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Teams with members that share the same external contacts utilize external information better

Datum:12 september 2022
Auteur:Cheng Chen
Teams with members that share the same external contacts utilize external information better
Teams with members that share the same external contacts utilize external information better

Information is an important resource for organizational teams to survive and thrive in an increasingly competitive business environment. Especially information or knowledge from people outside the team (e.g., employees from other teams, clients, friends working in other organizations) can benefit teams, because such information is unique and is less likely to overlap with the team’s existing information [1]. Unfortunately, external information is often not being processed or utilized by the team despite the efforts team members spend in obtaining it [2]. Why is this the case? How can teams really reap the benefits of external information?

Prior research suggests that teams are, in general, skeptical about the credibility of information (knowledge, ideas, facts, insights, etc.) coming from the outside (the “not-invented-here” syndrome) [3]. Also, team members seem to have a problem recognizing the value of external information once they receive it. A possible explanation of this ‘blindness’ is that there is often little knowledge overlap between the team and external parties. Being skeptical and not recognizing its value are some obstacles that hinder teams from utilizing external information.

How can teams overcome the skepticism and ‘blindness’ towards external information?

In a study of 214 employees from 72 working teams, prof. Bernard Nijstad, dr. Yingjie Yuan, dr. Stefan Berger and I found that team members share and discuss externally acquired information more within the team if the same external contacts are known to more team members. This is especially the case when the team is rather new. We could confirm that the sharing and discussion of external information among team members enhanced team creativity.

Why is it useful if the same external people are known by multiple team members?

We concluded that when team members share each other’s external contacts, these contacts and their information are perceived as more trustworthy, which helps teams to overcome the “not-invented-here” syndrome. In that case, team members and external contacts can also easily form a ‘common ground’ (e.g., common knowledge, common language, common understanding), allowing team members to better understand the external information and recognize its value [4]. Accordingly, team members are motivated to talk to each other about external information, which facilitates the absorption of external information for team creativity.

How should we manage teams based on the findings?

First, team leaders and team members should both realize that accessing people outside the team for information is not enough for realizing the benefits of this external information. Team leaders can encourage and reward team members’ external information sharing and processing behaviors to motivate the absorption of external information. Second, rather than relying on one or two team members for collecting external information (e.g., appointing only one team member to be the broker or boundary spanner), team leaders should engage more team members in interacting with the same external contacts so that team members can become sufficiently familiar with each other’s external contacts. Third, team leaders should maintain a balanced view of information diversity. Despite the benefits of diverse information for creativity, too much diversity may simultaneously increase the difficulty of processing and ultimately utilizing external information.

Author information: Cheng Chen ( is a Ph.D. candidate at the Department of Human Resource Management & Organizational Behavior, Faculty of Economics and Business, University of Groningen. She studies team information processing, boundary spanning, and creativity.


[1] Ancona, D. G., & Caldwell, D. F. (1992). Bridging the boundary: External activity and performance in organizational teams. Administrative Science Quarterly, 634-665. doi: 10.2307/2393475

[2] Tushman, M. L., & Scanlan, T. J. (1981). Boundary spanning individuals: Their role in information transfer and their antecedents. Academy of Management Journal24(2), 289-305.

[3] Katz, R., & Allen, T. J. (1982). Investigating the Not Invented Here (NIH) syndrome: A look at the performance, tenure, and communication patterns of 50 R & D Project Groups. R&D Management12(1), 7-20.

[4] Tortoriello, M., & Krackhardt, D. (2010). Activating cross-boundary knowledge: The role of Simmelian ties in the generation of innovations. Academy of Management Journal53(1), 167-181.