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Team Choices Affect Attitude, Performance

Photonics Spectra
Sep 1998
Kevin Robinson

How a manager picks an employee team can affect how well the team performs; at least that's what research from Ohio State University suggests. In a study of 137 students, researchers found that the students performed better when they thought that the teams were assigned fairly.
Howard Klein, an associate professor of management and human resources at the university's Fisher College of Business, and Jeffrey Miles, now an assistant professor at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, Calif., wanted to see how students would react to differing levels of fairness in team assignments when there was nothing to be gained by team participation. All of the students took a test that measured their abilities at simple number-finding. About 30 percent were excused from the rest of the session but still received the same amount of extra credit as those who remained to become "team" members and to perform more number-finding tasks.
During four sessions, the researchers varied the selection process. During one session, they told the participants that the teams were chosen at random. During another, they told them that team selection was based on high scores on the number-finding test -- although in reality they were chosen at random. During the third session, the excused students were all members of one of the researchers' classes, but no explanation was given. The researchers explained, in the fourth session, that the students were excused because they had "longer exams."
The randomly chosen students performed best on subsequent number-finding tasks, and this group also perceived the assignment method as the most fair. Although students ranked ability-based assignments second in fairness, those teams performed worst. The students likely felt they were being punished for being good at a particular task, so their performance dropped.
Miles cautioned that his studies, which were one-time, low-reward student studies, may not reflect the complex dynamics of the workplace, where the tasks are more important and the stakes are higher.

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