of Oxford. This article originally appeared on The Conversation, and is republished under a Creative Commons licence.
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