Team Familiarity, Role Experience, and Performance:Evidence from Indian Software Services

by Robert S. Huckman, Bradley R. Staats & David M. Upton

Overview — In contexts ranging from product development to service delivery, a significant amount of an organization's work is conducted by "fluid teams" that strive for innovative output. Fluid project teams exist only for the duration of a single project, and are comprised of members who may join or leave a team during the course of a project. In such settings, simple measures of cumulative output may not accurately capture team experience, particularly when changes in team composition are substantial over time. This study of an Indian software services firm, Wipro Technologies, considers an approach for capturing the experience held by fluid teams. It extends the concept of team fluidity in a way that allows for greater granularity in the measurement of team experience and a finer understanding of the determinants of team performance. Key concepts include:

  • The findings underscore the need to use caution in assuming cumulative output wholly captures experience when team membership is not constant from one project to the next.
  • These results build on previous research on team familiarity by considering longitudinal data on the individual members of teams.
  • The findings also emphasize the importance of considering role experience and studying experience at different levels of seniority.

Author Abstract

Much of the literature on learning views experience as a unidimensional concept captured by the cumulative production volume or number of projects completed by a team. Implicit in this approach is the assumption that teams are stable in their membership and internal organization. In practice, however, such stability is rare, as the composition and structure of teams often changes over time or between projects. In this paper, we use detailed data from an Indian software services firm to examine how such changes may affect the accumulation of experience within, and the performance of, teams. We find that the level of team familiarity (i.e., the average number of times that each team member has worked with every other member of the team) has a significant and positive effect on performance but that conventional measures of the experience of individual team members (e.g., years at the firm) do not impact performance. We do find, however, that the role experience of individuals in a team (i.e., years in a given role within a team) is associated with better team performance. We examine the impact of role experience separately for team managers and team members. We find that a manager's role experience is positively related to outcome measures that are easily observable in process but is not related to outcomes that are difficult to monitor in process. In comparison, a member's role experience is positively related to both types of outcomes. Our results offer an approach for capturing the experience held by fluid teams and highlight the need to study context-specific measures of experience, including role experience, in addition to offering further insight into how the interactions of team members may contribute to the development of broader firm capabilities.

Paper Information