Uncovering the impact of triadic relationships within a team on job performance: an application of balance theory in predicting feedback-seeking behaviour

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 2020, 93, (3), pp. 654-686
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Although a great deal of knowledge has accumulated about dyadic relationships (i.e., leader–member exchange (LMX) or team–member exchange (TMX)) within a team, employee behaviours that involve triadic relationships among focal employees, leaders, and teammates have seldom been investigated. Using balance theory, which describes triadic relationships from a power dependence perspective, in the current study, we explore how the interplay of LMX, TMX, and peers’ LMX jointly impacts employees’ feedback-seeking behaviour (FSB) and subsequent job performance. By conducting a multilevel moderated polynomial regression on three-wave, multi-source data from 147 team members and their leaders (from 45 work teams), we found that the incongruence between LMX and TMX facilitates FSB when peers’ LMX or task interdependence is high. We also found an asymmetrical incongruence effect concerning the way in which individuals are more likely to seek feedback when LMX is worse than TMX, compared with when LMX is better than TMX. This differential effect is stronger when peers’ LMX or task interdependence is high. The interplay of LMX, TMX, peers’ LMX, and task interdependence eventually has an indirect effect on job performance through FSB. The results from a follow-up study of 270 employees from 77 teams further confirm our predictions about the mechanism of balance theory. Specifically, the results indicate that when peers’ LMX is high, the incongruence between LMX and TMX decreases employees’ psychological safety. Practitioner points: Our study highlights the importance of studying the triadic (LMX, TMX, and peers’ LMX) rather than dyadic relationships in a work team. This study demonstrates that imbalanced relationship triads can influence employees in a positive way (i.e., motivate employees to conduct more change-oriented proactive behaviours). Our study’s findings show that feedback-seeking behaviour is important in promoting job performance when it aims at changing the imbalanced social environment. Our findings suggest practitioners should pay more attention to the role of task interdependence, which changes the power dependence structure of workplace relationships.
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