Information Sharing

Key to the development of a COP across members of a team or organization is the process of information sharing (Mesmer-Magnus & DeChurch, 2009). Information sharing and the processes by which knowledge is transmitted have significant impacts on the outcomes of team performance during crisis events. Formally, information sharing is defined as “the degree to which team members share information with each other” (Johnson et al., 2006, p. 106) or furthermore, “conscious and deliberate attempts on the part of team members to exchange work-related information, keep one another apprised of activities, and inform one another of key developments” (Bunderson & Sutcliffe, 2002, p. 881). How teams access and utilize distinctive knowledge can greatly influence outcomes, it can enhance socioemotional aspects of a team’s functioning (Mesmer-Magnus & DeChurch, 2009) leading to better interactions, more openness between the team members as well as facilitate trust and cohesion. Conversely, improper management of the distinctive knowledge can create strife and limit successful outcomes.

A meta-analysis of 72 team studies by Mesmer-Magnus & DeChurch (2009) revealed that information sharing positively predicted team performance, team cohesion, member satisfaction, and knowledge integration (p. 539). Barriers to effective information sharing among team members, within an organization and between organizations are numerous within the crisis management domain for a variety of reasons. In practice, information overload (leading to cognitive overload), hidden knowledge, inherent chaos, and inaccurate or outdated information can all contribute to human error. In addition, team homogeneity adversely impacts information sharing behaviors, in which more highly homogeneous teams will engage in more information sharing behaviors than more diverse teams (Mesmer-Magnus & DeChurch, 2009).

The inherent chaotic nature of crises creates a context in which there is both an overwhelming amount of information and simultaneously not enough information to solve the issues at hand. This feature of the environment can create significant challenges for crisis managers and responders who must sort through relevant data, outdated information, and identify inaccurate or purposeful misinformation leading to information overload and cognitive failures.

This can be compounded by the increasingly distributed nature of teamwork. In today’s world, teams are dispersed across geographical, cultural, and temporal boundaries with information communication technologies (ICTs) as the facilitator for many of the traditional face-to-face meetings. As advantageous as they may be, ICTs also present challenges, such as, “creat[ing] gaps in work like time zones and geographical separations, differences in cultures,” (Ahuja, 2010, p. 36) and impacting information sharing behaviors (Mesmer-Magnus, DeChurch, Jimenez-Rodriguez, Wildman, & Shuffler, 2011). Mesmer-Magnus et al. (2011) found that while the virtuality of these environments positively influences teams sharing unique information it also impedes the openness, or overt sharing of information whether unique or not, of information sharing.

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