Michael Kukenberger and researchers aim to gain deeper insights into changes in group membership

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Whether it’s an employee in a highly collaborative workforce, a player on an athletic team or a position in the military, changes in team membership are inevitable. But, what is the ultimate impact of these changes? 

Research at the University of New Hampshire is focused on answering this question by gaining a deeper understanding of the ever-changing nature of teams and their compositions.  

Michael Kukenberger, an associate professor of organizational behavior at the UNH Peter T. Paul College of Business and Economics, is leading a research project funded by a $1.07 million grant from the U.S. Army Research Institute for the Behavioral and Social Sciences (ARI). This project aims to explore the impact of team membership changes on overall team dynamics to enhance performance and support the Army's mission through optimized member rotation strategies. 

Kukenberger is collaborating with Lauren D’Innocenzo, an associate professor of organizational behavior at Drexel University, and Dale Watson, an assistant teaching professor at Pennsylvania State Harrisburg and retired U.S. Army Colonel, along with students at Drexel and UNH.  

"Teams serve as the fundamental building blocks of most organizations. Most of the existing literature and practices tend to view them through a static lens, often underestimating the profound influence of team member transitions,” Kukenberger says. "In the dynamic environment of the military, frequent team member turnover is a prevailing reality. This grant allows us to enhance our comprehension of the repercussions of these transitions and to explore strategies for mitigating adverse effects while maximizing the associated advantages." 

Over the course of a three-year project, with the potential for two additional option years, the researchers will perform controlled behavioral lab experiments with students at their respective institutions and engage in field research with corporate work teams. 

"When organizations undergo changes in team membership," Kukenberger explains, "they can readily identify the formal roles and positions, allowing them to anticipate what is gained and lost. However, what remains elusive is the impact on both formal and informal connections. Picture a scenario where an informal leader – the primary source of advice or a highly trusted member – departs the team. Who assumes these roles? Multiple members, the newcomer, or does a void persist? How do the pre-existing relationship dynamics influence this transition? Network connections create intricate structures, and what we still don’t understand is how these structures evolve when one or multiple members depart, and new ones join." 

Kukenberger points out that while it's common to consider replacing an experienced individual with another experienced individual, it's frequently disregarded how other team members might lose someone they trusted and relied upon for guidance. 

However, this only scratches the surface of potential implications, according to Kukenberger.  

The research will also examine the dynamics of shifting demographics. For example, a team of five containing three men and two women could be impacted if a woman left and was replaced by a man because altering any demographic can potentially decrease or exacerbate biases or stereotypes due to changes in representation, Kukenberger explains.  

"There are multiple consequences when individuals move on and off teams. Our objective is to develop a more profound comprehension of these ramifications and their influence on team processes and performance," he says.

Ultimately, Kukenberger says he, D’Innocenzo and Watson believe that uncovering new considerations in managing team composition changes could benefit the U.S. Army teams and organizations at large, allowing for more purposeful approaches to facilitate learning, performance and team readiness.

Jeremy Gasowski | UNH Marketing | jeremy.gasowski@unh.edu | 603-862-4465
Teams are replacing hierarchies, and shared leadership is emerging as the key driver in many teams’ success.