A PERFECT working team is more than a set of great curricula vitae; it also encompasses competent jerks and lovable fools.
While most people are adamant that competency is preferable to likeability in a colleague, research suggests employees can be more energised and effective when working with people they like.
The study, Competent Jerks, Lovable Fools And The Formation Of Social Networks, found that, given a trade-off between likeability and competence, people gravitate towards those whose company they enjoy, and organisations which foster positive feelings among employees achieve remarkable results.
But why is "liking" so important to a working relationship? Can it be managed without sacrificing diversity? And can the competent jerks really be made more lovable?
"People are social beings so it's not surprising that the emotional part of our relationships, even our professional relationships, is important," Mr Miguel Lobo, Insead associate professor in decision sciences and co-author of the report, told Insead Knowledge.
"In some sense, our emotions are the lubricants that make relationships work. On the other hand, it can mean we disregard the hard competencies that are essential for making successful achievement of tasks possible," he said.
There is also the danger that picking staff because of their compatibility can result in a homogenous team which operates smoothly but lacks spark.
It is generally accepted that a diverse team is more likely to think outside the box, challenge old ideas and produce innovative results.
On the other hand, too much diversity - when people do not get on - can create frustration, poor communication and tension.
To get the most out of a team, said Mr Lobo, managers need to create an environment in which both diversity and familiarity thrive.
Building on the Lovable Fools research, Mr Lobo and his co-author Tiziana Casciaro followed an organisation over three years watching relationships develop, delving deeper into the aspect of liking and observing how managers used this knowledge in the workplace.
Their latest paper, Affective Primacy In Intra-organisational Task Networks, looks at liking (or affect) in two dimensions: the tone of the relationship, measured from negative (where there is a great dislike for the person) to positive; and the energy, measured from low to high.
A negative tone and low energy is a feeling of being left deflated, while a high-energy negative tone is associated with anxiety and anger.
A positive tone with low energy creates a contented and comfortable but not necessarily driven relationship, while a positive tone with high energy corresponds to excitement and the feeling of being energised.
It is when affect has a positive tone and high energy that excitement kicks in and remarkable things are accomplished, noted Mr Lobo.
While no one can be forced to like a colleague, the commonality of shared experiences can create trust.
This can be manipulated in many ways, including through team-building exercises or redesigning the office space - placing individuals who are likely to work together closer to one another, creating areas where employees can come together naturally.
Of course, there are always individuals who do not become more lovable, the competent jerks whose skills are appreciated but who constantly create friction and disharmony within a team.
In these cases, Mr Lobo said, it is a matter of careful selection of which tasks they are given and approaching them in a more direct way.
He added: "Often, these are the people who respond most to incentives, by saying 'Look, I'm not asking you to be a nice person but having good working relationships is a skill and a professional asset like any other'.
"You have to make them see it as a goal they need to achieve and reward them for doing so."
Once the ability to get on with people is recognised as a skill, the lovable fool becomes a more valuable asset as someone able to smooth out friction and help oil the channels of communication.
Managers achieve the greatest results, said Mr Lobo, when the emotional life of an organisation - such as who works well with whom, who generates excitement within the organisation, or who has the emotional intelligence to work as a bridge in communication - are considered in tandem with the formal structural design.
"While this may be something that good managers do instinctively, it's important that managers recognise the ability to manage emotions is a skill that can be worked on and, like any competence, can be improved with practice."
This article was first published on online portal Insead Knowledge (knowledge.insead.edu).