Why You Need More Alone Time At Work

Photo: Javier Díez

There’s no doubt team collaboration produces better results than working alone on a project. The more minds that can contribute to a particular project, the more effective the end solution will be because of how many sets of eyes and hands there are to pass over it and make it better. But a recently released study suggests there is such thing as too much teamwork.

The new research, published last week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, found people produce their best work with a combination of collaboration and solo time. Researchers gathered groups of people to solve a complicated problem. One group had to work as individuals and were not permitted to communicate with one another. Another group had constant communication and interaction throughout the work session. The final group collaborated with one another but took regular breaks to hunker down and work individually before reconvening to continue as a group.

Some people who worked alone the whole time came up with great solutions to the problem; others flying solo did not. The group that collaborated the entire time had higher-quality work overall but didn't produce as many excellent solutions. The top performer in the challenge was the group that got a mix of time for individual thinking and teamwork.

When people get together to problem-solve, the study explains, groupthink tends to take over and encourages all members to collectivize around the ideas of the most talented people in the group. While they're able to produce and polish a couple of really excellent solutions that surpass the quality of solutions created by individuals, the number of ideas in the pool being developed actually decreases. In other words, some of the members' creativity gets stifled in a group setting.

"The intermittence allowed us to get the best of both worlds: getting lots of good solutions and, at the same time, raising the mean," Ethan Bernstein, an organizational behavior professor at Harvard Business School and one of the lead authors of the study, told Time.

Getting away from the team for a while helps for so many reasons, including increasing a single person's productivity and allowing for some sanity-saving alone time. After all, past reports have found people in average white-collar jobs can spend an alarming 47,000 hours responding to emails over the course of their careers. That's the equivalent of more than 60 percent of your career, the Washington Post reports. Yikes.

And now that the latest research shows even the team as a whole is benefiting from each member's alone time, you've got even more of a reason to try to unplug and take a break from the constant team collaboration.

"Managers are now at a point where they have to be thoughtful and deliberate about how they use constant, always-on communication," Bernstein says. "At what point in time might they want a little bit less of it?"

Um, now, please?

Next up, try these 11 other hacks for a more productive workday.

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