How we change what others think, feel, believe and do
Punctuated Equilibrium in Groups
When groups come together to work on a task, they may go through what has been called 'punctuated equilibrium'.
When groups form, they rapidly work out task goals and how they will proceed. They then work around the agreed schedule until they realize that the original plan is inadequate. They then re-plan and set off in the new direction.
A typical key factor is time. As the delivery milestone approaches the group realizes that they will not make it in time and so hurriedly revise their plans.
This 'punctuation' of the work may be repeated a number of times as the team finds that subsequent plans are inadequate. It often happens once, particularly when there is no time to change plans several times.
Okhuysen and Waller (2002) noted that not everyone understood the need for change at the punctuation points and might continue working to the original plan.
A critical factor in this effect is where insufficient time is taken up front to plan properly. With a need to demonstrate action and get into the 'real work', an effective investigation and planning phase is significantly reduced, setting up the 'act now, pay later' pattern.
It is notable that poor quality results can result when teams keep to the original timescale and revise their plans to reduce testing and other quality assurance activities. It is often feasible to hide these cuts with the real costs not being realized until long after the team has disbanded. This pattern is particularly common in software development where the construction of the product is invisible to outsiders.
Gersick, C. J. G. (1988). Time and transition in work teams: Toward a new model of group development, Academy of Management Journal, 31: 9-41.
Okhuysen, G. A. and Waller, M. J. (2002). Focusing on midpoint transitions: An analysis of boundary conditions, Academy of Management Journal, 45: 1056-1065