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10 Apr 2017

An Actor Focused Exploration of Antecedents to Social Network Evolution Within and Between Groups in Organizations

Sebastian L. Schorch is a graduate of the PhD program at Grenoble Ecole de Management. He recently joined the School of Management of the Universidad de los Andes in Colombia as an Assistant Professor. In his research, he applies social network analysis to better understand behaviors and work outcomes for individuals and teams in organizations.

Thesis Overview

While social network research has a structuralist tradition, the interplay between individual agency and the social structure has increasingly drawn research interest. Along these lines, this thesis explored how individual behaviors and perceptions influence the evolution of an individual's network of relationships.

Study one examined the benefits of civility and investigated the influence of civil behavior on patterns of advice seeking and leadership. Results indicated that civil individuals are more likely to be sought out for advice and be perceived as leaders, which in turn benefits their work performance.

Study two investigated knowledge seeking by innovation teams in a competitive context. The study highlighted that team members prefer to seek knowledge from team outsiders who are considered to be noteworthy competitors. This behavior benefits their teams' performance. However, teams that are perceived as noteworthy competitors significantly reduce knowledge seeking and therefore perform worse despite their assumed competence.

Study three examined the influence of internal group relationships on external group relationships. The research found that perceptions of personal relationships within the group promote downward comparisons to group outsiders, while perceptions of positive professional relationships within the group promote upward comparisons to group outsiders.

This research relied predominantly on quantitative social network data which was collected from the R&D department of a biotech company and an innovation competition with teams of engineering students.

Managerial Summary

This research contributes to the large body of knowledge that seeks to help managers better understand and guide the behavior of individuals in organizations. Two empirical studies of an R&D department in a biotech company and an innovation competition with teams of engineering students allowed the researcher to observe networks of interactions and information exchanges between individuals. Among the researcher's many findings, two appear to be particularly useful for managers in their daily work.

First, the study of an R&D department in a biotech company highlighted the fact that polite employees were more widely accepted as leaders and demonstrated superior work performance. These results negate the widely held assumption that civil behavior is detrimental to being accepted as a leader and that it hinders career success. Managers can not only apply this finding to themselves, but also use it to encourage politeness among employees. As a result, they can help create a positive work environment which leads to improved employee performance, lower turnover intentions and easier talent retention.

Second, the study of a team innovation competition demonstrated that relationships between team members influenced internal teamwork and how team members behaved with those outside their teams. Personal relationships were found to be detrimental to team performance as they systematically lowered the quality of information brought by team members from outside sources. Managers should therefore consider the potential drawbacks of staffing teams in which members have strong personal relationships with each other. This can be of particular importance when the team's success relies on gaining external knowledge.

Key Points

  • It is important to consider the relationships between individuals when trying to understand employee behavior and work performance.
  • Civil behavior improves work performance and recognition as a leader.
  • The relationships between a team's members significantly impacts their interactions with the external environment.
  • Competition channels knowledge flows and may lead innovation teams (such as new product development teams) to develop more refined, but less diverse solutions.

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