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Management Series: human-resource-management

The Case for Multitasking

With increasing demands on our attention, many of us attempt to multi-task to save time, but is multitasking conducive to a higher quality of work? The following report, based on research by Professor Vangelis Souitaris, explains that there is a difference in performance between those who multi-task and those who do not.

Author(s): Professor Vangelis Souitaris - Cass Business School; B.M. Marcello Maestro - Bravemarket

With increasing demands on our attention, many of us attempt to multi-task to save time, but is multitasking conducive to a higher quality of work? The below report, based on research by Professor Vangelis Souitaris, explains that there is a difference in performance between those who multi-task and those who do not.  Why is this? Also outlined below are some of the benefits and limitations of being able to multi task and suggestions for companies looking to improve output.

Ill-timed phone calls and colleagues popping in are classic productivity killers, the bane of many manager's existence. Dealing with such interruptions, experts agree, leaves many knowledge workers with the functional equivalent of attention deficit disorder. The remedy usually suggested: avoid multitasking. Check e-mail only twice a day. Resist the temptation to drop whatever you're doing to put out a fire somewhere else.

Our research on executive teams suggests that this bias against multitasking may be misguided. In fact, executives who doggedly plow through each task until it's finished may be doing their companies a disservice. Under some circumstances, top management teams perform better when they accept, even relish, interruptions.

Drawing on data about CEOs and other executives of nearly 200 new technology ventures listed on the London Stock Exchange, we measured top management team's polychronicity - their tendency to multitask and then looked at their firm's returns. We chose tech ventures because executive teams in these very dynamic companies are often self-selected, and members generally have similar outlooks.

Using questionnaires and interviews, we discovered that about a third of the teams in our sample were highly polychronic. About a sixth of the teams were highly monochronic: They disliked and avoided multitasking. The rest fell somewhere in the middle.

We found that the financial performance of companies with highly polychronic teams was 39% better than that of companies whose teams exhibited average polychronicity and 130% better than that of companies led by monochronic teams.

Why the vast differences? The polychronic teams were superior information brokers, absorbing and disseminating more-insightful information than their average and monochronic counterparts. As a result, they were much less apt to bog down: They could make strategic decisions faster, placing less emphasis on analyzing large quantities of data. Their expedited decision-making process, we believe, boosted their companies’ performance.

Executive polychronicity may be beneficial for other sorts of companies, too; after all, effective information brokering and quick decision making can be important for established corporations and for firms in a variety of fields. But our research suggests that these skills are essential for new ventures and small companies that must negotiate dynamic business environments social media, clean technologies, and internet security, to name just a few. In such cases, a polychronic culture can position the executive team for success. Entrepreneurs and the venture capitalists who back them should keep this in mind when staffing the top ranks of a start-up.

Attachment(s)
{The Case for Multitasking - HBR report}{https://www.cass.city.ac.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0010/365086/case-for-multitasking-souitaris-maestro-cass-knowledge.pdf}
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