Case #2

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Leading Teams
Case #2
In our leadership program, we have studied a number of theories. Chapter 10 of our text Group
Dynamics for Teams summarizes a number of leadership styles. For this assignment, review the
Team Leader’s Challenge at the end of Chapter 10 and answer the questions.
The assignment will be 2 to 3 pages, double spaced. 




6th Edition


For my parents, who still have no idea what I

studied in graduate school. I hope this helps to

finally explain things.

And to my wife, Bethany, and children Emelyn and

William for the endless interruptions. You

redirected me toward what matters most.



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6th Edition

Daniel Levi

California Polytechnic State University, San

Luis Obispo

David A. Askay

California Polytechnic State University, San

Luis Obispo

Los Angeles


New Delhi



Washington DC



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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Names: Levi, Daniel (Psychologist), author. | Askay, David Andrew,

Title: Group dynamics for teams / Daniel Levi, California
Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, David A. Askay,

California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo.

Description: 6th edition. | Thousand Oaks, California : SAGE,
[2021] | Includes bibliographical references and index.

Identifiers: LCCN 2020017283 | ISBN 9781544309699 (paperback) |
ISBN 9781544309675 (epub) | ISBN 9781544309682 (epub) | ISBN

9781544309705 (ebook)

Subjects: LCSH: Teams in the workplace.

Classification: LCC HD66 .L468 2021 | DDC 658.4/022—dc23

LC record available at

Printed in the United States of America

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Marketing Manager: Katherine Hepburn




New to This Edition
About the Authors
Part I Characteristics of Teams

Chapter 1 Understanding Teams
Chapter 2 Defining Team Success

Part II Processes of Teamwork
Chapter 3 Team Beginnings
Chapter 4 Understanding the Basic Team Processes
Chapter 5 Cooperation and Competition
Chapter 6 Communication

Part III Issues Teams Face
Chapter 7 Managing Conflict
Chapter 8 Social Influence and Power
Chapter 9 Decision Making
Chapter 10 Leadership and Followership
Chapter 11 Problem Solving
Chapter 12 Creativity, Innovation, and Design
Chapter 13 Diversity and Inclusion

Part IV Organizational Context of Teams
Chapter 14 Team, Organizational, and International
Chapter 15 Virtuality and Teamwork
Chapter 16 Evaluating and Rewarding Team Performance
Chapter 17 Team Development Interventions

Appendix: Guide to Student Team Projects




New to This Edition
About the Authors
Part I Characteristics of Teams

Chapter 1 Understanding Teams
Learning Objectives
1.1 Why Groups and Teams Matter
1.2 Defining Groups
1.3 Defining Teams
1.4 Why Organizations Use Teams

Organizational Characteristics
Job Characteristics

1.5 Purposes and Types of Teams
How Organizations Use Teams
Classifying Teams

1.6 History of Teams and Group Dynamics
Foundations of Teamwork
Foundations of Group Dynamics

Team Leadership Challenge 1
Survey: Attitudes Toward Teamwork
Activity: Working in Teams

Chapter 2 Defining Team Success
Learning Objectives
2.1 Nature of Team Success

Completing the Task
Developing Social Relations
Benefiting the Individual

2.2 Conditions for Team Success
Team Composition
Characteristics of the Task
Teamwork Processes
Organizational Context

2.3 Characteristics of Successful Teams


Team Structures
Collective Intelligence
Teaming Mindset

2.4 Positive-Psychology View of Team Success
2.5 Using Teams in the Workplace

Benefits of Teamwork
Problems of Teamwork
When the Use of Teams Becomes a Fad

Team Leadership Challenge 2
Activity: Understanding Team Success

Part II Processes of Teamwork
Chapter 3 Team Beginnings

Learning Objectives
3.1 Stages of Group Development

Group Development Perspective
Project Development Perspective
Cyclical Perspective
Implications of Team Development Stages

3.2 Group Socialization
Team Turnover

3.3 Team Goals
Value and Characteristics of Goals
Goals Gone Wild
Hidden Agendas

3.4 Team Norms
How Norms Are Formed
Impact of Team Norms

3.5 Application: Jump-Starting Project Teams
Building Social Relations
Clarifying Roles and Responsibilities
Team Charter
Developing Virtual Teams

Team Leadership Challenge 3
Activity: Observing Team Development
Activity: Developing a Team Charter


Chapter 4 Understanding the Basic Team Processes
Learning Objectives
4.1 Motivation

Social Loafing
Increasing Team Motivation

4.2 Group Cohesion
How Cohesion Affects the Team’s Performance
Building Group Cohesion

4.3 Team Roles
Role Stress
Types of Team Meeting Roles

4.4 Task and Social Behaviors
Value of Social Behaviors

4.5 Team Adaptation and Learning
Team Mental Models
Transactive Memory Systems
Reflexivity and Team Debriefing
Using Feedback
Group Process Observations

4.6 Basic Team Processes in Virtual Teams
Team Leadership Challenge 4
Activity: Tracking Teamwork Behaviors

Chapter 5 Cooperation and Competition
Learning Objectives
5.1 Teamwork as a Mixed-Motive Situation
5.2 Why Are People in Teams Competitive?

Organizational Rewards

5.3 Problems With Competition
Competition Erodes Trust
Competition Reduces Learning
Intergroup Competition
When Is Competition Appropriate?

5.4 Benefits of and Problems With Cooperation
Benefits of Cooperation


Problems With Cooperation
Competitive Versus Cooperative Rewards

5.5 Application: Encouraging Cooperation
Common Goals
Rebuilding Trust and Communication
Encouraging Altruistic Norms
Negotiating Cooperation

Team Leadership Challenge 5
Survey: Cooperative, Competitive, or
Individualistic Orientation
Activity: Understanding Competitive Versus
Cooperative Goals

Chapter 6 Communication
Learning Objectives
6.1 The Communication Process

Verbal Communication
Nonverbal Communication
Communication Within Teams

6.2 Flow of a Team’s Communication
Dysfunctional Information Processing Within
the Team
Gender and Communication
Repairing Trust
Psychological Safety
Communication Climates

6.3 Emotional Intelligence
6.4 Facilitating Team Meetings
6.5 Communication Skills for Team Meetings
Team Leadership Challenge 6
Survey: Team Emotional Intelligence
Activity: Observing Communication Patterns in a

Part III Issues Teams Face
Chapter 7 Managing Conflict

Learning Objectives


7.1 Conflict Is Normal
7.2 Sources of Conflict
7.3 Types of Conflict

Task Conflict
Process Conflict
Relational Conflict

7.4 Conflict Management
Two Dimensions of Conflict
Comparing Different Conflict Management
Aligning Conflict Type With Conflict
Management Styles
Fostering Collaboration Through Open-Minded
Negotiated Agreements
Conflict in Virtual Teams

7.5 Preventing and Preparing for Team Conflict
Preventing Conflict
Preparing for Conflicts

Team Leadership Challenge 7
Survey: Conflict Management Styles
Activity: Observing Conflict Management Styles

Chapter 8 Social Influence and Power
Learning Objectives
8.1 Understanding Social Influence and Power


8.2 Types Of Power
Bases of Power
Influence Tactics
Influence Tactics in Virtual Teams

8.3 Power Dynamics
Status and the Corrupting Effect of Power
Unequal Power in a Team
Managing Unequal Power in a Team


8.4 Empowerment
Degrees of Empowerment Programs
Barriers to Empowerment Programs

8.5 Application: Acting Assertively
Power Styles
Use of Power Styles
Encouraging Assertiveness

Team Leadership Challenge 8
Activity: Using Power Styles—Passive,
Aggressive, and Assertive

Chapter 9 Decision Making
Learning Objectives
9.1 Decision Making in Teams
9.2 Deciding How to Decide: Evaluating Decision-
Making Approaches
9.3 Individual Decision Making

Leader Decides
Designated Expert
Consultative Decision Making
Problems With Individual Decision Making

9.4 Group Decision Making
Aggregation Without Interaction
Aggregation With Limited Group Interaction
Fully Interacting Teams
Problems With Group Decision Making

9.5 Crowd and Algorithmic Decision Making
Wisdom of the Crowd
Prediction Markets
Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning

Team Leadership Challenge 9
Activity: Making Consensus Decisions
Activity: Group Versus Individual Decision Making

Chapter 10 Leadership and Followership
Learning Objectives
10.1 Defining Leadership


10.2 Leadership Emergence
Leader Traits, Abilities, and Behaviors
Follower Perceptions

10.3 Models of Effective Leadership
Trait Approach
Behavioral Approach
Contingency Approach
Relational Approach
Charismatic Approach

10.4 Team Leadership
Functional Approach
Shared Leadership

10.5 Followership
Team Leadership Challenge 10
Activity: Observing the Leader’s Behavior

Chapter 11 Problem Solving
Learning Objectives
11.1 Understanding Problems
11.2 Descriptive Approach: How Teams Typically
Solve Problems
11.3 Rational Problem Solving: How Teams Should
Solve Problems

Problem Recognition
Problem Definition
Problem Analysis
Establishing Solution Criteria
Generating Alternatives and Selecting a

11.4 Application: Constructing a Shared Mental
Model Through Process Mapping
Team Leadership Challenge 11
Activity: Using Problem-Solving Techniques


Chapter 12 Creativity, Innovation, and Design

Learning Objectives
12.1 Creativity and Innovation
12.2 Four Phases of the Idea Journey

Idea Generation
Idea Elaboration
Idea Championing
Idea Implementation

12.3 What Is Design Thinking?
Embrace Innovation: Design Thinking in Action

12.4 The Design Thinking Process

12.5 Promoting Team Creativity and Innovation
Team Diversity
Information Integration
Team Climate for Innovation
Organizational Context

12.6 Virtual Creativity
Team Leadership Challenge 12
Activity: Comparing Different Creativity

Chapter 13 Diversity and Inclusion
Learning Objectives
13.1 The Importance of Diversity
13.2 Difference and Diversity

Types of Difference
Types of Diversity
Diversity Over Time

13.3 How Diversity Operates
Personality Traits


Social Processes
Cognitive Processes

13.4 Effects of Diversity on Team Performance
Categorization–Elaboration Model

13.5 Application: Supporting Diversity and

Managing Goals and Identities
Diversity Training
Fostering Inclusion

Team Leadership Challenge 13
Survey: Work Group Inclusion
Activity: Understanding Gender and Status
Differences in a Team

Part IV Organizational Context of Teams
Chapter 14 Team, Organizational, and International

Learning Objectives
14.1 What Is Culture?
14.2 Team Culture
14.3 Defining Organizational Culture
14.4 Organizational Culture and Teamwork
14.5 Dimensions of International Culture

Individualism Versus Collectivism
Power Distance
Uncertainty Avoidance
Comparing the United States and Japan

14.6 International Differences in Teamwork
14.7 Multinational Teams

Characteristics of Multinational Teams
Creating Effective Multinational Teams

14.8 Cultural Intelligence
Team Leadership Challenge 14
Survey: Individualism–Collectivism


Activity: Evaluating a Team’s Culture and
Cultural Context
Activity: Comparing Teams in the United States
and Japan

Chapter 15 Virtuality and Teamwork
Learning Objectives
15.1 Virtuality and Virtual Teams
15.2 Communication Technologies

Characteristics of Communication Technologies
Types of Communication Technologies

15.3 Geographic Dispersion
Spatial Dispersion
Temporal Dispersion
Configurational Dispersion

15.4 Managing Virtuality on Teams
Determine Team Size and Locations
Develop Virtual Teams
Develop Knowledge of Communication
Use Skillful Virtual Communication
Consider the Intercultural Context
Develop and Sustain Trust
Adapt Leadership to Virtuality

Team Leadership Challenge 15
Activity: Developing Norms for Virtual Teams
Activity: Experiencing Teamwork in a Simulated
Virtual Team

Chapter 16 Evaluating and Rewarding Team Performance
Learning Objectives
16.1 Performance Management
16.2 Evaluating Performance

Measure Individual and Team Performance
Measure Processes and Outcomes
Develop Measures With Internal and External


Gather Ongoing Performance Information From
Multiple Sources
Use Performance Reviews to Foster Learning
and Development

16.3 Rewarding Performance
Rewarding Individual Team Member Performance
Rewarding Team Performance
Rewarding Organizational Performance
Combining Reward Programs
Relationship of Rewards to Types of Teams
Linking Rewards to Types of Team

Team Leadership Challenge 16
Survey: Individual Versus Team Rewards
Activity: Evaluating and Rewarding a Project Team
Activity: Team Halo Effect

Chapter 17 Team Development Interventions
Learning Objectives
17.1 What Are Team Development Interventions?
17.2 Team Building

Does Your Team Need Team Building?
17.3 Types of Team-Building Programs

Goal Setting
Role Clarification
Interpersonal Relations
Cohesion Building
Problem Solving

17.4 Team Training
Establishing the Need for Team Training
Fostering an Effective Team-Training Climate
Designing an Effective Team-Training Program
Evaluating the Training Program
Sustaining Trained Teamwork Behaviors

17.5 Types of Training
Team Resource Management Training
Cross-Training and Interpositional Training
Action Learning


Team Leadership Challenge 17
Activity: Team Building
Activity: Appreciative Inquiry of Teamwork

Appendix: Guide to Student Team Projects
A.1 Starting the Team

Team Warm-Ups
Developing a Team Contract
Leadership and Meeting Roles
Managing Team Technology

A.2 Planning and Developing the Project
Challenging the Assignment
Generating Project Ideas
Brainwriting Method
Project Planning
Roles and Assignments
Reevaluating the Project and Approach

A.3 Monitoring the Project and Maintaining Teamwork
Team Meetings: Sharing Information, Making
Decisions, and Tracking Assignments
Group Process Evaluations
Managing Problem Behaviors
Milestone: Midpoint Evaluation

A.4 Performing Team Writing
Overall Strategy
Division of Work

A.5 Wrapping Up and Completing the Project
Milestone: Precompletion Planning
Team Evaluations
Celebrating Success and Learning From the





This edition marks numerous revisions to this text, both
major and minor. While the essence of the book remains the
same, each chapter has been revised, pruned, expanded, or
restructured in some way. New engaging examples illustrate
concepts central to team functioning. These changes are not
merely cosmetic—the number of references in this edition
more than doubled, growing from 528 to 1,113. Of these
references, 280 represent studies and examples published
since 2014. This was done with the dual purpose of supporting
assertions with the latest scientific knowledge and serving
as a reference for students wanting to learn more.

Additionally, several chapters have been completely rewritten
and updated. A summary of major chapter revisions is provided

Chapter 1: New discussion of why understanding groups and
teams is important for students, organizations, and
society. In-depth differentiation between groups and
teams. Expanded summary of contemporary group dynamic
research that includes robotic teammates, artificial
intelligence, and wearable sensors.

Chapter 2: Incorporation of Marks, Mathieu, and
Zaccaro’s (2001) temporal model of teamwork processes.
New discussion of mindsets drawing upon Amy Edmondson’s
work on teaming.

Chapter 3: The negative effects of too many and too
challenging goals are discussed. Wells Fargo’s
unauthorized creation of 2 million bank accounts serves
as a poignant example. Expanded discussion of how norms
form and impact group functioning clarify these concepts.
Illustrations of how norms shape group behaviors,


including the development of gendered communication norms
in oil rig workers and the underhanded free shot
technique shunned by basketball players.

Chapter 4: Expanded and updated discussion of cohesion,
team adaptability, team learning, shared mental models,
transactive memory systems, and reflexivity that
references recent scholarship. A new activity to visually
track and reflect on teamwork behaviors is described.

Chapter 5: Revised and expanded discussion of social-
values orientation, benefits of competition, cooperative
learning experiences, and skills associated with

Chapter 6: New concepts include using boundary objects to
reduce miscommunication in teams, empirically based
guidelines for giving an apology to repair trust, and
updated recommendations for virtual and face-to-face team

Chapter 7: Restructured the chapter to emphasize task,
process, and relational conflict in teams. Additional
content describes how to strategically align conflict
management style with the kind of conflicts that the team
is experiencing. New discussion reveals how to reduce
team conflict through cognitive reappraisals.

Chapter 8: Expanded discussion of responses to social
influence, including defiance, resistance, compliance,
and acceptance. New content describes different social-
influence tactics in virtual contexts. Team empowerment
is discussed in greater detail and is clarified through
the extended example of a captain’s unconventional
command of a nuclear submarine.

Chapter 9: Completely revised and expanded the discussion
of decision making. New topics include the influence of


culture on preference for different techniques, poor
decisions through decision fatigue, and heuristics.
Examples are provided of various decision-making
strategies, such as aggregating individual responses
without interaction to discover the location of a sunken
submarine. Emerging decision-making methods are
introduced, including the wisdom of crowds, prediction
markets, and machine learning. Four methods for
integrating artificial intelligence into decision making
are discussed.

Chapter 10: Completely revised and restructured chapter
to describe trait, behavioral, contingency, relational,
charismatic, functional, and shared leadership.
Followership is also emphasized to illustrate the
mutually reinforcing relationship between leaders and
followers. Expanded discussion distinguishes between
leader emergence and leader effectiveness. Leader–member
exchange (LMX) theory discussed with more depth, with
special attention given to how unequal relationships
between team members can produce inequalities. A table
describing dimensions of high-quality versus low-quality
communication exchanges grounds understanding of this
important theory.

