Slippage in the System: The Effects of Errors in Transactive Memory Behavior on Team Performance

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[Excerpt] Although researchers have consistently shown that the implicit coordination provided by transactive memory positively affects team performance, the benefits of transactive memory systems depend heavily on team members’ ability to accurately identify the expertise of their teammates and communicate expertise-specific information with one another. This introduces the opportunity for errors to enter the system, as the expertise of individual team members may be misunderstood or misrepresented, leading to the reliance on information from the wrong source or the loss of information through incorrect assignment. As Hollingshead notes, “information may be transferred or explicitly delegated to the ‘wrong’ individual in the system, e.g., one who does not have responsibility for that type of information or is unlikely to remember it due to a lack of expertise”. While researchers recognize the likelihood of such behavioral errors, little research has examined their potential impact in teams. The current study, therefore, focuses on the effects of errors in transactive memory behavior on the emergence of team cognitive structures and resultant performance in the initial stage of team interaction. To develop our hypotheses, we first discuss the types of behaviors involved in the development and operation of transactive memory systems, identify where errors may arise, and discuss their effects on team performance. Then, we attempt to uncover the cognitive processes underlying those effects. More specifically, we introduce mental model accuracy and transactive memory cognitions and suggest that each mediates the negative relationship between errors in transactive memory behavior and team performance. While the possible risks of faulty transactive memory system development have been acknowledged in prior research, it has also been suggested that transactive memory errors can be easily corrected and their effects on performance subsequently minimized. The current study challenges this assumption and in doing so advances our understanding of not only the relationship between errors in transactive memory behavior and team performance but also the mechanisms that might help explain this relationship.
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teams; performance; transactive memory; expertise; communication
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Copyright by Academy of Management. Reprinted with permission.
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