May I ask you…?

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        Summary of my dissertation. More information available on request.

Multidisciplinary teams are composed of individuals with a diverse background and are often facing novel problems for which no ready-made solutions exist. While the diversity of the team can be an asset, it can also shatter teams into subgroups. For multidisciplinary teams to solve familiar and unfamiliar problems, team members need to exchange information with each other throughout the tenure of the team.

This dissertation focuses on understanding what influences team member’s willingness to exchange information with each other over time. The factors that influence a team member’s willingness to exchange information can be grouped into individual, dyadic and network factors. The individual factors studied, are adaptive expertise and social identity. For both factors it is necessary to first develop a better understanding of the concept and subsequently relate it to information exchange. Hence, the first two research questions are: “What are the characteristics of individuals with high levels of adaptive expertise and how do these relate to the exchange of information with a specific other person?” (RQ1) and “What combination of team identity and occupational identity is ideal for team performance and professional development and how does this combination relate to the exchange of information with a specific other person?” (RQ2).

The dyadic level considers how team members perceive the expertise of others and how this impacts information exchange. We investigate the question: “How strong is the impact of knowing and valuing the expertise of others on the amount of information that is exchanged with a specific other person? (RQ3).

Finally, for the network level we address the social processes of preferential attachment and balance and look into the question: “Do the processes of preferential attachment and balance influence the exchange of information in teams?” (RQ4). As information exchange is taking place within certain social structures, social network analysis is being used to investigate the information exchange between team members. Moreover, the question of the influence of time on information exchange is addressed in two ways: First, over time team members can build new information exchange relationships or they can stop exchanging information with someone. The development over time then focuses on the number of information exchange relationships. Secondly, over time team members can exchange more or less information with a specific team member. Development of information exchange in this case relates to the rate of information. The goal of Chapters 2 – 4 is to understand the two individual concepts, adaptive expertise and social identity. Chapters 5 – 6 investigate the combined impact of the individual, dyadic and network level on the development of information exchange in teams.

Chapter 2 and Chapter 3 address the first individual factor, adaptive expertise, and answer the first part of research question 1 (What are the characteristics of individuals with high levels of adaptive expertise?). Adaptive expertise has received considerable attention in the educational literature, but less in literature on teams. To synthesize former studies, a systematic narrative review has been performed on the characteristics of adaptive expertise and the environmental factors that support its development. The results indicate that key differences between individuals with low adaptive expertise and high adaptive expertise are related to their knowledge representation, analytical skills, reasoning skills, communication skills and analogical problem-solving skills. Regarding the environment, the opportunity to explore a task and having supportive managers creates a context conductive for achieving higher levels of adaptive expertise. Concluding, individuals with higher levels of adaptive expertise perform at a higher level in new situations thanks to how they explore and handle information.

Following the previous chapter’s conclusion on how to distinguish individuals with high levels of adaptive expertise from individuals with low levels of adaptive expertise, Chapter 3 deals with measuring adaptive expertise. The review of previous instruments touching upon the concept of adaptability reveals that they are not suitable for measuring adaptive expertise. Following the results of the literature review, the newly developed instrument contains three dimensions: (1) domain-specific skills, (2) metacognitive skills, and (3) innovation skills. However, after validating it with a sample of 383 professionals and graduates, the dimension addressing metacognitive skills had to be removed due to low fit indices. The final instrument provides good fit indices for both professionals and graduates. The scores also distinguish between these two groups. Further tests provide support for criterion validity as task variety positively relates to adaptive expertise scores. However, the instrument is not able to fully distinguish the adaptive expertise scores of professionals from different fields.

The other individual factor that needs further conceptual investigation before relating it to information exchange is social identity. Of interest is the answer to the question: What combination of team identity and occupational identity is ideal for team performance and professional development and how does it relate to the exchange of information with a specific other person? The first part of this question is addressed in Chapter 4. While it is acknowledged that individuals hold multiple social identities, it is generally assumed that multiple identities are nested within each other (with the exception of a few studies and conceptual papers). However, this assumption might not hold if team identity and occupational identity are considered: While team identity influences team goals and is part of the organization, occupational identity drives professional goals and is related to individual careers. When an individual leaves his or her team to join another team with the same role, the team identity can change, but the occupational identity is likely to remain the same. Given that team members can identify with each identity at varying strengths, resulting in different degrees of adherence to norms and behaviors accepted by the group (team or occupational group), the question arises of how different combinations of team identity and occupational identity impact team performance and professional development. After questioning 19 scholars using a Delphi study, the majority of scholars agree that a balance between team identity and occupational identity is most optimal. In the absence of equal salience of team identity and occupational identity, the identity more closely related to the outcome variable of interests (i.e., team identity for team performance and professional identity for professional development) is considered to be more important.