Chapter 11: Completely revised and restructured this
chapter on problem solving. New discussions distinguish
between well-structured and ill-structured problems.
Greatly expanded section on rational problem solving
discusses problem recognition, problem definition,
problem analysis, establishing solution criteria,
generating alternatives, selecting a solution, and
implementing and evaluating the solution. For each step
of this sequence, specific evidence-based guidance is


Chapter 12: Completely revised and restructured this
chapter to focus on creativity, innovation, and design
thinking. New discussion of moving an idea from
generation to implementation emphasizes the changing
skills and mindsets required of team members as they move
through this process in an organizational context.
Introduction to the design thinking process, a popular
approach to collaboration and creativity, is given.
Several illustrative examples, including Embrace’s
development of a low-cost infant incubator, the founding
of Zappos, and GE redesigning the MRI experience for
children, illustrate these mindsets and processes.
Specific creativity techniques, tools, and mindsets are
described, such as mind mapping, validating assumptions,
and building experiential prototypes.

Chapter 13: Revised the discussion of diversity and added
a new focus on difference and inclusion. Situates the
importance of managing diversity and inclusion within
contemporary workplace and societal contexts. New content
focuses on individual traits (authoritarianism and
social-dominance orientation) that contribute to
intergroup dynamics. Features a new discussion of how
different kinds of stereotypes manifest in different
kinds of behaviors and attitudes. The categorization–
elaboration model is introduced to emphasize the
importance of information elaboration in order to
maximize the benefits of diversity. Inclusivity is
highlighted; it’s essential to supporting diversity in
teams. A new survey and the end of the chapter measure
the level of work group inclusion felt by each member.

Chapter 14: A new introduction describes the concept of
culture in greater detail and offers an example to
illustrate how it impacts behavior. The section on team
culture has been expanded to describe how teams can
create and reinforce values, using Amazon’s continued


use of the inexpensive “door desk” as an example. It
also describes when a strong team culture is a
disadvantage using the example of the challenges faced by
an experienced team of engineers mandated with designing
an inexpensive printer. Misalignments between team and
organizational culture are discussed, and this includes
an example showing how a team culture prevented the use
of organizationally sanctioned parental leave. The
section on intercultural dimensions of culture has been
expanded and now recommends care in broadly applying
cultural dimensions to individuals based on work by
Brewer and Venaik (2014). A new section introduces Earley
and Ang’s (2003) concept of cultural intelligence to
explain how metacognition, motivation, and behaviors are
critical for success in multicultural teams.

Chapter 15: This chapter has been restructured around the
two dimensions of virtuality: communication technologies
and geographic dispersion. New research on several kinds
of virtual-teamwork technologies is presented, including
text-based messaging, conferencing, social media, and 3D
virtual environments. Guidance for writing effective e-
mail messages is a new addition, as is an updated table
summarizing various communication technologies. A new
section organized around O’Leary and Cummings’s (2007)
conception of geographic dispersion discusses the
differential impact of spatial, temporal, and
configurational dispersion on team functioning. The end
of the chapter now focuses on techniques for managing
virtual teams, including intercultural communication
competences, trust development techniques, developing
virtual teams, and leadership.

Chapter 16: Revised this chapter to focus on team
performance management systems. Guidance is provided in
developing measurements for individual and team
performance, along with a new discussion of practical


skills for designing, measuring, and implementing team
performance evaluation systems based on Aguinis, Joo, and
Gottfredson (2011). Practical guidance on giving
performance feedback to individuals and teams in a
productive manner is provided.

Chapter 17: Reframed the chapter to situate team building
and team training within the contemporary concept of team
development interventions. New discussion emphasizes the
development of the attitudes, behaviors, and cognitions
(the ABCs) of teamwork. Revised discussion of team
building includes a new activity called “I like, I
wish” to develop interpersonal relationships. Expanded
discussion of team training includes best practices drawn
from recent research: conducting a needs analysis,
fostering a team-training environment, designing an
effective program, evaluating the program, and sustaining
training impact.




Many people helped shape this book. Daniel appreciates the
many opportunities that Andrew Young, Margaret Lawn, and Don
Devito created for him to work with teams in the United
States and abroad. Most of his research and consulting on
work teams was performed with Charles Slem, his partner at
Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. As a teacher of group dynamics, he
learned by coteaching with Fred Stultz and Robert
Christenson. In addition, he had the opportunity to work with
engineering teams at Cal Poly as part of a NASA-supported
program to improve engineering education. Daniel’s wife,
Sara, deserves special credit for her thoughtful reviews and
supportive presence throughout this process of writing this

David thanks Aubrie Adams and Megan Lambertz-Berndt, both
colleagues in the Communication Studies Department at Cal
Poly, for providing thoughtful feedback on chapters related
to virtuality and diversity. He is grateful to Daniel for
providing the opportunity to join him as an author on this
text. David’s wife, Bethany, was unending in her support,
advice, and patience while he revised this edition.

We both appreciate the communication studies, psychology,
business, and engineering students in our group dynamics and
teamwork classes, who have helped teach us what is important
about how teams operate. We thank the many students who also
provided feedback on drafts of this edition. The support of
various editors at SAGE Publications has been invaluable. We
have also benefited from the many anonymous academic reviews
of the book and proposed revisions.

SAGE acknowledges the input of the following reviewers.

John Bennett, Queens University of Charlotte


Lois Bosch, Augsburg University

Quinn W. Cunningham, Rider University

Stephen Linenburger, Bellevue University

Christie Sweeney, EdD, Plymouth State University

Chrysalis Wright, University of Central Florida




Daniel Levi is a professor in the Psychology and Child
Development Department at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo,
California. He holds an MA and a PhD in environmental
psychology from the University of Arizona. He teaches classes
in teamwork and in environmental and organizational
psychology. His teamwork class was designed primarily for
engineering and business students at Cal Poly. He has
conducted research and worked as a consultant with factory
and engineering teams for companies such as Nortel Networks,
TRW, Hewlett-Packard, and Philips Electronics. In addition,
he has worked on international team research projects in
Europe and Asia.

Dr. Levi’s research and consulting with factory teams
primarily focused on the use of teams to support
technological change and the adoption of just-in-time and
quality programs. This work examined a variety of team
issues, including job redesign, training, compensation,
supervision, and change management approaches. His work with
professional teams primarily was accomplished with
engineering design teams. These projects examined the use of
concurrent engineering, self-management, and the
globalization of teams. The topics of this work included the
impact of information technology on teams, facilitation and
training needs for professional teams, and the impacts of
organizational culture and leadership.

Early work on the book was sponsored by an engineering
education grant from NASA. This project focused on the
development of teamwork skills in engineering students
working on multidisciplinary projects. This project led to
the development of cases and activities for learning teamwork
skills and research on teamwork training and evaluating and
rewarding student teams. Recent research on student teams


examines gender and cross-cultural issues, social support
within teams, and bullying and hijacking in student teams.

David A. Askay is an associate professor in the
Communications Studies Department and faculty fellow in the
Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Cal Poly, San
Luis Obispo. He earned an interdisciplinary PhD in
organizational science from the University of North Carolina
at Charlotte (2013) and teaches in the areas of group
communication, organizational communication, and design
thinking. His recent research investigates group decision
making using artificial intelligence, socialization of online
gig workers, and group identity in hidden organizations.




There are two sources of information about teamwork. First,
there is a large body of research in psychology and the
social sciences called group dynamics that examines how
people work in small groups. This research was collected over
the past century and has developed into a broad base of
knowledge about the operation of groups. Second, the use of
teams in the workplace has expanded rapidly during the past
three decades. Management researchers and applied social
scientists have studied this development to provide advice to
organizations about how to make teams operate more
effectively. However, these two areas of research and
knowledge often operate along separate paths.

The purpose of this book is to unite these two important
perspectives on how people work together. It organizes
research and theories of group dynamics in order to apply
this information to the ways in which teams operate in
organizations. The concepts of group dynamics are presented
so they are useful for people who work in teams and also to
enlarge their understandings of how teams operate. It is
hoped that this integration helps readers better understand
the internal dynamics of teams so they can become more
effective team leaders and members.

The larger goal of this book is to make teams more
successful. Teams are important in our society, and learning
teamwork skills is important for individual career success.
This book presents many concepts related to how teams
operate. In addition, the chapters contain application
sections with techniques, advice for leading virtual teams,
case studies (called Team Leadership Challenges), surveys,
and activities designed to develop teamwork skills. The
appendix contains tools and advice to help students in
project teams. Teamwork is not just something one reads about
and then understands; teamwork develops through guided


experience and feedback. This book provides a framework for
teaching about teams and improving how teams function.



The 17 chapters in this book cover a wide range of topics
related to group dynamics and teamwork. These chapters are
organized into four parts: characteristics of teams,
processes of teamwork, issues teams face, and organizational
context of teams. An appendix provides advice and tools to
support student project teams.


Part I: Characteristics of Teams

Chapters 1 and 2 provide an introduction to group dynamics
and teamwork. Chapter 1 explains the differences between
groups and teams. This chapter also examines the purpose of
teams in organizations and why they are increasing in use. It
concludes with a brief history of both the use of teams and
the study of group dynamics.

Chapter 2 explores the characteristics of successful teams.
It explains the basic components necessary to create
effective teams and examines the conditions and
characteristics of successful work teams. It presents both
traditional perspectives toward team success and a positive-
psychology perspective. In many ways, this chapter
establishes a goal for team members, whereas the rest of the
book explains how to reach that goal.


Part II: Processes of Teamwork

Chapters 3 through 6 present the underlying processes of
teamwork. Chapter 3 examines the processes and stages that
relate to forming teams. Team members must be socialized or
incorporated into teams. Teams must establish goals and norms
(operating rules) to begin work. These are the first steps in
team development.

Chapter 4 presents some of the main processes and concepts
from group dynamics that explain how teams operate. Working
together as a team affects the motivation of participants,
both positively and negatively. Team members form social
relationships with one another that help define their
identities as teams. Teams divide tasks into different roles
to coordinate the work. The behaviors and actions of team
members can be viewed as either task oriented or social, both
of which are necessary for teams to function smoothly. Teams
are dynamic entities that adapt to changes and learn how to
work together more effectively.

One of the underlying concepts that defines teamwork is
cooperation. Teams are a collection of people who work
cooperatively together to accomplish goals. However, teams
often are disrupted by competition. Chapter 5 explains how
cooperation and competition affect the dynamics of teams.

Team members interact by communicating with one another.
Chapter 6 examines the communication that occurs within
teams. It describes the communication process, how teams
develop supportive communication climates, and the effects of
emotional intelligence on communication. The chapter also
presents practical advice on how to facilitate team meetings
and develop skills that help improve team communication.


Part III: Issues Teams Face

The third part of the book contains seven chapters that focus
on a variety of issues that teams face in learning to operate
effectively. Chapter 7 examines conflict and conflict
resolution in teams. Although conflict often is viewed as a
negative event, certain types of conflict are both healthy
and necessary for teams to succeed. The chapter explains the
dynamics of conflict within teams and discusses various
approaches to managing conflict in teams.

Chapter 8 describes how power and social influence operate in
teams. Different types of power and influence tactics are
available to teams and their members; the use of power has
wide-ranging applications and effects on teams. In one
important sense, the essence of teams at work is a shift in
power. Teams exist because their organizations are willing to
shift power and control to teams.

The central purpose of many types of teams is to make
decisions. Chapter 9 examines group decision-making
processes. It illustrates operative conditions when teams are
better than individuals at making decisions and the problems
that groups encounter in trying to make effective decisions.

Chapter 10 presents various approaches to understanding
leadership, with an emphasis on leadership models that are
useful for understanding team leadership. The chapter
examines self-managing teams in detail to illustrate this
important alternative to traditional leadership approaches.

The different methods that teams use to solve problems are
examined in Chapter 11. The chapter compares how teams solve
problems with how teams should solve problems. The chapter
presents a variety of problem-solving techniques and
processes to help improve how teams analyze and solve


Creativity, innovation, and design thinking are discussed in
Chapter 12. The chapter examines the evolution in skills and
mindsets required of team members as they move from
creativity to innovation in organizational contexts. Next,
the process of design thinking—a collaborative approach to
creativity and innovation—is thoroughly described with ample
examples and techniques. The conclusion describes different
factors that discourage creativity in teams and presents some
techniques that foster team creativity.

Chapter 13 examines how diversity is a resource that offers
multiple perspectives to teams. However, individual, social,
and cognitive processes can promote stereotypes and in-group
favoritism that interferes with these benefits. Managing
group processes to facilitate information elaboration is
necessary to fully benefit from diversity. Supporting
diversity in teams also requires fostering an inclusive work
group climate.


Part IV: Organizational Context of Teams

The final section of the book presents a set of issues that
relate to the use of teams in organizations. Chapter 14
examines the relationship between teams and culture. Culture
defines the underlying values and practices of a team or
organization. Teams develop cultures that regulate how they
operate. Work teams are more likely to be successful if their
organization’s culture supports them. International culture
has many impacts on teamwork. Transnational teams need to
develop a hybrid culture that mediates the cultural
differences among its members. Cultural intelligence is a set
of characteristics that facilitates cultural adaptation and
team success.

Although teams often are thought of as people interacting
directly with one another, Chapter 15 examines the impacts of
teams that interact through technology. Virtual teams
comprise members who may be dispersed around the world and
use a variety of technologies to communicate and coordinate
their efforts. However, most teams rely on communication
technologies. The selection and use of these technologies
change some of the dynamics of the teams’ operations.

Chapter 16 examines approaches to evaluating and rewarding
teams. One of the keys to developing effective teams is
creating a mechanism to provide quality feedback to teams so
they can improve their own performance. Performance
evaluation systems help provide feedback, while reward
programs motivate team members to act on this information.

Team development interventions, which offer various
approaches for improving how teams operate, are the focus of
Chapter 17, the final chapter. Organizations use team-
building techniques to help teams get started, overcome
obstacles, and improve performance. Teamwork training helps


develop people skills so that everyone can work together more


Appendix: Guide to Student Team Projects

One of the reasons students want to learn about group
dynamics is to improve the effectiveness of their teams at
work and school. As a teacher of group dynamics and teamwork,
I require students to work on a large project throughout the
course. Working on their team project provides the students
with an opportunity to try out the ideas they are learning in
the course.

The Guide to Student Team Projects contains some of the tools
and advice that students need to successfully complete a team
project. The appendix covers topics, such as how to start a
team, plan a team project, monitor the progress of the team
and project, write as a team, and end the team. This is
practical advice on techniques and activities to help improve
the team’s performance.

The student project teams in my classes range from five to
seven members who are randomly appointed to the team. They
are given a large and poorly structured assignment, requiring
them to clarify and negotiate the specifics. The teams must
conduct periodic group process evaluations so that they
regularly discuss and try to improve the teamwork process.
Although I grade the quality of the team’s final product,
the students grade the performance of the individual team
members. (This is a very important step, and we spend class
time discussing how to do this.)

Although this is a guide for student projects, the tools in
the appendix are useful for many types of project teams.



Learning how to work in teams is not a matter of simply
reading about group dynamics. Fundamentally, teamwork is a
set of skills that must be developed through practice and
feedback. In addition to presenting information about how
teams operate, this book contains four other types of
material that are helpful for developing teamwork skills:
application sections, case studies, surveys, and activities.

Many chapters in the book incorporate application sections.
The purpose of these sections is to provide practical advice
on applying the concepts in the chapters. These sections
focus on presenting techniques rather than theories and
concepts. These techniques can be applied to the existing
teams or can be used with a team in a class to practice the
skills. Virtuality is now in the fabric of many teams. Most
chapters contain a discussion of virtuality and provide
practical advice for dealing with the group dynamics problems
created by working in a virtual team setting.

All chapters end with case studies and teamwork activities.
The case studies, called Team Leadership Challenges, present
a difficult team problem and contain discussion questions for
providing advice to the team’s leader. The cases use a
variety of student and work teams. By using the concepts in
the chapter, the cases can be analyzed and options for the
team leaders developed.

Eight of the chapters contain brief psychological surveys
that examine a personal orientation toward a teamwork issue
presented in the chapter. Survey topics range from attitudes
toward teamwork, to cooperativeness, to preferred conflict
styles, to opinions about team rewards. Discussion questions
after the surveys help students and other team members
understand the impact of individual differences on teamwork.


The teamwork activities examine a topic in the chapter and
then include a set of discussion questions designed to apply
what has been learned to actual teams. Some of the activities
are structured discussions or small-group exercises. However,
most of the activities are structured observations of how
teams operate. One of the most important ways to improve both
one’s teamwork skills and the operation of teams is to learn
how to be a good observer of group processes. These
observation activities are constructed to develop these

There are several options that can be used for the
observation activities. If the observers belong to
functioning teams, then they can observe their own teams. For
example, a teamwork class might have students working on
project teams. Use the observation activities to study and
provide feedback to the project teams, or create groups in
class settings and give group assignments. There are many
books on small-group activities to use to create assignments
for the groups. Small-group discussions of the Team
Leadership Challenges provide an alternative activity to
observe how groups interact. A class can use several groups
with an observer assigned to each group or a single group
that performs while being surrounded by many group process
observers. Finally, ask students to find a team that they can
observe as part of an ongoing class project.

Each of the activities includes an objective, an activity,
analysis, and discussion sections. The structure of the
activities makes them suitable for homework assignments or
for entries in group dynamics journals. The basic structure
of the written assignments includes answering the following
questions: What did you observe? How did you analyze this
information? How would you apply this knowledge?

By working through the applications, cases, surveys, and
activities presented here, team members gain practical skills


and knowledge that can be directly applied to improve the
operations of their teams and the ultimate success of




Shutterstock/Oshchepkov Dmitry




A team is a special type of group in which people work
interdependently to accomplish a goal. Organizations use many
different types of teams to serve a variety of purposes. The
use of teams to perform work has a long history, but during
the past few decades, organizational teamwork has changed: It
has expanded rapidly because of changes in the nature of work
and the structure of organizations. The scientific study of
group dynamics provides useful insights into how teams
operate and how they can be improved.


Learning Objectives

1. Understand the importance of groups and teams.
2. Distinguish between groups and teams.
3. Describe how teams are used in organizations.
4. Explain the differences between work groups,

teams, and self-managing teams.
5. Understand why the use of teams by organizations

is increasing.
6. Understand how the study of group dynamics has

changed over time.



