Tag: teamwork

One of the biggest challenges aspiring entrepreneurs face is how to build an effective team to advance an early stage venture idea. The lead entrepreneur is not only responsible for assembling a skilled team, but he or she must also strike a delicate balance as guardian of the original idea for the venture while encouraging team members to adopt a sense of ownership and commitment to the project.

Markus Baer and Andrew Knight

Markus Baer and Andrew Knight, associate professors of organizational behavior at Olin, found a unique way to observe the behavior of leaders in the crucial early stages of a venture that, in turn, predict success or failure for the startup. Using a multi method research approach, the professors observed teams participating in entrepreneurship competitions and teams participating in Washington University’s startup launch course, The Hatchery.

Baer and Knight identify three behaviors of successful lead entrepreneurs in the earliest stages of a venture.

  1. Psychological ownership. A lead entrepreneur must foster a shared sense of ownership among new team members, helping them develop the feeling that the venture idea is “ours.” In the absence of feelings of collective ownership, new team members are unlikely to invest significant time, effort, and energy in the venture—all of which a fledgling business needs to survive and grow.
  2. Idea marking refers to behaviors that communicate and signal to new team members those aspects of the venture idea that the entrepreneur holds dear and is unwilling to change.
  3. Help seeking refers to behaviors that encourage and invite new team members to suggest ways to change and improve the venture idea.

If effectively communicated by the lead entrepreneur, behaviors #2 and #3 will provide the clarity needed for team members to develop shared feelings of ownership over the venture idea. When an entrepreneur communicates which aspects of the venture idea are sacred and which are open to change, it creates an optimal environment for success.

The research finds that these behaviors are not mutually exclusive. In fact, it appears leaders must use both directive (idea marking) and participative (help seeking) leadership behaviors in tandem if they want to succeed. When a lead entrepreneur engages in both behaviors, an early stage venture team is likely to prosper, elicit favorable reactions from potential investors, and breed commitment to the future of the venture among new team members. Marking ideas and help seeking behaviors work in concert, with each behavior mitigating the weaknesses of the other; they are important ingredients for startup success.

KEY TAKEAWAYS for Managers

  • Lead entrepreneurs need to use both directive and participative leadership. Together, these two approaches provide the clarity needed for team members to develop shared feelings of ownership over the venture idea. When leading a fledging venture, an entrepreneur should communicate which aspects of the venture idea are sacred and also which are open to change.
  • When a lead entrepreneur takes a “hands off” approach, conflict erupts, the team performs especially poorly, and people quickly disengage from the venture. When putting together a fledgling venture team, an entrepreneur must take an active role in leading the team.
  • Entrepreneurship programs should teach aspiring entrepreneurs the benefits of using even a short process to resolve ambiguity about team members’ roles and the entrepreneur’s expectations.

This research was presented as part of the Olin Research that Impacts Business Series on June 26. The research paper, “Whose idea is it anyway? How lead entrepreneurs foster collective ownership in provisional founding teams,” is currently under review and is authored by Professors Baer and Knight and their former student Steven Gray, (Olin PhD graduate, May 2017), who is currently an Assistant Professor of Organizational Behavior, McCombs School of Business, University of Texas, Austin.

Link to more research from Olin faculty.

Dean mark Taylor introduces Markus Baer and Andrew Knight at the recent Research Impacts Business presentation.

Mark your calendar for these upcoming research presentations:

September 12, 2017 – Doing Well by Making Well: The Impact of Corporate Wellness Programs on Employee Productivity
by Lamar Pierce, Associate Professor of Organization & Strategy

November 7, 2017 – Intermediary Asset Pricing: New Evidence from Many Asset Classes
by Asaf Manela, Associate Professor of Finance

January 11, 2018 – The Performance Effects of Organizational Architecture
Mahendra R. Gupta, Former Dean and Geraldine J. and Robert L. Virgil Professor of  Accounting and Management

All events will be held in Bauer Hall from 7:30 a.m.–9:00 a.m.
Complimentary breakfast included.


On Monday, when we were at IDC, we all had to do this Marshmallow Challenge. Here, we had to split into teams and spend the next 40 minutes trying to construct a tower out of spaghetti and string, with the marshmallow all the way on top.

Guest Blogger: Ben is a sophomore at Washington University

My group failed to keep our tower stable, but fortunately, most of the other groups failed as well, despite the large time gap we were given to plan out a structure. But after the event, we saw a TED Talk about this and learned that the Marshmallow Challenge was tested among other business students and among Fortune 50 CEO’s, and they mostly failed as well.

MarshmallowIt turned out that when kindergarteners had to do this, they all actually got the job done quickly, simply because they kept the marshmallow on top the entire time instead of focusing on building the biggest tower.

