Systems & complexity

What impact do coworkers have on our own performance?

Originally posted on The Horizons Tracker.

A few years ago I wrote about a study highlighting the huge impact collaboration had on our performance at work. Participants in the research who were primed to act collaboratively stuck at their task 64% longer than their solitary peers, whilst also reporting higher engagement levels, lower fatigue levels and a higher success rate. What’s more, this impact persisted for several weeks.

The value of teamwork seems considerable therefore, and it perhaps comes as no surprise that it was also lauded in a recent study1 published in the journal Management Science. The study suggests that better teamwork can help to overcome the low productivity that has bedeviled the service sector in recent times.

The research came to the unsurprising conclusion that effective teams boosted collaboration and creativity by promoting knowledge sharing among team members. The findings emerged after analyzing several restaurants over an 18 month period.

“We found that by pairing strong workers with less strong workers on the same teams, the overall strength of the team improves as those less strong workers are taught, mentored and inspired by their stronger counterparts,” the researchers explain. “This implies that to maximize sales, managers should create teams that combine staff members of different ability levels for the same shift. Our research tells us that doing this may increase total sales by nearly 2.5 percent at no extra cost.”

A similar finding emerged from a recent joint study between the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) and Rob Cross, Edward A. Madden Professor of Global Business at Babson College. It found that companies that promoted collaborative working were 5 times as likely to be high performing.

The study examined over 1,100 companies, many of whom claim to have open and collaborative cultures. Whilst many aspired to be collaborative however, a relative minority managed to achieve good results, with the authors suggesting that the key to productive collaboration is purpose.

Once purpose has been established, it’s important to ensure that your work environment all works towards supporting and promoting collaborative working. There are a number of systemic factors that influence how we behave at work, whether it’s how information flows through your organization, how decisions are made, the physical design of your workplace, or how you measure and reward employee behaviors.

So it seems, if you want to get the best performance, it pays to mix workers of varying ability levels, whilst also placing high-ability workers in a visible position to encourage positive spillovers to their colleagues.

Article source: What Impact Do Coworkers Have On Our Own Performance?

Header image source: Free-Photos on Pixabay, Public Domain.


  1. Tan, T. F., & Netessine, S. (2019). When you work with a superman, will you also fly? an empirical study of the impact of coworkers on performance. Management Science.
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Adi Gaskell

I'm an old school liberal with a love of self organizing systems. I hold a masters degree in IT, specializing in artificial intelligence and enjoy exploring the edge of organizational behavior. I specialize in finding the many great things that are happening in the world, and helping organizations apply these changes to their own environments. I also blog for some of the biggest sites in the industry, including Forbes, Social Business News, Social Media Today and, whilst also covering the latest trends in the social business world on my own website. I have also delivered talks on the subject for the likes of the NUJ, the Guardian, Stevenage Bioscience and CMI, whilst also appearing on shows such as BBC Radio 5 Live and Calgary Today.

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