Adaptation in knowledge-based teams: An examination of team composition, leader sensegiving, and cognitive, behavioral, and motivational mechanisms

Kenneth R Randall, Florida International University


Organizations are increasingly relying on teams to do the work that has traditionally been done by individuals. At the same time, the environments in which these organizations and teams operate have been becoming progressively more complex and uncertain. These trends raise important questions about the factors that enable teams to adapt. In response to these questions, the current study sought to identify the cognitive, behavioral, and motivational processes and emergent states that promote a team's adaptation to unforeseen changes and novel events, and the team compositional characteristics and leadership processes that enabled these processes and emergent states. Two hundred twenty two undergraduate students from a large Southeastern University composed 74 3-person teams, and participated in a computerized decision-making simulation where each team formed the governing body (i.e., Mayor's cabinet) for two separate simulated cities, and made strategic decisions about city operations. Participants were randomly assigned to one of three roles, distributing expertise and creating mutual interdependence. External team leader sensegiving was manipulated through video recorded communications from an external team leader. Results indicate that team cognitive ability, achievement striving, and psychological collectivism, as well as external team leader sensegiving, were all related to the similarity and quality of team members' strategy-focused mental models (cognitive emergent states), and to the amount of information sharing among members (behavioral process). In turn, teams with more similar and higher quality mental models, and who shared greater levels of information, were found to have a greater ability to react and adapt to environmental changes, and to have greater levels of decision-making effectiveness. Results indicate a pattern of relationships consistent with hypotheses, and have important implications for organizations and knowledge-based teams charged with management responsibilities. Organizations should staff teams with the compositional characteristics that enable the development of similar and high quality mental models, and that promote information sharing among teammates. Similarly, organizations which train and develop leaders to engage in sensegiving behaviors enable team adaptability and promote enhanced decision-making effectiveness when faced with unforeseen changes and novel situations.

Subject Area

Management|Occupational psychology|Personality

Recommended Citation

Randall, Kenneth R, "Adaptation in knowledge-based teams: An examination of team composition, leader sensegiving, and cognitive, behavioral, and motivational mechanisms" (2008). ProQuest ETD Collection for FIU. AAI3319009.