Implications of Observability for the Theory and Measurement of Emergent Team Phenomena

Nathan T. Carter*, Dorothy R. Carter, Leslie A. DeChurch

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


Many of the most pivotal mechanisms of team success are emergent phenomena—constructs with conceptual origins at the individual level that coalesce over time through members’ interactions to characterize a team as a whole. Typically, empirical research on teams represents emergent mechanisms as the aggregate of members’ self-report perceptions of the team. This dominant approach assumes members have developed a perception of the emergent property and are able to respond accurately to survey items. Yet emergent phenomena require sufficient time and team interaction before coalescing as perceptible team properties. Attempting to measure an emergent property before it is perceptible can result in inaccurate assessments and substantive conclusions. Therefore, a key purpose of this study is to develop a better understanding of the underlying characteristics of emergent team phenomena that give rise to their emergence as perceptible and, thus, accurately measurable team characteristics. We advance a conceptual framework that classifies emergent team properties on the basis of the degree to which the construct manifests in overtly observable behaviors, positing that more observable emergent team phenomena require less interaction before emerging as ratable team properties compared to constructs that are less easily observed. Leveraging advances in measurement modeling, we test our conceptual framework in a laboratory sample and a quasi–field study sample, demonstrating a multilevel measurement approach that evaluates the emergence of shared team properties across measurement occasions. Results suggest the observability of emergent team properties is a crucial determinant of the relative speed at which constructs emerge as recognizable, ratable properties of the team.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1398-1425
Number of pages28
JournalJournal of Management
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2018


  • emergence
  • emergent states
  • item response theory
  • processes
  • teams

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Finance
  • Strategy and Management


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