Student-Led Research Study Tests Social Consequences of Team Success or Failure on Collaborative Tasks

As teams are widely used in business, Kevin Clark, BBA ’22 recently led an organizational behavior study under the guidance of Associate Professor David Long that explored the social consequences of how teams performed on a collaborative task. The results of the study were presented during a brown bag lunch seminar earlier this year.

“Kevin designed a lab study to test the effects of team failure versus team success on how each team member responded toward their partner,” said Long. “Basically, does failure on a task lead to disliking and mistrust of one’s partner, and does success on a task lead to liking and trust of one’s partner? As researchers, we know a lot about how personality impacts relationships, but we know little about how performance impacts relationships. So Kevin’s study is an important step for us.”

In the study, titled “The Implications of Team Success and Failure on Team-member Relationships,” Clark placed 2-person teams in one of two experimental conditions—failure or success. The teams were given three minutes to solve a set of twenty 4-letter scrambles. Those in the failure condition were unaware that three scrambles were unsolvable. In the success condition, all of the scrambles were solvable.

Clark then graded the teams’ work and announced publicly which teams “failed” and which teams had “succeeded.” The teams were then surveyed about how they felt about their assigned teammate.

“Predictably, we found that teammates liked and trusted each other more when they succeeded versus when they failed,” said Clark. “What surprised us was the leadership characteristics demonstrated by the William & Mary students. When a team failed, instead of blaming their teammate, participants accepted personal responsibility, and when a team succeeded, participants gave credit to others. So in summary, they may not be happy with their teammate when they fail. But they don’t blame them for that failure. They own it instead!”

Clark was recently accepted to the University of Maryland’s PhD program in organizational behavior and human resources, and he hopes to continue exploring this topic and others as a professor and researcher in the field.

"Doing research at W&M further strengthened my desire to gain my Ph.D. Not only was I given the opportunity to work with Dr. Long, but I also gained real-world experience performing research in the field I was interested in,” Clark said.