Groups are central to our lives, our work, and our society.
Interaction with groups—familial, social, educational,
occupational, and political—profoundly shapes our sense of
who we are, what we do, and what we believe. The achievements
of groups can be inspiring, such as firefighter crews
battling wildfires to engineers developing the next
technological breakthrough. Indeed, most great
accomplishments of human progress resulted from groups of
humans working together. Our participation in groups can be a
powerful source of identity, belonging, meaning, and

Teamwork can represent the best of us, but it can also embody
the worst. As inspiring as displays of effective teamwork may
be, we often struggle to replicate similar success in our own
experiences. Unfulfilling prior group interactions and
projects lead people to approach group work with
apprehension, frustration, and even hate (Sorensen, 1981).
People also understand teamwork very differently (Rentsch,
Heffner, & Duffy, 1994). This makes it ineffective to bring
people together, call them a team, and hope that it all works
out. Yet, despite all the group projects that educators,
managers, and organizations assign, relatively little time is
spent on learning about the group dynamics that effectively
create and sustain teams.

Reliance on teamwork is only increasing in the workplace.
Responding to society’s increasingly complex challenges
requires integrating disparate skills and knowledge. Teamwork
is among the most heavily valued skills by employers across
industries (NACE, 2019). However, the importance of
understanding group dynamics extends well beyond this. It
provides insights into navigating the social structures and


organizations present in our everyday lives (Fine, 2012). It
makes us more aware of the invisible forces that influence
our behaviors and the behaviors of those around us. It also
empowers us to play a more active role in shaping these
forces. Through understanding group dynamics, we learn more
about ourselves, our workplaces, and our interactions with



A group is more than just a collection of people. There is a
difference between the people who are in a park, the work
group that is assembling a product, and the team playing
football. The definition of a group can be just as varied,
with scholars categorizing groups based on their size, their
features, and the contexts in which they operate. A group is
defined as two or more individuals who mutually influence
each other while interacting to achieve a common goal. When
broken down into its parts, this definition helps us to
understand some essential characteristics of groups.

A group consists of two or more individuals. The minimum
number of members to be considered a group is surprisingly
unresolved. Some argue that dyads (two people) are more
ephemeral, evoke different and stronger emotions, and are
simpler than groups (Moreland, 2010). Others assert that
group processes, like ostracism and social loafing, still
emerge in dyads (Williams, 2010). While the minimum number of
members is debated, groups do not have an upper limit. Groups
include people in a stadium doing “the wave,” a flash mob
performing a dance, or thousands of people collaborating on a
Wikipedia page.

Group members mutually influence each other. As individuals
interact, they shape the feelings, attitudes, behaviors, and
cognitions of each other (Bell, Brown, Colaneri, & Outland,
2018). It is through their actions (and inactions) that group
members can foster (or hinder) social relationships, rally
(or demoralize) the group, share (or withhold) their
perspectives, and reinforce (or change) the norms that govern
group behaviors. Group interactions are always happening, and
they are continually producing some influence on the
operation of the group. Some interactions may help the group


adapt to changing circumstances, make better decisions, and
manage conflict. Others can constrain action, produce poor
decisions, and fan strife among members. Often, both happen
in groups at the same time.

Finally, group members are interacting to achieve a common
goal. Groups need to have a reason to exist. Groups like
families, friends, and social organizations generally have a
goal of enabling interpersonal relationships or providing
affection and belonging. Work groups operating in the context
of organizations are directed to achieve organizational
goals, such as assembling a product or making strategic
decisions. As group members interact, two psychological
processes tend to occur: social identification and social
representation (Hayes, 1997). Social identification refers to
the recognition that a group exists separately from others.
It is the creation of a belief in “us versus them.”
Identification is both a cognitive process (classifying the
world into categories) and an emotional process (viewing
one’s group as better than other groups). Social
representation is the shared values, ideas, and beliefs that
people have about the world. Over time, belonging to a group
changes the ways its members view the world. The group
develops a shared worldview through member interactions.

While this definition may conjure a straightforward and
static view of groups, the reality is more nuanced. In fact,
groups are always changing. They evolve in response to
earlier successes and failures. Social relationships develop
as members express differing options and preferences.
Individual motivation and commitment waxes and wanes as
outside pressures interfere with group goals. Groups emerge
from the ongoing interpersonal interactions that occur
between members—their group dynamics (Donnellon, 1996). At
each step of the way, group dynamics continually create,
shape, and redefine how members interact and relate to each
other. The steps taken determine the group’s success.



Despite the prevalence of teams in organizations, the
scholarly distinction between groups and teams can be fuzzy
and inconsistent. Some simply consider teams to be groups
that work in organizations (Parks & Sanna, 1999). However,
scholars often classify a team as a particular type of group
that requires higher levels of coordination and
collaboration. Teams are structured groups of people working
on defined common goals that require coordinated interactions
to accomplish their tasks (Forsyth, 2018). By integrating
complementary skills and knowledge, teams can tackle more
complex problems, tasks, or goals. This definition emphasizes
a key feature of a team: that members work interdependently
on a common project for which they all are accountable.
However, other qualifiers can distinguish groups from teams.

Katzenbach and Smith (2001, 2015) distinguish between groups
and teams based on their performance results. They assert
that the performance of work groups is based on individual
contributions. Imagine a group report in which each member
writes a different section, and someone simply combines them.
Here, members are not actively collaborating with each other.
By contrast, team performance is based on both individual
contributions and collective work products that manifest from
joint contributions. Teamwork is seen in a group report
written collaboratively, whereby members build upon the ideas
of others. Effective teams have members who are committed to
their common purpose, have specific performance goals
connected to this purpose, have the right mix of
complementary skills, have agreement on how the work will get
done, and hold each other accountable for performance.

Another approach to understanding teams focuses on their
teamwork behaviors: how teams go about doing their tasks


(Fisher, 2014; Marks, Mathieu, & Zaccaro, 2001). Teamwork
consists of the interactions that occur between individuals.
Several behaviors are associated with teamwork, such as
decision making, situational analysis, information sharing,
and self-evaluation. However, decades of research have
identified only a handful of teamwork behaviors that appear
to be universally relevant across teams or tasks. Of these,
the most prevalent are coordination, communication, and
adaptability (Salas, Reyes, & McDaniel, 2018).

Teams can be defined in terms of their interdependence,
shared accountability, performance results, and behaviors.
Additionally, we can see that group is a more inclusive term
than team. Groups range in size from two to thousands,
whereas teams have a narrower range of sizes. A dating couple
may be considered a group but not a team. Political parties
and social organizations are groups but not teams. Members of
an organizational work group might share information and have
overlapping goals, but they are not significantly
interdependent in achieving them. A team is not simply people
who belong to the same group or who are jointly functioning
in the same place, such as students listening to a lecture. A
team typically operates within an organizational context and
is composed of 3 to 12 people with interdependent goals,
complementary skill sets, and differentiated roles. Research
on groups typically is conducted in laboratory settings,
whereas research on teams typically is done in field studies
that focus on the use of teams in the workplace (Kerr &
Tindale, 2004).

Because there is no firm dividing line between a group and a
team, the use of these terms in this book is somewhat
arbitrary. When referring to research on group dynamics,
especially laboratory research, the term group is used. When
talking about applications in work environments where people
are interdependent, the term team is used. For the in-between
cases, group and team are used interchangeably.



As ubiquitous as teamwork appears in contemporary
organizational life, this is a relatively recent development.
Since the 1900s, scientific management has been the dominant
approach to organizing people to perform tasks, which uses
managerial control to produce certainty and predictability
(Taylor, 1923). It remains in use today across many
industries to efficiently make standardized products and
services in large quantities.

In scientific management, managers or technical experts
analyze a task and divide it into interconnected small
activity units that are then performed by individuals. The
system is designed such that each activity is linked to
another activity, and individuals work separately to complete
the entire task. Imagine workers on an assembly line. The
role of the manager is to conform worker behaviors to the
needs of the system, as deviation produces quality defects
and inefficiencies. This requires that managers monitor,
control, and reward or punish each worker’s individual
performance. In other words, managers think and control while
workers execute.

This traditional approach works very well under certain
conditions, such as call centers, assembly plants, and fast-
food restaurants. It requires that the task remains
consistent for some time because it is difficult and costly
to change the system. It requires that the process not be too
complex or easily disrupted because the workers doing routine
activities are unaware of what happens in other parts of the
system. It focuses on productivity and often ignores concerns
about quality and customer service because these factors
require a greater commitment to the job. It assumes that
there are workers who are willing to perform routine


activities under controlled situations. Under these
conditions, scientific management is often the best approach,
and the time and expense of developing teams are not needed.

The world, however, has changed since Taylor outlined the
principles of scientific management, bringing with it new
challenges for organizations. Modern organizations are
shifting to teamwork because of changes in the
characteristics of organizations and work.


Organizational Characteristics

New technologies are disrupting industries, connecting people
in new ways, and transforming production, management, and
governance (Schwab, 2016). Expanding markets and global
competition demand that businesses rapidly innovate to meet
shifting consumer needs. Addressing complex challenges like
space exploration, cybersecurity, and climate change requires
integrating knowledge that is spread across many diverse
specialists. Organizations that survive are those that learn
and adapt. Take, for example, the now-bankrupt video rental
company Blockbuster. Once the market leader, they once
laughed off a proposed partnership with Netflix in 2000
(Sandoval, 2010). Less than 10 years later, Blockbuster’s
relevance evaporated during the rise of streaming video
rentals. While Blockbuster was highly efficient in
distributing rentals of physical media, this became an
obsolete need in the marketplace. Traditional management
approaches and mindsets excel at creating a product
efficiently—but not necessarily the right product. As
organizations adapt to changing and uncertain environments,
managers no longer hold all the answers for directing what
workers should be doing; they may not even know what tasks
need to get done or how to do them.

Faced with increasing complexity, uncertainty, and ambiguity,
organizations embrace teamwork as a structure that
facilitates learning, adaptation, and creativity. Teams are
essential when the goal is to innovate or improve the way a
product is made or a service is provided; when the job is
complex; when customer service and quality are important; or
when rapid change is necessary. These are the conditions that
create the need for teams (Helper, Kleiner, & Wang, 2010).
These conditions also encourage organizations to shift to
simpler organizational hierarchies, a transition driven by
the desire to save costs and increase flexibility by reducing


layers of management. To a certain extent, teams have
replaced managers, and teams now often carry out many
traditional management functions. After all, if team members
are the knowledge specialists and there are limited routine
tasks to oversee, then what is the purpose of a manager?
Emerging from this perspective is a shift from managing
people to follow the status quo to leading people through

Finally, teams provide other benefits to organizations
(Delarue, Van Hootegem, Procter, & Burridge, 2008).
Organizations using a teamwork approach are associated with
greater operational outcomes (e.g., productivity, innovation,
quality, and flexibility) and financial outcomes (e.g.,
profitability and reducing costs). Additionally, employees on
teams can experience greater job satisfaction, commitment,
trust, and reduced turnover and absenteeism. Teams provide a
way to integrate and coordinate the various parts of an
organization and do this in a more timely and cost-effective
manner than traditional organizational hierarchies. Teams
execute tasks better, learn faster, and change more easily
than traditional work structures, which are all
characteristics required by contemporary organizations.


Job Characteristics

Technological change, offshoring, and automation have been
replacing routine work for decades, particularly in developed
countries (Reijnders & de Vries, 2018). Nonroutine jobs
involve more complexity, interdependence, uncertainty,
variety, and change than routine jobs. Jobs of this type are
difficult to manage in traditional work systems but are well
suited for teamwork (Mohrman, Cohen, & Morhman, 1995).

Nonroutine jobs requiring teamwork are growing in many
contemporary work settings like health care, marketing,
sales, research, engineering, and design. Imagine designing a
new product for the marketplace. Design, manufacturing,
marketing, and sales of the product require expertise from a
variety of disciplines and support from many parts of an
organization. For example, few individuals possess all the
necessary knowledge and expertise to bring a product to
completion, but a team approach can integrate diverse
knowledge. In addition, using team members from several
departments enhances support within the organization for the
new product. The team members help coordinate the project
throughout the organization.

The complexity of a problem or task often requires multiple
forms of expertise. No one person may have all the skills or
knowledge to complete a task or solve a problem, but a team
may have sufficient expertise to deal with the task or
problem. Complexity also implies that problems may be
confusing or difficult to understand and solve. Here, the
value of teamwork lies not only with multiple forms of
expertise but also with multiple perspectives. People learn
from each other during group interactions, which helps them
to gain new perspectives in analyzing problems and developing
solutions. Diversity is a resource that benefits teams.



Organizations use teams in a variety of ways. Because of this
variety, there are many ways to classify teams, and these
classifications help explain the psychological and
organizational differences among different types of teams.
One important distinction is the relationship of the team to
the organization. Teams vary depending on how much power and
authority they are given by their umbrella organizations.


How Organizations Use Teams

Teams serve a variety of functions for organizations. The
day-to-day operations of organizations can be shifted to work
teams that build products or provide services (e.g., factory
production teams or airline crews). Design teams investigate
ill-structured problems to innovate new solutions. Advisory
teams gather information, provide recommendations, and deal
with special problems. For instance, a team might be created
to suggest improvements in work processes. Teams can help
manage coordination problems by linking disparate parts of
organizations. Budget or planning committees might be
composed of members from several departments, for example.
Finally, teams can help organizations adapt by planning for
the future or managing transitions.

Sundstrom, McIntyre, Halfhill, and Richards (2000) identify
six types of work teams based on the functions they perform:

1. Production teams, such as factory teams, manufacture or
assemble products on a repetitive basis.

2. Service teams, such as maintenance crews and food
services, conduct repeated transactions with customers.

3. Management teams, composed of managers, work together,
plan, develop policy, or coordinate the activities of an

4. Project teams, such as research and engineering teams,
bring experts together to perform a specific task and
then disband.

5. Action or performing teams, such as sports teams,
musicians, military units, and surgical teams, engage in
brief performances that are repeated under new conditions
and that require specialized skills and extensive
training or preparation.

6. Parallel teams are temporary ones that operate outside
normal work, such as employee involvement groups and



advisory committees that provide suggestions or
recommendations for changing an organization.


Classifying Teams

Teams are classified by ways other than the types of
activities they perform (Devine, Clayton, Philips, Dunford, &
Melner, 1999). They can be classified by their degree of
virtuality—the extent to which the team is geographically
dispersed and uses technology (Gilson, Maynard, Jones Young,
Vartiainen, & Hakonen, 2015). Ad hoc or temporary teams are
studied in such contexts as software development
(Prikladnicki, Perin, Marczak, & Dutra, 2017), health care
(Kim, Song, & Valentine, 2018), and online multiplayer games
(Kou & Gui, 2014). Swift-starting action teams (Wildman,
Fiore, & Burke, 2011; Wildman et al., 2012) have highly
trained members who have no prior work experience with one
another yet must perform demanding, complex, time-pressured
projects from the moment they start working together (e.g.,
cybersecurity response, military combat units, disaster
response teams).

One of the most important distinctions among types of teams
is empowerment, or how much power and authority is allocated
to the team by the organization (Spreitzer, 1995). This
shifting of power affects leadership, decision making, and
how the work activities of team members are linked. Moreover,
team members that perceive a high sense of control over their
work experience greater job satisfaction and organizational
commitment (Seibert, Wang, & Courtright, 2011).

There are three options for organizing people in the
workplace: a work group, a team, or a self-managing team
(McGrath, 1984). The differences among these options are
presented in Table 1.1. Work groups are part of the
organization’s hierarchical system. Supervisors or managers
who control the decision-making process lead these work
groups. Group members typically work on independent tasks


that are linked by the supervisor’s direction or by the work

Teams have some limited power and authority so they can
operate somewhat independent of the organization’s
hierarchy. Their leaders are selected by management and given
some managerial power. Team leaders can use a variety of
techniques for making decisions, such as using the team to
provide advice about decisions, having the team vote, or
using consensus to make decisions. Team members’ work
activities are interdependent and coordinated by the leaders.

Self-managing teams are given significantly more power and
authority than traditional work groups and are more
independent of an organization’s hierarchy. Team members
typically select their leaders; as a result, the leaders have
limited power and must facilitate—rather than control—their
teams’ operations. The leaders must rely on democratic or
consensus decision making because they have no authority to
make teams accept decisions. The work of team members is
highly interdependent, and all team members work together to
coordinate activities.

Table 1.1 Organization of People Into Work Groups

  Work Group Team


Power Part of

Linked to
hierarchy, some
shift of power
to team

Linked to
increased power


  Work Group Team


Leadership Manager or

Leader, with
power, selected
by organization

Leader, the
selected by the


or consultative

democratic, or

Democratic or

or tasks

Independent Interdependent,
coordinated by

coordinated by
team members

Source: Adapted from McGrath, J. (1984). Groups: Interaction and
performance. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.



The use of teams in organizations has changed significantly
over the past century. During that period, the scientific
study of group dynamics has evolved into an interdisciplinary
research field.


Foundations of Teamwork

The industrial revolution shifted most work organizations to
a hierarchical approach that used scientific management to
design jobs (Taylor, 1923). Manufacturing jobs were
simplified, and professionals and managers were brought in to
ensure that the production system operated efficiently.
Scientific management was a system that worked well but one
that also created problems: It alienated workers, who then
became increasingly difficult to motivate. It became more
difficult to set up as technical systems increased in
complexity. It was inflexible and difficult to change.
Finally, it was difficult to successfully incorporate new
goals aside from efficiency (such as quality).

