Learning in Temporary Teams: The Varying Effects of Partner Exposure by Team Member Role

Published Online:https://doi.org/10.1287/orsc.2022.1585

In many workplaces, temporary teams convene to coordinate complex work, despite team members having not worked together before. Most related research has found consistent performance benefits when members of temporary teams work together multiple times (team familiarity). Recent work in this area broke new conceptual ground by instead exploring the learning and performance benefits that team members gain by being exposed to many new partners (partner exposure). In contrast to that new work that examined partner exposure between team members who are peers, in this paper, we extend this research by developing and testing theory about the performance effects of partner exposure for team members whose roles are differentiated by authority and skill. We use visit-level data from a hospital emergency department and leverage the ad hoc assignment of attendings, nurses, and residents to teams and the round-robin assignment of patients to these teams as our identification strategy. We find a negative performance effect of both nurses’ and resident trainees’ partner exposure to more attendings and of attendings’ and nurses’ exposure to more residents. In contrast, both attendings and residents experience a positive impact on performance from working with more nurses. The respective effects of residents working with more attendings and with more nurses is attenuated on patient cases with more structured workflows. Our results suggest that interactions with team members in decision-executing roles, as opposed to decision-initiating roles, is an important but often unrecognized part of disciplinary training and team learning.

Funding: This work was supported by the New Faculty Startup Fund from Seoul National University; Harvard Business School; Stanford Center for Work, Technology, and Organization; and Stanford Center for Designing Organizational Change.

Supplemental Material: The online supplement is available at https://doi.org/10.1287/orsc.2022.1585.

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