From flying an airplane to swinging on a trapeze, there are plenty of high-performance jobs where people have to work closely together without making mistakes. Research in psychology and organizations has mostly concluded that having positive emotions among team members improves overall performance across a range of occupations.
But happiness and excitement may be overestimated, at least in terms of performance, suggests new research from the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. Using pairs of cancer surgeons as their focus, the researchers found that only stress and its lack of it had a significant impact on how well people functioned together. The way to achieve this feeling of cold was for two surgeons to try at least one previous surgery together and it all went well.
“It’s not just that creating positivity gets us flowing. It’s more important to remove obstacles to flow,” said Tiziana Casiaro, professor of organizational behavior and human resource management and Marcel Desautels chair of integrative thinking at the Rottmann School. She is one of four study co-authors to research the performance of common tasks.
The researchers chose to focus on pairs because most work in organizations is done by pairs of employees who form the core of the team. In this case, the researchers had access to a group of 25 cancer surgeons at a German university hospital, who were typically paired up to perform the surgeries based on their availability and ability.
Surgeons were asked to rate their feelings of confidentiality when working with each of their colleagues, whether it was by feeling stressed, tense, alert, excited or relaxed. Their responses were related to data provided by the hospital about the operations performed by the surgeons in the several months before and after the survey was completed. This data showed with whom the surgeons worked and how long the surgeries took, which was used as an approximation of performance.
The less the surgeon feels with a fellow, the shorter the surgery time. Lower stress was also significantly associated with having excellent performance with a colleague at least once in the past several months. Nothing else matters, not even feeling positive feelings with a colleague or sharing the average surgical performance with someone, which means no mistakes. Professor Casiaro said she found it “amazing”, given that “avoiding mistakes is important.”
For surgeons, the findings suggest that surgical performance can be raised if scheduling managers can consider the past successes of two surgeons together when grouping working pairs, something German surgeons have been excited about, Professor Casciaro said.
Managers in general can also pave the way for a team pair to enjoy shared success, perhaps by selecting people based on complementary skills or personal qualities. Once they enjoy one success, the German surgeon’s study suggests that they may feel more relaxed around each other and be ready for more great performances in the future.
“Maybe the task will be a little more challenging or a little more novel,” said Professor Casiaro. “They will be equipped with the feeling they had with each other before and tackle the new task with appropriate emotional makeup.”
The study was co-authored by Miguel Souza Lobo of INSEAD, Hendrik Wilhelm of Witten/Herdecke University and Michael Wetland of the University of Applied Sciences and Arts in Hannover. featured in Management Discovery Academy.
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Tiziana Cassiro et al., The way we feel each other: Relational influence and common task performance, Management Discovery Academy (2021). DOI: 10.5465 / amd.2018.0095
Presented by the University of Toronto
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