Perspectives on Team Success

“Two recent articles explore effectiveness in team-working, one academic and strongly evidence-based, the other practitioner-focused and advisory.

The first, by a group of Dutch academics, presents an in-depth statistical analysis of survey data that gives us a more nuanced understanding of certain aspects of team dynamics. The main focus is on how respected people feel by their colleagues and two components of this: one’s sense of inclusion in the team and one’s sense of value to the team.

The authors explain that to date, most literature on social identity views ‘perceived respect’ as a single unified construct that affects team performance. Through structural equation modelling of survey data from military teams, they demonstrate that perceived respect involves at least two distinct psychological processes which affect performance in different ways. They find that:

  • Perceived respect is positively related to both sub-factors, (that is perceptions of inclusion in and value to the team).
  • Perceived inclusion in the team relates to ‘positive team identity’ (morale, ability to perform and persistence).
  • Perceived value for the team relates to ‘willingness to invest in the team’ (that is to support and compensate for colleagues).
  • Both positive team identity and willingness to invest in the team are in turn related to team performance (measured here by supervisor ratings of how prepared the team is for action).

By looking at other possible relationships, the authors show that those above present the best available model. For example, although there is some direct relationship between perceived respect and willingness to invest in the team, the mediated relationship (from ‘respect’ to ‘value’ and from ‘value’ to performance) is stronger.

The main limitation of the research is that the subject group is professional soldiers on peace-keeping missions in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 2003-4. However, the authors argue that the study has wider relevance, as it looks at ‘people working very closely together to do highly stressful and consequential work, sometimes under extreme circumstances’. Similar employment situations can be found in the emergency services, crisis management and surgical teams.

Writing in Training Journal, consultants, Sarah Cook and Steve Macaulay, set out their views on what contributes to high team performance. Expanding on the themes covered by Ellemers et al, they argue that there are four pillars of effective teamwork:

  • Commitment: including having shared objectives;
  • Communication: including keeping others informed of what they are doing and sharing other information;
  • Contribution: including everyone pulling their weight and playing to their strengths; and
  • Collaboration: including sharing expertise and working flexibly to achieve joint goals.

While they mainly focus on what these four pillars look like and how they can be developed, they also consider signs of ill-health in teams and the balance that is needed between the four pillars.

There are clear differences in the concepts between the two pieces, but also similarities in the arguments made. Like the Ellemers article, Cook and Macaulay highlight the importance of feeling one’s contributions are appreciated and relate this to commitment, although unlike the first article, they argue that feeling valued leads to more effective and open communication. They also point to the importance of a sense of belonging, although they relate this to collaboration rather than Ellemers’ ‘positive team identity’.

I feel the final word should be given to Ellemers and colleagues. Although less accessible than the Cook and Macaulay article, it is through robust analysis such as theirs that we advance our understanding of how we can most accurately conceptualise workplace issues and the importance of these concepts. A lesson to be drawn from their research is that, because perceived respect and inclusion affect performance in different ways, they may be more or less important in different situations. For example, for newly formed teams with little team identity, or in times of low morale following a setback, it may be more important to foster individuals’ sense of inclusion. Yet, when a joint effort is required, it may be more useful to focus on individuals’ strengths and expertise.”

References

Ellemers, N., Sleebos, E. & Stam, D. (2013) Feeling Included and Valued: How PErceived Respect Affects Positive Team Identity and Willingness to Invest in the Team. British Journal of Management. 24(1), pp.21-37.

Cook, S. & Macaulay, S. (2013) Collaboration within Teams. Training Journal, February 2013, pp.54-58.

Source: Gifford, J. (2013) Perspectives on Team Success. Available from World Wide Web: <http://www.cipd.co.uk/nutshell/articles/perspectives-on-team-success.htm?utm_medium=email&utm_source=cipd&utm_content=170413_na_textlink_item7.headline&utm_campaign=nutshell> [Accessed: 24 April, 2013].

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