The scientific management model of organizations began to be
questioned during the 1920s and 1930s because of social
problems in the workplace. The Hawthorne studies—research
projects designed to examine how environmental factors, such
as lighting and work breaks, affected work performance—
inadvertently revealed that social factors had a meaningful
impact on performance (Mayo, 1933). In some cases, because
people were being studied, they tried to perform better (what
social scientists now call the Hawthorne effect). In other
cases, group norms limited or controlled performance. For
example, studies of the “bank wiring room” showed that
informal group norms had a major impact on the performance of
work groups (Sundstrom et al., 2000). The “group in front”
frequently engaged in conversation and play but had high
levels of performance, while the “group in back” engaged in
play but had low levels of performance. The work groups
enforced group production norms: Members who worked too fast
were hit on the arm by coworkers, a practice known as
binging. In addition to the substantial impact on
productivity of these informal work group norms, work groups


were able to effectively enforce norms, resulting in positive
or negative benefits to the organization.

During the 1960s and 1970s, organizational psychologists and
industrial engineers refined the use of teams at work.
Sociotechnical systems (STS) theory provided a way to analyze
what people do at work and to determine the best way of
organizing them (Appelbaum & Batt, 1994). According to STS,
teams should be used when jobs are technically uncertain
rather than routine, when jobs are interdependent and require
coordination to perform, and when the environment is
turbulent and requires flexibility. Many jobs today meet
these criteria. The most famous applied example of STS was at
the Volvo car facilities in Sweden. The assembly line
approach to work was redesigned to be performed by
semiautonomous groups. Although there were several successful
demonstrations of the value of using teams at work, this
teamwork approach did not become popular.

The contemporary emphasis on teamwork has its origins in
another change that occurred during the 1970s. The rise of
Japan as a manufacturing power resulted in the distribution
of high-quality, inexpensive products into the global
marketplace. When business experts visited Japan to see how
Japanese goals had been achieved, they found that teamwork in
the form of quality circles seemed to be the answer. Quality
circles are voluntary teams of production workers and
supervisors who meet to analyze problems and develop
solutions to quality problems in the manufacturing process.
Throughout the 1980s, companies in the United States and
Europe experimented with quality circle teams (and later
total quality management teams). The jobs performed by
workers were still primarily individual, but workers were
organized in teams as a way to improve quality and other
aspects of production.


The focus on quality in manufacturing launched the teamwork
movement, but other factors have sustained it. The increased
use of information technology, the downsizing of layers of
management, business process reengineering, and globalization
have all contributed to the use of teams. Teamwork in U.S.
companies expanded rapidly during the 1990s and included more
professional and managerial teams. Research shows that 85% of
companies with 100 or more employees use some type of work
teams (Cohen & Bailey, 1997). In addition, some businesses
are restructuring and using teams as a central element in the
integration of various parts of their organizations (Mohrman
et al., 1995).

Because of the changing nature of teams, three issues are
increasingly important: dynamic composition, technology and
distance, and empowerment and delayering (Tannenbaum,
Mathieu, Salas, & Cohen, 2012). Teams now operate in a more
dynamic and complex environment. Rather than stable teams
that work together for long periods of time, contemporary
teams are often more transitory with changing membership.
Teamwork can be done by people working together in one place
or distributed around the globe. In either case, teams are
relying on technology to support their communications and
work. As organizations rely more on the use of teams, power
is shifting from traditional organizational hierarchies to
teams. Teams are replacing many traditional management

Contemporary technological, societal, and economic changes
are creating monumental shifts in our work practices,
organizational structures, and teams. It is an exciting time
to study teamwork and group dynamics. First, globalization
has profoundly impacted work environments (Earley & Gibson,
2002). Research investigating the impact of different types
of cultures and diversity on teamwork is essential as the
global workforce becomes more multinational (Kirkman,
Shapiro, Lu, & McGurrin, 2016). This also underscores a


critical limitation of our scientific knowledge of teams:
most psychological research has been generated from people in
western industrialized societies. This means that many
“universal” assumptions and models about teams are based on
studies of just 12% of the global population (Arnett, 2008).
Many well-established conclusions about team effectiveness do
not hold true when studied in different cultures (Feitosa,
Grossman, & Salazar, 2018).

Second, technology offers new ways of studying team
interactions, providing feedback to members, and augmenting
teamwork. Humans are now collaborating alongside machine
teammates—robots, artificial intelligence, and augmented
reality. This spurs a need to better understand the
implications of emerging technologies on group dynamics
(Seeber et al., 2018). Crowd-based labor platforms enable
larger, more diverse, more distributed, and more ephemeral
groups to work together (Retelny et al., 2014). Wearable
sensors are capable of tracking and measuring team members’
interactions, including movements, proximity, posture, body
movements, speaking time, and verbal activity (Chaffin et
al., 2017). These sensors offer a promising way to
investigate group interactions and to act as a real-time
behavioral feedback tool. Finally, algorithms can monitor,
evaluate, and fit team members to their most effective team
structures (Zhou, Valentine, & Bernstein, 2018).


Foundations of Group Dynamics

An unfortunate gap exists between our understanding of work
teams and the study of group dynamics. The scientific study
of groups began at the turn of the 20th century with the work
of Norman Triplett (1898). Triplett’s research showed the
effects of working alone versus working in a group. For
example, he observed that bicycle racers who pedaled around a
racetrack in groups were faster than those who pedaled around
alone. This effect is called social facilitation because the
presence of other people facilitates (or increases)

Early studies in psychology had a similar perspective in that
they were designed to show how groups affected individual
performance or attitudes. Although this was group research,
the focus was on individuals. Psychologists did not treat
groups as an entity appropriate for scientific study. This
perspective changed during the 1940s, however, because of the
work of Kurt Lewin and his followers (Lewin, 1951). Lewin
created the term group dynamics to show his interest in the
group as a unit of study. For the first time, psychologists
took the study of groups seriously rather than simply looking
at the effects of groups on individuals. Lewin’s innovations
in research methods, applications, and focus still define
much of the study of group dynamics today.

Lewin developed a new approach to research in psychology. He
began with the belief that “there is nothing so practical as
a good theory” (Lewin, 1951, p. 169). His innovation was in
refining how theories in psychology should be used. He
developed an approach called action research, where
scientists develop theories about how groups operate and then
use their theories in practical applications to improve the
operations of groups. The process of applying a theory and



evaluating its effects is then used to refine the theory and
improve the operations of groups.

One of Lewin’s primary concerns was social change. He
believed it is easier to change a group than it is to change
an individual. If the behavior of individuals is changed and
the individuals return to their everyday life, the influence
of the people around them tends to reverse the behavior
change. If the behavior of a group of people is changed, the
group continues to reinforce or stabilize the behavioral
change in its members. Lewin developed models of
organizational change and group dynamics techniques that are
still used today.

Mainstream social psychologists returned to their focus on
theory-oriented laboratory studies during the 1950s and
1960s. Their research primarily examined topics such as
conformity and helping behavior, which focused on the effects
that groups have on individuals rather than on group
dynamics. Research on group dynamics shifted to sociologists
like Robert Bales, who used the study of small groups to
understand social systems. Their research used laboratory
groups and led to the development of various systems for
categorizing the group process, such as interaction process
analysis (Bales, 1950).

During this period, organizational and humanistic
psychologists studied a special type of laboratory group
called t-groups (also called encounter groups). These small,
unstructured groups were encouraged to engage in open and
personal discussions, often over a series of days.
Participation in these groups was supposed to increase self-
awareness, interpersonal communication skills, and group
process skills. Their popularity decreased as concerns with
ethics and transfer of training issues raised questions about
their value. (See Chapter 17 for a further discussion of
these issues.)


By the 1990s, research on teamwork moved from social-
psychology studies of small groups in laboratories to other
disciplines (Stewart, 2010). Researchers from sociology,
anthropology, political science, communication, business, and
education now study aspects of group dynamics. Although
psychological research remains dominated by laboratory
studies on how groups operate, many other disciplines
emphasize applied research and study teams in real-world
settings. Theory on group dynamics is changing and becoming
more sophisticated (Hackman, 2012). Rather than simple models
that look at cause–effect relationships, new models focus on
the dynamic conditions that help teams manage their processes
(Barley & Weickum, 2017; Driskell, Salas, & Driskell, 2018).
Instead of looking at group behavior as the sum of individual
variables, there is a focus on the emergent properties of

The search to find the best approach to manage teams has been
replaced by the recognition of what is termed equifinality—
that there are many ways for a team to operate successfully.
Even teams with similar resources, structure, leadership, and
goals can vary on their performance (Barley & Weickum, 2017).
With no singular way forward, teams need to discover and
forge their own path to success. Teamwork training and group
interventions from third parties are effective ways this can
be achieved (Lacerenza, Marlow, Tannenbaum, & Salas, 2018).
Additionally, fostering team reflexivity—when members
collectively reflect upon and modify the group goals,
approaches, interactions, and processes—can likewise
increase team performance, satisfaction, commitment, and
innovation (Chen, Bamberger, Song, & Vashdi, 2018; Konradt,
Otte, Schippers, & Steenfatt, 2016; Schippers, Den Hartog, &
Koopman, 2007; West, 2000). In learning about theories of
group dynamics, you can gain a conceptual framework and
vocabulary to aid in this process of reflexivity.



Groups are more than just collections of people. Groups have
goals, interdependent relationships, interactions, structured
relations, and mutual influence. Individuals are aware of
their membership in groups and participate in order to
satisfy personal needs. Although the distinction between
groups and teams is not completely clear, the term teamwork
typically is used to describe groups that are a part of
sports or work organizations. Team members work
interdependently to accomplish goals and have the power to
control at least part of their operations.

Organizations are shifting away from individual work
performed in hierarchical work structures and toward team-
based operations. The changing goals in organizations that
must deal with the evolving work environment are driving this
shift. Jobs are becoming increasingly complex and
interdependent, and organizations are finding that they must
be more flexible. All these changes encourage the use of

Organizations use teams in several ways. Teams provide
advice, make things or provide services, create projects, and
perform specialized activities. Teams also vary according to
the power they have, their types of leadership and decision-
making processes, and the tasks they perform. These factors
define the differences among traditional work groups,
traditional teams, and self-managing teams.

Working in small groups was common before the industrial
revolution, but scientific management simplified jobs and
created hierarchical work systems. The Hawthorne studies of
the 1930s demonstrated the importance of understanding the
aspects of work related to social relations. Following World
War II, researchers began to experiment with work teams.



During the 1960s, STS presented a way to analyze work and
identify the need for teams. However, it was the rise of
Japanese manufacturing teams during the 1980s that led to the
increased use of teamwork in the United States. Paralleling
this growth in the use of teams, the social sciences
developed the field of group dynamics, which focuses on
understanding how groups operate. Today, group dynamics is a
scientific field that provides information useful in
improving the operations of teams.


Team Leadership Challenge 1

You are the manager of hundreds of workers in a car
assembly plant. The plant has been traditionally
organized, with the manager running the assembling
line and supervising each employee individually. Each
worker is proficient in carrying out a single task on
the assembly line. Recently, however, workers began to
be absent, gamble, and purposefully make mistakes—
leaving necessary bolts loosened or placing broken
glass to rattle around in doors—due to
dissatisfaction with their working conditions.

You have heard a lot about the advantages of shifting
to teamwork, which is supposed to improve worker
morale and the quality of products. However, you have
also heard that it can be challenging to create and
manage teams. You are comfortable and capable as a
traditional manager but think maybe you should try
something new, such as teamwork.

What are the pros and cons of reorganizing the
assembly line into a team? What would this look like?
How much authority or control should you maintain over
the team?

This was a similar circumstance facing General Motors
(GM) at their Fremont factory in the 1980s. GM
eventually formed a joint venture with Toyota, called
NUMMI, intending to learn about their lean and team-
based approach to manufacturing. Morale and quality
improved, shifting the Fremont plant from among the
worst-performing car factories in the United States to
one of the best-performing factories. However, the
success of this approach failed to spread to other


factories at GM. The plant closed in 2010 and reopened
as the Tesla Factory. This American Life offers an
engaging podcast detailing this story called NUMMI
2015 (


Survey: Attitudes Toward Teamwork

Purpose: Understand your attitudes about the use of
teams at work. Do you believe that teams are an
effective way to work? Do you enjoy the social aspects
of teamwork? The answers to these questions may help
you decide how you want to participate in teams.

Directions: Think about the last time you worked on a
team project. Use the following scale to show how much
you agree with the list of statements about teamwork:

Disagree   Disagree   Neutral   Agree   St
rongly Agree

1   2   3   4   5

_____1. Using a team was an effective way to do
the project.

_____2. My team was good at resolving internal
conflicts and disagreements.

_____3. The project the team performed was
challenging and important.

_____4. I made new friends while working on the

_____5. My team developed innovative ways of
solving team problems.

_____6. I really liked getting to know the other
members of the team.


_____7. Management provided adequate feedback to
the team about its performance.

_____8. Personal conflicts rarely disrupted the
team’s functioning.

_____9. My team had clear direction and goals.

_____10. Team members treated each other with

_____11. My team was good at implementing the
plans it developed.

_____12. The members of my team worked well

_____13. The assignment my team worked on was well
suited for teamwork.

_____14. There was rarely unpleasantness among
members of the team.

_____15. I learned a lot from working on this

_____16. Participating in the team helped develop
my social skills.

_____17. My team was good at regulating its own

_____18. I felt supported by my teammates.

_____19. My team had good leadership.

_____20. The longer we worked together, the better
we got along with each other.


Scoring: Add the scores for the odd-numbered questions
to obtain the score for how you view the task aspects
of teamwork. Add the scores for the even-numbered
questions to obtain the score for how you view the
social aspects of teamwork.

Discussion: What does this survey tell you about your
attitudes toward the task and social aspects of
teamwork? How should you deal with team members who
have a negative attitude toward teamwork? What is the
relationship between social and task aspects of

Source: Adapted from Levi, D., & Slem, C. (1995). Team
work in research and development organizations: The
characteristics of successful teams. International Journal
of Industrial Ergonomics, 16, 29–42.


Activity: Working in Teams

Objective: Reflect upon your previous team experiences
to identify the characteristics of effective and
ineffective teamwork.

Activity: Think about your most recent positive team
experience, where work was completed and members
finished feeling closer to each other. Note the
specific behaviors, interactions, and planning that
produced this outcome. Next, repeat this exercise for
your most recent negative team experience. Note the
specific behaviors, interactions, and planning that
produced this outcome. Meet with other class members,
and create a list of the things that produce positive
and negative team experiences.

Analysis: Once your group creates lists of the
positive and negative things about team experiences,
review the items and classify them as task or social
aspects of teamwork. Task issues concern the team’s
competition of tasks, while social issues are the
social and emotional aspects of working in teams. How
does this task or social analysis relate to what you
like and dislike about teams? You may also want to
compare this analysis with the results of the
Attitudes Toward Teamwork survey.

Discussion: There are benefits and problems with
working in teams. What can be done to make teams more
effective and more enjoyable? What team
characteristics are important for you to have a
positive experience?




A successful team completes its task, maintains good social relations, and promotes its
members’ personal and professional development. All three of these factors are important
for defining team success. To perform effectively, a team requires the right types of
people, a task that is suitable for teamwork, good internal group processes, and a
supportive organizational context. Team members need both an appropriate set of task skills
and the interpersonal skills to work as a team. Although teams can perform a wide variety of
tasks, appropriate team tasks require that the work of all members is integrated into the
final products. The group process should maintain good social relations while, at the same
time, organizing members to perform the task. Finally, the organizational context needs to
support the team by promoting cooperation, providing resources, and rewarding success.

Successful teams have clear goals, good leadership, organizational support, appropriate task
characteristics, and mutual accountability with rewards. However, the characteristics that
predict team success vary depending on the type of team studied. Teams are increasingly used
in the workplace. Teamwork provides many benefits to organizations and their employees, but
it is a challenge for organizations to use teams successfully.


Learning Objectives

1. Understand three criteria for defining team success.
2. Explain how team composition, team tasks, team processes, and organizational

context influence team success.
3. Describe effective teamwork processes.
4. Describe the characteristics of successful teams.
5. Examine how positive psychology contributes to team success.
6. Understand the implications of teams becoming a fad.



One of the prerequisites to studying and understanding teamwork is defining the nature of
team success. Scholars use surveys, interviews, and observations to study the functioning of
teams. Often, this research investigates team structures (e.g., Hackman, 1987), behaviors
(e.g., Marks et al., 2001), and emergent states (e.g., Kozlowski & Chao, 2018; Waller,
Okhuysen, & Saghafian, 2016) and tries to relate them to external measures of team success.

Measuring the success of teamwork can be difficult. The characteristics that team members
and leaders believe are important for success might not be the same characteristics that
managers believe are important (Levi & Slem, 1995). Team members focus on the internal
operations of the team; they look at the contributions that each member brings to the team
and how well members work together. Managers focus on the team’s impact on the
organization; they are concerned with results, not with how the team operates. There is a
danger in using too simplistic a view of success because it may focus on the wrong factors
when trying to evaluate and improve a team.

According to Hackman (1987), there are three primary definitions of team success, relating
to task performance, social relations, and the individual. First, a successful team meets or
exceeds performance expectations. Second, team members develop social relationships that
help them work together and maintain the team. Finally, participation in teamwork is
personally rewarding for the individual because of the social support, the learning of new
skills, or the rewards given by the organization for participation.

This definition of team success can be seen in action teams, such as firefighter crews.
Obviously, completing the task of putting out the fire is a crucial criterion of success.
However, it is also important that the crew members maintain a good working relationship
with each other—it can diminish the cohesion of the team if individuals, for example, take
unnecessary risks, distract others, or are afraid to voice concerns. It is likewise
important that crew members do not get injured in the process. Extinguishing the fire is
important but so is preserving the ability and desire of the team to continue fighting fires
with each other in the future.


