Silence is golden: Team problem solving and communication costs

Gary Charness, David J. Cooper, Zachary Grossman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


We conduct experiments comparing the performance of individuals and teams of four subjects in solving two rather different tasks. The first involves nonograms, logic puzzles that require a series of incremental steps to solve. The second task uses CRT-type questions, which require a single, specific insight. Contrary to the existing literature, team performance in both tasks is statistically indistinguishable from that of individuals when communication is costless. If a tiny message cost is imposed, team performance improves and becomes statistically better than that of individuals, although still worse than previous research on teams would have suggested. To the best of our knowledge, our study is the first to find that imposing friction on communication leads to more effective performance in teams. Message costs reduce the quantity of messages but increase the quality, specifically the mix of good and bad suggestions. The improved quality of communication with message costs allows teams to out-perform individuals. Our analysis suggests that organizations would do better by identifying an able individual to perform an intellective task rather than using teams; prediction exercises indicate that this will not harm, and will generally increase, performance relative to a team, and only requires the cost of paying one individual rather than many.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)668–693
Number of pages26
JournalExperimental Economics
Issue number3
Early online date19 Oct 2019
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2020


  • Communication
  • Experiment
  • Inexpensive talk
  • Puzzles
  • Team performance

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