Want to foster innovation among staff? Stop them from getting along too well

This is according to research from the Rotterdam School of Management, which claimed that friendship between colleagues was a double-edged sword – work friendships allegedly discourage employees from challenging what it termed as “group think”.

Co-author Tom Mom demonstrated that employees become less likely to innovate away from the established and accepted “norm”. With his colleagues he examined 150 respondents within large R&D departments, gauging whether personal friendships affected individual creativity in information obtained from their colleagues.

Mom explained: “Of course, having a network of friends at work is a positive circumstance, both personally and professionally. Not only does this enable innovation and creativity through increased knowledge exchange, but being able to trust one another and speak candidly opens doors to growth. Business development has always been huge priority for firms and the focus has recently shifted to maximising individual employees’ outputs. 

“By taking measures such as cross-sectional working, mixed training exercises or even the rotation of teams, managers can ensure that they reap the positive benefits of work relationships without slipping into the trap of over-familiarity and goal-alignment.”

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He added: “This also highlights the very real need for companies to increase diversity at board level in order to combat ‘group-think’, which would ultimately hinder innovation. Steering away from having a standardised business ‘identity’ – even if that may seem counter-intuitive – is a necessity in protecting from a herd mentality.”

This theory has remained prevalent ever since 2010, when Randstad concluded that while workplace friendship boosted morale, it tended to have an impact on productivity.

Those satisfied with their jobs cited “chumminess” ensured better teamwork and communication as well. However, few felt that it improved performance or productivity. There was also, Ranstad explained, the sticky situation of social media among colleagues. Just take, for example, the airport staff that resorted to bullying a colleague after being removed as a Facebook friend.

The future for established brands is uncertain with studies over the past few years, with Innosight suggesting 75 per cent of S&P 500 companies will be replaced by 2027. So what’s driving the need for innovation? And how can you ensure that any innovation is successful?

Image: Shutterstock

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