Reaching the Limits of Collaboration

An “intermittent” approach may be better for complex problem solving than constant collaboration.
By: | August 21, 2018 • 2 min read

Do you ever get the feeling you spend too much time interacting with your work team? All that time together may not be yielding the best results for your organization.

Indeed, an “always on” attitude toward work may not be always effective, according to new research by Harvard Business School associate professor Ethan Bernstein and colleagues, now available online in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. Instead, the researchers suggest, “intermittently on” might be better for complex problem solving.


In their study the three researchers—Bernstein from Harvard Business School, Assistant Professor Jesse Shore from the Questrom School of Business at Boston University, and Professor David Lazer from Northeastern University—put together and studied the results of a number of three-person groups performing a complex problem-solving task. The members of one set of groups never interacted with each other, solving the problem in complete isolation; members of another set of groups constantly interacted with each other, as we do when equipped with always-on technologies; and a third set of groups interacted only intermittently.