ISSN 1671-3710
CN 11-4766/R

Advances in Psychological Science ›› 2022, Vol. 30 ›› Issue (5): 1143-1157.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1042.2022.01143

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Multiple team membership and its mechanism

FANG Qi1, LUAN Kun2()   

  1. 1School of Management, Zhejiang University, Hangzhou 310000, China
    2School of Economics and Management, China University of Petroleum (East China), Qingdao 266580, China
  • Received:2021-07-23 Online:2022-05-15 Published:2022-03-24
  • Contact: LUAN Kun


Because of the continuous shortage of valuable knowledge workers, and the rapid development of digital technology, multiple team membership (referred to as MTM) becomes more and more common in organizations. Compared to the prevalence of MTM in practice, research on MTM and its influence lags far behind and is still in its infancy in China. In order to improve the theoretical studies of MTM and guide the effectiveness of management practice, we systematically review the relevant and important research findings of MTM, summarize and develop the theoretical explanations of MTM, and introduce several promising directions for future research.
Previous literature defined MTM on different levels. Specifically, individual-level MTM is defined as a situation in which employees formally participate in multiple teams within a given period of time and invest corresponding time and energy in each team; organizational-level MTM refers to the average of team memberships owned by all employees in an organization. Extant studies on MTM have mainly focused on the “number of teams” and the “variety of teams memberships”, and looked at these two elements to examine the effects of MTM. They found that, on the one hand, MTM is likely to promote the effectiveness of resource utilization and help employees approach diverse information and ideas, resulting in a better productivity; on the other hand, with the increase in the number of teams and the variety of those teams, employees can become overloaded, and thus MTM might have negative implications on employee performance. In sum, although previous research has conducted several explorations of the effects of MTM, unfortunately, current results have failed to reach a consensus.
To further clarify the connotation of MTM and deepen MTM research, we underscore two important characteristics of MTM: multiple team contexts and multiple team identifications. Multiple team contexts emphasizes the differences in team processes and team emergent states between teams in which employees participate simultaneously; multiple team identifications focuses on MTM employees' identification with multiple team identities nested within individuals. These two characteristics extend MTM research by drawing attention to the difference in team processes and team emergence states, and MTM employees’ multiple identifications, which are overlooked by previous MTM studies that focus on “number of teams” and “variety of team memberships”. The exploration based on the two characteristics further reflects the uniqueness of MTM and helps to explain the divergence of conclusions in existing studies.This review has further organized the current research progress based on attention resource perspective, social network theory and social identity theory. Attention resource perspective mainly focuses on employee resource allocation, wastage and efficiency caused by MTM, which provides a solid theoretical foundation for MTM research. However, the contradictory research findings indicate that it is not sufficient to analyze the mechanisms of MTM from the attention resource perspective only. Following studies begin to consider the multiple team contexts that employees need to face from the perspective of social network, and to explore the influence of multiple team identifications that employees need to handle from the perspective of social identity. However, relevant research has just started, and a large number of empirical studies will be needed to further explain the mechanisms of MTM.
This review further provides five important research directions for future research of MTM. First of all, scholars could introduce the social network position and personal agency when they explore the influence of MTM based on social network theory. Second, based on social identity theory, scholars need to focus on how employees manage the relationship between multiple team identities, especially how they respond to the potential enhancement or conflict deriving from multiple team identities, and how the superordinate identity (i.e., organizational identity) could moderate the impact of multiple team identities on MTM employees. The third suggestion is to integrate different theories and to further deepen our understanding of the mechanisms of MTM. For example, future studies could explain how, based on social identity theory, MTM employees perceive and manage multiple team identities and predict their proximal motivations, and then combine the attention resource perspective and social network theory to further depict the distal mechanisms of MTM to influence employees and teams. We also encourage future studies to consider the influence of the time factor on the mechanism of MTM and to conduct more studies with a dynamic perspective. Fifthly, considering that in the digital era, a variety of collaboration technologies and artificial intelligence are being introduced in the workplace and affecting employee learning and career development as well as team work designs, how to design and deploy advanced technologies to promote MTM employees’ work productivity and collective performance will be a very meaningful research question in the future. Additionally, this review also discusses the practical implication of MTM and how to manage MTM especially in the digital era.

Key words: multiple team membership, social identity theory, social network theory, digitalization