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The ROI of being social at work

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Decades of psycho-social research on team work suggests that effective teams have both strong task-based behaviour as well as good social cohesion.

“A high-performance team works together to achieve mutual goals, recognizes that each member is accountable and committed to achieving team goals, communicates effectively with each other, shares the joy of achievement and the pain of not meeting goals, shares information, helps each other, and recognizes that the success of the group is dependent upon each individual” [1].

Without both the factors of task and social cohesion a team tends not to be as effective.

In some cases, though, modern businesses struggle with the idea that being social has a business benefit. Taylorist management practices in particular only focus on those things that are measurable and directly associated with the task rather than understanding whether or not social interaction is of benefit to the task at hand. The result is seen in many modern managers who believe that their employees need to be busy and not wasting time (where wasting time equals socialising). Particularly, this attitude has impacted on the adoption of social media within the enterprise because networking with peers and colleagues through Facebook, for example, is believed to be time-wasting and of very little actual value to “busy work”.

Recent MIT research, however, is challenging this idea [2].

MIT research shows that 40% of creative teams productivity is directly explained by the amount of communication they have with others to discover, gather, and internalise information. In other MIT studies, research shows that employees with the most extensive digital networks are 7% more productive than their colleagues. Furthermore, those with the most cohesive face-to-face networks are 30% more productive.

This reinforces similar research by Aral, Brynjolfsson & Van Alstyne [3] that highlights the importance of these networks because they “strongly influence information diffusion … and access to novel information”. Availability of these networks, their research shows, is a highly significant predictor of worker productivity.

Since information does not diffuse randomly in organisations, but rather reflects the nature and structure of human relationships, providing the right tools that support human social relationships, communication and interaction, will provide a significant ROI to the enterprise.

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1. Bulleit, B. 2006. Effectively managing team conflict. Cary, NC: Global Knowledge Training LLC.

2. Pentland, A. 2009. How Social Networks Network Best. Harvard Business Review, Feb, p 37.

3. Aral, Brynjolfsson & Van Alstyne. 2007. Productivity Effects of Information Diffusion in Networks.

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