Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

How Do Groups React to Unexpected Threats? Crisis Management in Organizational Teams

Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

How Do Groups React to Unexpected Threats? Crisis Management in Organizational Teams

Article excerpt

The contemporary organizational environment is often described as more hostile, uncertain, changeable, and complex than it has been in the past (Cascio, 2003). The complexity and the unpredictability of current business environments are liable to induce numerous crisis events for organizations and their subunits (Choi & Kim, 1999; Lampel, Shamsie, & Shapira, 2009; Moynihan, 2009; Snow, Miles, & Coleman, 1992). In fact, in recent years, crises have become a regular or even normal event for most organizations (Ashby & Diacon, 2000; Perrow, 1984). Thus, it is appropriate that managerial concern should focus not only on whether a crisis will happen but also on when and how it will occur (Guth, 1995; Weick, 1988). Knowing the types and causes of crises and the potential damage that can ensue may become essential for effective crisis coping in organizations and their subunits (Drach-Zahavy & Freund, 2007; Mitroff, Shrivastava, & Udwadia, 1987; Moynihan, 2009).

Although a number of studies have been carried out concerning crises at individual and organizational levels (e.g., Allen & Caillouet, 1994; Duhe & Zoch, 1995; Guth, 1995; Kaufmann, Kesner, & Hazen, 1994; Kim & Choi, 2010; Lalonde, 2007; Lampel et al., 2009; Mallozzi, 1994; Paraskevas, 2006; Taylor, Buunk, & Aspinwall, 1990; Weick, 1988), team level crisis management (e.g., Janis, 1982; Smith, 2000) has been addressed in only a few studies. Researchers have conducted laboratory experiments in order to understand a group's responses to stressful situations (e.g., groupthink; for a review see Aldag & Fuller, 1993), and some scholars have examined crisis management in natural groups based on a case study of an event (Moynihan, 2009; Weick, 1993) or a simulation (Waller, 1999). Nevertheless, there is still very little known about the types of crises that organizational teams may encounter and the strategies they use to cope with these. Given the increasing use of teams in organizations (Belbin, 1993; Choi, 2009; Katzenbach & Smith, 1993; Shulman, 1996), it is important to explore questions such as these. In this study an attempt is made to address these questions. Throughout the paper, the terms team and group are used interchangeably to refer to a bounded system comprising a set of interdependent individuals organized to perform specific tasks that affect others (Costarelli, 2009; Guzzo & Dickson, 1996). The term organizational teams refers to teams operating within business organizations that collectively perform various functions, such as marketing or purchasing.



Scholars have defined the concept of crisis differently (e.g., Aguilera, 1990; Fink 1986; Kanter, 1983; Krackhardt & Stern, 1988; Turner, 1976; Weick, 1988). From these diverse definitions of crisis, Hermann's (1972) definition has been widely accepted as a conceptual ground for understanding crisis (e.g., Guth, 1995). According to Hermann, a crisis is a situation that incorporates the following three conditions: (a) a surprise to decision makers, (b) a threat to high-priority goals, and (c) a restricted amount of time available for response. Similarly, in their review, Pearson and Clair (1998) defined an organizational crisis by such characteristics as low probability, high impact, and perception of threat to the viability of the organization. For instance, the Tylenol situation encountered by Johnson & Johnson (Shrivastava & Mitroff, 1987), may cause an unexpected and urgent problem that threatens the high-priority goal of the company. In this study, we adopted Hermann's definition to conceptualize crises in organizational teams.


Driskell and Salas (1991) emphasized the importance of understanding group performance during stressful situations for three reasons: (a) the complexity and range of contemporary tasks often require group efforts; (b) group processes affect group outcomes as much as individual processes; and (c) patterns of group processes are affected by external stressors such as time pressure (p. …

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