“When Does Teamwork Translate Into Improved Team Performance? A Resource Allocation Perspective”, by Christopher O.L.H. Porter of Texas A & M, Celile Itir Gogus of Bilkent University, Ankara, Turkey, and Race Chien-Feng Yu of the Ministry of National Defense, Republic of China, was one of the most frequently read articles in Small Group Research in 2010. Christopher O.L.H. Porter has provided a personal perspective on the article:
Tell the story behind the article. What prompted you to do this research and write this article?
Almost without exception, previous research on teams and teamwork has promoted a positive view of teamwork. Most scholars and practitioners assume that teamwork unambiguously leads to higher levels of team performance. In fact, given the extent to which teamwork is touted as critical for team effectiveness, we suspect that many believe that when it comes to teamwork, more is better. We were particularly interested in empirically exploring the limitations of teamwork because, like most things we study in organizations, we expected that there must be some contingencies, or boundary conditions, that determine when various forms of teamwork have positive effects, negative effects, or no effects on team performance. We therefore embarked on this project in an attempt to shed light on those boundary conditions.
As the author of one of the most read articles in 2010, why do you think this research is important? Why are people reading it and who else should be exposed to it?
We think that this particular study is being seen as important for two key reasons. First, our study challenges the assumption that more teamwork always results in better team performance. Second, our study suggests specific circumstances in which teams should engage in different forms of teamwork. Specifically, the results of our study demonstrated that backing up other team members, which may include correcting others’ mistakes and helping others do their job, has its most positive effects on team performance during earlier performance episodes, when teams are still developing their taskwork skills and when there are workload distribution problems in those teams such that a team member has demands that exceed his or her capabilities. Our results also demonstrated that monitoring other team members’ performances, which we argued was a less costly form of teamwork than backing up behavior, has more consistently positive effects on team performance. Specifically, performance monitoring had positive effects on team performance during both earlier and later performance episodes, but again, only when there was a workload distribution problem. Taken together, our study not only sheds light on the conditions in which these two important types of teamwork are likely to have their intended impact on team performance—it also suggests the value of framing decisions to engage in teamwork as resource allocation decisions.
We think our findings have clear and important implications for practice. Among them is that rather than making broad declarations that when working in teams, members should engage in as many acts of teamwork as possible, it might be more fruitful to suggest that members carefully consider both the cost and appropriateness of engaging in different types of teamwork. Somewhat related to this, previous research suggests that it may be possible to staff teams with members with the ability to make more deliberate decisions about when to engage in different types of teamwork, and that it may be possible to train team members to make better decisions about whether or not to, or to what extent to, engage in higher levels of teamwork.
As such, we hope that our article is being read by team scholars, team leaders, and anyone who manages and supervises newly formed teams or teams that routinely experience changes in membership. We also hope that our article is being read by anyone who is being asked to train and prepare teams to contribute to their organization’s performance goals.