Invited Symposium: A Team Apart

The Role of Physical Proximity on Team Effectiveness

Emerging Theoretical and Empirical Approaches Used in Team Research
C. Shawn Burke and
Eduardo Salas
, co-chairs
University of Central Florida
Presenters
Stephen M. Fiore
University of Central Florida
Nancy J. Cooke
Arizona State University
Stephen J. Zaccaro
George Mason University

Barbara A. Fritzche
University of Central Florida

Chicago is a city defined by team effectiveness. The 1980s Bears, 1990s Bulls, and the Cubs of late have thrilled and shaped the APS 16 th Annual Convention’s host city with their collaborative approaches and resulting successes. Presenters C. Shawn Burke, Barbara Fritzsche, Steve Zaccaro, and Steve Fiore, University of Central Florida, and APS Charter Member Nancy Cooke, Arizona State University-Eat, covered a range of team-efficacy ideas in their symposium “Emerging Theoretical and Empirical Approaches Used in Team Effectiveness Research.”

Just as the dynamics of sports teams have changed in recent years, teams in the business and scientific worlds have also undergone a revolution of sorts. Although unimaginable in the relatively recent past, research is discovering that individuals that have never met face-to-face can function as a cohesive and effective team.

According to Burke, chair of the symposium, many business and research teams have evolved from small to large, real to virtual, and self-managing to hierarchical. In recent years teams have also increasingly interfaced with technology. While this technological merger has increased the success of many teams, Burke argued it has also amplified the physical distance between team members, resulting in greater complexity in communication and a substantial reformulation of team dynamics.

Fiore continued on this topic in speaking about his research on “distributed coordination space” and the application of cognitive psychology in studying team expertise. He described “distributed coordination space” as “a framework” which consists of social-cognitive dynamics, artificial components, and dynamic processes. Drawing on work from Endel Tulving (who coincidentally was Keynote Speaker at the APS convention), Fiore highlighted the importance of episodic (event-based) memory in facilitating team familiarity. According to Fiore, team members who share more experiences may be more familiar with each other and thus more cooperative, with the overall effect being increased team production. Sounding like a sports coach himself, Fiore concluded with the message: “Common ground must be achieved.”

The fact that team members appear to perform better when in the same physical location may appear obvious to any sports player, coach, or fan, but is co-location a necessary component of a successful business, research, or military team? Not necessarily, according to Cooke, who discussed the effects of geographic disparity on team effectiveness. Like many of this symposium’s presenters, Cooke’s research on team cognition is military-sponsored. She argued for a “gestalt” approach to team thought processes, noting that team cognition “emerges from the interplay of individual cognitions” and is “more than the sum of the cognitive processes of individual team members.”

Cooke’s work in the Cognitive Engineering Research on Team Tasks lab examines how soldiers function as a team over “distributed space.” Based on her research findings, Cooke concluded that dispersion is not detrimental to team performance, although the absence of co-location may hinder team dynamics. Specifically, she found that under increased workload teams that are in the same location demonstrate greater task knowledge than distributed teams. Cooke concluded by stating that dispersion may indeed by detrimental to team process (although not necessarily outcome) in that distributed teams talk and debrief less.

In any team, members of diverse backgrounds must come together to form a cohesive unit in order to be successful. In his talk on “Leadership and Performance Requirements Across Different Types of Multicultural and Multinational Collaborations,” Zaccaro identified today’s leadership environment as “virtual, global, and still interdependent.” He identified many dimensions of culture relevant for team effectiveness, including individualism, collectivism, and long vs. short-term orientation. Zaccaro stated that the many problems in leadership result from differences in culture; as teams become increasingly multinational, team members must take into account existing cultural differences. Similar to successful sports teams, members of a successful business or research team not only know each other as professionals but also as people with varied backgrounds and experiences.

Fritzsche concluded the symposium with her talk “Improving Team Adaptability Using Contrasting Cases Training.” Fritzsche focused on how training can be used to encourage adaptability, saying that “instruction that results in learning how to recall information does not necessarily lead to learner’s use of that information.” Her examination of the strategies used in making military decisions uncovered differences in strategic and procedural knowledge among participants, although no differences were found on reactions and declarative memory. Fritzsche also found that interactive leadership methods are more effective than traditional instructional techniques.

Observer Vol.17, No.8 August, 2004

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