Employees are increasingly mobile, educated, and working in teams. Accordingly, newcomers commonly enter work teams and may bring with them unique knowledge and perspectives. Team receptivity focuses on the ways teams adapt to these newcomers—a process of team adjustment that can spur innovation and change. This article views a team as a bounded set of individuals whose interdependence and shared purpose bring them a collective past, present, and future that they and others acknowledge. This view assumes that teammates have collaborated sufficiently to establish a sense of social identity that renders them likely to view newcomers as marginal members who have not yet earned their new team’s trust. This article is not concerned with the process of how individuals adjust to their new organizations (“onboarding”), nor is it about turnover. Instead, it reviews research examining team responses to newcomer entry published in the psychology and management literature since 1960. Across the more than five decades covered here, an approximately equal number of publications on the topic have appeared in the disciplines of psychology and management. However, the initial interest in the topic began with social psychologists. This article organizes the divergent findings on team receptivity by employing the tripartite conceptualization of team receptivity found in “Team Receptivity to Newcomers: Five Decades of Evidence and Future Research Themes” (Rink, et al. 2013), which includes the following key components: team reflection on existing work processes due to the mere presence of a newcomer, team knowledge utilization of unique newcomer knowledge, and psychological newcomer acceptance. Offered next are seminal works and general overviews, journals, and then a review of research methodologies, followed by sections dedicated to each team receptivity component and the congruence of components. The article ends with an examination of team receptivity and performance that suggests that newcomer entry is most likely to lead to sustained team performance when there is congruence among the components such that teams are truly receptive to their newest members. We gratefully acknowledge the research assistance provided by Nicholas Monzo in preparing this article and the support provided by a grant from the A. J. and Sigismunda Palumbo Charitable Trust.
Initial interest in team receptivity to newcomers began with social psychologists in the 1960s. These seminal works by Ziller and colleagues made a distinction between a newcomer’s influence on his or her new team’s task performance on the one hand and the team members’ social acceptance of the newcomer on the other. They found evidence that newcomer entry can lead teams to generate more creative ideas than they do when membership is stable (Ziller, et al. 1962) and can also lead teams to adopt unique knowledge proposed a newcomer (Ziller and Behringer 1960). The 2000s marked a time of renewed interest in the effect of newcomer entry on team functioning. Whereas Dineen and Noe 2003 cautions that newcomer entry may undermine team emergent states and, in turn, functioning, Levine and Choi 2011 draws on theory and evidence collected to posit that newcomer entry can lead to team creativity and innovation. In 2013 Rink, et al. reviewed more than fifty empirical studies of team responses to newcomers that had been published in psychology and management since 1960 and found that the first component identified by Ziller, newcomer influence, actually contained two different aspects, namely team reflection and utilization of unique newcomer knowledge (Rink, et al. 2013). Accordingly, Rink and colleagues identified the following three distinct components of team receptivity to newcomers: (a) team reflection, (b) team knowledge utilization, and (c) newcomer acceptance. The third more psychological component draws on research and theory from across the decades. In the 1960s, for example, Ziller and colleagues examined social psychological responses to newcomers and theorized about conditions under which teams would be more socially accepting of newcomers (Ziller 1965). The Moreland and Levine 1982 model of group socialization made a significant advance in this area, underscoring that groups do not interpersonally accept newcomers until newcomers have demonstrated their own commitment to the team. Taking this further, Arrow and McGrath 1995 presents a theory that explains how involving teams in the membership-change decisions may increase newcomer acceptance.
Arrow, Holly, and Joseph E. McGrath. “Membership Dynamics in Groups at Work: A Theoretical Framework.” In Research in Organizational Behavior: An Annual Series of Analytical Essays and Critical Reviews, Vol. 17. Edited by L. L. Cummings and Barry M. Staw, 373–411. Greenwich, CT: JAI, 1995.
In developing a multilevel theory of membership change in work teams, explores effects of newcomer entry on team functioning. Posits that receptivity to newcomers will be lower to the in teams with greater membership continuity and higher in teams involved in making membership change decisions.
Dineen, Brian R., and Raymond A. Noe. “The Impact of Team Fluidity and its Implications for Human Resource Management Research and Practice.” Research in Personnel and Human Resource Management 22 (2003): 1–37.
Draws mainly on research in management to develop a framework for understanding the effect of team fluidity or membership change on team emergent states and, in turn, team performance. Posits that increases in fluidity can be detrimental as they undermine emergent states such as cohesiveness.
Levine, John M., and Hoon-Seok Choi. “Minority Influence in Interacting Groups: The Impact of Newcomers.” In Rebels in Groups: Dissent, Deviance, Difference and Defiance. Edited by Jolanda Jetten and Michael J. Hornsey, 73–92. Oxford: Blackwell, 2011.
Draws on social psychological theories (e.g., minority influence and group socialization) and evidence the authors and colleagues have collected to identify when newcomers may act not as recipients of influence but instead as sources in their new teams. Particular attention is paid to newcomers’ characteristics/behaviors, as well as team characteristics.
Moreland, Richard L., and John M. Levine. “Socialization in Small-Groups: Temporal Changes in Individual-Group Relations.” Advances in Experimental Social Psychology 15 (1982): 137–192.
Develops a model of group socialization. A key tenant is that groups do not interpersonally accept newcomers. Over time, as newcomers demonstrate group commitment, groups may become committed to the newcomers. This tenant has been strongly supported in subsequent empirical research (see also Newcomer Acceptance: Psychological Perspectives).
Rink, Floor, Aimee A. Kane, Naomi Ellemers, and Gerben S. Van der Vegt. “Team Receptivity to Newcomers: Five Decades of Evidence and Future Research Themes.” The Academy of Management Annals 7 (2013): 245–291.
Reviews five decades of psychology and management research to develop a tripartite model of team receptivity (team reflection, team knowledge utilization, and newcomer acceptance). Organizes divergent findings and identifies conditions when teams are most likely to be completely receptive to newcomers, leading to sustained team performance.
Ziller, Robert C. “Toward a Theory of Open and Closed Groups.” Psychological Bulletin 64 (1965): 164–182.
Draws on psychology, management, and sociology to contrast the functioning of closed groups with stable membership versus open groups with fluid membership. Attends to not only the rate and origin of membership change but also newcomer features, team features, and features of the team to which the newcomer previously belonged.
Ziller, Robert C., and Richard D. Behringer. “Assimilation of the Knowledgeable Newcomer Under Conditions of Group Success and Failure.” Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology 60 (1960): 288–291.
Seminal experimental study in which a newcomer is endowed with valuable, task-relevant knowledge. Assessed newcomer’s influence (team knowledge utilization), as well as social acceptance. Both were higher when the team had been randomly assigned to received false feedback that had performed poorly (compared to well) on a previous task.
Ziller, Robert C., Richard D. Behringer, and Jacqueline D. Goodchilds. “Group Creativity Under Conditions of Success or Failure and Variations in Group Stability.” Journal of Applied Psychology 46 (1962): 43–49.
Seminal experimental study in which group creativity is examined under conditions of membership addition, membership replacement, and membership loss (together termed “open”) versus a membership stability condition (termed “closed”). Compared to closed teams, open teams generated more ideas, but social acceptance was lowest when a new member had been added.
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