Completing the Task

From a management perspective, the definition of team success predominantly relates to its
effectiveness at meeting or exceeding expectations on a task. For example, software
engineering projects are often evaluated on target cost and time, while placing less
emphasis on customer satisfaction or happiness (Agarwal & Rathod, 2006). A successful team
should also perform the task better when compared to other ways of organizing people to
perform the same task. Although this definition may seem simple, measuring the performance
of teams can be difficult. For certain complex tasks, there may be no alternatives to
teamwork, making it impossible to compare team and individual outcomes. For professional
tasks requiring creativity or value judgments, there may be no clear ways to determine which
solutions are best (Orsburn, Moran, Musselwhite, & Zenger, 1990). One approach to such
measurement problems is to determine whether the products or outputs of the team are
acceptable to the owners, customers, and team members. However, these three perspectives may
not agree with each other (Spreitzer, Cohen, & Ledford, 1999).

Completing a task as a team is a measure of success, but project success is not a
demonstration of team success. Could the task have been completed without a team? What was
the benefit of using a team for performing the task? For a particular task, there is
sometimes little advantage to using a team. In fact, there are disadvantages. Process losses
result from time dedicated to developing and coordinating the team, rather than focusing on
completing the task. This can lead to the perception of “wasted” time (Hill, 1982;
Steiner, 1972). Rather, the advantages of using a team emerge when they are wisely
implemented and interdependent collaboration is necessary (Kozlowski & Ilgen, 2006).

If a project runs smoothly, people working individually under supervision often can perform
the necessary task. If a project encounters difficulty, however, the value of a team is
demonstrated by the ability of team members to integrate multiple perspectives to solve
problems and motivate one another during the difficult period. Although a team takes time to
develop, as people learn to work together, they are better able to handle future projects.
Many benefits of creating a team occur over the long run rather than during the first
project the team performs.


Developing Social Relations

Measuring task performance does not wholly capture the definition of team success. A
successful team performs its task in such a way that it sustains or enhances the social
relationships between members. Members should want to continue working together as a team in
the future. Several interpersonal processes (e.g., conflict management, motivation,
confidence) contribute to maintaining social relationships (Marks et al., 2001).

Cohesion is among the oldest and most studied variables in group dynamics (Greer, 2012). It
broadly encompasses the degree to which members are attracted to the group and the work that
it does. More cohesive teams exhibit higher levels of performance, effectiveness,
cooperation, job satisfaction, social support, interdependence, and communication (Carless &
De Paola, 2000; Gully, Devine, & Whitney, 1995). Cohesion comes from the emotional ties that
team members develop during interactions with each other, such as goal setting, managing
conflict, and giving feedback. Team members fail to develop good social relations when they
do not communicate well, have interpersonal problems that interfere with task performance,
and are unable to reward and motivate one another. Poor social relations limit the ability
of a team to operate effectively.

A good example of the problem created when there is too much focus on task performance and
too little on social relations is in the computer development team described by Kidder
(1981). This team successfully developed a new computer system. However, in the stress of
competition and time pressure, the team members burned themselves out. At the end of the
project, everyone was happy about the success, but the team members no longer wanted to work
together. Was the team a success? Yes, it completed its task, but it failed to develop
social relations that encouraged successful teamwork in the future. However, the
capabilities of the team were lost at the end of the project due to exclusively focusing on
the task. The organization benefited by getting a new computer system, but it did not
improve its ability to use teams to successfully design computer systems in the future. This
type of project burnout is all too common in many companies.


Benefiting the Individual

The third aspect of team success concerns the individual benefiting from their
participation. People join groups for different reasons, and these reasons impact the
cohesiveness and productivity of the group (Wax, DeChurch, & Contractor, 2017). People might
enjoy working in teams because it offers a source of social belonging, emotional support,
and identity (Baumeister & Leary, 1995; Hogg, Hohman, & Rivera, 2008). Teamwork may improve
an individual’s social or interpersonal skills (Katzenbach & Smith, 2015). Other members
could be attracted to the people, goals, or activities of the group (Hogg & Turner, 1985).
Some people join groups to meet an unrelated individual goal, such as professional
networking, résumé building, or status attainment.

Dysfunctional group dynamics can stem from tensions between individual and group goals. Team
members who perceive an alignment between individual and group goals exhibit higher levels
of performance and cooperation (Crown & Rosse, 1995). Framing the goals of individual
members in a way that aligns with team goals can be an effective strategy for enhancing team
performance (Fairhurst, 2010). For example, if a member is strongly motivated by feelings of
belonging, a team leader might emphasize the bonding and team building that will occur in a
team. Also, the social and learning benefits from teamwork primarily come from successful
teams. Working in dysfunctional teams may only teach members to avoid teamwork in the

In addition to personal benefits, participating in a team should help an employee’s career
in the organization. Successful contributions to a team should be reflected in the
employee’s performance evaluations (DeMatteo, Eby, & Sundstrom, 1998). Unfortunately, this
often is not the case. Many organizations still focus on managing and rewarding individuals
rather than teams. This can impede the success of teams, as feedback directed toward
individuals refocuses attention toward individual performance to the detriment of team
performance (DeShon, Kozlowski, Schmidt, Milner, & Wiechmann, 2004). Even when most of an
employee’s time is spent collaborating in a team, the typical performance evaluation system
focuses on what an individual produces, rather than on the success of the team. Being a good
team player or a social facilitator may go unrecognized, while people who distinguish
themselves and stand out are rewarded. Individuals may also avoid joining a team if its goal
has limited visibility or prestige within an organization, or if it does not produce easily
measurable results that lead to recognition and promotion. This conflict between individual
and team performance is a major unresolved problem for teamwork in many organizations.
(Approaches for dealing with this conflict are discussed in Chapter 16.)



The success of a team depends on four conditions. First, the team must have the right people
to perform the task. Second, the task must be suitable for teamwork. Third, the team must
combine its resources effectively to complete the task. Fourth, the organization must
provide a supportive context for the team.


Team Composition

Team composition research examines how team member attributes tend to influence team success
(Bell et al., 2018; Salas, Rosen, Burke, & Goodwin, 2009). This knowledge can inform who to
put on a team, anticipate incompatibilities between members, or determine what training is
needed. For example, Mathieu, Tannenbaum, Donsbach, and Alliger (2014) developed algorithms
that predict the impact on performance of different combinations of team members over time.
These algorithms are being used to select team members in space exploration (e.g., Mission
to Mars) and other business contexts. Although team composition is important, team leaders
rarely have the information, time, or ability to select an optimal team.

Team success is influenced by both surface- and deep-level attributes of team members (Bell
et al., 2018). Surface-level attributes refer to visible demographic traits—such as age,
sex, race, organizational tenure, and functional role—that shape how members interact with
each other. For example, team members may draw upon stereotypes based on these attributes to
make assumptions about other members, such as their competence, status, or reputation. As
these assumptions play out in the interactions between members, it can impede team success
by decreasing trust and information sharing. For example, a nurse may not bring up important
information about how a patient is responding to a treatment because they defer to a
physician’s judgment, someone who is typically regarded as an expert on treatments (Mayo &
Woolley, 2016). Alternatively, members who perceive themselves as dissimilar from the team
can lead to decreased cooperation and performance (Shemla, Meyer, Greer, & Jehn, 2016).

Deep-level attributes include underlying personality traits, knowledge, skills, opinions,
and values that become apparent as members interact over time. These attributes tend to have
a greater impact on team performance than surface-level attributes (Bell, Villado, Lukasik,
Belau, & Briggs, 2011). Of course, team success depends heavily on having team members with
knowledge, skills, and abilities that match the task requirements. All teams—but
particularly virtual teams—benefit from members with strong communication skills, high
emotional intelligence, and resilience (Ferrazzi, 2014). Diversity of knowledge, opinions,
and background usually benefits teams. For example, teams whose members have differences of
opinion can be more creative than like-minded teams. Management teams whose members have
different functional or professional backgrounds are more innovative than are homogeneous
teams (Guzzo & Dickson, 1996). However, diversity alone is not always a benefit to teams.
The advantages of diversity emerge when members critically integrate their knowledge and are
committed to their team’s goals. (See Chapter 13 for a discussion of diversity and
inclusion in teams.)

There are several ways in which individual attributes can impact the team (Mathieu et al.,
2014). Attributes of powerful members can exert an inordinate influence on the team. For
example, a leader’s positive mood can spread throughout the team and enhance cooperation
(Sy, Côté, & Saavedra, 2005). Sometimes, the attribute of the weakest or strongest member is
most important. Having a single very negative team member can lead to dysfunctional group
processes, hurt team morale and cohesion, and create conflict within the team (Kelly &
Barsade, 2001). Alternatively, sometimes it is the aggregation (e.g., team average) of an
attribute that best predicts team outcomes.

The composition of personality traits on a team is associated with team performance (Bell et
al., 2018; McCrae & Costa, 1987; Morgeson, Reider, & Campion, 2005). Conscientious
individuals are task and goal focused, exert more effort, and are more likely to regulate
teamwork and engage in cooperative team behavior (Courtright, McCormick, Mistry, & Wang,
2017). Agreeable individuals are trusting, warm, and cooperative. Teams with members high on
this trait have less conflict and increased trust, communication, and cohesion (Bradley,
Baur, Banford, & Postlethwaite, 2013; Ferguson & Peterson, 2015). Student teams high on both
average conscientiousness and agreeableness tend to compensate for social loafing and



maintain levels of performance (Schippers, 2014). Extraverted team members are more social,
gregarious, assertive, and talkative. Barry and Stewart (1997) found that extraverted
members facilitate positive social relationships and contribute to team performance.
Emotional stability relates to an individual’s ability to handle stress, maintain a
positive perspective, and be resilient. Teams high in emotional stability tend to have
higher performance and cohesion (Barrick, Stewart, Neubert, & Mount, 1998). Finally,
openness to experience relates to approaching tasks with freedom, flexibility, and
creativity. While there is a positive relationship between openness to experience and team
creativity, one study found that the highest team creativity emerged from teams that had at
least one individual low in openness to experience (Schilpzand, Herold, & Shalley, 2011).

There is no guarantee that having many highly talented team members will lead to a high-
performing team (Swaab, Schaerer, Anicich, Ronay, & Galinsky, 2014). For example, in studies
of basketball and other sports teams, having many high performers can lead to conflict and
coordination problems that reduce performance compared to teams with fewer high performers.
Particularly in interdependent sports, such as soccer and basketball, performance can
decrease when there are too many high-performing athletes. By contrast, in more independent
sports, like baseball, performance increases with more high-performing athletes. This is why
team member selection should consider both task-related and teamwork-related skills.

Effective teams have members with the interpersonal, problem-solving, and teamwork skills to
work together (Morgeson et al., 2005). Interpersonal skills are communication techniques,
such as interviewing, active listening, providing feedback, and negotiating. Problem-solving
skills improve the effectiveness of teams by providing approaches to analyzing problems and
making decisions. Teamwork skills promote understanding and management of group processes.
However, team member selection is often based on needed task skills, rather than on teamwork
skills. An alternative is to use team development interventions like team building,
training, and after-action reviews to improve a team’s ability to work effectively
together. (See Chapter 17 for a discussion of team development interventions.)

Finally, research on team composition can be inconsistent. For example, research conducted
internally at Google was unable to find evidence that team composition based on personality,
skills, or backgrounds predicted higher performance (Duhigg, 2016). Rather, it was the
management of group norms—particularly psychological safety—that best predicted team


Characteristics of the Task

Teams are used to perform a variety of types of tasks, and tasks vary in how well suited
they are for teamwork. A good team task motivates team members and requires coordinated
activity. Teams require both appropriate tasks and organizational support for those tasks.
Team tasks can be routine or nonroutine, although teamwork is particularly well suited for
nonroutine tasks that involve complexity, uncertainty, and change (Mohrman et al., 1995).

McGrath (1984) developed a system to describe the different types of tasks that teams
perform, based on four team goals—generate, choose, negotiate, and execute. Generation
includes tasks that focus on the creative generation of new ideas and tasks that develop
plans for behavioral action. Choosing deals with intellective tasks, such as problem-solving
tasks when there are correct answers and decision-making tasks when there are no correct
answers. Negotiation includes tasks aimed at resolving conflicting viewpoints and mixed-
motive tasks aimed at resolving conflicts of interest. Execution refers to competitive tasks
that help resolve conflicts of power and performance tasks designed to make things or
provide services.

McGrath’s system explains the different types of tasks a team actually performs. A team may
perform only one or two types of tasks. An example is a factory team that primarily performs
a physical task and might do some problem-solving. Other types of teams may perform many
different types of tasks: An example is a project team that both designs and produces a
product. Understanding the range of tasks performed by a team is essential for selecting and
training team members.

Steiner (1972) created a system that explains the different ways that team members’ efforts
can be combined. The team’s work can be added together, limited by the last member,
averaged, selected, or combined in any way the team desires. Additive tasks combine team
member contributions together, such as when a team paints a house. The productivity of a
team will exceed that of the individual team member. Conjunctive tasks are not completed
until all team members have completed their parts, such as in assembly line work. Although
the worst-performing member limits team performance, the team can compensate by providing
support to the poor performer. A compensatory task averages the input of team members to
create a single solution, while in a disjunctive task, the team must generate a single
solution that represents the team’s product. The decisions of juries and problem solving by
technical teams are examples of disjunctive tasks. A team usually performs better than
individuals in these types of tasks but not necessarily better than the best individual in
the team.

Steiner’s system shows that a team performs a variety of tasks that can be combined in
different ways and is useful to explain the benefits of and problems with different ways of
combining tasks. For some types of tasks, organizing work into teams can create synergies
that improve performance over that of individuals. However, using teams may also reduce
performance because of coordination and motivation problems. (These performance losses are
discussed in more detail in Chapters 4 and 9.)

A team’s task should be aligned with the team’s goals and be motivating to the team
members (Hackman, 2002). The task should be an identifiable and meaningful piece of work
that allows team members to understand their contributions. Team members need to have the
authority and responsibility to exercise judgment about their work practices. The team needs
regular and trustworthy feedback about its performance so it can learn how to improve its
operation. Finally, task completion should require the interdependent and coordinated
efforts of the team members. The benefits of teamwork are realized only when teams are
working on tasks that are suited for teamwork and organizations are willing to support them.


Teamwork Processes

Having the right people and the right type of task does not guarantee success for a team.
Team members must be able to combine efforts successfully. Teams may not reach their
potential if their internal processes interfere with their success. For example, decisions
may be disrupted by personal bias, distorted by the desire to maintain good relationships,
or impaired by the desire to make decisions quickly. Effective teams organize themselves to
perform tasks, monitor their progress, and develop social relations to support their

In a synthesis of the research, Marks and colleagues (2001) identified 10 behaviors of
highly effective teams. They present teamwork as a series of performance episodes whereby
the team oscillates between transition and action phases, while constantly attending to
interpersonal processes (see Figure 2.1). In other words, teams begin by discussing goals
and planning a strategy (transition processes), and then individuals complete their tasks
(action processes). After finishing individual tasks, the team meets again to reevaluate
goals and plans and repeats the process. Throughout these processes, team members also
attend to interpersonal issues that crop up.


Figure 2.1 Team Processes During a Performance Episode

Source: Adapted from Marks, M. A., Mathieu, J. E., & Zaccaro, S. J. (2001). A temporally
based framework and taxonomy of team processes. Academy of Management Review, 26(3), 356

Each episode begins with a transition phase. Here, team members set aside time (e.g.,
meetings, after-action reviews, retreats) to collectively evaluate past activities and/or
plan future activities to progress toward the team goal. Three team processes occur during
this phase:

Mission analysis. Developing a shared understanding of the team’s purpose by clarifying
tasks, considering the environmental conditions that constrain its work, and identifying


the resources available to the team.

Goal specification. Collectively identifying and prioritizing the goals required for the
team mission, establishing quality expectations, and setting timelines for completion.

Strategy formation and planning. Deciding how members will execute their tasks,
communicate with each other, and specify alternative courses of action depending on task

Effective teams then enter an action phase, during which members individually conduct the
activities that contribute to achieving their collective goal. Four team processes occur at
this stage:

Monitoring progress toward goals. Providing feedback about task progress and checking on
the progress of others. The team determines if they need to adjust their plans (e.g.,
seek help or work overtime).

Systems monitoring. Attending to the resources (e.g., skills, time, technology, or
information.) needed by the team to succeed and adapting to environmental changes that
can influence the team’s success.

Team monitoring and backup responses. Assisting teammates by providing feedback, helping
with a behavior or technique, or taking over a task.

Coordination activities. Organizing team members to work in synchronous interdependence
with each other.

Occurring throughout the transition and action phases are interpersonal processes. Teams
with high levels of group cohesion and good social relations are often the most effective
teams. Three processes help to manage the social relationships between members:

Conflict management. Proactively preventing conflict and reactively working through
interpersonal disagreements among team members.

Motivating/confidence building. Encouraging members to establish and maintain high
standards of performance, feelings of competence, and morale.

Affect management. Regulating teammate emotions like cohesion, frustration, and

This model of team processes captures the ongoing cycle between planning and action phases
that effective teams engage in. While it may present teamwork as straightforward, in
practice, this is not always the case. Teams can rush important decisions or may not invest
the time to build a shared understanding of their task. Members do not monitor their work or
openly communicate their progress with each other. Working in a team can lead to reduced
effort by individual members rather than encouraging performance. (This problem, called
social loafing, is discussed in Chapter 4.) Yet teams benefit from investing time into
managing their processes. For example, military teams who briefly discuss strategy before an
engagement exhibited better performance and coordination (Dalenberg, Vogelaar, & Beersma,
2009). Likewise, teams that jointly create a team charter detailing how they will interact
with each other experience higher performance (Mathieu & Rapp, 2009).


