Structural Disruption, Relational Experimentation, and Performance in Professional Hockey Teams: A Network Perspective on Member Change

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This paper explores how action teams reorganize their interdependent relationships following the exit of a key team member. To do so, I adopt a network perspective to conceptualize interaction patterns as a network, first to identify members who are central to the team’s workflow, and second to assess changes in tie formation as teams experiment with their relational structure following member exit. Using data on professional hockey teams—where unexpected member change due to injury is frequent, but highly interdependent teams nonetheless carry out complex, time-sensitive work—results indicate that the injury of central players negatively affects team performance, even when controlling for individual performance. Teams adapted to central exits by maintaining their existing interaction patterns, even though higher levels of relational experimentation following an injury were positively associated with performance. By considering changes in ties within a team, a network approach focuses on the relationships that are disrupted by compositional change and provides a more flexible way of thinking about adaptation and reorganization beyond a team’s formal structure.

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