Teamwork: Where the weak help the strong

Professor explains why group projects don't always mean everyone learns

Group work is the name of the game in many companies. The thinking is that workers will learn more and help each other when they are put into groups composed of people with a variety of expertise. But does this always happen? Some recent research suggests that it may not … at least not always.

J. Stuart Bunderson

As a result of this dynamic, less expert members don’t always benefit from the advice and assistance of their more expert colleagues.

So how do we get around this tendency? Bunderson suggests that team leaders structure teams in ways that break down these barriers to interaction through interdependence, shared goals, and shared rewards. Also, keeping teams together longer may help to overcome these tendencies because it gives norms of reciprocity and fair play a chance to kick in.

“The results of this study suggest that we may have to be more deliberate about getting team members to share their expertise with one another than we might have assumed,” Bunderson said.