The big takeaway I got from this challenge was that it represented the big, long-term goals for CEOs and their companies, with the marshmallow representing the company’s success or core competency or something, and if these companies really wanted to succeed, they should make their “marshmallow” the main focus, the thing they strive to push to the top. It also really helped me learn that for company projects, it wasn’t about how much money or effort I had to put in to outdo everyone else, but how much I kept the main goal of the project in focus.

Marshmallow1Being in one of the groups that failed to make a stable structure, it was frustrating to make the tower stable. After all, we were all told that whichever group ended up with the marshmallow in the highest position would win, so we definitely had some incentive to achieve. But seeing as our group failed because we tried too hard to build the tallest possible spaghetti tower, we ignored the marshmallow, deciding to save it for last when the entire tower was finished. Yet since we couldn’t keep our tower stable as we brought it higher, we never even got a chance to use our marshmallow, since we were focused on the building development but not so much on the final structure and what we wanted out of it.

Learning how all those kindergarteners successfully built marshmallow towers, it shaped my long-term view on group projects and on how to pitch business ideas. I learned that big projects will fail if I focus too much on the product process but lose sight of the final product.

Going forward, I will use this experience with the Marshmallow Challenge to ignore the competition and just focus on developing a good product, instead of going through a sophisticated development process just to outdo everyone else. More importantly, this activity is going to help me succeed in the business world, which will involve a lot of networking and group work. I can share with others what I learned from this activity about making the final product the main focus during the process, rather than the process itself. This will encourage better product development and centralized group thinking, and help myself and my colleagues succeed with our product.

Fast Company Design examines new research from Olin’s Markus Baer and co-author Graham Brown of the University of Victoria that delves into the question of who gets credit for an idea in the workplace and how that affects individual input on collaborative team projects.

Not surprisingly, the researchers find that people offer less creative advice on an assignment when they know they won’t be getting credit for it. But when some participants are asked to contribute input to a project that does not have one owner who can claim all the credit, they freely share creative and collaborative ideas. Interesting nuances in human behavior and mindsets towards collaboration are further explored in the research with implications for forming the most creative teams and motivating employees.

Read the article, “The Dark Side of Taking Credit for Your Work” published July 14, 2015.

What? That headline must be wrong. Women are known for boosting team collaboration and creativity, and they are not afraid to compete. But new research from associate professor of organizational behavior Markus Baer finds that men become more creative and women less so when intergroup competition heats up.

“Women contributed less and less to the team’s creative output when the competition between teams became cutthroat, and this fall-off was most pronounced in teams composed entirely of women,” Baer says.

The findings are counterintuitive because previous research has shown that women generally are more collaborative than men when working in teams.

“If teams work side by side, women tend to perform better and even outperform men – they’re more creative,” according to Baer.

“As soon as you add the element of competition though, the picture changes. Men under those circumstances gel together. They become more interdependent and more collaborative, and women just do the opposite.

“So, what is true for non-competitive circumstances, flips when it gets competitive,” he says.

The study should serve as a caution to managers attempting to use competition among teams to spur creativity. It shows that intense competition can erase the creative advantage that women tend to enjoy over their male counterparts.

Markus Baer discusses his research on how competition kills creativity for women working in groups in the video above.

The simple lesson, Baer said, is that competition should not be used in all situations to stimulate creativity. It’s not going to help women and probably hurts their creativity, so managers should look for different methods of motivation.

“Given that women represent a growing portion of the workforce, using competition as a means to enhance the creativity of groups, regardless of how they are composed, implies that the creative potential available to businesses is seldom fully realized,” the study contends.

Baer emphasizes that nothing in his study suggests women are inherently bad at competition. Rather, it shows that gender stereotypes continue to influence behavior in the workplace.

“It’s not that women stink at competing, it’s that the way society views women and the way we view competition, gender specific, has an impact and that impact is observable in the lab as well as in the field,” Baer said. “It changes behaviors and outcomes.”

Published in the May-June issue of the journal Organization Science, the study is titled “Intergroup Competition as a Double-Edged Sword: How Sex Composition Regulates the Effects of Competition on Group Creativity.”

Findings are based on an experiment involving male and female college students working together in groups, as well as data gathered in the field from 50 teams of scientists, engineers and technicians at a global oil and gas company.

Co-authors include Abhijeet K. Vadera, PhD, of the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad, India; Roger T. A. J. Leenders, PhD, of the Tilburg School of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Tilburg University, The Netherlands; and Greg R. Oldham, PhD, of the A. B. Freeman School of Business at Tulane University.

Thanks to Gerry Everding, WUSTL Newsroom, for his contributions to this post.