Ralph Katz.

Project performance and group longevity : an investigative look at some intragroup trends online

. (page 1 of 3)
Online LibraryRalph KatzProject performance and group longevity : an investigative look at some intragroup trends → online text (page 1 of 3)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook



Ralph Katz

April, 1980

WP 1123-80






Ralph Katz

April, 1980 WP 1123-80

*Paper presented at the international conference of:

Industrial Relations and Conflict Management: Different
Ways of Managing Conflict , the Netherlands School of
Business, Nijenrode, The Netherlands, (June, 1980).


The primary thrust of this paper deals with the ways in which
employees' reactions to their work environments change over time.
Generally, speaking, as employees pass from one phase in their work
lives to the next, different concerns and issues are emphasized; and
the particular perspectives that result produce different behavioral
and attitudinal combinations within Job settings. In particular,
a three-transitional stage model of job longevity is discussed to
illustrate the major kinds of concerns that seem to preoccupy and
guide employees as they work at a given job position. Whether or
not certain behavioral tendencies implied by this job longevity
model actually materialize for any given individual is strongly
dependent on the kinds of reinforcements and social/task supports
encountered by the individual within his immediate project or work
group. Thus, the group can either enhance or inhibit certain trends
depending upon the average length of time the group members have
worked together, or group longevity. Based on data collected from
50 R&D project groups, this paper argues that the performance and
innovativeness of long-tenured R&D groups tends to deteriorate
significantly with increasing group longevity when such groups tend
to buffer and isolate themselves from certain key areas both within
and outside the organization. These findings are then discussed in
the more general terms of managing group processes over time.


Project Performance and Group Longevity: An Investigative Look
at Some Intragroup Trends

Group and individual member activities do not occur all at
once or at a single point in time; they transpire through time.
One of the major problems in behavioral science research, in
general, and in the study of groups and project teams, in particu-
lar, has been the general neglect of such temporal factors.
Without an appreciation of the importance of time as a variable,
the question of how a group is doing will receive an incomplete
answer. What is needed, therefore, is a more temporally-based
framework for analyzing and conceptualizing the different kinds of
trends that are likely to take place within a group as its team
membership ages. For example, how does the performance of a
project group vary as a function of the length of time its members
have been working together; and just as important, what specific
factors seem to influence the direction of such performance ten-

The Influence of Job Longevity

Based on some recent research efforts, Katz (1980) has been
working to develop a more general theory for describing how employees*
perspectives unfold and change as they journey through their own
discrete sequences of job situations. In particular, a three-
transitional stage model of job longevity has been proposed to
illustrate how certain kinds of concerns might change in importance

according to the actual length of time an employee has been working
in a given job position. Generally speaking, each time an employee
is assigned to a new job position within an organization, either
as a recent recruit or through transfer or promotion, the individual
enters a relatively brief but nevertheless important "socialization"
period. With increasing familiarity about his or her new job
environment, however, the employee soon passes from socialization
into the "innovation" stage which, in turn, slowly shifts into a
"stabilization" state as the individual gradually adapts to extensive
job longevity, i.e., as the employee continues to work in the
same overall job for an extended period of time. Figure 1
summarizes the sequential nature of these three stages by comparing
the different kinds of issues that are most likely to influence
employees as they cycle through their various job positions.

Insert Figure 1 About Here

Underlying these kinds of changes is the basic idea that
over time individuals try to organize their work environments
in a manner that reduces the amount of stress they must face and
which is also low in uncertainty (Weick, 1969; Katz, 1978;
Pfeffer, 1980). According to this argument, employees strive to
direct their activities toward a more workable and predictable
level of certainty and clarity. In the process of adjusting
to prolonged periods of job longevity and stability, therefore.

most employees have probably succeeded in building a work pattern
that is familiar and comfortable — a pattern in which routine
and precedent play a relatively large part. They may have, as
a result, become increasingly content or ensconced in their
customary ways of doing things, their established routines and
interactions, and their familiar sets of task activities and
responses. Most likely, employees feel safe and comfortable in
such stability for it keeps them feeling secure and confident
in what they do yet requires little additional effort.

Job Longevity and External Vigilance

Given these kinds of developmental trends, one can easily
argue that with increasing amounts of job longevity, employees
may gradually become less receptive toward any change, innovation,
or toward any piece of information threatening to disrupt signi-
ficantly their comfortable and predictable work practices and
patterns of behavior (Staw, 1977; Katz, 1980). One of the

potential consequences of this kind of "status-quo" perspec-
tive is that in time employees may become increasingly insulated
from outside sources of relevant information and important
new ideas (Pelz & Andrews, 1966; Dubin, 1972). As individuals
become more protective on their current work habits,
interests, and problem-solving approaches, the extent to which
they are willing to expose themselves to new or alternative
ideas, suggestions, solution strategies, and constructive
criticisms may become progressively less and less.

