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Are Teams Better Than Individuals at Getting Work Done?

When it comes to getting work done, two heads are better than one. Except when they aren’t.

A new study from Wharton professor of operations, information and decisions Duncan Watts digs into the question of whether it’s better for employees to work in teams or alone — and the answer may be surprising for managers trying to figure out the best way to assign tasks.

In their research, Watts and his co-authors found that the answer depends on the complexity: Simple tasks are best accomplished by individuals, while difficult ones are more efficiently completed by a group.

“Groups are as fast as the fastest individual and more efficient than the most efficient individual when the task is complex but not when the task is simple,” the researchers wrote in their paper titled, “Task Complexity Moderates Group Synergy,” which was published last month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.