What Do We Really Know About Teams?

INGRoup conference showcases emerging research on teams

Posted Aug 08, 2013

Written by Katerina Bezrukova and Chester Spell

Interested in what people that study teams and groups are up to these days? A good place to get an answer is the research conference with the intriguing and catchy name INGRoup (it stands for interdisciplinary network for group research). This year’s meeting recently took place in Atlanta, and what follows are some of the plentiful pickings of interesting studies presented there.

Ever run across people that seem to think they are “the linchpin” that holds the team together or seem to imagine they are the ‘core’ of the team - yet their teammates think otherwise? Jonathon Cummings of Duke University studied this phenomenon, called Member Centrality Bias, in 311 teams comprised of over 2000 people in his study “When Team Members See Themselves as More Central than other Members See Them.” People who have the bias also think they are more interdependently ‘linked’ to the rest of the team. Most importantly, he showed how such a bias can hurt overall team performance, meaning if you seem to have one of those “this team revolves around me” types in your group- watch out!

The award for Best Poster at the conference went to Lingtao Yu and Mary Elizabeth Zellmer-Bruhn (University of Minnesota), who discussed ‘team mindfulness’ or the tendency of individuals to be aware of their relationship to others in a team, openness to ideas of others, and other “good stuff” that reminds one of the old sports saying that coaches love to tell their charges: “There is no ‘I’ in a team.” Their study showed how mindfulness was indeed a critical performance ingredient, especially in diverse work groups which are so commonplace in workplaces today.

Ever seen someone hired “on the best recommendations” of a very well respected person- and they turned out to be a dud of an employee? How about when a celebrity endorses a product- how much is that really worth? These and other topics on the influence of status in endorsements were discussed in a fascinating symposium: “Antecedents and Consequences of Status in Work Groups.” In an intriguing study, Han Van Dijk (Tilburg University), Bertolt Meyer (University of Zurich), and Marloes van Engen considered how much an endorsement helps people who have high status already, versus those with low status. Their experiments found that for high status people, being endorsed helps (the rich get richer, status –wise at least) – whether the endorsement itself turns out to be accurate or not. It is sort of like a halo effect- if everyone already thinks you are a Wonder Woman, then any endorsement will help, accurate or not. But if you are a low status person, and the endorsement is not accurate (you are not so great an employee, after all) then endorsements don’t help your future prospects. Such findings might even explain a lot about the power of celebrity endorsements- whether the product they are pitching is any good or not.

Our own paper was inspired by the US Congress (really, something inspired by Congress!). As researchers that study splits in groups, to us Congress seems an ideal place to examine- it’s a big group, admittedly, but divided by obvious ‘faultlines’ or splits. Some are obvious like Republican/Democratic, Tea party and other Republicans, as well as ideological splits that are sometimes not so easy to see. We wanted to see if the splits themselves could answer, in a systematic way, why supposedly creative people in Congress seem notoriously unable to agree on much these days and uncover some clues to help groups actually get creative solutions. In “Faultlines at Fault? A Diversity Based Perspective on Creativity and Performance,” written with Karen Jehn of Melbourne University, we tested our ideas on 120 teams of working adults with splits along factors like demographics like race and gender. We found that teams could actually use such splits as triggers to fight out and clarify differences, come up with more alternatives, and take the step from “wanting to be creative) to actually agreeing (eventually) on creative solutions. (Well, maybe this won’t help Congress after all, they seem beyond hope.)

This was the eighth year that teams researchers have come together for the INGroup conference. Reports on other papers presented at INGroup can be found on the organization’s website at www.ingroup.net.