DOI: 10.1177/26339137231199739 ISSN:

Shared language in the team network-performance association: Reconciling conflicting views of the network centralization effect on team performance

Ray E Reagans, Hagay Volvovsky, Ronald S Burt

We reconcile two conflicting views of the network centralization effect on team performance. In one view, a centralized network is problematic because it limits knowledge transfer, making it harder for team members to discover productive combinations of their know-how and expertise. In the alternative view, the limits on knowledge transfer encourage search and experimentation, leading to the discovery of more valuable ideas. We maintain the two sides are not opposed but reflect two distinct ways centralization can affect a team’s shared problem-solving framework. The shared framework in our research is a shared language. We contend that team network centralization affects both how quickly a shared language emerges and the performance implications of the shared language that develops. We analyze the performance of 77 teams working to identify abstract symbols for 15 trials. Teams work under network conditions that vary with respect to centralization. Results indicate that centralized teams take longer to develop a shared language, but centralized teams also create a shared language that is more beneficial for performance. The findings also indicate that the highest performing teams are assigned to networks that combine elements of a centralized and a decentralized network.

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