Futurity

To tackle complex problems, escape your coworkers

Slack and in-person teamwork are great, but you should probably close your office door once in awhile, too.
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Teamwork is great, but only if we get a chance to step away and do our own thinking, say researchers.

A new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences finds that interrupting problem-solving teamwork with breaks for individual reflection boosted the chance of finding the best answer, at least for especially complex problems.

Coauthor Jesse Shore, assistant professor at Boston University’s Questrom School of Business, says the finding has implications for always-on collaboration software like Slack, as well as regular in-person meetings.

Shore and his colleagues divided 309 subjects into teams of 3. The teams had to solve the classic mathematics “traveling salesman problem”: Given 25 cities and the distances between them, what is the shortest possible route that visits each city and returns to the city of origin? Some teams were able to see all members’ suggested solutions all the time, some had members who worked individually without ever seeing teammates’ solutions, and some shared teammates’ solutions occasionally during the problem-solving.

The teams that combined sharing with alone time had both the highest average performance and were likeliest to achieve the best answer to the problem. In those teams, says Shore, “our subjects learned from each other, even when the other person wasn’t necessarily as good overall.”

Here, Shore answers questions about their research and the implication of their findings for the use of team collaboration platforms like Slack.

The post To tackle complex problems, escape your coworkers appeared first on Futurity.

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