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How to stop an icy relationship sinking your team

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How to stop an icy relationship sinking your team

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When it comes to collaboration, it seems natural to require employees working on those formal and informal teams to work effectively together.  It seems equally natural to associate excellent collaboration with a well bonded team that get along together, but of course that is not always possible.  There will be instances where members of a team don’t get along, yet they will be required to for the good of the project.

A new study from the Open University of the Netherlands suggests a solution.  The researchers studied 73 teams from eight different European organizations.  Within each team, the researchers would identify whether there was animosity towards one or more member of that team, with at least 44% of the teams identified as having at least one such relationship within it.

The researchers hypothesis that the presence of even a single frosty relationship would be all it takes to put a kibosh on group harmony.  They also predicted however that the impact of a frosty relationship could be thawed by three key factors:

  1. Regular communication within the team, ie the more communication within the team, the greater the chance of working through issues
  2. Interdependent working, ie the more collaborative the work, the more the team had to find a way to work effectively together
  3. High quality social exchange, which ensured a sense of caring for one another that would facilitate conciliatory actions

The research produced a number of interesting findings.  Firstly, as one might expect, a negative dynamic within a team considerably eroded the cohesion and performance of the team.  However, when the team scored highly for interdependence and high quality interactions, any negative impacts on team performance were significantly reduced, and often eroded completely.

However, it emerged that high levels of communication did little to reduce tension within the group.  The researchers pondered whether high communication levels might reduce the probability of tension arising in the first place, but as their research didn’t explicitly test for this, it would be something for a future study to explore.

I’ve spoken before about the importance of the collaboration we undertake at work having a clear purpose.  This research underlines a happy side-effect of this being the case.

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