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Improving the Rhythm of Your Collaboration

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Improving the Rhythm of Your Collaboration

Alternating between always-on connectivity and heads-down focus is essential for problem-solving.

MIT Sloan Management Review,

5 min read
5 take-aways
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Does the always-on culture of digital communication have your creativity stuck in always-off?

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If your company were an orchestra, then the leaders provide the beat. In the past, they did so by setting meetings, reporting on milestones, giving steering committee reports and nudging teams in the right direction. They were able to balance face-to-face collaboration with quieter times when individuals could sit alone and come up with solutions to shared problems. Now, a culture of constant connectivity makes interaction easier but stifles the silence that some people need for creativity. The MIT Sloan Management Review created this analysis to determine whether more collaboration is always better.


Collaborative software has upended the balance of solitary work and interactive collaboration (think meetings and phone calls).

Fifty years ago, executives spent 10 hours a week in meetings; nowadays, 23 hours. Modern knowledge workers spend about 65% of their workdays in communication – with 28% of their time emailing – which can make you wonder when they attend to their actual work. Meanwhile, digital tools like Slack, Skype, Chatter, Yammer and Zoom allow for constant communication, even after work hours end. When it comes to collaboration, more isn’t necessarily better.

Interaction is great for gathering information, but silence is necessary for creativity.

To understand the effects of different approaches to collaboration, the authors designed an experiment involving 514 teams, each containing three people tasked with solving the traveling salesperson problem. The challenge requires designing an itinerary for an imaginary salesperson who must visit 25 cities by the shortest possible routes. Each team was then assigned to one of three levels of collaboration. Some worked in isolation, others interacted with teammates...

About the Authors

Ethan Bernstein is a professor of business administration at Harvard Business School, Jesse Shore teaches information systems at Boston University’s Questrom School of Business, and David Lazer is a professor of political science and computer sciences at Northeastern University.

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