Seating Arrangement Can Impact Team Productivity, Relations

Seating Arrangement Can Impact Team Productivity, Relations - top government contractors - best government contracting event
Seating Arrangement Can Impact Team Productivity, Relations - top government contractors - best government contracting event

Creating harmonious teams does not only depend on talented individuals and their output, but also on groups’ seating arrangements, according to a new study.

While seating arrangements may seem trivial, new research from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University suggests the opposite. The study noted that where individuals sit in a group can impact how much they think they contributed to the group’s output. Because disagreements about contributions often lead to group conflict, the research shows different seating plans can improve a group’s overall functioning. Particularly, it suggests helping group members to see one another can also help them see “eye-to-eye.”

Titled “Did I Do That? Group Positioning and Asymmetry in Attributional Bias,” the study was conducted by Brian C. Gunia of the Kellogg School of Management and Brice Corgnet of the Universidad de Navarra in Navarra, Spain.

Psychological research has long shown that one motivator of group conflict is “self-serving attributional bias,” in which people give themselves more credit than they deserve. Increasing group effectiveness and minimizing group conflict thus requires mitigating the bias. Gunia and Corgnet argue that group-seating positions may foster bias when they prevent particular group members from seeing the contributions of others. On the opposite end, seating positions that increase the visibility of others can diminish bias.

As part of the research, three-person groups seated in rows were asked to complete a numbers task requiring them to identify as many numbers as possible that met complex, predetermined conditions, using a shared instruction sheet and answer sheet to encourage collaboration. The participants were then isolated and asked to fill out a questionnaire about their relative contribution to the group, as well as the contributions of the other group members. To measure each group member’s perceived contribution to the group, the participants were asked to give a percentage estimate of their individual contribution.

The findings revealed that the person seated in the middle routinely took approximately one-third of the credit for the task, while the other two (outside) participants took substantially more credit. Notably, outside members undervalued contributions made by the other outside member, believing this person contributed less than one-third, but they appropriately valued the contributions of the middle member. Meanwhile, middle members appropriately valued the contributions of both outside members. These results suggested that an inability to see other group members was the driver of people’s credit judgments.

Overall, the results showed that group members seated in the middle showed less bias than outside members because they had better visibility into their peers’ contributions. Despite differences in attributional bias based on positioning, group members in all positions were equally satisfied with the group experience. More generally, the research findings suggest that positioning groups so that the members can easily see one another (for example, in a circle) could promote group harmony.

“This research suggests that circular arrangements or open-floor plans could minimize group conflict, something that managers might consider when calling team meetings,” Gunia said.

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