Rather than becoming more vigilant towards their external work
environments, they may become increasingly complacent about out-
side events and new technological developments.

Furthermore, one must also realize that under these kinds
of circumstances, any external or environmental information that
does, in fact, become processed by such individuals might also not be
viewed in the most open and unbiased fashion. Janis and Mann
(1977) , for example, discuss at great length the many kinds of
cognitive defenses and distortions commonly used by individuals
in processing outside information in order to support, maintain,
or protect particular decisional policies and strategies. In
short, as employees adapt to long-term job longevity and
stability, the desire to seek out and actively internalize new
knowledge and new developments may become very slim indeed.

The Influence of Groups

The degree to which this kind of stability and insulation
actually materializes for any given individual depends, of course,
on the overall situational context. Individuals' perceptions and
responses do not take place in a social vacuum but evolve through
successive encounters with their work environments (Crozier, 1964;
Katz and Van Maanen, 1977; Salancik and Pfeffer, 1978). Much of
an employee's reactions tend to develop over time as he or she
continues to interact with various aspects of their job and organi-

zational surroundings. Thus, one must carefully consider the
situational context in which task assignments are being carried out
in order to understand more fully how individuals define and
interpret their work experiences and to gain a more complete picture
of individual behavior.

In any job setting, one of the more important elements affecting
individual perspectives is the nature of the particular group or
project team in which one is a contributing member (Schein, 1978;
Katz and Kahn, 1978). And ever since the well-known Western Electric
Studies (Cass and Zimmer, 1975), much of our research in the social
sciences has been directed toward learning just how powerful group
associations can be in influencing individual member behaviors,
motivations, and attitudes (Asch, 1956; Shaw, 1971; Hackman, 1976).
The impact of groups on individual responses is substantial, if not
pervasive, simply because groups mediate most of the stimuli to which
their individual members are subjected while fulfilling their
everyday task and organizational requirements. Accordingly, whether
an individual experiencing long-term job longevity eventually enters
the stabilization period and becomes increasingly isolated from new
ideas, methods, and outside developments may strongly depend on the
particular reinforcements, pressures, and behavioral norms en-
countered within one's immediate project or work group (Katz, 1965;
Likert, 1967; Weick, 1969).

Generally speaking, as members of a project group continue
to work together over an extended period of time and gain experience

with one another, their pattern of activities are likely to become
more stable with individual role assignments becoming more well-
defined and resistant to change (Bales, 1955; Porter, Lawler, and
Hackraan, 1975). Insulation from external sources of information
and influence, then, may be more a function of the average length
of time the group members have worked together, i.e., group
longevity, rather than varying according to the particular job
longevity of any single individual. Thus, a project group might
either exacerbate or ameliorate the insulation of individuals from
outside developments and expertise just as previous studies (see
Seashore, 1954 and Stoner, 1968, for example) have shown how
groups can enforce or amplify certain standards and norms of
individual behavior.

Despite this possibility, organizational areas must be able
to collect and process information from outside sources in order
to keep informed about relevant external developments and new
technological advances (Thompson, 1967; Katz and Kahn, 1978). The
importance of gathering and disseminating information from external
domains is accentuated in R&D project groups given their dependence
on external information and new technological developments as
well as their need for effective coordination with other organi-
zational areas, including marketing and manufacturing
(Achilladeles, Jervis, and Robertson, 1971; Utterback, 1974).
Furthermore, the works of Allen (1977), Menzel (1966), and others
have demonstrated rather convincingly that oral communications,
rather than technical reports, publications, or other formal

written media, are the primary means used by technologists to collect
and transfer outside information and important new ideas into their
project groups.

Given the strategic importance of oral communications in
organizations, in general, and in R&D project groups, in particular,
it is imperative that we begin to examine explicitly the effects of
any variable purporting to influence the linkages between a project
group and its external technological and work environments. Speci-
fically, the present research investigates the influence of group
longevity on the amount of interaction between project groups and
their various outside sources of information and new ideas. As
the team "ages" and becomes more stable, will its individual
members begin to ignore and isolate themselves from external areas
of information and influence; essentially by communicating less
frequently with colleagues and peers outside their project team?
In addition, if there is the tendency for project groups to separate
themselves from outside sources of technology and information with
increasing group longevity, then to what extent is such external
insulation paralleled by increasing levels of internal group inter-
action and cohesiveness; that is, substituting internal expertise
and wisdom for externally-derived ideas, possibilities, and

