When group members see each other during group tasks, they're more likely to give each other the credit they deserve - an important factor in reducing group conflicts according to a new study on group seating configurations.
Brian C. Gunia, a doctoral candidate in Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, and Professor Brice Corgnet of the Universidad de Navarra in Spain studied the seating arrangements and perceptions of 22 groups in the study "Did I Do That? Group Positioning and Asymmetry in Attributional Bias."
According to Gunia, psychology studies have shown that people tend to think that they contribute more to groups than they actually do, and they don't give enough credit to others in the group. "This can lead to group conflict," he says.
Gunia and Corgnet studied the behavior of 22 groups of three. Each group of three sat in a horizontal row of seats at a table. Group members were instructed to work together to complete a complex math problem, earning rewards for correct answers and penalties for wrong answers. Groups were given an instruction and answer sheet to share among the group members.
Once they completed the assignments, groups members answered individual questionnaires about their contribution as well as the contributions of other group members. In addition, researchers asked each group member to complete a very similar task individually to estimate how much they actually contributed to the group product.
Although seating position had no effect on how much people actually contributed, group members who sat in the middle said that they contributed about one-third or 33 percent to the group's outcome, while those seated on the right and left rated themselves as contributing 45 percent to the group's effort.
When asked to rate the contributions of the two group members on the right and left, those in the middle credited both with a one-third or 33 percent contribution. The group members who sat on the right and left also credited the member in middle with contributing 33 percent, but they credited the member on the far end with contributing only 26 percent.
Gunia and Corgnet concluded that the middle people were less biased and more accurate because they could see the other two members equally. And because the members on the right and left could only see the person in the middle clearly, they did not give the end person adequate credit.
Gunia says that if it's important for group members to be satisfied with each other, to work with each other on a long-term basis, and to feel good about the group interaction, the research implies that seating arrangements where all participants can see each other - such as in circular or rectangular arrangements - may work best.
"Overall, this is about who you can see and who you can't see," he says.