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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Silence is Golden:  Communication Costs and Team Problem Solving

  • Author(s): Charness, Gary
  • Cooper, David
  • Grossman, Zachary
  • et al.

Numerous studies have compared the performance of individuals and teams at solving intellective problems.  The ubiquitous finding in the economics literature is that teams out-perform individuals.  This result is intuitively appealing, as teams can benefit from sharing insights.  We analyze experiments comparing the performance of teams and individuals at solving a series of challenging logic puzzles.  Contrary to the existing literature, individuals meet or exceed the performance of teams on all measures.  If we impose a small cost of communication on teams, the performance of teams improves to closely resemble the performance of individuals.  Underlying these results is a definite negative relationship between frequency of communication and team performance.  We also document a strong gender effect.  Teams with more women perform considerably better even though men slightly outperform women when solving the puzzles individually.

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