Skip to ContentSkip to Navigation
About us FEB Research / FEB FEB Research News
Header image Faculty of Economics and Business

Causes and consequences of dynamic team membership: VENI grant for Stefan Berger

Date:06 March 2024
Associate Professor Stefan Berger
Associate Professor Stefan Berger

In the summer of 2023, Stefan Berger received a Veni grant of € 280,000 from the Dutch Research Council (NWO). The assistant professor at FEB’s research programme Organizational Behavior was awarded the grant for his project about the employee experience of dynamic team membership. He talked to FEB Research about studying human collaboration in team settings, the foundations of his VENI research, and what he plans to do with the funding from NWO.

Modern team arrangements

Teams are at the core of how work is accomplished in virtually all human pursuits, and billions of euros are invested in team development each year. Most of the knowledge undergirding these development activities rests upon research on archetypical teams, that are stable and in which employees are full-time members. Yet, most of today’s employees work in situations characterized by part-time and unstable team membership, thus challenging our understanding of the nature and effective management of contemporary teamwork. Already during his PhD at the University of St. Gallen (Switzerland), Stefan Berger was intrigued by the apparent disconnect between how teams operate in practice and how researchers typically study teams. “In my PhD project, I examined the implications of working in multiple teams simultaneously for employees, teams, and organizations – a phenomenon that I refer to as multi-teaming and which, despite its prevalence, has received little to no attention in the existing literature. In fact, the vast majority of team research more or less explicitly assumes that a team membership is full-time.” The VENI project builds on these insights and adds an additional layer of complexity to the conceptualization of teams, but thereby also better aligns the work with organizational reality.

Foundation and focus of the VENI project

“Three years ago, we initiated a large-scale study, in which we surveyed more than 8,200 employees about their daily teamwork patterns.” The surprising findings of this research laid the foundation for Berger’s VENI grant. “In this large-scale survey, we focused not only on multi-teaming, but also asked employees to indicate whether and to what extent their team memberships were stable over time”, explains Berger. When analyzing the data, the research team observed that only 32% of the 8,221 employees in the sample worked in one team at a time and had remained on this team for an extended period of time. By contrast, two thirds of the respondents did not work in such an archetypical team. “What really surprised me is that part-time and unstable membership in teams often co-occur. In other words, employees increasingly work in more than one team at a time and also regularly change the teams they are involved in.” Overall, 44% of respondents indicated to face such a situation, while 24% were involved in either part-time or unstable team constellations.

The VENI project builds on these insights and focuses on the employee experience of dynamic team membership, that is how employees respond to situations characterized by both part-time and unstable membership in teams. Berger explains: “I decided to focus on the employee experience of dynamic team membership, because it allows me to zoom in on the detailed teaming patterns that these individuals face during their work. I believe it is critical to understand how employees are affected by these dynamics, both positively and negatively. In the end, teams must rely on their members to perform effectively.” The project will address three questions in particular. First, how can research conceptually and empirically grasp dynamic team membership patterns? Then, what drives the application of dynamic team membership? And finally, what are consequences of dynamic team membership for individual employees and entire teams?

Planned studies and knowledge dissemination

To answer these questions, Berger has developed a novel conceptualization of dynamic team membership based on multilevel theory and a dynamic network perspective. He intends to apply and validate this concept across three complementary studies. “For the first study, we are currently surveying employees from a large Dutch organization and plan to merge these data with detailed hour-registration data of the company’s employees. This will allow us to test the conceptualization I developed and also examine whether and to what extent employees are affected by dynamic team membership”, he explains. The second project will apply a diary design, in which employees repeatedly fill in questionnaires (responding to the same questions over a given period of time) about how dynamic team membership affects their access to important social resources at work. A key hypothesis of Berger is that “employees may benefit from dynamic team membership in terms of instrumental resources, such as access to important information or power. By contrast, I expect that the fragmented work experiences caused by dynamic team membership may compromise the access to expressive resources, such as emotional support, friendship, and the like.”

In the final project, Berger plans to leverage the insights of the first two studies to develop an evidence-based training module for employees and organizations that intends to equip employees with the resources necessary to better deal with dynamic team membership. “My plan is to test the effectiveness of the training module in a field setting and, if proven valid, offer the contents of the training alongside all other outputs of my VENI work for free on an open-access webpage.”, the assistant professor shares his plans. His VENI proposal also contained an extensive outreach plan, detailing how the assistant professor intends to share his work with organizational practice, the academic community, and students and universities. Berger is thankful for the support by FEB and the trust from NWO awarding him with the prestigious grant. “I came to Groningen two years ago, because the Organizational Behavior programme of the university has a strong reputation and numerous experts when it comes to research on modern team arrangements. I cannot wait to start with the work and explore the propositions of my VENI proposal together with my collaborators”, Berger concludes.

For more information please contact Stefan Berger (s.berger