Teamwork makes the dream work, right? Wrong, apparently. According to science, a culture of too much workplace collaboration might prove detrimental to the workers in it.
Don’t get it twisted, there’s nothing more horrible than working in a completely toxic work environment. However, one school of thought suggests that you can go too far the other way and actually be so afraid of conflict that nothing gets done.
Is too much workplace collaboration harming the top performers?
What’s with this radical new idea all of a sudden? Well, it turns out that the people who typically do the best in a workplace may be held back by an emphasis on collaboration.
This is based on a new study recently published in the journal Applied Psychology, featuring an experiment focused on 105 Taiwanese hair salons. Researchers asked managers to share performance reviews for their workers. Then, they asked those workers how collaborative they felt their workplace was and how they felt about their colleagues.
Based on the answers they collected, the researchers concluded there was more of a gulf between standout employees and their colleagues in a collaborative environment. The top performers also “experienced more negative treatment in the form of belittling and criticism when they were surrounded by co-workers who felt threatened.”
In the second part of the study, the authors recruited 284 university students for a team-based problem-solving task. Some were told to focus on cooperation, while others were told to take a more individualised approach. What they saw was more of the same; those who saw the strongest players as a threat were more likely to make nasty comments about them in a more collaborative setting.
An argument for arguing
So overly collaborative workplaces can create a breeding ground for toxic attitudes and behind-the-back chatter. Does that mean – horror of horrors – that a bit of confrontation every now and then can be beneficial? Yup, believe it or not.
Writing for Harvard Business Review, Liane Davey argued that having conflicts in workplace can be a way of pushing everyone toward better ideas and better execution. “Productive conflict creates value,” she said. “If you avoid disagreeing, you leave faulty assumptions unexposed.”
The idea here is that a healthy amount of disagreement shows that everybody is advocating for that own roles and department. It ensures that all sides are heard when making a department or company-wide decision. It also gives you a view of the different personalities in the room and how they can help shape a decision.
Want to make sure that if you disagree you at least get some benefits out of it? Make sure to speak your mind and encourage other, less confident team members to do the same. And remember, there’s a productive way to disagree with people.
Articulate your problem in a measured way, support your argument with facts and try and find some common ground. And most of all, don’t worry if your workplace culture isn’t sunshine and rainbows all the time. Taking a more individualistic approach just might get you out of meetings quicker.