Turnover and enactment of change

In much of the literature about turnover, it is unclear how newcomers are influencing the outcomes for the groups that they join. More recent literature has attempted to categorize the ways that newcomers adapt to the groups they join and how groups adapt to the newcomers. In the study I describe today, the researchers were curious what factors influence whether a newcomer is able or willing to share their ideas with the rest of the group. There is an assumption in much of the management literature that newcomer's primary value is in the new ideas they bring to the group. But, under what conditions that occurs is less clear. It certainly is not as often as possible or there would be much more value in the world.

The study I want to describe is Kane, Argote, & Levine (2005). These researchers decided to use an experiment to investigate some of their ideas using the frame of social identification. The researchers proposed that if group member shared a common social identity with a newcomer that they would be more willing to accept new ideas into the group. Unfortunately, this study was not able to determine directionality (whether the effect is newcomers' willingness to give ideas or oldtimers' willingness to accept them) but this step was a great step forward in this research.

In this task, the participants made paper boats in assembly lines. The researchers demonstrated how paper boats could be made but were clear that their requirement was to make as many paper boats that fit the requirements for the task and not just this specific boat. Some groups learned a method of making paper boats that required 7 folds while other groups learned a method that took 12 folds. Though the group with the smaller number of folds had one fold that was somewhat complex, they were much more efficient in general than groups with 12 folds (based on pretesting). The groups were told to use an assembly line to construct the boats and the more difficult fold is done by the middle member.

The other manipulation in the study was whether the groups shared a sense of collective social identity with each other. In each experimental session, 2 groups were brought into the lab at the same time. They both also participated in a training period in the same room. However, in the high social identity condition, the groups were given the same names, seated in an integrated fashion differently, and given a reward scheme where the performance of both groups would lead to better outcomes for all the individuals. In the low social identity condition, these three factors were changed so the groups seemed less similar to one another and their reward was not interdependent with the other team.

The other action in the study that the experimenters made was very clever. The middle members for each group switched from participating with one group to participating in another group. Therefore, for some groups the new member had the same experience as the group they are entering (experience with low or high efficiency folding techniques) whereas for other groups there was a difference (the new member has the low or high efficiency folding technique but the group they join has the opposite). The new member is therefore in a position where they need to learn the technique the group is using, or the member needs to try and get the group to accept the way of doing the task that they are most used to.

Skipping ahead to the results, almost no groups accepted the newcomers folding strategy if the strategy was worse than the one that they already have. There was also a main effect of the identity. Shen the groups had a shared identity, they were much more likely to accept the new member's strategy into their group. If the groups shared an identity (from having the same group name and having a shared reward structure, then they accepted the new member's better way of constructing the boat about 70% of the time. If they didn't share that same identity, however, then the group didn't accept the new member's superior way of making the boat that often (only 25% of the time).

The results for performance were a bit harder to interpret. All groups performed better over time, generating more boats in the last trial than in the first one. But there wasn't a strong direct relationship of the new member having a superior routine and performance. The researchers found that when the new member introduced a better routine to the group, that they experienced a larger increase in their performance than when the new member has a worse routine. These differences, however, are only for groups that share an identity with the new member. If the group didn't share an identity with the new member, then it didn't matter whether the new member had a better or worse routine, partially because these groups accepted that routine infrequently.

In context, this study was very significant for a few reasons. First, Argote had done significant work on learning within groups and organizations. This, however, was one of the first study that demonstrates both how learning can occur within a group and that there are certain variables that influence whether a group can learn from a new member. The variable of interet here was social identity but other work has looked at a lot of other factors (see Rink et al., 2013 or a review). Second, this study demonstrated that groups have the ability to recognize advantageous strategies and use them. This was demonstrated in some earlier work by McGrath, but Kane's study is a very clean experimental setting. Lastly, the results suggest that learning new strategies can be costly to a group, hence the small differences in performance for groups where the new member had a better routine compared to groups that received a new member with a less efficient routine.