® Academy of Management /ournaJ 1989, Vol. 32, No. 2, 274-309.
MARKING TIME: PREDICTABLE TRANSITIONS IN TASK GROUPS
CONNIE J. G. GERSICK University of California, Los Angeles
A new model of group development suggests that groups' attention to time and pacing is an important catalyst of their progress through creative projects. In this laboratory study, groups were videotaped as they produced creative products and then interviewed about replays of selected portions of the tapes. Participants' efforts to pace themselves were explored in depth, with special focus on a key feature of the model, a major transition in groups' approach toward their work at the midpoint of their allotted time. The appropriateness of laboratory simulation for studying midpoint transitions was also assessed. The laboratory results mirrored and extended the field-based model; they showed how groups make deliberate attentional shifts at their temporal midpoints, what differences exist between pacing patterns in the first and second halves of groups' life spans, and what happens when transitions fail. Implications are drawn for theory, practice, and research.
Organizations often rely on small groups when they need an innovation by a deadline. Managers appoint time-limited task forces and committees to deal witb novel problems. Businesses designate time-limited project groups to invent new products. Consultants set up time-limited retreats for topexecutive teams to design new strategies. How do such groups manage—or fail—to produce unpredictable outcomes within preset schedules? Answering that question requires understanding (1) how groups progress through creative tasks and (2) how groups pace themselves, or fit work into time. Although there are important literatures bearing on eacb of tbose two points separately, almost no research has considered the integrative question of how groups pace themselves through creative work. However, my recent field study of the complete life cycles of special project groups (Gersick, 1988) did explore how teams finished creative products by their deadlines. The study proposed a new model of group development—the path a group takes over its life span toward the accomplishment of its main tasks—tbat includes the mechanisms and timing of change. It suggested, furthermore, that tbere are strong, beretofore unrecognized connections between groups' I am grateful to Kelin Gersick, Richard Hackman, Barbara Lawrence, Daniel Levinson, Leslie Ray, and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on earlier drafts of this paper and to Michael Patton, Leslie Ray, and several M.B.A. student participants for their assistance in carrying out the research. This project was supported by a grant from the Research Committee of the University of California, Los Angeles. Academic Senate. 274
pacing efforts and their creative work progress: specifically, that the former can catalyze the latter. This article discusses a study conducted to follow up on my original research by exploring the cognitive and behavioral links between pacing and development. A laboratory simulation was designed to permit both close observation of groups working and close questioning of participants on how they thought about their work. Using this previously untried design with the field-based model dictated a second purpose for the study: to assess the suitability of laboratory simulation as a research tool for the phenomena of interest. PREVIOUS RESEARCH
For groups with creative assignments and the responsibility to invent their own work processes, pace is a complex manifestation of group members' speed in managing their own interaction and their interaction with outside stakeholders, solving problems, and discovering and developing new ideas. Understanding what such groups do to accomplish those ends by a deadline overlaps importantly with understanding what they do to create a product at all. One source of...
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