Leadership literature has delved deeply into all forms of behavioural factors that make and distinguish better leaders. The role of leadership in any form of business activity is acknowledged but not necessarily always best applied. Some complexities of leadership are at times at the mercy of our obsession to cut corners and seek simple formulas. Nevertheless, there is no lack of ongoing interest in the topic of leadership and its role in collaboration is something I have addressed on numerous occasions in previous blogs.
This time I wanted to explore the role of ‘mood contagion’ and collaboration. It is now well understood that the behaviour of key people can energise or deflate the performance of the team. Mood contagion is also referred to as ‘emotional contagion’ in social media research which posits the idea that emotions expressed on social media influence the mood of others. In the work environment context, the key to good performance is that groups of people working together should have a ‘shared’ rather than ‘fragmented’ mood. The difference in performance outcomes is not negligible, and ignoring the difference, no matter how trivial it may seem at times, is poor business practice that no serious HR professional would allow to happen on their watch. Those who are interested in this area of performance would easily find case studies that show a major productivity increase based on the improvement a group leader makes in their own behaviours. Mood contagion is a major factor and it makes sense to consider it in the context of collaboration.
The idea of a synchronised, so to speak, mood and emotional state of a team may seem a bit ‘big brother-ish’ and may initially be perceived as a much too much engineered or synthetic way to enhance performance. It would be perhaps too unrealistic to seek, or demand, that members of a team enter into a particular state of mind as a precondition to perform well. We each value our own individuality and freedom to ‘feel’ how we like. So, to put that to rest, as a collaboration strategist I would not recommend strategies that ‘interfere’ with the emotional flow of individual collaborators. What I would suggest instead is gaining a far deeper understanding of the emotional differences and dynamics that occur in the process of collaboration. In other words, collaborating partners need to factor this angle of value creation into the collaborative model they choose.
The role of a leader in a collaborative does not have to be the same as in a traditional organisation. Collaboratives are possible with different governance and management structures that do not fall under traditional corporate models which is precisely one of their advantages. A collaborative approach to value creation could also be the key to the way mood contagion is managed or to be precise; harnessed, for added advantage. The vital point to remember is that moods and emotional states of individuals in a workplace are not static and there are way too many permutations occurring in any given time, at any given moment. That complexity is managed by HR directors in different ways and line managers do not shy away from turning a blind eye to it. Now, the right solution is ultimately dependent on individual business strategies and models. In the collaboration context this should not be ignored. The lack of formality that is clear in traditional organisation structures is what collaborations ideally should take advantage of. In fact, one of the hallmarks of any collaboration is the way it goes about exploiting all the disruptive features of the collaborative structure.
So, while mood contagion is left to its self in traditional organisations, in a collaborative setting this perceived challenge is unique opportunity and thus is embraced as a resource which can provide competitive advantage. As a little experiment I advise you to take note of your own mood and note when it changes and how often it changes at work. Then examine how often those changes occurred as a result of your peers’ or managers’ mood changes. As simple as it may seem, the insight may surprise you as you may notice how your performance is also different. Having said that, do not overdo it. Enjoy your work.