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Team Adaptation and Postchange Performance: Effects of Team
Composition in Terms of Members\u2019 Cognitive Ability and Personality
Jeffrey A. LePine
University of Florida

The present study extended research on relationships between individual differences and individual-level adaptation (J. A. LePine, J. A. Colquitt, & A. Erez, 2000). This study focused on team-level relationships (N\ue000 73 teams) and demonstrated that after an unforeseen change in the task context, performance was superior for teams with members who had higher cognitive ability, achievement, and openness and who had lower dependability. These relationships were mediated by a measure of role structure adaptation (i.e., the effectiveness with which teams adapted their role structure when faced with an unforeseen change in their task context). Members\u2019 individual differences did not explain variance in team performance prior to the unforeseen change in the task context. Overall, results suggest differential relationships for team composition across routine and changing task contexts.

Technological, economic, and demographic trends are changing the structure of work in organizations (Howard, 1995). Advances in information-processing technologies have increased the pace at which new products are developed and brought to market. In- creased globalization and advances in communications technolo- gies have increased technological transfer and shortened product lifecycles even further. To remain competitive in this environment, organizations must often change what they do or how they do it. Among the most popular means of achieving this type of increased flexibility has been to structure work around teams rather than individual jobs (Cascio, 1995; Ilgen, 1999). The increasing prev- alence of teams has been well documented (e.g., Devine, Clayton, Philips, Dunford, & Melner, 1999; Lawler, Mohrman, & Ledford, 1995; Gordon, 1992). Some have estimated that in the next few years, up to half of the U.S. workforce will be working in teams of some form or another (Stewart, Manz, & Sims, 1999).

With experience, and as in all organizational systems (Katz & Kahn, 1978; Miller, 1978; von Bertalnffy, 1968), teams develop habitual patterns of behavior that are sometimes calledroutines (Gersick & Hackman, 1990; Weiss & Ilgen, 1985). Routines are functional in that they provide a mechanism whereby members can anticipate other members\u2019 actions. Routines also allow for in- creased efficiency because ways of transforming inputs to outputs need not be actively managed. Finally, routines reduce the uncer- tainty members have regarding their role responsibilities. How- ever, among the most critical aspects of teams is the occasional

need to change their routines to respond to changes in their task environment. Routine behavior has been characterized as mindless or heedless and thus has a high likelihood of being inappropriately applied in a changing situation (Cohen & Bacdayan, 1996; Weick & Roberts, 1993). As Argote and McGrath (1993) noted, teams must be able to deal with unanticipated change and modify their routines, or team effectiveness will suffer. Thus, recognizing that routines are often desirable and probably inevitable (Gersick & Hackman, 1990; Hackman & Morris, 1975), several critical ques- tions emerge. For example, what variables predict the extent to which teams adjust their routines in response to unforeseen change? Do the same factors predict team performance prior to and after unforeseen change? Is it possible that some of these factors might be controllable by those responsible for managing teams?

To date and despite the growing literature on teams as docu- mented in numerous scholarly reviews (e.g., Bettenhausen, 1991; Guzzo & Shea, 1992; Ilgen, 1999; Levine & Moreland, 1990; Sundstrom, DeMeuse, & Futrell, 1990), there has not been much empirical research aimed at these questions (Waller, 1999). This shortcoming in the teams literature is even more disconcerting given that Behling, Coady, and Hopple (1967) noted over 30 years ago that \u201cone of the least understood phenomena in task-oriented team performance is the manner of adjustment to unprogrammed changes\u201d (Behling et al., 1967, p. 73).

Thus, the purpose of this article is to report a study intended to increase our understanding of the factors that allow teams to effectively adapt their routines (systems of member roles) in response to unforeseen changes in their work environment. The conceptual framework for the study appears in Figure 1. The study extends recent research focusing on the linkages between certain individual differences (in cognitive ability and personality charac- teristics) and individual-level decision-making performance prior to and immediately following an unforeseen change in the task context (LePine, Colquitt, & Erez, 2000).

The most obvious extension of the previous research is the team-level focus. First, the focal independent variables in this study are members\u2019 individual differences aggregated to the team level (general cognitive ability, dependability, achievement, and

This research was supported in part by Grant N00014-93-1-1385 from the Office of Naval Research. Although the support for this work is gratefully acknowledged, the ideas expressed herein are mine and not necessarily endorsed by the funding agency. I thank John Hollenbeck, Dan Ilgen, Neal Schmitt, and Linn Van Dyne for their helpful comments and suggestions. I thank Jason Colquitt, Alex Ellis, Henry Moon, and Lori Sheppard for their help in collecting data.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Jeffrey A. LePine, Department of Management, Warrington College of Business Administration, University of Florida, P.O. Box 117165, Gainesville, Flor- ida 32611-7165. E-mail: lepineja@notes.cba.ufl.edu