Finally, it takes leadership to provide direction for the team and to facilitate its
internal processes. There is no set of rules that a good leader can mechanically follow.
Depending on the tasks and team maturity, groups require different types of leadership.
Unlike traditional managers, the role of a team leader is not to control the team’s
behavior. Rather, leaders create conditions that allow the team to manage its processes in a
changing environment (Hackman, 2012).


Organizational Context

The organizational context—its leadership, structure, support, reward systems, culture,
technology, and climate—has a significant effect on whether teams operate successfully
(Guzzo & Dickson, 1996). While teams can improve the operations of organizations, they are
also enabled and constrained by their organizational environments. They need the right
conditions to succeed. The organizational culture of a hospital, for example, can establish
norms of interaction that promote or hinder teamwork in such a way that directly impacts
patient health and safety (Nembhard & Edmondson, 2006).

Teams are more likely to be successful in supportive organizations. Supportive organizations
encourage collaboration by communicating the importance of teamwork (Salas, 2015). For
example, many health care organizations define their workplace culture as needing and
relying on teamwork (Rosen et al., 2018). They also provide incentives for working in teams
(Thayer, Petruzzelli, & McClurg, 2018). Kniffin and Hanks (2018) found that professionals in
STEM fields would be less likely to join a team if they perceived an insufficient incentive.
In some organizations, like universities and research hospitals, policies regarding
promotion and tenure may not support team-based research (Leahey, 2016).

Several organizational structures help teams function more effectively (Hackman, 1990b).
Teams perform better when they have clear goals and well-defined tasks. They should also
have control over their actions, rather than being required to follow strict directives.
They need adequate resources, including compensation, time and space, and training support
(Rosenfield, Newell, Zwolski, & Benishek, 2018). Reliable information from the organization
is required for teams to make decisions, coordinate their efforts with other parts of the
organization, and plan for future changes. Finally, technical and group process assistance
should be available to the teams. Teams need technical help to solve their problems and
facilitation or coaching to deal with interpersonal difficulties. To improve on the ways
that members operate, a team needs feedback on its performance and an incentive to change.
Without this, team members cannot focus on the goals the organization has established for
the team.



What makes successful teams? Many researchers have tried to answer this question. Despite
decades of research, there are relatively few universal characteristics of all successful
teams. It appears success in teams is a moving target: What teams need to be successful
shifts as changes in team composition, tasks, processes, and environment inevitably occur.
Still, scholars have identified structures, abilities, and mindsets that are associated with
high-performing teams.


Team Structures

Researchers from psychology, organizational behavior, management, and group communication
have investigated and identified structures of effective teams (e.g., Hackman, 1987;
Katzenbach & Smith, 2001; LaFasto & Larson, 2001; Levi & Slem, 1995). Integrating this
research indicates that effective teams have the following characteristics:

1. Clear, well-defined goals to provide direction and motivation and to allow for
performance evaluation

2. Tasks must be suitable for teamwork and require a coordinated effort
3. A sense of shared fate or mutual accountability, and their efforts must be evaluated and

rewarded in a fair manner
4. Leaders who keep teams focused on goals and facilitate but do not control the team’s

5. An organizational culture that supports teamwork and that supplies teams with the

necessary power and resources for task performance


Collective Intelligence

The concept of collective intelligence also guides successful teamwork. Woolley, Chabris,
Pentland, Hashmi, and Malone (2010) conducted a study of teams performing a variety of
tasks. They identified a collective intelligence factor that predicted successful team
performance on a variety of tasks. Collective intelligence was not correlated with the
intelligence of the team members but rather with two other factors: social sensitivity and
equality of communication. The most important factor predicting team success was social
sensitivity, which corresponds to the average level of emotional intelligence of the team
members. (Emotional intelligence is discussed in Chapter 6.) Equality of communication
occurs when members take turns communicating and when no one dominates the team’s


Teaming Mindset

Edmondson (2012) examines the mindsets of successful teams. She recognizes that many
contemporary teams—such those found in hospitals, military installations, airline crews,
and power plants—lack the stable structures and membership that make designing static teams
possible. Such teams often create new knowledge and solve ill-structured problems, for which
well-designed tasks and processes are not known. Navigating this uncertainty requires that
team members quickly share information, make decisions, and fail—often alongside team
members with whom they have never worked. Successfully navigating teamwork in these contexts
requires that team members develop and practice affective and cognitive skills, a mindset
she calls teaming.

There are four core practices of teaming: speaking up, collaboration, experimentation, and
reflection. Teams embracing these practices can quickly learn and adapt to changing
circumstances. Achieving this requires attending to four affective and cognitive states in
the team. First, members must actively manage the cognitive frames that enable and constrain
potential for thought, action, and participation. Second, they must continually cultivate a
psychologically safe environment that facilitates open communication, asking questions,
seeking feedback, and constructive disagreement. Third, teams need to become comfortable
talking about and learning from their mistakes and failures. Finally, members must overcome
physical boundaries, status boundaries, and knowledge boundaries that impede collaboration
in diverse teams.

Although it is useful to try to determine the characteristics of successful teams,
investigations of this type are limited. The importance of specific characteristics differs
based on the type of team. Cohen and Bailey (1997) conducted a meta-analysis of work teams.
Their review of 54 studies shows that the factors necessary for success are different for
production, professional, and managerial teams. For example, for self-managing production
teams, the amount of organizational support is very important, but the quality of leadership
is relatively unimportant. On the other hand, professional project teams often are dependent
on high-quality leadership because of the nonroutine nature of their tasks.

There has been a substantial increase in research on teamwork conducted in applied settings
(Mathieu, Maynard, Rapp, & Gilson, 2008). However, this research has not led to a set of
rules about how teams should operate. Even teams that share similar structures, resources,
and goals have inconsistent levels of performance (Barley & Weickum, 2017). There is no one
best model of effective teamwork. Different types of teams face different challenges, so
they need to adopt alternative strategies to be effective. In fact, it may be more important
for team members to share similar models of how to work together than for the model of
teamwork used to be especially accurate (Smith-Jentsch, Cannon-Bowers, Tannenbaum, & Salas,



Positive psychology is a recent movement within psychology that studies people’s strengths
and how to promote positive functioning (Mills, Fleck, & Kozikowski, 2013). Many positive-
psychology factors are examined in the study of teamwork. Because of its focus on personal
development, positive psychology provides an alternative perspective on the meaning of team
success and the factors that contribute to it.

Most models of team success focus on task performance and then include social relations and
individual development as support factors. A positive-psychology perspective toward team
success starts with team member well-being. When team members are fully engaged in the task
and they have developed positive and supportive relationships with other team members, then
the team is poised for successful performance (Richardson & West, 2010). The positive-
psychology approach to teamwork attempts to develop teams that help its members satisfy
their social and emotional needs while working together to meet the team’s challenges and

An overview of the inputs, processes, and outcomes of teamwork from a positive-psychology
perspective is presented in Figure 2.2. This input-process-output model assumes that a set
of team inputs leads to the development of team processes, and these team processes create
the conditions for successful performance. From a positive-psychology perspective, a team’s
outcomes include team performance and emotional, cognitive, and social benefits for
individual team members (Richardson & West, 2010). Successful teamwork also provides other
benefits to the organization, including better relationships among teams and increased
altruism (cooperation and helping behavior) with other parts of the organization. Finally,
successful teams are learning teams that seek creative and innovative ways to improve how
they operate.


Figure 2.2 Positive-Psychology Model of Team Success

Source: Adapted from Richardson, J., & West, M. (2010). Dream teams: A positive
psychology of team working. In P. Linley, S. Harrington, & N. Garcea (Eds.), Oxford
handbook of positive psychology and work (pp. 235–249). New York, NY: Oxford University

Several important inputs create the foundation for positive team performance (Richardson &
West, 2010). Teams need to have an inspiring task that motivates team member participation.


The task should encourage interdependent work, require members to employ their skills, be
perceived as a meaningful activity, allow the team a high degree of autonomy, and provide
timely feedback about performance. Teams should contain diverse members and create a safe
environment that supports participation by all team members. Team members need clear work
roles and the ability for roles and responsibilities to evolve as the team progresses. The
team needs to develop supportive personal relationships among its members through regular
interactions, management of conflicts, and encouragement of mutual assistance. Supportive
leadership helps to create an inspiring vision for the team and uses monitoring, coaching,
and feedback to guide team performance. Team members should develop a healthy attachment to
the team by encouraging the development of trust and social relations among members.

These team inputs lead to a set of positive team processes that support enriching teamwork
interactions (Richardson & West, 2010). Team members have a sense of group potency, where
they collectively believe that they have the skills and abilities to succeed. Team members
are optimistic about their abilities to cope with adversity and meet their objectives in the
future. Team learning becomes an ongoing activity, which is supported by reflexivity—with
members taking time to reflect on their performance and strategies and to learn from their
experiences. Team members have a high level of trust to support clear communication and to
coordinate activities. This is nurtured through members providing each other with social
support, assistance with performance, and emotional support to counter stress.

The positive-psychology approach to teamwork leads to better team performance by focusing on
the emotional and cognitive benefits to team members. It provides an alternative perspective
on the meaning of team success and how to promote more effective teamwork. Many positive-
psychology factors are examined in the study of teamwork, such as the impact of supportive
personal relations, reflexivity and learning, team efficacy, empowerment, supportive
leadership, and appreciative inquiry (Mills et al., 2013).



Work teams are an important way of improving organizational effectiveness (Delarue et al.,
2008). Given this, it is no surprise to see a shift toward team-based approaches in health
care (Rosen et al., 2018), research (Salas et al., 2018), science, technology, engineering,
and math teams (Kniffin & Hanks, 2018), as well as innovation (Thayer et al., 2018).
Implementing teamwork is also one of the most effective interventions for improving
organizational performance (Guzzo & Dickson, 1996). In addition to increasing the financial
success of companies, teamwork programs improve personnel issues, such as reducing turnover
and absenteeism.

Although there are many benefits to using teams at work, developing work teams is not always
easy. Organizations encounter many problems shifting from traditional work systems to
teamwork. Because of the popularity of teams, they are sometimes used in situations where
traditional approaches are more appropriate for accomplishing the task. This can make it
difficult to evaluate the success of teamwork in organizations.


Benefits of Teamwork

Teams are an effective way to improve performance and job satisfaction. Large-scale studies
on the use of production work teams show their effectiveness (Guzzo & Dickson, 1996). Teams
improve both the efficiency and quality of organizational performance. Using teams provides
the flexibility needed to operate in today’s rapidly changing business world. However,
teams may develop performance problems that limit their effectiveness, and the initial
transition to teamwork may be a complicated process for organizations.

In addition to increasing organizational effectiveness, the implementation of work teams
often leads to improvements in job satisfaction and quality of work life (Sundstrom et al.,
2000). Teams have these beneficial characteristics because they provide social support to
employees, provide autonomy, encourage cooperation, and make jobs more exciting and
challenging. Among nurses, for example, teamwork is associated with higher perceptions of
adequate staffing and greater job satisfaction (Kalisch, Lee, & Rochman, 2010). Teams also
have the potential to be more innovative, which is critical for the advancement of science,
technology, engineering, and math (Thayer et al., 2018).


Problems of Teamwork

Although there are benefits to both organizations and employees, some problems are created
by the use of teams and the transition to teamwork. Research on teamwork in work settings
provides mixed results. Teamwork programs like quality circles (i.e., temporary teams that
provide suggestions about how to improve quality) provide only limited power to teams and
have been shown to be ineffective. Studies of factory work teams have widely variable
results (Guzzo & Dickson, 1996). One of the problems is that teamwork programs are
implemented with little consideration for their applicability. Rather than attempting to
make existing programs work better, new programs are introduced. Shifting to self-managing
work teams can result in significant long-term performance improvements. However, the
transition to self-managing teams can be difficult in organizations with traditional
management control systems.

Effective work teams have norms that support high-quality performance and a level of group
cohesiveness that provides social support for members. Nevertheless, work teams may have
problems with norms and cohesiveness. Teams with poor performance norms are less effective
and may be highly resistant to change. Low levels of group cohesion can limit team members’
ability to work together, whereas high levels of group cohesion may lower members’
performance orientation and impair decision making (Nemeth & Staw, 1989). Teams can also
amplify errors, biases, and framings made by individuals, leading to lower performance
(Hinsz, Tindale, & Nagao, 2008; Sleesman, Hollenbeck, Spitzmuller, & Schouten, 2018).

Implementing work teams often creates problems. Conflicts exist between team development and
the traditional management systems in many organizations (Hackman, 1990a). Teams suffer from
implementation problems because of resistance to change. Teamwork requires a supportive
organizational context to foster team growth and development.


When the Use of Teams Becomes a Fad

Many managers and employees overrate the effectiveness of teamwork and overprescribe their
use (Allen & Hecht, 2004). Although research on the effectiveness of work teams is mixed,
these mixed findings are not congruent with the overly positive view of teamwork held by
many managers. The implementation of work teams has been one of the most common
organizational changes in the past 20 years. Team use and the benefits of teamwork have
become a business fad, and organizations now suffer from the subsequent problems of overuse
(Charan & Useem, 2002).

One result of the overly positive view of teamwork is that use of teams has expanded beyond
the point where they are valuable (Allen & Hecht, 2004). They are used to solve every
organizational problem, regardless of whether teams are an appropriate way to organize the
work. This means that many teams operate in organizational contexts that are inappropriate
for teamwork. Strong beliefs about the effectiveness of teams also lead to their
implementation without the necessary organizational changes needed to support teamwork
(Charan & Useem, 2002). Managers implement teams, looking for benefits without considering
the costs of training teams and other ensuing organizational structures (Paulus, 2002).

What is needed is a better understanding of where and when teams should be deployed and what
actions are required to deploy them effectively. Teams are not the solution to every
organizational problem, and they are not automatically successful. They need a purpose, an
outcome that requires joint efforts, complementary skills, and mutual responsibility
(Katzenbach & Smith, 2001). Organizations get in trouble when the goal of a team is
promoting teamwork rather than an identified performance outcome.



The definition of team success relates to team tasks, social relations, and impact on team
members. Successful teams complete their tasks and do so in a collective way that is better
than when only individuals perform the tasks. Teams must develop good social relations to
support task activities and maintain the existence of the team. Participating in teams
should be a benefit to team members, both in terms of learning new skills and in advancing
individual careers.

The success of a team depends on the composition of the team, the characteristics of the
task, the group process, and the organizational context. There are three important aspects
of team composition. (1) A team must have members with the right set of knowledge, skills,
and abilities to complete its task. (2) For some types of teams, members must represent the
relevant parts of an organization to ensure a sense of participation in the decision and
support for its implementation. (3) Finally, team members must have the interpersonal skills
to work together as a team.

Teams perform a variety of routine and nonroutine tasks that require different sets of
skills. The tasks that teams perform may be analyzed by examining how a member’s input
relates to the products. For a task in which the team’s work is simply added together, the
team often performs no better than the same number of individuals working alone. When the
poorest performing member limits completion of a task, the team performs better because it
can compensate for individual problems. For a task that requires the team to make a quality
decision, the team often performs better than individuals working alone. Team tasks should
be motivating and require a coordinated effort to perform.

Teamwork processes connect the members of a team to its task. Successful teams oscillate
between transition and action phases. This involves collectively planning tasks and
individually executing tasks while carefully monitoring progress. Meanwhile, teams must also
maintain positive interpersonal interactions. Leaders facilitate these teamwork processes
and create opportunities for the team to manage itself.

The organization provides a context for the team. The organization’s culture supports the
team by creating an environment that encourages collaboration and allows the team to control
its internal operations. The organization’s systems support the team by providing
direction, resources, information, and assistance. One of the most important aspects of the
organizational context is the willingness of the organization to provide feedback on a
team’s performance and to reward successful performance.

Researchers from a variety of perspectives have identified several characteristics of
successful teams. Teams have clear goals, appropriate leadership, organizational support,
suitable tasks, and mutual accountability. Teams with higher emotional intelligence exhibit
greater levels of collective intelligence and performance. Successful teams engage in
behaviors that advance the task and social needs of the team. Mindsets that foster speaking
up, collaboration, experimentation, and reflection can help teams completing nonroutine
tasks. Although these are characteristics of successful teams, their importance changes
depending on the type of work group.

Positive psychology provides an alternative perspective toward team success by focusing on
the individual. When team members are fully engaged in their tasks and feel supported by
other team members, then the team’s performance is likely to be successful.

The use of work teams is increasing because of the many benefits they provide to
organizations. Teams help make the organization more productive and flexible while improving
employees’ job satisfaction. However, teams are not the solution to every organizational


problem. Organizations need to provide a supportive context for teams to be effective.
Because of the popularity of work teams, they are sometimes overused. This makes it
difficult to evaluate the success of teams at work.


Team Leadership Challenge 2

You are the team leader of a quality improvement team for your school district. For
the past several months, the eight high school teachers on the team have analyzed
problems and developed recommendations for improving the operation of the school
system. You are proud of the team. They responded well to teamwork training and
learned how to operate effectively as a team. In addition, social relations among the
teachers on the team have been very good and several strong friendships have

You presented the recommendations developed by the team to the superintendent of the
school district. After waiting for several weeks, the superintendent thanked you for
your efforts, but told you that none of the team’s recommendations would be
implemented at this time because of budget constraints. You feel rejected by the
superintendent and discouraged. It is time for your last team meeting. You need to
prepare what you are going to tell the team.

How should you (the team leader) handle the last meeting with the team?

In what ways was the team successful and unsuccessful?

How can the organization better use improvement teams in the future?


Activity: Understanding Team Success

Objective: Why are some teams successful while others are unsuccessful? Use your
experience with teams to answer this question.

Activity: Think about a time when you were on a successful team. Using Activity
Worksheet 2.1, write a description of the team at that time. (What was it like being
on the team? What was the team like? What behaviors did the team engage in?) Think
about a time when you were on an unsuccessful team. Write a description of the team
at that time.


