How Core Team Members Affect Team Performance

group of employees working together
Topic(s): performance, teams
Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology (2021)
Article: The Room Where It Happens: The Impact of Core ad Non-Core Roles on Surgical Team Performance
Authors: M.J. Vaulont, J.D. Nahrgang, M.M. Luciano, L. D’Innocenzo, C.T. Lofgren
Reviewed by: David Facteau

Modern work increasingly utilizes crew-based teams—groups of individuals who fill different roles and are brought together to complete a task. However, some roles within a team are more important than others. For example, on a surgical team, the surgeon is the core member of the team who leads, facilitates workflow, and looks out for potential problems. But there are also non-core members, for example, the anesthesiologist, circulator nurse, or scrub technician. Each of these team members also brings specialized knowledge to the operating room. New research (Vaulont et al., 2021) suggests that each non-core member’s relationship with the core member is critical for successful performance. 


To assess how surgeons’ past experience with non-core members affects team performance, the researchers examined data from 7,070 surgeries from a large community hospital in the United States. From this data, the researchers were able to compute how many times an individual surgeon had worked with non-core members on a similar type of surgery. The researchers then examined the time between surgery completion and patient discharge as a measure of team performance. Surgical team performance is often measured by the length of post-surgery stay, with lower stay-times indicating higher performance. 

Results from the analyses found that surgeons’ prior experience with the non-core members of the surgical team predicted team performance. Meaning that when the surgeon had more experience on similar surgeries with the non-core members, patient post-surgery stays were shorter. 

However, results also indicated that task complexity played an important role. As surgeries became more complex, surgeons’ experience with the non-core members became less important. 

Additionally, the researchers examined how the amount of time the surgeon spent in the operating room affected the results. Surgeons typically work with the entire surgical team for approximately 60% of the surgery—with non-core members completing aspects of the surgery without the surgeon present. Results indicated that the relationship between surgeon experience with non-core members and team performance was weakened when the surgery was more complex and when the surgeon spent less time in the operating room. This result suggests that for complex surgeries, surgeons should make an effort to be present for as long as possible, and for less complex surgeries, the surgeon’s presence is less important. 


The results from this study have practical implications for work teams within and outside of the healthcare industry. As the nature of work continues to change and more companies implement policies such as flexible work schedules, multiple team membership, and virtual work, teams may face situations in which every member is not present. 

Results from this study suggest that during complex tasks, absence of core team members may limit the performance of the non-core members. However, when the core member has extensive experience with the non-core members, the team can better handle the core members’ absence during less complex tasks. As such, repeated matching of non-core team members with the same core members may aid in increasing performance over time. 

Vaulont, M. J., Nahrgang, J. D., Luciano, M. M., D’Innocenzo, L., & Lofgren, C. T. (2020). The room where it happens: The impact of core and non-core roles on surgical team performance. Journal of Applied Psychology. Advance online publication.