Do you remember that in school, teachers sometimes made a top performer sit with a student who needed support, hoping there would be an exchange of knowledge between them? Studies show that the same strategy can be applied in workplaces, to help employees be more productive.

Research from Harvard Business School suggests that sitting next to someone with a complementary work style can be a cost-effective way to inject efficiency into the workday. While employees today are generally more satisfied with their work than they were a decade or so ago, the ones who are disengaged come with a hefty price. Companies invest heavily in employee engagement. Think of all the new policies of flexi-timing, maternity/ paternity leaves, team building activities, etc. In such a scenario, when someone derails, it hurts the company. Thus, we need new ideas to keep people engaged and productive.

One such – seat a strong and a weak performer next to each other. The weaker employee performs much better, and the stronger employee’s performance doesn’t decline much at all.

The study, which observed over 2000 workers across the US and Europe, categorized workers as:

  • Productives, who complete many tasks but lack quality.
  • Quality workers who produce superior results but don’t rank high on the productivity marker.
  • Generalists are the average of the above two – the midpoint.

The study shows that when the right combination of workers sit near each other, performance increases by 10%. This shift is known as the spillover effect. Say the researchers, “Workers have different strengths, and while spillover is minimal for a worker when it occurs in an area of strength, the same worker can be greatly affected if the spillover occurs in his or her area of weakness.”

What does this mean for you?

  • Make realistic assessments. Consider where your employees sit, and what are their workstyles – who’s good at what, and what kind of spillover do you want.
  • Avoid pairing similar workers. The productives and the quality workers did well together. If you know someone great at task-based delivery and another skilled with ideating, seating them together could create a unique transfer where the one ideating could learn to see an idea through to execution, while the other could build strategic thinking skills.
  • Watch out for negative influences. This seating suggestion works for skills, and not so much for behavioral spillover. If you have employees showing abusive or aggressive behavior, pairing them with your model employees will backfire. Toxicity wins over prosocial behavior. You could lose the good team member.

Do you already have ideas running? Try them out and let us know!

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