Many organizations rely on teams or groups of employees to solve problems. This method of problem-solving has gained a lot of currency in recent decades and continues to be adopted by organizations worldwide.
The research conducted by Ghufran Ahmad—in collaboration with Christoph Loch, Kishore Sengupta and Yaozhong Wu, and published in the Journal of Operations Management and Organization Science—addresses the role that social preferences of team members play in these problem-solving exercises and the routines that they develop over time. The lessons derived from this research have implications for managers.
When team members are tasked with solving a problem, they work together and develop problem-solving routines. These routines are then retained and used by members when they work individually.
Those same routines are then further reinforced when the team works on other tasks, and this eventually evolves into a culture of work in the organization.
However, this process of adopting routines is affected by major differences in the social status of team members. The more differences there are in their individual status in the workplace, or the more employees seek to uplift their status within an organization, the more it will distort the team’s problem-solving routines. This happens because the member with the highest status ends up exerting greater influence on decision-making. This hinders the formation of routines.
If employees seek status, they are more likely to work alone in the hopes of getting credit and recognition for good work, thereby gaining more rank and status within the organization. This also allows for other members of the team to free-ride on the work of someone else. This damages team dynamics as teams rely on collaboration to get work done.
These research observations have implications for managers. While it may seem that a combination of individual and team rewards might lead to the greatest outcome and performance, the research suggests that it would make no sense for them to offer both kinds of rewards simultaneously.
Using status and rank as a motivator for employees when they are working alone proves more productive. Similarly, when employees are working in teams, team recognition as a whole leads to better performance. This means that when managers announce recognition awards such as “employee of the month” or “salesperson of the month”, it might be taken as a snub by other team members, thereby discouraging them from working for the team and pushing them into a competitive mode.
While announcing such rewards, the exact dynamics of how employees behave in different settings towards different tasks must first be carefully evaluated.
Wu, Yaozhong, Loch, Christoph, & Ahmad, Ghufran (2011). Status and relationships in social dilemmas of teams. Journal of Operations Management, 29(7–8), 650–662.
Loch, Christoph H., Sengupta, Kishore, & Ahmad, M. Ghufran (2013). The Microevolution of Routines: How Problem Solving and Social Preferences Interact. Organization Science, 24(1), 99–115.
About the Author
Ghufran Ahmad is Assistant Professor at the Suleman Dawood School of Business, LUMS. He teaches courses in leadership, change management, negotiation skills, and quantitative research methods. His research interests include leadership, culture, group dynamics, social dilemmas faced by group members, how social preferences influence behavior and performance of groups. His research has been published in Organization Science and the Journal of Operations Management.