Activity Worksheet 2.1: Successful and Unsuccessful Teams

Successful Team:

Unsuccessful Team:

Analysis: Compare the two descriptions of successful and unsuccessful teams. What
team processes (transition, action, and interpersonal processes) may explain the
differences between these two teams? Compare your answers with those of other group
members. Are the characteristics similar? Develop a group answer to the following
question: What are the characteristics of successful teams?

1. _______________________________________
2. _______________________________________
3. _______________________________________
4. _______________________________________

Discussion: Using your list of the characteristics of successful teams, what advice
would you give a team leader about how to establish and run a team?


Descriptions of Images and Figures
Back to Figure

Data shown by the illustration are listed as follows:

Team Performance Episode

Transition processes

Mission analysis

Goal specification

Strategy formation and planning

Action Processes

Monitor progress towards goals

Systems monitoring

Team monitoring

Coordination activities

Interpersonal Processes

Conflict management

Motivation/confidence building

Affect management

Transition processes and Action Processes are in different columns of the table and are
connected via a double-headed arrow.

Interpersonal Processes are at the bottom of the table and appear to provide a base to both
the processes.

Back to Figure

Data shown by illustration are listed as follows:


Inspiring team tasks


Autonomy and empowerment

Team diversity

Clear and flexible roles

Positive social relations

Supportive leadership

Team attachment


Group potency




Social support


Team member well-being

Social engagement and support

Team performance

Team learning and innovation

In the image, INPUTS point to PROCESSES, which in turn point to OUTCOMES, via rightward




Shutterstock/Oshchepkov Dmitry




Teams develop through a series of stages that reflect changes
in their internal group processes and the demands of their
tasks. This perspective of team stages produces one of the
most valuable insights about teams: They often are not
productive at the beginning of projects.

To become more effective, teams should address several issues
early in their development. First, the team should socialize
new members into the team. This socialization process
assimilates new members while accommodating their individual
needs. Second, the purpose or objective of the team should be
defined through the creation of team goals. Developing team
goals is an important process that helps avoid problems,
provides direction, and increases motivation. Third, the team
should develop rules or team norms for its operation. These
norms define appropriate behavior for team members.

There are techniques to help teams form social relations,
clarify tasks, develop team norms, and create a team charter.
If these techniques are used at the beginning of a team
project, teams are more likely to be effective.


Learning Objectives

1. Distinguish between stage, project, and cyclical
approaches to group development.

2. Explain the implications of group development on
team functioning.

3. Understand how socialization, new members, and
turnover affect teams.

4. Describe the main characteristics of effective
team goals.

5. Explain how hidden agendas impact the team.
6. Describe the positive and negative effects of

group norms.
7. Determine how to improve the beginning stages of a

team project.
8. Develop an effective team charter.



Research on project teams shows that start-up activities take
longer than anticipated. For many professional design
projects, most of the design work occurs during the last half
of the allotted time (Gersick, 1988). The main reason for
this slow start is that it takes time to clarify the
definition of the project, develop social relations, and
create effective operating rules. An understanding of group
development can help speed up this process and reduce the
frustration caused by what members often perceive as a
sluggish start.

Several approaches exist to explain the changes that teams
experience during their operation: Stage theories of group
development focus on how internal group processes change over
time. Project development theories attempt to describe how
teams change based on the tasks that they perform. Finally,
cyclical theories explain group process changes as cycles
rather than as stages.


Group Development Perspective

There are many stage theories of group development, but most
of the theories contain similar elements. The theories try to
explain why it takes time for a group to develop before it
becomes productive and why the group goes through periods of
conflict during its development. Table 3.1 presents the best-
known group development stage theory, developed by Tuckman
and Jensen (1977). This theory focuses on the development of
internal relations among the team members.

A group begins with the forming stage, where little work
occurs. Rather, members often feel uncomfortable and
constrained because they are unfamiliar with each other.
Consequently, time is spent getting to know one another and
learn how to operate as a group. Members tend to be polite
and tentative with one another and compliant toward the
leader. Group members are uncertain about how to act, and
they spend time planning how to perform their tasks. This
stage ends when the group members become comfortable
interacting with one another.

The storming stage that follows often is characterized by
conflicts among group members and confusion about group roles
and project requirements. Disagreements over procedures can
lead to expressions of dissatisfaction and hostility. Group
members begin to realize that the project is more complicated
than anticipated, and they may become anxious and defensive.
Conflict about their roles and the task expands. Although
this conflict might be unpleasant, it is important that it
occurs because it promotes the sharing of different
perspectives. Resolving this conflict clarifies the group’s
goals and promotes increased group cohesion.

The group begins to organize itself to work on the task
during the norming stage. Here, the group becomes more


cohesive, conflict resolves, and team confidence improves.
The group has established some ground rules (or norms) to
help members work together, and social relations have
developed enough to create a group identity. Increased levels
of trust and support characterize group interactions.
Although differences still exist and continue to arise, they
are handled through constructive discussion and negotiation.

Table 3.1 Stages of Group Development

Stage Activity

Forming Orientation: members getting to know one

Storming Conflict: disagreement about roles and

Norming Structure: establishment of rules and social

Performing Work: focus on completing the task

Adjourning Dissolution: completion of task and end of
the group

Source: Adapted from Tuckman, B., & Jensen, M. (1977). Stages of small
group development revisited. Group and Organizational Studies, 2, 419–

During the performing stage, the group has matured and knows
how to operate, so it focuses on its task. If the group has
developed norms and successfully built social relations, it


can easily handle the stress of approaching deadlines.
Studies of groups show that most performance occurs during
this stage, near the end of the group project (Hare, 1982).
However, not all groups get to this stage, and they may get
bogged down in conflict at earlier stages. It can take, on
average, six months for groups to advance to this stage of
high performance (Wheelan, 2009).

The final stage is the adjourning stage. Some groups have
planned endings, while other groups may continue
indefinitely. When teams end, they should spend time
evaluating their performance and using this feedback to
prepare for the future (Wheelan, 2005). However, team endings
often are not learning experiences for the team; members may
be more interested in celebrating their success or finding
excuses for their failures than they are in learning from the
team experience (Hackman & Wageman, 2005).


Project Development Perspective

An alternative view of team stages is based on the
characteristics of projects rather than on the development of
group processes. These theories are based on research on work
teams, whereas group development theories often are based on
research on therapy or learning groups. For example, McIntyre
and Salas (1995) present a model of team development based on
the skills that team members develop while completing a
project. In their model, a team works on role clarification
during the early stages, moves on to coordinated skills
development, and finally focuses on increasing the variety
and flexibility of its skills as a team. This model uses the
changing relationship between the team and the project as the
driver of change throughout the stages.

Ancona and Caldwell (1990) present a model of group
development for new product teams. Their three stages of
development reflect the changing nature of the tasks and how
these changes affect internal processes and external
relations. During the creation stage, a team’s activities
are a mixture of internal and external processes. The team is
developing new ideas and creative solutions while organizing
the team. External relations include gathering information
and building links with relevant organizational units. During
the development stage, the team’s focus is primarily
internal. The organization has approved the idea, and the
team is focused on the technical details of the project. The
final stage is diffusion, where external relations become the
primary focus of the team. The project is nearly complete,
and coordinating its transfer to manufacturing and marketing
is the focus of the team’s activities.


Cyclical Perspective

Although stage theories of group development are popular, not
all teams follow the patterns found in these theories. Some
teams skip stages, others get stuck in certain stages, and
still others seem to travel through the stages by unique
routes. The boundaries between the stages are often less
clear-cut than the theories suggest.

Rather than emphasizing a sequence of stages, some team
theorists believe that groups go through cycles throughout
the life of the team. This was the case for the model of
teamwork processes presented in Chapter 2. Here, Marks and
colleagues (2001) describe a recurring phase model of
teamwork showing how teams perform in cycles of activity.
Teams operate in action cycles (when they are performing
their tasks), interpersonal cycles (when they are managing
social relations), and transition cycles (when they are
evaluating their performance and planning for the future).
These cycles can occur in various patterns as needed or at
designated times. For example, military teams have formal
debriefings (transition cycles) that occur after major
activities. Similarly, Barley and Weickum (2017) articulated
a similar cyclical model of collaborative teamwork, in which
teamwork cycles between episodes of collaborative
interactions and individual work activities.

From her research on project teams, Gersick (1988) developed
a theory of punctuated equilibrium. Each team had its own
pattern of development, but all the teams experienced periods
of low activity, followed by bursts of energy and change. In
addition, each team had a midpoint crisis when its members
realized that half their time was gone, but the project was
still in its early stages of completion. This led to a period
of panic, followed by increased activity as the team focused
on completing the task.


Gersick’s punctuated equilibrium model argues that teams
primarily change when they are confronted with external
challenges that require them to reevaluate their current
practices (Humphrey & Aime, 2014). One implication of this
model is that making the team focus on task strategy is
beneficial during the midpoint crisis, rather than at the
beginning of the team’s development. When teams encounter
disruptive events or challenges, they are more willing to
reevaluate their routine practices and make changes.


Implications of Team Development Stages

Understanding the stages that teams typically go through can
help team members better recognize what is happening to the
team and how to manage it. Stage theories explain why most of
the team’s work gets done at the end of the project and why
it is essential to build social relations and team norms at
the beginning of the project. However, it is important to
remember that stage theories of team development do not
always apply. A team’s life is often a roller coaster of
successes and failures. Activities may increase or decrease
at different points in time, but they may not entirely stop
and go away (Humphrey & Aime, 2014). Some teams get stuck at
one of the stages or even break up—they never get to the
performing stage because they have not worked through their
earlier problems (Wheelan, 2005).

Can competent teams skip these development stages and just
start performing? Sometimes, a team’s early successes can
cause them to ignore the task of developing team processes.
Highly self-confident project teams may simply focus on the
task without adequately debating how they should perform
their work (Goncalo, Polman, & Maslach, 2010). Early process
conflict not only helps a team develop better work processes
and strategies, but it teaches the team how to manage
conflicts (Tekleab, Quigley, & Tesluk, 2009). This is why
early process conflict is a predictor of later success for
project teams. When these teams encounter problems in the
later stages of a project, they have the skills to manage the
conflict and develop alternative solutions.

Several lessons are important here. First, emotional highs
and lows are a normal part of team development. Second,
developing the team is important. Time must be spent
developing social relations and socializing new members,
establishing goals and norms, and defining the project.


Third, the team may go through periods of lower task
performance as it tries to resolve conflicts over
relationship and task issues. This is a normal part of team
development as well.



A person becomes a member of a group through a process
referred to as group socialization. Traditional approaches to
group socialization explain how new members are recruited and
integrated into relatively permanent groups or teams.
Contemporary approaches examine how work teams deal with
constantly changing team membership.

In the classical approach to group socialization (Moreland &
Levine, 1982, 2002), an individual goes through a series of
role transitions—from prospective to full member—during the
socialization process. Role transitions occur during
consecutive phases: investigation, socialization,
maintenance, and resocialization. Throughout this process,
the individual is evaluating the team and deciding on their
level of commitment. Evaluation is the judgment whether the
benefits of participation in a team outweigh the costs.
Commitment is the desire to maintain a relationship with the
team. These processes are mutual—the individual evaluates
the team and decides on a level of commitment, while the team
also evaluates the individual and decides how committed they
are to the member.

First is the investigation stage, which begins before a
prospective member joins a group. Here, the team assesses how
the individual can contribute to group goals, while the
individual determines whether the group can satisfy personal
needs (Moreland & Levine, 2002). When both parties are
satisfied, the prospective member becomes a newcomer and
joins the group. This begins the socialization phase.

The newcomer often experiences stress during socialization.
They are uncertain about group norms and their roles and
responsibilities. Consequently, they learn what is expected
of them through both formal and informal activities like


observation, onboarding, training, and mentoring (Allen, Eby,
Chao, & Bauer, 2017; Chao, 2007). Anxiety also leads
newcomers to be passive, dependent, and conforming, which can
increase their acceptance by established team members
(Moreland & Levine, 1982). Newcomers can be a threat to an
established team because they bring in a fresh and objective
perspective that unsettles existing members. They can also
represent a threat to the established power or social
hierarchy on the team. The passive approach adopted by many
newcomers reduces the potential threat of criticism from the
team and thereby encourages acceptance of the new member.

Once a member is fully accepted by the team, the maintenance
stage begins. Even though the individual is a full member of
the team, there is an ongoing process of negotiating their
role and position in the team and the team’s goals and
practices. Both the team and the individual attempt to change
each other to make the relationship more rewarding (Moreland
& Levine, 1989).

Although many members stay in this maintenance stage until
they leave the team, members may diverge from the team and
reduce their commitment because of conflicts between their
personal goals and the team’s goals. For example, a member
may not wish to take on additional responsibilities or roles
that the team requires of them. When this divergence occurs,
a phase of resocialization begins. The individual may resolve
their differences through assimilation and accommodation with
the group. When differences cannot be resolved, it usually
concludes with the member transitioning out of the group.

Keeping teams together for longer periods of time can help to
improve performance. Team members with a history of working
together are associated with increased performance in
software, consulting, military defense, sports, aviation, and
surgery (Huckman & Staats, 2013). As members gain a greater
understanding of the knowledge and abilities of individual


team members, they are more effective at coordinating their
actions. They also learn who knows what on the team, enabling
them to better coordinate actions and integrate knowledge
across members. There are interpersonal benefits to
familiarity as well. Members already know how to communicate
with each other, and they are better able to respond to
stress and change. Teams with greater familiarity are better
able to gain the benefits of diversity.


Team Turnover

In many organizations, teams have a dynamic composition where
new members join, and others leave throughout the life of the
team (Wilkin, de Jong, & Rubino, 2018). It is now
increasingly common to find temporary teams that must quickly
adjust to new members (Wildman et al., 2011), such as
emergency surgery teams, airline crews, or disaster relief
teams. Moreover, between 65% and 95% of knowledge workers are
members of multiple teams at any given time (O’Leary,
Mortensen, & Woolley, 2011). This leads to frequent role-
switching and multitasking, which can reduce team
productivity and familiarity. These various teams can be
central or peripheral to the team member’s role in the
organization. Peripheral team members, who only allocate a
small percentage of their time to the team, are less likely
to be committed to the team and less aware of how the team
operates (Maynard, Mathieu, Rapp, & Gilson, 2012).

Turnover of members can have positive and negative effects on
a team (Levine & Choi, 2004). The introduction of newcomers
requires the team to spend time and energy socializing them.
New members may reduce the team’s performance because they
do not fully understand how the team operates (Bell et al.,
2011). However, newcomers may improve the team’s operations
by providing a fresh perspective (De Dreu & West, 2001).
Ideas generated in stable teams tend to converge. Stability
also inhibits the emergence of new work processes. Newcomers,
however, may encourage the team to rethink how it operates
(Tannenbaum et al., 2012).

Although turnover may negatively impact team performance,
there are approaches teams can use to manage this issue
(Higgins, Weiner, & Young, 2012). For some action and
professional teams, the stability of team roles—but not
individuals in those roles—is what is important for team


performance. This focus on roles rather than on team members
has implications for team socialization. Socialization of new
team members focuses on their roles in the team instead of on
a particular individual’s fit or social relations in the
team. This approach toward team roles is used in performance
teams, such as orchestras, the military, and athletic teams.
Although the team membership changes, the team roles remain



Team goals clarify the level of performance expected for task
completion, often in terms of the quality, quantity, and
speed of work (Aube & Rousseau, 2005; Weldon & Weingart,
1993). A clear understanding of a team’s objectives through
well-articulated goals is one of the most common
characteristics of successful teams (Larson & LaFasto, 1989).
A team with shared goals is more likely to complete its tasks
on time and experience less conflict. Determining goals and
establishing timelines can also help teams avoid the planning
fallacy, which is the tendency to underestimate the time and
energy needed to complete a project (Buehler, Griffin, &
Ross, 1994).

Goals are only one way a team can define its purpose. There
are other ways. Teams often create mission statements that,
in general terms, define their purposes and values. A mission
statement articulates a team’s values but does not say how
the team’s purposes will be fulfilled. A team’s goals must
be consistent with the mission statement, but goals should be
objective, defining the accomplishments that need to be
completed for success. A team also can create subgoals or
objectives that serve as signposts along the way to
completion of their goals.


Value and Characteristics of Goals

Merely having goals is not enough to increase performance.
Goals must be specific to provide members with direction and
expectations (Locke & Latham, 2002). Members also need to
understand their individual tasks, roles, and
responsibilities as they relate to team goal achievement.
Being committed to team goals is important (Aube & Rousseau,
2005), which can be difficult when individual goals and group
goals are misaligned. Progress toward the goals should be
measurable (Zander, 1994). If progress toward the goals is
not measurable, the team cannot adequately monitor or receive
feedback on its performance. Without measurability, one might
as well tell the team to “go out and do your best”—a nice
motivational expression that does not lead to improved
performance (Locke & Latham, 1990).

Goals should also be moderately difficult. That is, they
should be motivating but not impossible to achieve (Locke &
Latham, 1990). Teams perform better when they can participate
in setting challenging performance goals (Kerr & Tindale,
2004). Participation helps gain acceptance and support for
the team’s goals. The goal-setting process helps the team
better understand the task. Participation also encourages
collective efficacy, or the belief that the team can meet its
goals. Team goals work best when the task is interesting and
challenging and requires that team members work together to
succeed. Success in reaching goals can instill a sense of
accomplishment in the team (Zander, 1994).

Goals serve a variety of functions for a team. Table 3.2
lists several of these functions. Goals help direct and
motivate the team and its members, but they also serve
functions outside the team. They help establish relationships
with other parts of the organization and criteria for
evaluation from the surrounding organization.


