Antecedents and Consequences of Mutual Knowledge in Teams
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Sloan School of Management
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Sloan School of Management; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)
Marshall W. Van Alstyne
Boston University - Department of Management Information Systems; Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Sloan School
November, 10 2008
A tension exists between two well-established streams of literature on the performance of teams. One stream contends that teams with diverse backgrounds, social structures, knowledge, and experience function more effectively because they bring novel information to bear on problems that cannot be solved by groups of homogeneous individuals. In contrast, the literature on mutual knowledge contends that shared information and experience is essential to effective communication, trust, understanding and coordination among team members. Furthermore, several distinct antecedents of mutual information and knowledge have been hypothesized, making it difficult to manage information overlap in teams. In this paper, we use a unique data set of observed email content from 1382 executive recruiting teams and detailed accounting data on their productivity to examine both the antecedents and performance effects of shared versus diverse information. We find clear evidence of an inverted-U shaped relationship between mutual information and team productivity. A significant amount of information overlap among team members is associated with higher performance while extremes of too little or too much mutual information hamper performance. We also find that geographic dispersion and social network distance are strong predictors of mutual knowledge failures, while demographic dissimilarity and organizational distance do not predict the degree of mutual information in our data. Our work helps bring together the divergent streams of literature on mutual knowledge, information diversity, and the management of team performance.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 39
Keywords: Mutual Knowledge, Diversity, Social Networks, Demography, Geographic Dispersion, Information Distance, Teams, Performance
Date posted: November 14, 2008
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