Marissa King and Ingrid Nembhard have conducted research on teams using a new set of methods and techniques. They used wearable sensors to collect real-time data about team member interactions and conversations. King and Nembhard studied 66 teams in 13 healthcare centers. They focused on the impact of assigning a nurse as a care coordinator for patients. They expected this role to improve patient care outcomes, given that prior studies have shown that coordination failures in healthcare lead to poorer quality care and higher medical costs. Surprisingly, the results did not work out as expected. King explains:
Everything was contrary to what we anticipated. We set up the experiment really to try to improve care through this care coordination intervention. We quickly realized that the intervention wasn’t nearly as successful as we anticipated going in. In fact, the elevation of the nurse’s position within a network actually induced status conflict. Increasing the nurse’s status within her team increased interruptions within the team; it decreased the amount of time that doctors and physicians and nurses were spending listening to each other. The interaction dynamics that ensued from elevating the nurse, rather than being better, actually got much worse...Everybody, I think, finds comfort in knowing where they sit. So when you change that, everybody is disrupted.
The study has some interesting implicaitons for teams in many industries. People become accustomed to a certain pecking order and specific status dynamics within a team or organization. Changing that dynamic certainly can be unsettling, in my experience. I've seen it with faculty members elevated to leadership and administration roles, for instance. I certainly have witnessed this type of unsettling disruption in the businesses with whom I have worked over the years. However, I think some people are much more equipped than others to handle this dynamic. When elevated to a coordination or management role, they recognize that the transition can be tricky for other team members. They handle the situation with care, and they help people overcome the discomfort that comes with the disruption to the status hierarchy. Others jump right into their new work, oblivious to the way that others will feel during this transition. Empathy, in my view, is critical in this type of situation. I would argue that the more empathetic individuals are able to move into a new management or coordination role more effectively.