Journal of Applied Psychology
Copyright 2003 by the American Psychological Association, Inc.
2003, Vol. 88, No. 1, 27\u201339
0021-9010/03/$12.00 DOI: 10.1037/0021-9010.88.1.27

openness to experience). This focus on team composition with respect to team members\u2019 individual differences is consistent with the need to conduct research that can be applied by those respon- sible for managing and, in particular, staffing teams (e.g., Guzzo & Shea, 1992; Klimoski & Jones, 1995; LePine, Hanson, Borman, & Motowidlo, 2000). Second, the focal outcome variable in this study is team decision-making performance following an unfore- seen change in the task context. The focus on team decision making as the focus of performance is consistent with the increas- ing emphasis on cognitive aspects of performance and knowledge work in teams (Beyerlein, Johnson, & Beyerlein, 1995; Howard, 1995; Ilgen & Pulakos, 1999).

A more important extension of the previous research, however,
is that the focus of the adaptation in this study isteam-level
behaviorrather than individual-level cognition.More specifically,

the present study focuses on role structure adaptation as the me- diator of the relationship between team composition and postchange performance. Role structure adaptation is defined here asreactive and nonscripted adjustments to a team\u2019s system of

member roles that contribute to team effectiveness.Considering

mediating processes such as these are important to the extent that they provide insight into the\u201cblack box\u201d through which team inputs (such as team composition) influence team outcomes (such as decision-making performance; Lawrence, 1997). The focus on role structure adaptation is consistent with research demonstrating that team effectiveness after an unanticipated change in the task context may depend on the effectiveness with which members collectively adapt their roles (Hutchins, 1996).

Role Structure Adaptation and Performance

As the definition in the previous paragraph suggests, role struc- ture adaptation is a fairly specific type of adaptation. The first element of the definition,reactive, implies change in team activity in response to something: a problem, error, or discrepancy. Ac- cordingly, the focus in this article is not on proactive behavior that anticipates the need for change (e.g., innovation). The second element of the definition of role structure adaptation,nonscripted, implies that the focus is not on reactions to problems by imple- menting intact procedures learned in the past. Role structure ad- aptation, therefore, is different from constructs such as transfer of training that address proficiency regarding when to implement lessons from the past.

The third element in the definition of role structure adaptation is the wordadjustment, which implies activity or behavior. The team activity or behavior reflected by a team\u2019s role structure is the cyclical pattern of activity among members who compose a team.

However, the termrole structure more explicitly reflects the cyclical pattern of behavior directed toward the transformation of resources to outputs within the boundary of the set of events that return upon themselves to complete a new cycle of task-related activity (Katz & Kahn, 1978). Thus, role structure adaptation is distinct fromlearning, which can mean a change in knowledge without any change in activity or behavior. The elementteam in the definition stresses that team-level behavior is the focus of the present research. That is, the focus is on changes in the patterns of activity among interdependent individuals who, as part of an identifiable team with a common purpose, transform resources to outputs.

The final element of the definition,contributes to team effec-
tiveness,implies that patterns of team behavior can be judged with

respect to how well they contribute to team functioning. Role structure adaptation is effective when the pattern of team activity is judged to be consistent or congruent with the demands of the new situation. Thus, role structure adaptation is defined in a manner that is consistent with how other behavioral performance constructs are defined (e.g., Motowidlo, Borman, & Schmit, 1997) that is, the aggregated value of those activities contributing (either positively or negatively) to the effectiveness of the group or organization.

Although role structure adaptation may be important across different team settings, it should be particularly important for teams that must integrate information to make a series of decisions over a defined span of time. These types of teams exist in many different types of organizations, and the nature of their task often places a premium on the team\u2019s ability to adapt their established role structurein the course of performing the task. For example, production teams involved in long linked and continuous flow processes, surgical teams, flight crews, and command and control teams do not have the time to stop and plan a rational response to an unexpected change that makes their established role structure inappropriate (e.g., an equipment failure). Instead, in the face of an unforeseen change, these teams must be capable of\u201cadapting on the fly\u201d to be effective, and quite often, to avoid disaster.

Hutchins (1996), for example, described how a ship\u2019s naviga- tion team adapted its role structure in response to an unexpected loss of power that disabled the instruments necessary to navigate the ship while entering a harbor. Prior to the power loss, members of the team had preestablished role responsibilities and interde- pendencies. Bearing takers read the bearings of landmarks on the shore and reported them to bearing timers, who logged them and reported them to the plotter, who kept track of the ship\u2019s position and who estimated where the ship was going. Hutchins described

Figure 1.Conceptual model of team composition and team adaptation.

how the navigation team responded to the power loss and how the team eventually arrived at a new stable pattern of activity among members that was appropriate given the nature of the situation. As a result, the ship was brought to dock safely. This was a study of an effective instance of role structure adaptation. However, it is easy to see how the navigation team\u2019s failure to develop a new system of behavior could have lead to disastrous consequences.

