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A team of attractive people working on a project.

Aime leads research studying reactions to new team members

Tuesday, November 2, 2021

Media Contact: Bailey Stacy | Marketing and Communications, Coordinator | 405-744-2700 | bailey.stacy@okstate.edu

How does a team react when a new member joins? What if the new member is significantly more attractive or higher in status than the other members? Does their gender influence the team’s behavior? Will it make the team more effective? Does it matter at all?

These questions are examined in the paper, “Dealing with new members: Team members' reactions to newcomer's attractiveness and sex,” published by the Journal of Applied Psychology.

The study’s team members, led by Federico Aime, management professor at Oklahoma State University, included:

  • Sung Won Min, doctoral student at Pennsylvania State University
  • Stephen E. Humphrey, management professor at Penn State
  • Oleg V. Petrenko, strategy, entrepreneurship, venture and innovation assistant professor at the University of Arkansas
  • Matthew J. Quade, management assistant professor at Baylor University
  • Sherry Qiang Fu, doctoral student at OSU.

“Usually, the literature on teams has nothing to say on newcomers, which is surprising because in modern teams there is turnover and cross-functionality,” Aime said. “Literature typically focuses on how the newcomer gets socialized into the team. I wanted to see a totally different thing — I wanted to see how the newcomer affected the team.”

Researchers decided to measure attractiveness because it is a universal status-conferring characteristic that works as an immediate status cue for others in a team. Attractiveness is visible in all interactions and typically hues of attractiveness are very general while there may be disagreements on a person’s expertise. A person’s gender was also found to affect the way a team responds as researchers found traditional gender value perceptions are still present in today’s society. Consequently, men were regarded as being higher in status.

Mimicry, ingratiation and challenging were the three behaviors incumbent team members engaged in as a response to the sex, status and attractiveness of newcomers in the team. Researchers noted the personal cost of each behavior and weighed them against each other, finding mimicry as a low-cost behavior, ingratiation as a medium-cost behavior and challenging as a high-cost behavior.

Researchers found a very attractive person joining a group results in a lot of mimicking. In order to rebalance their own status to the new team membership, team members try to mimic the newcomer by imitating their behavior. This is the easiest reaction because it is a natural behavior. In the study, both attractive and average-looking people were behaving as committed or not committed, and researchers found that the team mimicked the attractive person’s efforts. Therefore, if the attractive person is highly committed, team members tend to imitate their actions and are also highly committed to the task.

The next behavior is ingratiation because it requires extra effort from a team member. When the newcomer is high in status, some team members try to endear themselves to the newcomer to present a closer relationship. This action is obvious and requires more than mimicry, which is not evident to everyone unless you are looking for it.

Challenging the newcomer’s ideas and methods takes a great deal of effort and leads to debate among the team. While this opposition can have negative implications, it can also lead to creative new ideas. This behavior takes the most effort and requires team members to be vocal about their opinions.

When the attractiveness and sex elements of status come together, there is no challenging and high imitation. In this scenario, the lack of debate decreases team performance because without challenging there are no new ideas, brainstorming or debate. Therefore, the team aligns to the opinions of one person, who may or may not provide the best perspective on the team, which decreases the quality of work.

“We find this to be terribly interesting in a lot of ways,” Aime said. “We found teams that added a highly committed, more attractive female member improved their performance because they increased their commitment while still challenging the newcomer. In groups that added an attractive, highly committed man, however, everyone was committed, but there was no debate, so they performed worse than those that added new female members.”

Another interesting finding was that attractive incumbent women are more challenging to an incoming attractive female. But attractive incumbent males do not alter their behavior implications when another attractive male is added to the team.

This research provides key information about group formation, allowing a leader to understand the implications of reconfiguring the composition of their teams at a time when knowledge work implies the need to continuously change composition to include different sets of expertise or knowledge that, like attractiveness and sex, have strong status implications for team members. It specifically provides insight into how team behaviors and performance may be affected by new members who are high or low on a range of status characteristics.


Story By: Bailey Stacy | bailey.stacy@okstate.edu 

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