Emma Peardon

How does the spillover effect influence team performance?


The right team structure has a significant effect on the way individuals perform within a business. Depending on the people working around them, an employees performance can either greatly improve or suffer. Put simply, the behaviours and attitudes of team members influence the rest of a group, but how?

Dubbed “the spillover effect” by researchers at the Kellogg School of Management, there’s now quantifiable proof that it’s not just the way a team is comprised that affects morale and performance, but office layout too. Here’s how to make it work to your advantage.

How Far Does Office Influence Stretch?

Kellogg School researchers found that employers have an eight metre radius to work with when it comes to measuring influence – both good and bad. In the radius surrounding a high-performing employee, people often see performance boosted by up to 15 per cent.

Unfortunately, that bonus is undone by any toxic and disengaged employees also working in that space. It’s an attitude that’s much more pervasive than positive work trends and can drastically affect an organisation’s bottom line if a toxic culture spreads.

How do you bring your best team members together?How do you bring your best team members together?

In a study conducted between the Kellogg School of Management and talent management software firm Cornerstone OnDemand, results revealed that it’s better for organisations to address the problem of toxic workers before trying to hire high performers. An organisation can expect profits to increase by almost US$13,000 if they replace a toxic worker with an average performer. To put that into perspective, hiring “a very rare high performer” only brings in just over US$5,000 on average.

Learn About Spatial Management

There’s an art to creating the perfect office, and the term for working that out is known as spatial management. An employee’s neighbours are hugely important  to their productivity, and keeping that eight metre radius in mind, it’s important to align people with the companions that best complement their existing skill set.

The researchers from Kellogg School of Management gave an example that used the time taken to complete a task as a metric for success. If an average employee sits near someone who regularly completes the task efficiently, their speed is likely to increase too. Assistant Professor of Managerial Economics and decision sciences at the Kellogg School Dylan Minor explained, it’s more likely to have a positive impact than a negative one.

“The beautiful part of it is that when we put these people together, they’re not going to materially suffer on the area of strength,” Minor says. “They’re only going to improve on their area of weakness.”

The spaces people work in have to reflect these demands, but that doesn’t mean people need to be cooped up together and force into each other’s company. How can the modern office reflect this pressure?

What The Modern Office Needs To Encourage Employee Performance

New Zealand-based firm Context Architects created a guide describing the features it expects to see in the modern office. One of the most important points is the demand to accommodate an increasingly mobile workforce. People need spaces beyond their usual workspaces to take confidential calls, hold client or internal meetings or even just escape the open office environment.

However, while regular breaks and escapes are important, Context Architects noted that the workspaces where employees spend the majority of their time should be built around activity-based work and collaborative practices. It’s this attention to workplace construction and spatial management that allows the spillover effect to occur.

The way individuals are physically placed throughout a work environment affects how they influence fellow team members. Understanding the way this relationship works can be the difference between excelling or being dragged down by those who are disengaged.