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Work friendships can contribute to a lack of creative diversity in the office, according to new research from Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University.

‘Relational capital and individual exploration: Unravelling the influence of goal alignment and knowledge acquisition’, a paper that examines the double-edged sword of friendships between colleagues, has revealed that work friendships discourage employees from challenging ‘group think’.

Tom Mom, along with co-authors Pepijn van Neerijnen, Patrick Reinmoeller and Ernst Verwaal, demonstrate that by aligning themselves, employees become less likely to innovate away from the established and accepted ‘norm’.

The researchers examined 150 respondents within large R&D departments of three Fortune Global 500 firms, gauging whether their accounts of personal friendships affected individual creativity, in information obtained from their colleagues.

Tom says: “Of course, having a network of friends at work is a positive circumstance, both personally and professionally. Not only does this enable innovation and creativity through increased knowledge exchange, but being able to trust one another and speak candidly opens doors to growth. Business development has always been huge priority for firms and the focus has recently shifted to maximising individual employees’ outputs. By taking measures such as cross-sectional working, mixed training exercises or even the rotation of teams, managers can ensure that they reap the positive benefits of work relationships without slipping into the trap of over-familiarity and goal-alignment.”

He adds: “This also highlights the very real need for companies to increase diversity at board level in order to combat ‘group-think’, which would ultimately hinder innovation. Steering away from having a standardised business ‘identity’ – even if that may seem counter-intuitive – is a necessity in protecting from a herd mentality.”

More information on the research is available on the RSM Discovery platform.

Note to editor

The RSM Discovery Platform aims to disseminate top tier research from Rotterdam School of Management to business and society. By accessing the website, http://discovery.rsm.nl/home/ you will gain access to research in areas such as finance, small business, management, strategy, leadership and sustainability. All research here is stripped of the jargon and explained in a practical way so anyone interested has something to gain from reading it.

Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) is one of Europe’s leading business schools, and ranked among the top three for research. RSM provides ground-breaking research and education furthering excellence in all aspects of management and is based in the international port city of Rotterdam – a vital nexus of business, logistics and trade. RSM’s primary focus is on developing business leaders with international careers who carry their innovative mind-set into a sustainable future thanks to a first-class range of bachelor, master, MBA, PhD and executive programmes. RSM also has offices in Chengdu, China, and Taipei, Taiwan. www.rsm.nl

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