Performance Pressure as a Double-Edged Sword: Enhancing Team Motivation While Undermining the Use of Team Knowledge
Heidi K. Gardner
Harvard Law School
January 26, 2012
Administrative Science Quarterly, 57:1-46
In this paper, I develop and empirically test the proposition that performance pressure acts as a double-edged sword for teams, providing positive effects by enhancing team motivation to achieve good results while simultaneously triggering process losses. I conducted a multi-method field study of 78 audit and consulting teams from two global professional firms, revealing an irony of team life: Even though motivated to perform well on a high-stakes project, pressured teams are more likely to engage in performance-detracting behaviors. Survey results show that, as performance pressure increases, team members begin to over-rely on general expertise while discounting domain-specific expertise, leading to suboptimal performance. I use longitudinal qualitative case studies to explore the underlying behavioral mechanisms that generate this outcome. Results also show that only domain-specific expertise — the kind that teams under-use when facing higher pressure — increases client-rated team performance. I thus find, paradoxically, that when teams need domain-specific expertise the most, they tend to use it the least, despite evidence suggesting they are highly motivated to do well on their task.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 82Accepted Paper Series
Date posted: January 27, 2012 ; Last revised: April 8, 2013
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