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Perceiving the intentions of the weakest link: How attributed individual and collective goals impact reactions to low performers in groups

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - Goal Attribution in Groups (Perceiving the intentions of the weakest link: How attributed individual and collective goals impact reactions to low performers in groups)

Reporting period: 2017-09-01 to 2018-08-31

Teams increasingly perform tasks at work, in institutions, and in social clubs. In doing this, team members are interdependent and team performance thus requires all members to contribute. A single low performer may hold the entire team back and lead to team failure. Teams should therefore be attuned to such performance deviance and immediately assess how to react.
Surprisingly little research has been done on how teams do this: Attribution research indicates that team members react more harshly toward poor performers lacking motivation than ability. In the current project, Dr. Thürmer argues that this view is overly simplistic. First, teams should go beyond the motivation/ability dichotomy and take into consideration the underlying reason for the lack of motivation or the lack of ability. Second, perceived prosocial intent should be the process by which these attributions lead to negative team reactions. Dr. Thürmer investigates this question together with Prof. John Levine at the University of Pittsburgh, with Prof. Florian Kunze at the University of Konstanz and with Prof. Stefan Schulz-Hardt at the University of Göttingen.
This attributional perspective on teams has the potential to improve the understanding of team function and social interaction, and to improve team performance. Given the central role that teams play in societies and corporations, this novel knowledge is highly useful.
During his year at the University of Pittsburgh, Dr. Thürmer was able to refine his model of performance deviance and test it in a series of three experiments. After his return to Germany, he conducted two further studies using changed scenarios and surveying members of actual teams. These experiments consistently show that team members take desirability/feasibility information into account to assess the prosocial intent of a low performer. Lower perceived prosocial intent then leads to more negative emotional responses and team reactions. A small group experiment using interacting dyads and an experiment using a task where team members are interdependent are currently being analyzed.

Dr. Thürmer thus was able to develop a comprehensive model for reactions to low performers. Dr. Thürmer has disseminated these results widely during conference presentations, invited talks, and in informal meetings with key resarchers. Specifically, Dr. Thürmer was able to establish new contacts with Prof. Bernard Weiner, the leading expert of attribution theory, and Prof. Michael Scheier, a leading expert in self-regulation. A secondment at the chair of economic- and social-psychology at the University of Göttingen (Prof. Stefan Schulz-Hardt) further allowed Dr. Thürmer to complete small group laboratory work and to transfer his acquired knowledge. Two papers are currently under review and one book chapter is printed. Based on the current project, Dr. Thürmer has prepared an DFG Emmy Noether Research Group application, which is currently under review.
We demonstrate that the attributional process in teams is more complex than previously assumed: Team members take additional desirability/feasibility information into account to determine the pro-social intent of a performance deviant. This increases our understanding of team processes and performance. Our research thus sheds light on how teams deal with performance deviance and highlights that teams focus on the question of whether a low performer wants to help the team. The practical implication for low performers is that they should make sure to signal that they still want to help the team. The implication for teams is that they may ostracise able but unmotivated team members because they view them as low in prosociality. Interventions aimed at increasing team effectiveness may thus focuss on changing these attributions as well as motivating able low performers.
One low performer may hold the entire team back