In many workplaces, the highest status individuals regularly work together to make key organizational decisions. Yet, when there are too many high-status people in a group, each striving to dominate, stress and conflict can escalate.
To look at how the hormones of team members can affect team performance, we measured their testosterone, which is associated with status-striving behavior, particularly in competitive settings. We also measured their cortisol, to determine each group member’s susceptibility to stress. We found that groups that were collectively high in testosterone engaged in optimal decision making — but only when the group was also collectively low in cortisol. These findings suggest that groups with members who are striving for status will outperform other groups, but only under conditions of low stress. The findings also demonstrate that hormone profiles at the group level can shape group decision making, opening up new avenues to explore the processes that determine which groups rise to the top across social hierarchies.