This year’s award goes to Constance N. Hadley and Mark Mortensen for their winter 2021 MIT Sloan Management Review article asking the somewhat counterintuitive question, “Are Your Team Members Lonely?”
As the authors point out, workplace teams have traditionally been relatively stable, with long-lasting group member roles underpinned by close working relationships. In today’s organizations, teams have not only become ever present in our work lives but have also grown in number and scope and become more flexible, less stable, and more time-pressed. The result is that we are often “alone together” in the organization.
In one of the surveys behind this article, 76% of respondents reported difficulties making connections with their work teammates, and 58% agreed that their social relationships at work are superficial. Loneliness or the lack of social connections is often thought of as an individual issue, but in organizations, it is also a structural one that can emerge from the composition, duration, and staffing of teams. Four features of current team design foster such disconnection: fluid membership, with rapid turnover in team composition; modularized roles, with members chosen for discrete skills the team requires; part-time commitment, such that members can serve on many teams simultaneously; and short duration, with teams forming for short periods before disbanding. Such scenarios tend to promote transactional, limited, and shallow relationships among members.
Hadley, a lecturer on management and organizations at Boston University’s Questrom School of Business, and Mortensen, an associate professor of organizational behavior at INSEAD, advise monitoring feelings of loneliness among employees. Leaders might create what the authors call core teams, with longer durations, stable membership, low turnover, common affinities or interests, and a shared work location. The authors’ call for managers to exercise more responsibility for the well-being of employees and their social interconnections would resonate with Dick Beckhard: He was a strong advocate for the use of diverse teams in organizations and was keenly aware of the features that encourage and discourage positive intrateam dynamics.
Our panel of judges consisted of the following members of the MIT Sloan School of Management faculty: Katherine Kellogg, the David J. McGrath Jr.