Smaller groups result in better performance: Study

by L&D31 Aug 2016
The old saying ‘the more, the merrier’ does not apply to group situations in the workplace, according to a new study by Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration.

The research claims that smaller groups achieve more because less connections allow people to interact more frequently and intimately.

"We have a limit on how many people we can have meaningful interactions with," said Alex M. Susskind, author of the study and associate professor of food and beverage management.

"Hence, smaller networks in this study were associated with higher levels of individual performance."

The study is particularly relevant and important in the context of the increasing number of teams with workers who are geographically dispersed.

"The key is having a cohesive team and a limited number of contacts in the communication network," said Susskind.

"This allows team members to benefit from the strength and relationships within their team and not have their team interactions diluted by a larger base of network contacts."

The study focused on the work of teams from 11 universities on a nationwide research project in collaboration with six national hotel chains.

It involved them collecting network members' perceptions of team cohesion and conflict during the first three months and the last four months of the 14-month project.

The researchers discovered that groups who communicate frequently, both internally and externally, are more productive than groups with fewer interactions.

Moreover, as the group bonded more over the during the project, individual performance improved as well.

The study found three significant findings regarding how individuals engage in a team network:
  • Team unity and productivity suffer when individuals interact with members in the network outside their immediate team. Although having unique ties outside one's team provides access to new information, these links may reduce members' attachment to their group.
  • As project teams develop over time and team members develop familiarity with each other, there is less conflict about the project work.
  • Individual feelings of "closeness" and satisfaction with team members improves individual-level performance in the team.

Moreover, a recent study found that if a leader is communicating virtually with the rest of the team who are physically together, there's a good chance it will result in leadership issues such as confusion and communication problems.

The researchers suggested to that to avoid such troubles it’s worth ensuring that the leader is either physically located with the majority of the group, or to make sure everyone is telecommuting.

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