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I think it’s safe to say that in grade school we actually still liked school: we looked forward to seeing our friends, showing off our newest sweater, going to that one class we enjoyed, and playing our favorite games in gym class. But there was, of course, also so much to despise: getting there at 8 a.m. (I mean, c’mon), learning for hours straight, eating soggy sandwiches, and finally, the most hated thing in the history of the world…working on group projects. Was working independently and responsibly really too much to ask? Teachers love to assign group projects. And that’s not even the cruelest part: they live to demand you don’t work with your friends.

I get it—teachers want their students to get down to business, not chit chat all day long with their buddies. So, they do what they can to split up friends and minimize the talking, in hopes of greater productivity. While this makes sense in theory, a new study “Friends With Performance Benefits: A Meta-Analysis on the Relationship Between Friendship and Group Performance” says not so fast: the study’s findings suggest that teams made up of friends perform better on certain tasks than do groups of strangers or acquaintances.

To reach this conclusion, the research team led by Seunghoo Chung, a doctoral student in management and human resources at Ohio state, analyzed a total of 26 studies which consisted of 1,016 groups and 3,467 participants. These studies explored teams of participants that had established friendships as well as those with participants whom were not acquainted, which were designed to measure task performance. In the end, the researchers found that groups of friends (regardless of age) had a clear performance advantage. And of these friendship teams, the bigger the better.

Furthermore, friendship groups performed better when they had to produce greater output; they did not, however, have an advantage when the task at hand was to find the best solution to a given problem. “Friends can coordinate tasks more effectively,” Chung explains of the team’s findings. “They know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and can figure out how to break up the work in the most efficient way.” He also explains that friends help each other stay motivated, which is probably why they delivered greater output than other groups.

However, in acknowledgement of the fact that friends did not have an advantage when the goal was to find an optimal solution, Robert Lount co-author of the study and associate professor of management and human resources at The Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business says that it might be better to work with strangers in these cases. You’re probably wondering why there was a difference here. Well, people who aren’t too friendly with one another may be more likely to constructively disagree, discuss pros and cons, and ensure their voice is heard.

All in all, Lount says that the results suggest that managers consider holding non-mandatory social events and team-building exercises for employees, in order to encourage the development of friendships. “When employees are having fun together, it may have long-term benefits for productivity,” he explains. “As a manager, you must balance allowing friends the opportunity to socialize, but also making sure that they don’t spend too much time at the water cooler.”

I’ve thought about printing off this study, marching down to my old middle school, and seeing if I can’t find a few old teachers of mine—the next steps, of course, would be to present them this study and accept their apologies. Because while it might be an okay to work with strangers in some instances, it looks like working with familiar faces is ideal. For both the teacher’s benefit and mine.

Sources: Ohio State University. “Teams work better with a little help from your friends.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 23 October 2017. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/10/171023095038.htm>.

Seunghoo Chung, Robert B. Lount, Hee Man Park, Ernest S. Park. Friends With Performance Benefits: A Meta-Analysis on the Relationship Between Friendship and Group Performance. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 2017; 014616721773306 DOI: 10.1177/0146167217733069

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