Carnegie Mellon University


April 30, 2018

There is No Hashtag in Team

Noelle Wiker

PITTSBURGH – If cyberspace is the 21st century measure of social status, players on underperforming NBA teams can expect to be left out of the cool kids’ table, according to new research.

Brandy Aven, associate professor of organizational behavior and theory at the Tepper School of Business, studied the Twitter accounts of players on all 30 teams in the NBA at the end of the 2014-15 season. What she found was that all-star players on successful teams tended to follow many of their teammates on Twitter. On low-performing teams, by contrast, all-star players tend to avoid following other team members, according to new research published in PLOS ONE.

According to Aven, the findings align well with status theory, which suggests that even highly competent employees can be negatively impacted by association with underperforming organizations.

During the time period Aven studied, many players on the Cleveland Cavaliers – who made it to the NBA Finals that year – followed each other on Twitter, including superstars such as LeBron James. By contrast, the New York Knicks experienced one of the worst seasons in franchise history, setting a record with 65 losses. The Knicks’ sole all-star, Carmelo Anthony, did not follow anyone else on the team.

“The research parallels behavior across many types of organizations,” Aven says. “Members of failing organizations commonly distance themselves so the organization’s diminished performance does not ‘contaminate’ them.”

Because the Twitter data is potentially indicative of weak interpersonal relationships among teammates, low-performing teams evidently lack the group cohesion that is often predictive of successful performance. Aven indicated that further research could explore whether teams that show greater cohesion over time also exhibit improved performance.

In a business, placing a high-status person on a lower performing team and expecting them to lift everyone else to the same performance level might be more unrealistic than most companies realize. To compensate for the negative effects, Aven suggests that companies would want to consider an intervention and, in recognizing that a greater effort might be necessary to turn the rest of the team around, take steps to improve coordination and communication within the group rather than expect a single star to lead the way.

Aven and her collaborator, anthropologist Jeremy Koster, are considering additional research on communication patterns that might enhance coordination among team members and in turn improve team performance.

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About the Tepper School of Business

Founded in 1949, the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University ( is a pioneer in the field of management science and analytical-decision making. The school is among those institutions with the highest rate of academic citations in the fields of finance, operations research, organizational behavior and operations management. The academic offerings of the Tepper School include undergraduate studies in business and economics, Master’s degrees in business administration, product management and business analytics as well as doctoral studies in accounting, business technology, economics, finance, marketing, operations management, operations research and organizational behavior.


The world’s first multidisciplinary Open Access journal, PLOS ONE accepts scientifically rigorous research, regardless of novelty. PLOS ONE’s broad scope provides a platform to publish primary research including interdisciplinary and replication studies as well as negative results. The journal’s publication criteria are based on high ethical standards and the rigor of the methodology and conclusions reported.