If you work with a team in an office environment, you have no shortage of communication tools and opportunities. Slack, Chime, Teams — we’re always on and always available. You and your team members probably also think that technology is helping you multitask and work more efficiently, but that's not always the case. Have you ever wondered if there is a Goldilocks point — a perfect balance between being always connected and working alone?
More Is Not Better
Ethan Bernstein, Harvard Business School; Jesse Shore, Boston University; and David Lazer, Northeastern University, took on this topic in their most recent research. Their study challenges the notion that leaders seem convinced of: “the more eyes on a problem…the better the solution.”
These days, if the initial team takes too long to figure out how to produce computer chips more efficiently, leaders assign more team members. They might encourage team members to constantly communicate. When one employee has a possible breakthrough, they might immediately ‘slack’ everyone else to get feedback. This work pattern goes on all day long. In the end, nobody has very long to think about a solution without interruption.
The Boston-based researchers studied the work outcome for 600 groups to measure the impact of constant communication. Individuals in these groups were told to design the shortest delivery route that required a stop in 25 cities. (Geeks who are reading this post will recognize this assignment as classic operations research or the traveling salesperson problem.)
The Value of Intermittent Communication
This kind of problem requires calculating multiple rounds to solve for the most efficient route. During the research study, some groups shared all results continuously, some teams shared their mid-point solutions every third round, and some individuals worked alone throughout the process. The results showed that the best solutions with the shortest route times came from the groups that intermittently shared information.
Bernstein called the outcome the ‘Goldilocks’ point. Unfortunately, many businesses want to ‘maximize transparency’ and our ‘always-on’ business culture makes it easy for people to constantly communicate. This new research “shows the intermittent interaction pulls not just the groups up, but the best performers as well.” Keep this outcome in mind the next time you assign work projects and discuss ground rules about team communication.