collaboration-small-businessThere is an old saying that there is no “I” in team, meaning the power of a team is more powerful than one individual. That’s true in most cases, but a recent study from Harvard Business School, Boston University’s Questrom School of Business, and Northeastern University might show that forced, structured collaboration could hurt your team’s problem-solving abilities over a less structured collaborative environment.

The study included 417 participants that were then clustered into 16 different “networks,” some of which were more interconnected than others. In the more connected groups, there was a definite team structure, and the least clustered group nobody’s partners were also partners with each other.

Each network was given 25 minutes to solve a problem, and participants were paid for each minute they had the correct answer registered before the clock ran out. The results showed that the most clustered network came up with 5 percent more information than their counterparts because they knew what the others had come up with and looked for additional information.

In contrast, the teams with no set team structure came up with 17.5 percent more theories and solutions to solving the problem than the structured group of teams did. Because they didn’t know what other team members were doing or discussing, they weren’t worried about duplicating efforts that increased the chances they would find the correct answer.

"We realized that the network structure seemed to have opposite effects for searching for information and searching for solutions," Jesse Shore, a member of the research team, says. "That was sort of the 'aha' moment."

So what does this mean for your business? Well, it’s one study, on one group of students, but it’s initial proof that working in a highly structured collaborative environment might not be the best way to go for every situation. As the people at say “You — and your employees — will have better luck closing the door and duking it out on your own.”

But structured collaboration shouldn’t go by the wayside. The study isn’t the silver bullet that will kill the collaborative nature of a business, no matter the size. It does bring the thought of flexibility in the collaboration process to the forefront. And when it speaks of flexibility, it means in all stages of business — flexible technology, flexible employees and a flexible workspace.

Offering your employees options on how to collaborate will only increase the success of your business. As will giving them an area where they can go and disconnect and concentrate will help spur an original solution that the larger group may never have come up with.

You can read more about the study and it’s finding, here.