Latest research from UD’s Kyle Emich examines team dynamics

Kyle Emich Associate Professor of Management

University of Delaware professor, Kyle Emich, associate professor of business administration in the Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics has peeled back the layers on two important concepts involving teams: how can they be more creative and how to fill them correctly. He published two research papers in two different journals that break down these concepts and offer solutions based on his findings. 

The first article Conceiving opposites together: Cultivating paradoxical frames and epistemic motivation fosters team creativity, was published in the July issue of Organization Behavior and Human Decision Processes. Emich wrote the article with fellow Lerner College professor Wendy Smith, Dana J. Johnson Professor of Management, Ella Miron-Spektor of INSEAD University and Linda Argote of Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University.


In their article Emich and colleagues argue that teams are more successful if they embrace differences and are motivated to work together until they solve the problem at hand. Teams that do both are the most creative. This determination to figure out problems and find the best solutions is known as epistemic motivation. Alternatively, teams that adopt an either/or frame tend to focus on one task demand at a time, and are often unable to creativity integrate them, while teams with low epistemic motivation see both/and frames as too complex and give up. 


Emich framed the team’s research question as “If individually we have the knowledge to solve a problem, why can we not collectively use that knowledge to address it? Why do some perspectives dominate and why does crucial information lay latent?” 




Importantly, because epistemically motivated people are motivated to understand tasks despite competing beliefs, it allows teams to elaborate on their ideas, producing more diverse innovations. In short, being stubborn can be a creativity killer. Emich did say that most evidence suggests that letting team members know that they will be accountable for their actions can build epistemic motivation. This way negative consequences are tied to not taking full responsibility for wanting to get a fuller understanding of problems, he said.


Another key finding in this research was that it advanced knowledge of why and when paradoxical frames benefit team creativity, because it illustrated the creative process and how teams leverage task and team tensions.  


The most important component of the team though, is its members. A second article that Emich published in the Journal of Business Research further delves into how combining information from two separate disciplines on the concept of searching for a job could lead to better results for applicants and policy makers. 


In A house divided: A multilevel bibliometric review of the job search literature 1973-2020, Emich and his colleagues suggest that if economists and psychologists, who study the job search process from their distinctly different disciplines, combined their research and shared information with each other, it would be greatly beneficial to understanding the process of looking for and securing a job, and aid public policy in terms of what resources are dedicated to various programs and how.


For example, the researchers found economists are driven by numbers. Generally, they don’t take extenuating circumstances such as mental or physical well being seriously. Psychologists take things like this into consideration, and look into behavioral tendencies, and cognitive and motivational factors. Economists tend to look at things like a job applicant’s commuting distance to work and match that against unemployment numbers.


Emich, Kurt Norder, a fellow Lerner professor, Adam Kanar, of Brock University’s Goodman School of Business, Aman Sawhney, a Ph.D. candidate in computer science at UD’s College of Engineering, and Tara S. Behrend, of Purdue University’s department of psychological sciences, analyzed almost 3,200 articles written on job search by economists and psychologists They found differences on each side. Economists and psychologists weren’t sharing information with each other..


“Honestly, these two ideas emerged concurrently, so I did not explicitly associate them before this,” Emich said of the relatedness of his two separate research articles. “However, perhaps implicitly they both grew out of my longstanding interest in making knowledge function more efficiently in collectives.” 




The researchers examined articles written about job search from the Scopus database, one of the largest collections of published academic research on subjects including life sciences, social sciences, physical sciences and health sciences. They used key phrases such as job search, job seeking, employment search, employment seeking. They organized results based on discipline, the prestige of the academic journal that they appeared in, and the scholarly community that the research was paired with. This helped them integrate findings from previous research.  Using this process, they were able to identify 10 broad communities within this large set of articles, including those focusing on personality and motivation, regional and urban economics, labor market policy, social networks, turnover and work attitudes, formal theory, market qualification mismatch, recruitment, social services, therapy and counseling, and digital recommendation systems.


What they found was that different disciplines, whether they were economists, social workers, psychologists, or sociologists were reporting different findings that related to everything from the special needs of a particular group seeking jobs, such as those with substance abuse problems, to how an individual’s psychological experiences influence their job search. Each area was conducting interesting and insightful research; however, since the areas do not communicate this work cannot reach its full potential. 


“I have been conducting quite a few projects involving bibliometrics (using statistical methods to analyze books, research articles and publications) with my colleague (and UD Lerner Assistant Prof.) Kurt Norder. We actually didn’t realize how big a problem there was regarding the lack of communication between economists and psychologists regarding job search, until we ran the numbers,” Emich said.


Although his research is geared for other academics, Emich said there could be policy implications down the line and “that we shouldn’t have people driving policies who don’t understand what makes people feel happy and fulfilled.” This is important because people who make policy cite research.


Lastly, Emich said that the job search process isn’t only affected by public policy and organizational demand or job seeker motivation. It is affected by both, and combining findings would help public policy be implemented better.


“This would be quite a change from the mechanistic way this policy is usually developed.”

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