When managers are looking to increase the collegiality of their employees, one of the standard methods is to hold team-building events – like picnics, happy hours, or other after-work outings (otherwise known as “integration experiences”). The idea is to get people to share information about themselves beyond what happens at work, thereby increasing closeness between coworkers.
And usually, it works – studies show that when colleagues are emotionally closer to one another, they end up working together better. But, according to new research, the “integration experience” method of producing that closeness can backfire.
It turns out that team-building activities can make people feel closer in homogeneous groups. But in diverse groups, that doesn’t necessarily happen. In fact, these activities can go so far as to have the opposite effect, causing minority employees to feel even more isolated. After all, attempts at conversation can sometimes produce more differences, rather than similarities. This ultimately creates a magnified feeling of difference in the person of a demographic minority.
The study, “Getting Closer at the Company Party: Integration Experiences, Racial Dissimilarity, and Workplace Relationships” was written by Tracy L. Dumas, Fisher College of Business, The Ohio State University; Katherine W. Phillips, Columbia Business School, Columbia University; and Nancy P. Rothbard, Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania. It was recently published in the journal Organization Science.
The authors write, “These findings highlight the importance of creating the right kind of interactions for building closer relationships between employees, particularly relationships that span racial boundaries.”