With a little help from your friends

A study shows that working with friends, rather than acquaintances or strangers may produce better results. 

Is working with friends a huge distraction or can it improve work performance? Surprisingly, research shows that it’s the latter: teams composed of friends, rather than mere acquaintances or strangers, may produce better results on certain tasks.  

Seunghoo Chung and Robert B Lount Jr, both from The Ohio State University, Hee Man Park of the Pennsylvania State University and Ernest S Park of the Grand Valley State University conducted a literature review of empirical studies that examined the effects of friends, rather than acquaintances, on group performance. 

Data from 1,016 groups was obtained from 26 studies, and the results support the suggestion that the overall effect of friendship on group performance is positive – whether the tasks involved are physical or cognitive and whether the groups are children or adults. 

The results also show that teams including friends are particularly effective when the groups are larger and when their focus is on maximising output, as opposed to finding an optimal solution. 

The benefits of friendship groups may stem from their ability to better coordinate resources and actions through shared knowledge and effective communication, and as a result of higher levels of motivation, says the study. The findings are consistent with the “notion that friendships allow members to bring to the table many of the group dynamics and processes that underlie productivity and effective performance”.

The researchers explain that, when groups are larger, motivation and coordination are usually harder to sustain. Friendship between group members appears to mitigate those threats. However, working with strangers may be of greater benefit when it comes to tasks that require an answer to a problem, says Lount. This is because people who are not friends may be more likely to discuss the pros and cons of a proposed solution, rather than just go along with the crowd.

Friends With Performance Benefits: A Meta-Analysis on the Relationship Between Friendship and Group Performance says managers should encourage the development of friendships among employees during team-building or training. It also acknowledges that further research is required to establish what proportion of the group needs to be friends with one another for any benefit to occur.