Group Longevity and Project Performance

Insulation from external technical ideas and influences can, of

course, be very serious in its consequences, perhaps even fatal.
Much depends, however, on the nature of the team's work and how
its insulation (or conversely how its contact with outside domains)
actually comes about. Project groups working on fairly routine,
simple tasks in a relatively stable technological environment ,
for example, may not necessarily suffer as a result of less
external vigilance for internal expertise and experience may be
sufficient. As project groups function in a more rapidly changing
technological environment and work on more complex tasks requiring
greater levels of creativity and innovativeness, the effects of
external isolation are likely to be significantly more dysfunctional.
In general, extant research has consistently shown that the technical
performance of R&D project groups is strongly associated with
outside contact (e.g., Allen, 1977; Hagstrom, 1965; Shilling and
Bernard, 1964), although the particular method by which R&D groups
can effectively draw upon external technological developments and
information can significantly differ (Katz and Tushman, 1980;
Allen, Tushman, and Lee, 1979).

Nevertheless, given the critical importance of outside
communication and the possible impact of group longevity on the
amount of such outside interaction, it is likely that the technical
performance of project groups will also vary with group longevity or
average group tenure. In fact, three previous studies have shown
supporting evidence for this belief. Shepard (1956) was the first
to relate the mean tenure of group members to performance. For the

small number of R&D groups in his sample, he found that performance
increased up to about 16 months average tenure, but thereafter
decayed. In another study, Pelz and Andrews (1966) uncovered a
similar curvilinear relation between mean group tenure and per-
formance — the "optimum" group longevity mix occurring at around
the four or five year mark. Finally, Smith (1970) was also able
to replicate this finding when he showed performance peaking at
a mean tenure of three to four years from a study of 49 R&D groups
in an oil firm.

By itself, the idea that R&D project performance may tend to
deteriorate with increasing levels of mean project tenure raises
more questions then it answers. In particular, why were the
performances of the longer- tenured project groups significantly
lower on the average? Are they simply staffed by larger numbers
of less able or less motivated engineering professionals, for
example, or are there important behavioral variations in how project
members actually conduct their day-to-day activities that can help
to account for these significant performance differences?

The present study investigates once again the relationship
between group longevity and the overall technical performance of
R&D project groups. But this time, the research will focus on
clearly defined project teams, direct rather than individually
aggregated measures of project performance; and most important, it
will try to explain any uncovered performance variations in terms
of changing amounts of outside project conmunicatlon. Thus,
if project performance is found to vary curvilinearly with


group longevity, then it is hypothesized that technical communications
to sources outside the project team will follow a pattern similar
to that of project performance. On the other hand, as the project
team isolates itself from external areas over time, technical
communications within the project itself will increase — at least
until some saturation point is reached.



Research Setting

This study was carried out at the R&D facility of a large
American Corporation. Geographically isolated from the rest of
the organization, the facility employed a total of 345 engineering
and scientific professionals, all of whom participated in our
study. The laboratory's professionals were organized into seven
departmental labs (or groups) which, in turn, were organized into
61 separate projects or work areas. These project groupings
remained stable over the course of the study, and each professional
was a member of only one project team. Complete data was
successfully obtained on a total of 50 project groups.

Technical Communication

To measure actual communications, each professional was asked
to keep track (on specially prepared lists) of all other professionals
with whom he or she had work-related, oral communication on a given
sampling day. These sociometric data were collected on a randomly
chosen day each week for 15 weeks. The sampling of days was con-
strained to allow for equal numbers of weekdays. Respondents were
asked to report all oral, work-related contacts both within an
outside the laboratory's facility (including whom they talked to
and how many times they talked with that person during the day.)


They were instructed not to report contacts that were strictly
social, nor did they report written communications.

These research procedures are similar to those used in other
sociometric conraiunication studies, including Allen and Cohen (1969)
and Whitley and Frost (1973). During the 15 weeks, the overall
response rate was 93 percent. Moreover, 68 percent of all reported
communication episodes within the laboratory were reciprocally
mentioned by both parties. Given these high rates of response and
mutual agreement (see Weiss and Jacobson, 1960 for comparative
data) , these methods provide a relatively accurate log of the verbal
interactions of all professionals within this laboratory.

Project communication is a measure of the average amount of
technical communication per person per project over the fifteen
weeks. As discussed by Katz and Tushraan (1979), six mutually
exclusive communication measures were operationalized for each
project group as follows:

1. Intraproject: The amount of communication reported among
all project team members.

2. Departmental: The amount of communication reported between
the project's members and other R&D professionals within
the same functional department.