In the context of decision-making teams, such as the type considered here, members share information with one another and use this information to make judgments and recommendations about an appropriate course of action. Thus, unexpected changes in the team\u2019s task context that hinder the smooth flow of information among members should result in less effective judgments and recommendations and ultimately less effective decisions. With this reasoning in mind, team decision-making performance should be positively associated with the extent to which a team can adapt its role structure after an unforeseen change. Thus, I propose the following:

Hypothesis 1:Role structure adaptation is positively associ-
ated with team decision-making performance after an unfore-
seen change in the task context.
Individual Differences and Adaptation

In a recent study, LePine, Colquitt, and Erez (2000) identified several characteristics of individuals that predicted their ability to make accurate decisions after unforeseen changes in their task context. In this study, participants worked independently at a personal computer and made decisions on a series of 75 problems on the basis of the values of nine cues they were presented. After the 25th and 50th problem, the rules used in calculating correct decisions changed (i.e., the weights that needed to be applied to the vector of cues). These changes came with no warning to partici- pants because they only received feedback reflecting the accuracy of each decision immediately following each problem. The focus of this study was on predicting the decision-making performance of individuals within each decision context (i.e., prechange task context, 1st postchange task context, 2nd postchange task context) with individual differences that could be used in personnel selec- tion contexts. After each change, while performing the task, par- ticipants needed to recognize that the weights they were applying to the cues were no longer optimal. They had to unlearn an old set of cue weights and relearn a new one. The choice of individual differences in this study reflected three proposed requirements of adaptation: ability (cognitive ability), motivation (conscientious- ness), and creativity (openness to experience).

Cognitive Ability

Cognitive ability refers to differences between individuals in their capacity to process information and learn (Hunter, 1986; Kanfer & Ackerman, 1989). Cognitive ability relates positively to job performance, especially in jobs that require the mental repre- sentation and manipulation of information obtained from the en- vironment and long-term memory (Hunter, 1986; Ree, Earles, & Teachout, 1994). LePine, Colquitt, and Erez (2000) hypothesized that cognitive ability would be related to individual adaptation because, after some unexpected change, unlearning and learning

would be required, and this would increase the information- processing requirements of individuals. In other words, individuals with superior information-processing capacities should be more capable of unlearning and learning while simultaneously engaged in the more mundane elements of the task. This expectation is consistent with research demonstrating stronger relationships be- tween cognitive ability and performance for tasks that are novel and complex than for tasks that are routine and simple (Hartigan & Wigdor, 1989; Hunter & Hunter, 1984). LePine, Colquitt, and Erez\u2019s expectations were confirmed in that individuals with higher cognitive ability made better decisions prior to the change, and this effect became significantly stronger after the two unexpected changes in the cue values.


Conscientiousness is a personality characteristic that includes a achievement component related to feelings of competence, achievement striving, and being self-disciplined in addition to a dependability component related to orderliness, dutifulness, and deliberation (Costa & McCrae, 1992; Costa, McCrae, & Dye, 1991). Highly conscientious individuals tend to set difficult goals for themselves, and they are more perseverant and committed to those goals (Barrick, Mount, & Strauss, 1993; Hollenbeck, Klein, O\u2019Leary, & Wright, 1989; Hollenbeck & Williams, 1987). More- over, highly conscientious individuals have high self-efficacy and expectancy motivation (Judge & Ilies, 2002). Perhaps these are the reasons why conscientiousness is positively related to job perfor- mance across contexts (Barrick & Mount, 1991).

LePine, Colquitt, et al. (2000) hypothesized that conscientious- ness should be positively associated with individual adaptation. They suggested that perseverance and feelings of self-confidence are critical for effectiveness when individuals first acquire infor- mation regarding the performance decrements that normally ac- company unexpected change. Additionally, they felt that a me- thodical, careful, and deliberate consideration of available contextual information is necessary to promote effectiveness in the new context. Unexpectedly, although the effect for conscientious- ness was stronger for performance after the changes, the direction of the effect was negative. Specifically, participants with high conscientiousness madeworse decisions after the changes than individuals with low conscientiousness. A post hoc analysis revealed that the negative relationship for conscientiousness and adaptation was due to the aspects of conscientiousness reflecting dependability (i.e., order, dutifulness, deliberation) rather than achievement (i.e., competence, achievement striv- ing, self-discipline).

Openness to Experience

Openness to experience is a personality characteristic that re- flects characteristics such as imaginativeness, curiosity, original- ity, and broadmindedness (Costa & McCrae, 1992). Although there is no evidence that openness relates to normal job perfor- mance, it has been found to predict training proficiency (Barrick & Mount, 1991). Perhaps this is because open individuals tend to engage in the type of self-monitoring that is necessary for learning in novel situations (Blickle, 1996; Busato, Prins, Elshout, & Ha- maker, 1999). LePine, Colquitt, and Erez (2000) hypothesized that


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