Collaborative Work Environments Can Have a Downside for Star Performers

Collaborative Work Environments Can Have a Downside for Star Performers

Alex Fradera at the British Psychological Society’s Research Digest flags a new study looking at the impact of cooperative workplaces on high-performing employees, which found that “in more cooperative climates, hotshots are actually more likely to get a raw deal”:

Elizabeth Campbell and her colleagues surveyed 350 hair stylists, mainly women, working within a chain of Taiwanese salons. The researchers were interested in how the most successful stylists were treated by their peers: they identified hotshots by asking managers for performance ratings, and then they surveyed all the staff to find out the benefits and threats they saw in each other, and how much criticism and support they received. They also asked stylists about their salon’s working climate by asking them how much they agreed with statements like “there is a high level of cooperation between stylists”. …

The researchers found that hotshots experienced more negative treatment in the form of belittling and criticism when they were surrounded by co-workers who felt threatened. In contrast, hotshots received more help and support if their colleagues saw them as a benefit. The typical high performer had a mixed bag: compared to the typical stylist, they were criticised more, but also received more support. But that support was lacking within salons with more cooperative climates.

This is not the first study to suggest that cooperative workplaces can have a negative impact on standout employees. Last year, management scholars Rob Cross, Reb Rebele, and Adam Grant found that high-performing, highly networked employees tend to get overwhelmed with demands for collaboration, which can ultimately hurt their performance by spreading them too thin.

This problem of “collaborative overload” may be one reason why some organizations are turning to “comprehensivists” with multiple skills who are better at flying solo, but CEB research shows that this isn’t necessarily an either-or proposition. In the new work environment, the best companies today are developing enterprise contributors: employees who excel within their function while also augmenting the value of their colleagues’ work throughout the organization, which requires a holistic understanding of how the whole business works. In this context, leaders would be mistaken to conclude that the solution is to silo off high performers.

Instead, proactive leaders should focus on building their employees’ enterprise capabilities and network performance. CEB Corporate Leadership Council members can draw on a range of tools and information to help them do that: We have research on how to measure enterprise contribution, a guide for managing employees to improve that contribution, a toolkit for creating a Network Performance Points program, and a whole edition of CHRO Quarterly dedicated to developing enterprise leaders.