Chapters 5 and 6 address how the individual factors (adaptive expertise and social identity), dyadic factors (knowing and valuing), and network factors (preferential attachment and balance) influence the development of information exchange, answering research questions 1 – 4. In both chapters the teams are multidisciplinary and experience a high level of interdependence. Optimal performance requires team members to closely coordinate their activities. The teams in Chapter 5 are ad-hoc project teams coming together for one project. Team members decide on decision-making and leadership responsibilities. In some teams it is shared among team members, while in others it is centralized. In Chapter 6, the teams are emergency care teams working consecutively on several patients but not necessarily with the same team composition. For those teams, the doctor has the authority to make decisions and lead the team. However, also in these teams, other team members can make decisions and take up leadership if the doctor does not fulfill this role.

In Chapter 5, 18 ad-hoc project teams are surveyed about their information exchange three times during their team’s tenure. Two types of information exchange relationships are investigated: Allocating information and retrieving information. The question addresses what individual, dyadic and network factors influence the creation and maintenance of information allocation and information retrieval relationships. The results show that individuals with higher levels of adaptive expertise create and maintain more information allocation and information retrieval relationships. However, with the exception of adaptive expertise, these two processes emerge through different factors, resulting in different structures. Of the dyadic variables, only the relationship between valuing and information retrieval plays a role. For the network level, on the one hand, preferential attachment influences from whom team members retrieve information, resulting in a centralized structure. On the other hand, being in a balanced relationship influences from whom information is allocated, resulting in a less centralized structure. In conclusion, while in both cases team members exchange information, the decision to allocate information to someone is driven mostly by other factors than the decision to retrieve information. The only factor that positively predicts both forms of information exchange is adaptive expertise.

In Chapter 6 we again investigate how the individual, dyadic and network factors influence information exchange. In contrast to the previous chapter, the rate of information exchange is analyzed, instead of the number of information exchange relationships. Another difference is that the two types of investigated information exchange are ‘raw’ and ‘processed’ information. Raw information exchange takes into account exchanges of facts or observations. When team members exchange ‘processed’ information, they exchange knowledge and inferences they make based on the exchanged ‘raw’ information. Analyzing the second-by-second information exchange in 22 emergency care teams reveals that the individual and dyadic factors differ in their prediction of exchange of raw information compared to processed information. However, some consistency is observed between both types of information exchange: Firstly, individuals with a balanced social identity exchange more information, and secondly, the role of the team member predicts the amount of information exchange with the main nurse being central and hence leading what raw and processed information is exchanged.

The general discussion in Chapter 7 provides a synopsis of the main findings and a discussion of its theoretical contributions. Depending on the properties of the exchanged information (e.g., how ambiguous the information is for the sender) and the interdependence between team members, the individual, dyadic and network factors influence the number of information relationships and the flow of information differently. One of the few consistent factors is adaptive expertise influencing information allocation, information retrieval, and knowledge exchange. However, these results are limited to the two types of teams investigated and extrapolation of findings to other team types should be done with care. In addition, we had to develop instruments to measure adaptive expertise and balanced social identity. Both instruments would benefit from further validation.

The findings also yield several practical implications to stimulate information exchange in teams. First, adaptive expertise is important not only for personal learning, but also for information exchange and thus should be stimulated in team members. Secondly, valuing the expertise of others influences most forms of information exchange. Ensuring that team members are clear on the relevance of each others input for the team’s performance can help develop effective information exchange. Together these studies highlight that the properties of the to-be-exchanged information influence the emerging process of information exchange.

One thought on “May I ask you…?

  1. Pingback: How to Teach the Unknown | Enigmas, Networks, and People at Work

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