Top Dog talks about some very interesting research into group dynamics. According to the studies they cite, working in dyads requires a very different set of skills than working in groups, to the point that techniques that are beneficial for one can be detrimental in the other. The most productive way to interact with a group is as a team: with each person taking a specialized role, which includes letting some people be more valuable than others. Dyads function best if both people are pretty equal. Treating a group of 5 as 4 individual dyads and managing the relationships as such is exhausting and slows down the group considerably.
I’m going to discuss some gender-based psychology research. Before I begin, I would like to give my standard disclaimer: any such research is measured at the aggregate level. Individual variation is very high, so even very strong trends don’t tell you much about how any particular person will behave, or why. I’m not going to speculate as to the relative importance of environment and biology, because it doesn’t matter for these purposes.
It turns out that women are better than men in dyads, and men are better than women in teams. Men in dyads are more likely to waste energy competing with one another, women in groups are more likely to waste energy signalling a lack of competition. The reasons for this are undoubtedly a complicated mix of biology and environment we do not possible have time to get into. But assuming that it is true, in this culture, right now, what are some implications?
I work in an open office. And I am acutely aware that one of the reasons it slows me down is that I can’t just have a 1:1 conversation. I have to think about who might overhear us, and how this will sound to them, and prepare if they jump in… and it’s exhausting. I wonder if this has the same underlying causes as women’s difficulties in groups.
The counter argument to this is that when I am in groups, I am all about specialization and hierarchy. But I am self conscious about that, and do hold back because I’m afraid of what other people will think of me. Which is not necessarily irrational: it’s entirely possible the women reason react different in groups is that people (gender deliberately unspecified) react differently to them.
I would really love to see some hard data on whether men and women react to open offices differently.