3. Laboratory: The amount of communication reported between
the project's members and R&D professionals outside their
functional department but within the R&D facility.

4. Organizational: The amount of communication reported by the
project's members with other individuals outside the R&D
facility but within other corporate divisions such as marketing
and manufacturing.


5. Professional: The amount of communication reported by project
members with external professionals outside the parent organi-
zation including universities, consulting firms, and professional

6. Operational: The amount of communication reported by project
members with external operational areas including vendors and

Communication measures to these six independent domains were calcu-
lated by summing the relevant number of interactions reported during
the 15 weeks with appropriate averaging for the number of project
team members, see Katz and Tushman (1979) for details. Though the
overall response rate was extremely high, the raw communications
data for incomplete respondents were proportionately adjusted by
the number of missing weeks.

Project Performance

Since comparable measures of project perfoirmance have yet to
be developed across different technologies, a subjective measure,
similar to that used by Lawrence and Lorsch (1967), was employed.
Each Department Manager (N = 7) and Laboratory Director (N = 2)
was separately interviewed and asked to evaluate the overall
technical performance of all projects with which he was technically
familiar. They were asked to make their informed judgements based
on their knowledge of and experience with the various projects. If
they could not make an informed judgement for a particular project,
they were asked not to rate the project. Criteria the managers
considered (but were not limited to ) included: schedule, budget.


and cost performance; Innovativeness; adaptability; and the ability to
cooperate with other parts of the organization. Each project was
independently rated by an average of 4.7 managers on a seven-point
scale (from very low to very high). As the performance ratings
across the nine judges were highly intercorrelated (Spearman-Brown
reliability = .81), individual ratings were averaged to yield
overall project performance scores.

Project Task Characteristics

In R&D settings, tasks can differ along several dimensions,
including time span of feedback, specific vs. general problem-solving
orientation, and generation of new knowledge vs. utilization of
existing knowledge and experience (Rosenbloom and Wolek, 1970).
Based on these dimensions, the following task categories were developed
with the help of the laboratory's management.

a. Basic Research: Work of a general nature intended to apply
to a broad range of applications or to the development of
new knowledge about an area.

b. Applied Research: Work involving basic knowledge for the
solution of a particular problem. The creation and eval-
uation of new concepts or components but not development
for operational use.

c. Development: The combination of existing feasible concepts,
perhaps with new knowledge, to provide a distinctly new
product or process. The application of known facts and
theory to solve a particular problem through exploratory
study, design, and testing of new components or systems.

d. Technical Service: Cost/performance improvement to existing
products, processes, or systems. Recombination, modification
and testing for systems using existing knowledge. Opening
new markets for existing products.


Using these definitions, respondents were asked to select the
category which best characterized the objectives of their project
and to indicate, on a three-point scale, how completely the project's
objectives were represented by the selected category. The twelve
possible answers were scored along a single scale ranging from
completely basic research to completely technical service. As in
Pelz and Andrews (1966) , respondents were also asked to indicate
what percentage of their project's work fell into each of the
four categories. A weighted average of the percentages was calcu-
lated for each respondent. The scored responses to these two
questions were then averaged (Spearman-Brown reliability = . 91) .

By pooling individual members' responses to obtain project
scores, we could easily identify a project as being predominantly
either: (1) Research (a combination of basic and applied research
categories); (2) Development; or (3) Technical Service. As discussed
in Katz and Tushman (1979) , analysis of variance was used to ensure
the appropriateness of combining individual perceptions of their
activities for the aggregate categorization of each particular project

Tenure and Demographic Data

During the course of the study, demographic data was also

collected from the laboratory's professionals, including their

age, educational degrees, and an estimate of the number of years

and months that they had been associated with their specific project
group, with their functional Department, and with the overall

laboratory facility.



Project Performance

The 50 projects have mean group tenures ranging from
several months to almost 13 years with an overall sample mean
of 3.41 years and a standard deviation of 2.67 years. The mean
rating of project performance, as provided by the evaluators,
ranged from a low of 3.0 to a high of 6.4. Mean performance for
the overall sample of 50 projects is 4.59.

When project performance was plotted as a function of
the mean project tenure of team members, there is some indication
that performance was highest in the 2 to 4-year interval, with
lower performance scores both before and after.

To get a better idea of whether any distinct pattern might
emerge from the relationship between group longevity and
project performance, the original data were subjected to a

1 3

Online LibraryRalph KatzProject performance and group longevity : an investigative look at some intragroup trends → online text (page 1 of 3)