Teamwork: Where The Weak Help The Strong
Group work is the name of the game in many companies. The thinking is that workers will learn more and help each other when they are put into groups composed of people with a variety of expertise. But does this always happen? Some recent research suggests that it may not. at least not always.
"In order to understand how things happen in groups, you need to be aware of the group's hierarchy of status and influence," said Stuart Bunderson, associate professor of organizational behavior at the Olin School of Business at Washington University in St. Louis. "Those hierarchies can actually get in the way of some really important group goals like member-to-member helping and knowledge exchange".
In a co-authored study, Bunderson found that group status hierarchies that form around perceptions of relative expertise can have some dysfunctional side effects. Specifically, he found that group members felt more committed to and were more likely to help those members who were perceived to have a higher level of expertise - and were therefore higher status. In other words, the less expert members were helping the more expert members instead of the other way around! And this propensity to ingratiate oneself with the more expert members was especially pronounced for members who were themselves perceived to be more expert.
As a result of this dynamic, less expert members don't always benefit from the advice and assistance of their more expert colleagues.
So how do we get around this tendency? Bunderson suggests that team leaders structure teams in ways that break down these barriers to interaction through interdependence, shared goals, and shared rewards. Also, keeping teams together longer may help to overcome these tendencies because it gives norms of reciprocity and fair play a chance to kick in.
"The results of this study suggest that we may have to be more deliberate about getting team members to share their expertise with one another than we might have assumed," Bunderson said.
Posted by: Edwin Source