To Succeed in Dynamic Environments, Team Information Elaboration is Key

Imagine that you are tasked with developing and marketing a complex product, like the next generation of an electronic medical device. The first thing you need to do is assemble a team of highly skilled individuals with expertise in different specialty areas – doctors, nurses, engineers, designers, marketing professionals and financial analysts. You need a team with the very best talent to be successful in this venture.

Unfortunately, talent alone won’t help highly specialized cross-functional teams such as these to succeed, particularly when projects are dynamic and teams may face disruptive challenges. New research from Drexel LeBow’s Christian Resick finds that cross-functional teams working on dynamic projects need to master the art of information elaboration. By providing detailed explanations, and constructively discussing and integrating members’ ideas, teams are able to leverage their diverse knowledge resources and be successful.

According to Resick, “an often overlooked consideration in building cross-functional teams is ensuring that teams are composed of members who possess the ‘can do’ abilities and the ‘will do’ motivation to engage in information elaboration processes.” For example, these highly skilled professionals need to be willing and able to break out of their usual jargon and explain their points of view in terms professionals coming from other backgrounds can understand – allowing high ability teams to get on the same page quickly and exchange information effectively.

Also important, Resick says, is the “motivation to collectively lead each other through in-depth information elaboration and decision-making processes.” His research found that trusting teammates plays a big role here. People who have a high level of “self-reliance belief” tend to mistrust others, which doesn’t work well in these teams.

“These specialized cross-functional teams working in dynamic, fast-paced environments will perform better when they are staffed with members who are motivated to exchange information in a rich and detailed manner,” he says.

Christian Resick, PhD, is an associate professor of management. The paper “Information Elaboration and Team Performance: Examining the Psychological Origins and Environmental Contingencies,” which he co-authored with Toshio Murase, Kenneth R. Randall and Leslie A. DeChurch, appears in the July 2014 issue of Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes.

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