Team composition, or the configuration of team member attributes, is a key enabling condition for effective teamwork. A well-composed team has the required complement of knowledge and skills, while also considering how the individual differences of team members, such as personality traits, values, and demographics, combine to shape teamwork and, ultimately, team performance. Theories from social, personality, and organizational psychology are used to explain how team composition influences the attitudes, behaviors, and thinking of teams and their members. Team member attributes can range from malleable characteristics, such as knowledge and expertise, to relatively enduring differences between team members, such as demographic variables (e.g., race) or personality traits; attributes are often referred to as knowledge, skills, abilities, and other characteristics (KSAOs). A distinction is often made between surface-level and deep-level composition variables. Surface-level variables are readily detectable characteristics (e.g., race) or easily accessible information (e.g., professional background) that can shape perceptions prior to interaction as well as affect, behavior, and cognition as team members interact. Deep-level variables are underlying, psychological differences between team members, such as personality traits, that shape affect, behavior, and cognition as team members interact. In general, deep-level composition variables have a stronger and longer lasting influence on teamwork and performance than surface-level variables. In team composition research, the unit-level configuration is of interest. Different models and operationalizations are used to capture how characteristics of team members combine to shape teamwork and performance. They range from simple operationalizations, such as the team mean on a specific trait (e.g., team mean conscientiousness), to complex diversity operationalizations that consider the alignment of multiple attributes (i.e., faultline strength). The goal of team composition research is to identify the KSAOs and configurations that shape teamwork and team performance, and then use this information in the management of teams. Teams can be composed ahead of time to maximize team effectiveness; members can be selected to have optimal fit with other team members and the team task. Team composition information can also be used to inform how to best manage a team over time; for example, how to reward the team. High-level information on team composition can be found in books on team effectiveness, with more comprehensive reviews in annual reviews and book chapters. Cutting-edge team composition theories and research are published in peer-reviewed academic journals, with secondary coverage in news outlets, trade journals, and magazines.
An introduction to key ideas in team composition, such as diversity, can be found in books on team effectiveness. Coverage of team composition in books is often limited to a chapter or less. Even so, some chapters are very helpful. Hackman 2002 discusses team composition as part of an enabling structure for effective teamwork. West 2012 explains key ideas from team composition research, such as personality, abilities, and diversity, in this chapter on creating teams. Winsborough 2017 includes personality, values, and other team composition in several chapters of this easy-to-read, practical, and research-based book on the psychology of teams. Shipp and Fried 2014 provides an in-depth treatment of how time affects groups and teams. Emerald Insights publishes a book series on research on managing groups and teams (series editor Eduardo Salas) that has a number of helpful chapters on team composition. Volume 11, Phillips 2008, is on diversity and groups; the chapters provide in-depth insights into the dynamics of diverse teams. Volume 15, Neale and Mannix 2012, includes thought-provoking chapters on subgroups, status, power, and diversity. Volume 17, Salas, et al. 2015, deals with team cohesion, and Volume 18, Salas, et al. 2017, treats team dynamics over time. These volumes include chapters on multicultural teams and insightful summaries of team composition research in their respective area (e.g., over time, cohesion).
Hackman, J. Richard Leading Teams: Setting the Stage for Great Performances. Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2002.
Takes the position that a leader is to create the conditions that allow a team to manage themselves effectively; develops the idea that team composition is an enabling structure that allows a team to be effective.
Neale, Margaret A., and Elizabeth A. Mannix. Looking Back, Moving Forward: A Review of Group and Team-Based Research. Research on Managing Groups and Teams 15. Bingley, UK: Emerald, 2012.
This volume contains a number of thought-provoking chapters related to team composition. Topics include subgroups, status, power, and diversity.
Phillips, Katherine W., ed. Diversity and Groups. Research on Managing Groups and Teams 11. Bingley, UK: Emerald, 2008.
This volume focuses on team diversity research, contextual factors that change the nature of the diversity and outcome relationships, and the processes through which diversity shapes team effectiveness; chapter authors are from a wide-range of academic departments, providing a multidisciplinary perspective on diversity.
Salas, Eduardo, Armando X. Estrada, and William B. Vessey. Team Cohesion: Advances in Psychological Theory, Methods and Practice. Research on Managing Groups and Teams 17. Bingley, UK: Emerald, 2015.
This volume focuses on the understanding, promoting, and developing team cohesion in organizations; it highlights research from NASA-funded projects and the Army Research Institute. Includes a chapter specifically on team composition.
Salas, Eduardo, William B. Vessey, and Lauren B. Landon, eds. Team Dynamics over Time. Research on Managing Groups and Teams 18. Bingley, UK: Emerald, 2017.
A research-based series, this volume focuses on team dynamics over time and includes a book chapter on how culture influences team dynamics over time and on how team composition affects team dynamics over time.
Shipp, Abbie J., and Yitzhak Fried, eds. How Time Impacts Groups, Organizations and Methodological Choices. Time and Work 2. London: Psychology Press, 2014.
Brings together research on time and temporal issues on teams. Explores multilevel issues related to context, which is helpful for understanding team composition over time.
West, Michael A. Effective Teamwork: Practical Lessons from Organizational Research. Chichester, UK: John Wiley, 2012.
Includes information on personality, ability, and diversity in a chapter on creating teams; leverages organizational research while explaining the lessons learned from this research in plain language.
Winsborough, Dave. Fusion: The Psychology of Teams. Tulsa, OK: Hogan, 2017.
This easy-to-read, research-based book provides practical information for managing teams; provides useful information related to team composition including personality and values.
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