How to Choose Your Team on Group Projects

A resurfaced CNN tweet brought out the same joke from thousands of Twitter users recently. The shot: "Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt loses one of his nine Olympic gold medals after teammate's failed doping test"; the chaser: "This is why I hate group projects."

New research shows there may be a way to game the dreaded process at work, and it all comes down to when to pick your friends. A study at Ohio State University tried to suss out a performance advantage in working with friends or acquaintances versus colleagues you don't know well or at all. A few correlations came through, as well as a few surprises.

Overall, working with your friends on a project helps the project itself: The bigger the team, the better friends within that team motivated each other. "Friends can coordinate tasks more effectively," said lead author Seunghoo Chung in a press release. "They know each other's strengths and weaknesses and can figure out how to break up the work in the most efficient way."

This finding applied to projects based both in brainpower and muscle, but the researchers also found a surprising twist. The effect is greatest when the group's goal is to produce as much output as possible. But when it comes to solving problems, not knowing your coworkers as well may be better for coming to the best solution. If you're not friends with your group, you may be more likely to constructively disagree on a point, troubleshoot proposals, and resist groupthink.

There are all kinds of reasons to want a happy and friendly office culture. Investing in workplace friendliness to improve productivity can provide the mother of all bonuses.