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Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Modern workplaces increasingly use crew-based teams—groups of individuals who fill different roles and are brought together to complete a task. However, a new study from the Tippie College of Business suggests that experience with the core member of the team—or the team member that is more central to the workflow—is critical for successful performance.

“In an operating room, the surgeon is the core member of the team,” said co-author of the study Jennifer D. Nahrgang, Palmer Professor of Management and Entrepreneurship. “But there are many other non-core members of the team like the surgical technician, the anesthesiologist, and the operating room nurse. Each of these people bring specialized knowledge to the table.”

With data from 7,070 surgeries from a large community hospital in the United States, the study found surgeons’ prior experience with the non-core members of the surgical team predicted team performance. When the surgeon had more experience on similar surgeries with the non-core members, patient post-surgery stays were shorter.

Ensuring more experience between the surgeon and non-core members, and thus, reduced patient post-surgery stays, could result in substantial savings for a hospital. The study estimated that if just 25% of the cases in the study experienced a decrease in patient post-surgery stay, then the hospital would have saved approximately $887 per patient for an overall cost savings of around $1.6 million.

The complexity of the surgery as well as the amount of time the surgeon spent in the operating room also played an important role. As surgeries became more complex, surgeons’ experience with the non-core members became less important as team members were unable to use their previously established knowledge to accurately coordinate or rapidly adjust to the team’s needs.

Surgeons typically work with the entire surgical team for approximately 60% of the surgery—with non-core members completing aspects of the surgery, such as preparing for and finalizing the surgery, without the surgeon present. The relationship between surgeon experience with non-core members and team performance was weakened when the surgery was more complex and when the surgeon spent less time in the operating room. For complex surgeries, surgeons should make an effort to be present for as long as possible. For less complex surgeries, the surgeon’s presence is less important.

As the nature of work continues to change and more companies implement policies such as flexible work schedules, multiple team membership, and virtual work, teams may face situations in which every member is not present.

Findings from the study suggest that during complex tasks, absence of core team members may limit the coordination of the non-core members. However, when the core member has extensive experience with the non-core members, the team can better handle the core members’ absence during less complex tasks. As such, repeated matching of non-core team members with the same core members may aid in increasing performance over time.

The study, “The Room Where It Happens: The Impact of Core and Non-Core Roles on Surgical Team Performance,” was published in the Journal of Applied Psychology. It can be found here.


Media contact: Tom Snee, tom-snee@uiowa.edu, 319-541-8434