If You Want To Succeed, Don’t Work With Your Friends

That’s what a new study from Harvard suggests, at least.

Most of us appreciate working with a good friend we can relate to. If we’re going to work long hours for months on end, of course we’ll want a coworker with whom we can connect and decompress. While that may be good for our morale, this Harvard study finds that working with friends is actually bad for business.

Duos who shared a lot of personal characteristics were generally much less successful on their deals than teams that got together based on talent. For instance, if two members of the same ethnic minority collaborated, their likelihood of success fell 25 percent. Deals involving two investors who got their bachelor's at the same school were 22 percent less successful.

In your experience, what are the pros and cons of working with your friends? Here’s what the folks at Harvard have to say about it, followed by why I choose to ignore their results:

As the researchers note, groups that are alike tend to think alike. Or, more precisely, they force themselves to think alike. Rather than challenge each other and risk a confrontation, they strive for unanimity. As a result of this nasty propensity for groupthink, they may ignore the potential pitfalls of bad decisions or block out other viewpoints from outside the team.

The study focused primarily on venture capitalists, but the findings could be applied to jobs all over Wall Street. While I find this research interesting, I can say from personal experience that having a coworker with a radically different background and personality can make things difficult.

In school, for example, I find it easier to point out a potential flaw to someone if he’s a close buddy. Working with someone you don’t consider a friend can make it difficult to establish chemistry and awkward to voice difference of opinion. When it comes down to it, I’d rather enjoy my workdays with a business partner who's a good friend, even if that means our “success falls 25%.”

Perhaps the best strategy is to settle somewhere in the middle: Find a business partner who is 1) your friend, but who also is 2) not afraid to challenge your opinions and look at things from a different perspective. Best of both worlds.

Do you think being too comfortable with your coworkers can be bad for business?

Comments (9)

Jun 19, 2012 - 6:58pm

Well that's kind of obvious. Don't see why a Harvard study was necessary.

"...Okay you know what? I'll do one!"
Jun 19, 2012 - 6:58pm

"if two members of the same ethnic minority collaborated, their likelihood of success FALL 25 percent"

corrected for Asians...

"if two members of the same ethnic minority collaborated, their likelihood of success RISE 25 percent"

Robert Clayton Dean: What is happening? Brill: I blew up the building. Robert Clayton Dean: Why? Brill: Because you made a phone call.
Jun 19, 2012 - 7:36pm

I'm upset that a study was necessary for this, but it's one of those universal truths in life that people don't recognize. In business you can't be too close to your business partners, or even your customers. Working with a friend is a one way ticket to either A) hating that friend for life, B) failing at your business miserably, or most commonly C) both.

Just don't do it. And for any fund managing people out there: never let your friends invest with you.

I hate victims who respect their executioners
Jun 19, 2012 - 7:37pm

Well yeah, this is like that old saying don't study with your friends because you'll get too distracted or don't take classes just because your friends are in it.

Jun 19, 2012 - 8:18pm

I haven't read the study yet, but I think that hypothesis might have to be examined further. Do you have extremely smart people, or rather the average Joes? Does it only relate to starting/running a business or also regular work? When working on guided projects or at a firm with friends who were also among the best in school, I usually felt more productive, as we'd rather dare asking questions or did brainstorming together, compared to when you might be a new analyst at a large firm where you don't really know anyone else yet.

Jun 19, 2012 - 9:16pm

My dad always told me growing up to never work or hire friends or family, and never barrow or let them barrow from you. You're just asking for trouble.

Personal wealth is not how much you have in the bank or the worth of your portfolio. But, rather how you've used the wealth to make your life and those around you better.
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