It is important to note that a team is not always free to set
its own goals. Instead, team goals are often defined by their
organization. There are times when a team is faced with a
situation where the goals are unclear or team members have
differing views of the goals. For a project team, sometimes
understanding the problem the team is trying to solve (i.e.,
defining the goals of the project) is more difficult and
time-consuming than developing a solution.

Goal setting is not a one-time activity for a team. One of
the values of using teams is their ability to adapt to
changing situations and to learn how to improve their
performance. When the situation changes, a team needs to
reevaluate its goals and objectives. Reflexivity occurs when
a team overtly reflects on its goals, strategies, and
processes in order to adapt them to current or changing
conditions (Schippers, Edmondson, & West, 2014). Monitoring
and reevaluating the team’s objectives, strategies, and
processes can improve a team’s long-term performance.

Table 3.2 Functions of Team Goals

1. Serve as a standard that can be used to evaluate

2. Motivate team members by encouraging their involvement
in the task

3. Guide the team toward certain activities and encourage
integration of team members’ tasks

4. Provide a criterion for evaluating whether certain
actions and decisions are appropriate


5. Serve as a way to inform outside groups about the team
and establish relationships with them

6. Determine when team members should be rewarded or
punished for their performance

Source: Adapted from Zander, A. (1994). Making groups effective. San
Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.


Goals Gone Wild

Setting goals is not without potentially harmful side
effects. Ordóñez, Schweitzer, Galinsky, and Bazerman (2009)
warn about “goals gone wild.” When goal setting is
overprescribed, teams can create too many, too specific, and
too challenging goals. Ultimately, this can undermine
motivation and performance. Goals that are too specific can
focus attention away from emergent needs or other dimensions
of performance that are not specified (Kerr, 1975). As people
tend to focus on a single goal at a time, an abundance of
goals can lead to some being ignored. Overly specific goals
can also inhibit learning alternative methods for completing
a task (Locke & Latham, 2002).

Pursuing challenging goals can be destructive and produce
unethical behavior in teams (Ordóñez et al., 2009). It
encourages risk-taking behaviors that can damage the team and
its mission. For example, two leaders of a team climbing Mt.
Everest in 1996 pushed through risky weather conditions to
attempt summiting the mountain—a decision that led to their
death and the death of six clients (Kayes, 2005). Overly
challenging goals can also motivate unethical behaviors, like
misrepresenting performance and cheating (Schweitzer,
Ordóñez, & Douma, 2004). Wells Fargo was fined $185 million
for the unauthorized creation of 2 million bank accounts,
brought on from the high performance expectations of sales
employees (Veetikazhi & Krishnan, 2019). Finally, when a team
repeatedly misses its goals, members become embarrassed,
begin to blame one another and outside factors for problems,
and may refuse to commit to goals in the future (Zander,
1977). This can erode the group’s confidence that it can
ultimately achieve its mission.


Hidden Agendas

It is problematic when individual goals and group goals are
incongruent. Having individual goals can interfere with group
performance and cooperation (Van Mierlo & Kleingeld, 2010).
Hidden agendas are the unspoken individual goals that
conflict with overall team goals (Johnson & Johnson, 1997).

The most basic type of hidden agenda relates to the
motivational aspect of goals. Although the team may decide to
commit itself 100% to doing a high-quality job on a project,
some team members may not perceive the team’s activities as
important. They might decide to slack off and spend more time
and effort on other activities. Their individual goal is to
help the team succeed with the least amount of effort on
their part.

Another type of hidden agenda relates to the directional
aspect of goals. Some team members may not agree with the
goals of the team, or they may have individual goals that are
incompatible with the team goals. For example, in an
organization budget committee, team members must deal with
the potentially conflicting goals of doing what is best for
the organization versus doing what is best for the
departments they represent.

Within a team, hidden agendas can create conflict that is
difficult to resolve. For example, a low-motivated team
member will create excuses rather than tell the team they are
unwilling to work hard on the project. A team member with
conflicting loyalties will hide this conflict, leading other
team members to distrust what the team member says. The
overall effect of hidden agendas is to damage trust within
the team, which reduces communication and makes conflicts
more difficult to resolve.


Directly confronting people about hidden agendas often does
not work, because it simply forces defensiveness and denial.
Rather than directly confronting a team member about a hidden
agenda, the team can strengthen its processes to reduce the
impacts of hidden agendas. The team can reevaluate its goals,
so they are acceptable to all team members. Team members’
roles can be renegotiated so that expectations are clear.
Teams can build trust through better documenting and
monitoring of work commitments. Team leaders can help create
a safe and open communication climate so that conflicts are
more easily addressed.



Team norms define appropriate and inappropriate behavior in a
team. They can, for example, establish who speaks, how people
communicate, which opinions are acceptable to express,
whether meetings start on time, and how tasks are completed.
Even though people follow norms, they may be unable to
articulate them or even be aware of them. Norms provide a
sense of what is “normal.” As such, members typically obey
norms even when there is no external pressure to comply.
Rather, group members accept them and use them to guide their
own behavior.

Norms can be explicit or implicit. Explicit norms can be
expressed relatively clearly and tend to be more formalized.
Examples of explicit norms are the rules detailed in a team
charter, the litany of classroom expectations detailed in a
course syllabus, and the code of conduct that employees sign
upon joining an organization. By contrast, implicit norms are
indirect and less easily stated. These are typically unspoken
rules that emerge from observing “how things are done around
here” and witnessing what happens when someone transgresses
the norm. In the United States, for example, a fast-food
restaurant does not need to state “do not cut in line” (an
explicit norm) to prevent (most) customers from simply
walking up to the counter—people are implicitly aware of
appropriate behavior based on cultural knowledge.

Explicit and implicit norms may even be in opposition to each
other. A leader may encourage employees to provide dissenting
opinions (an explicit norm), but this does not mean that team
members feel comfortable providing them. If the team
perceives (accurately or inaccurately) that the leader
responds negatively to dissent, it can produce an implicit
norm of “do not disagree with the leader.” Such a dynamic


can produce conflicting expectations, undermine leadership,
and hinder the development of psychological safety.

There are four main functions of team norms (Feldman, 1984).
First, team norms express the team’s central values, which
help give members a sense of who they are as a team. Second,
norms help coordinate the activities of team members by
establishing common ground and making behavior more
predictable. Third, norms help define appropriate behavior
for team members, allowing members to avoid embarrassing or
difficult situations, thereby encouraging active
participation in the team. Fourth, norms help the team
survive by creating a distinctive identity; this identity
helps team members understand how they are different from
others and provides criteria for evaluating deviant behavior
within the team.

Several factors affect the power of team norms to control the
behavior of team members (Shaw, 1981). The clearer and more
specific a norm is delineated, the more members will conform
to it. If most team members accept and conform to the norms,
others are more likely to conform. The more cohesive a team
becomes, the more members will conform to norms. While some
norms may be considered pivotal to the team’s success,
others play a more supportive or peripheral role. Teams are
more tolerant of deviance from peripheral norms than from
norms that are pivotal to their operations (Schein, 1980).
For example, experts who are valuable contributors to the
team may be allowed to violate peripheral norms concerning
dress codes or rules of social etiquette.


How Norms Are Formed

Norms begin forming the moment people start interacting, and
they continue to develop unconsciously and gradually over
time. They are created through members observing the actions
and inactions of team members as they respond to each other.
People monitor social cues—vocal tone, gestures, words, and
so forth—to determine if they are failing to conform to a
social norm (Pickett & Gardner, 2005). When members perceive
that they are violating a norm, they often seek to correct
their behavior. While social monitoring is useful for
enforcing and conforming to norms, it is problematic when
norms are misinterpreted. Communication—particularly
nonverbal communication—is ambiguous, leaving room to
misinterpret meanings behind social cues (Lapinski & Rimal,
2005). When norms are left implicit, appropriate behavior may
be ambiguous and uncertain.

Team norms come from a variety of sources. Many norms come
from experiences outside the present team, such as those
informed by prior team memberships. Other norms are based on
outside standards, such as those outlined by the
organizational context or formed from societal expectations.
For example, Ely and Meyerson (2010) investigated the safety
practices of men working in dangerous conditions, like
firefighting, construction, and coal mining. In these
workplaces, men tend to display conventional masculine norms
—acting “manly” through portraying themselves as
physically tough, infallible, and emotionally detached—to
the dysfunctional degree of taking unnecessary risks, making
poor-quality decisions, marginalizing female coworkers, and
violating human rights. A compelling counterpoint is provided
from workers on an oil production platform, in which the
safety and productivity of teams increased through training
and policies that cultivated norms about acknowledging
limitations, publicly admitting mistakes, and openly


attending to the emotions of themselves and others. As
“macho” behavior became considered unsafe and unacceptable,
there was an 84% decline in the company’s accident rate and
an increase in the productivity, efficiency, and reliability
of oil production.

Norms are also strongly influenced by what happens early in
the team’s existence, and they are most likely to develop in
situations where members are unsure of correct or acceptable
behaviors. For example, when a team is having problems with
members showing up late for meetings, it is likely because no
one addressed this behavior early on. The lack of response
normalizes this tardy behavior and makes it acceptable.
Countering this dynamic requires developing explicit norms
for attendance.

Many teams simply ignore the notion of team norms. They
assume that everyone knows how to behave in a team and that
there is no need to take the time to articulate norms. It is
not until a team starts to have problems that it becomes
apparent that different members are operating under different
or less effective norms. Teams benefit from discussing and
establishing explicit team norms, which prevents the
development of inappropriate behaviors (e.g., submitting
one’s part of the project late) and makes everyone aware of
the behaviors that are expected and consequences for not
meeting these expectations.

Table 3.3 presents some issues to consider when establishing
team norms for team meetings. When new teams are created, it
is useful for the team leader to discuss and obtain agreement
about norms. This can be done as part of the process of
creating the team’s charter. (See Appendix for an example.)


Impact of Team Norms

Norms develop, whether or not team members attend to them.
Team norms can therefore have both positive and negative
impacts. Because they influence the team’s interactions,
norms can allow open communication, promote adaptability,
maintain respect among members, and distribute power to
weaker members of the team.

Table 3.3 Norm Issues for Team Meetings


How should decisions be made? Must

everyone agree for consensus? Should

anyone have veto power?

Attendance What are legitimate reasons for missing
meetings? How should the team encourage
regular attendance?

Assignments When assignments are made, what should be
done when team members do not complete
them or complete them poorly?

Participation What should be done to encourage everyone
to participate?

Meeting times When should meetings occur? How often
should the team meet? What should be the
length of a team meeting?



How should decisions be made? Must

everyone agree for consensus? Should

anyone have veto power?

Agendas and

Who should be responsible for these
activities? What other meeting roles
should be set up?

Promptness What should be done to encourage


How should the team encourage members to
listen attentively and respectfully to
others? Should the team have rules to
limit interruptions or prevent personal

Enforcement How should the team enforce its rules?

Source: Adapted from Scholtes, P. (1988). The team handbook: How to use
teams to improve quality. Madison, WI: Joiner Associates.

Norms can also have the opposite effect, silencing team
members, making it difficult to consider new ideas, and
reinforcing bullying and intimidation. Conformity to norms
can also undermine team performance. In basketball, for
example, the optimal way to shoot a free throw is using an
underhanded technique, unaffectionately called “granny-
style” (Venkadesan & Mahadevan, 2017). Players adopting this
technique, like famed center Wilt Chamberlain, score more
points for their team. However, they are often ridiculed by
teammates and fans alike for violating the norm of how to


“appropriately” shoot a free throw. In response to this,
players often abandon the underhanded technique in favor of
the less effective but “normal” free-throw technique
(Gladwell, 2016).

Managing norms can have a profound effect on the performance
of teams. A two-year study of teams across Google that
analyzed over 250 team attributes found that establishing
effective group norms was the best predictor of team
performance (Duhigg, 2016; Schneider, 2017). Based on
research by Edmondson (1999), Google researchers found that
norms fostering psychological safety—such as equal turn-
taking during discussions, disclosing personal information,
and having emotional conversations—were among the best
predictors of team performance.




Initial team performance can be low because it takes time for
teams to develop their internal social processes and
approaches to completing the task (Katzenbach & Smith, 2015).
However, techniques can help speed up the development of
newly formed teams. Improving teamwork requires effort at the
beginning of the project, but it is time well spent as teams
that start off well often perform better over time (Hackman,
1990a). Discussions and exercises that set goals, develop
social relations, clarify roles, and solve problems can
improve team processes (Klein et al., 2009). Additionally,
creating a team charter that articulates goals, roles, and
norms is a significant predictor of long-term team success
(Mathieu & Rapp, 2009).


Building Social Relations

One of the problems with teams is the tendency to focus
almost exclusively on tasks. It is equally important to
recognize the value of developing a team’s social relations.
Most stage theories of group development state that social
relations precede the team’s performance stage. Developing
social relations among team members aids in socializing new
team members, establishing trust, and helping members manage
team conflict. Trust improves team performance and
coordination by enabling members to accept uncertainty and be
more vulnerable with each other (De Jong, Dirks, & Gillespie,
2016). This aids in having more open conversations,
addressing issues, suspending judgments, and resolving
conflicts and misunderstandings. Typically, all teams will
experience conflict, so it is important to focus on
developing social relations early in the team’s existence.

One useful approach to fostering interpersonal closeness is
for team members to engage in self-disclosure, often through
team warm-ups (e.g., icebreakers) conducted at the start of
team meetings (Scholtes, 1988). Warm-ups are social
activities designed to help team members get to know one
another and improve communication during the team project.
They can be as simple as spending 5 minutes sharing jokes or
chatting about what team members did over the weekend. Common
team warm-up exercises that may be useful during the early
stages of a team’s life are included in the Appendix.

Some scholars recommend adopting icebreakers with caution, as
they may be executed poorly or lack scientific evidence
(e.g., Lacerenza et al., 2018). For example, disclosure of
personal information can promote interpersonal closeness
between people (Aron, Melinat, Aron, Vallone, & Bator, 1997)
and members of work groups (Polzer, Milton, & Swarm, 2002).
However, this is not always the case for demographically


diverse groups (Dumas, Rothbard, & Phillips, 2008).
Disclosure may highlight perceived status differences
associated with particular demographic categories (Phillips,
Rothbard, & Dumas, 2009) and reduce team cohesion (Phillips,
Northcraft, & Neale, 2006). For example, a teammate with a
same-sex partner may not disclose this to team members during
an initial icebreaking activity. Instead, dissimilar members
can feel pressure to restrict self-disclosure until they
understand how to strategically present themselves to the
team (Flynn, Chatman, & Spataro, 2001).


Clarifying Roles and Responsibilities

Many teams jump into action with too little time dedicated to
understanding the project mission (Pokras, 1995). This can
inhibit everyone on the team from having a shared
understanding of the assignment. Many professional teams find
the project definition stage to be the most difficult and
important stage. Team members may feel socially uncomfortable
at the beginning, so they want to quickly focus on performing
the task. Task assignments are often ill structured, and this
ambiguity causes discomfort. Making quick decisions to clear
up a problem is emotionally satisfying. Such actions may help
address the emotional aspects of a problem, but they often
result in a team heading off in the wrong direction, leading
to conflict and delays later in the project. Teams can use
several techniques to improve their ability to define a
problem and understand its underlying causes. These are
discussed in Chapter 11.

Once the team agrees on the definition of the project, it
should spend time developing and clarifying roles. Through
establishing clear roles and responsibilities for individual
members, teammates better understand their tasks and the
tasks of other teammates (Salas, Rozell, Mullen, & Driskell,
1999). This can promote role flexibility through determining
the situations when individuals need to assume other
member’s roles (Campion, Medsker, & Higgs, 1993). Developing
performance strategies that outline performance objectives
and tactics direct the team’s actions and create a shared
mental model of how the team should operate. In all, task-
related team planning at the beginning of a team’s existence
promotes team effectiveness (Mathieu & Rapp, 2009).


Team Charter

A proper team launch includes developing common team goals
and objectives, clarifying roles, creating appropriate team
norms, and defining performance expectations. Developing a
team charter is an effective way to achieve this. A team
charter is a plan for how the team will manage its teamwork
activities (Mathieu & Rapp, 2009).

A team charter helps clarify role expectations and work norms
that support collaborative work. Because charters outline
members’ roles and work processes, they help team members to
focus more easily on the task. The charter explicitly states
the agreements the team has reached on how to operate. The
act of developing a charter helps the team identify and
resolve conflicts and misunderstandings. It is a valuable
technique for getting started in the right direction. A more
complete description of the components and uses of team
charters and a sample outline of a team charter are presented
in the Appendix.

Teams may half-heartedly create and implement a team charter.
Such a lackadaisical approach can be counterproductive when
it fosters an implicit norm of “explicit rules do not matter
and are not enforced in this team.” In the end, a team
charter is simply ink on paper (or words on a screen)—it has
no inherent ability to direct behaviors or enforce
consequences. The onus remains on members to follow,
implement, and refine the team charter.


Developing Virtual Teams

It is now rather common for teams to operate virtually at
least some of the time (Gibson, Huang, Kirkman, & Shapiro,
2014). Even geographically colocated teams conduct some of
their interactions via online communication technologies like
videoconferencing, teleconferencing, text-based interactions,
or collaborative documents. Because teams often rely on
information and communications technology, it is important to
develop norms about the use of technology (Duarte & Snyder,
2006). Working virtually also presents challenges for group
development and socialization.

Teams need to decide how technologies should be used for task
and social communication. For example, technology norms may
address the expected speed of response to messages, when the
entire team is included in a message, who is allowed to edit
shared documents, and what is the appropriate size of e-mail
and text messages. Technology norms are important to consider
for virtual teams with intercultural memberships. These teams
can benefit from discussing the appropriateness of giving
feedback over e-mail, the degree of formality to use, and the
appropriateness of emotional display (Moser & Axtell, 2013).

Working virtually also presents challenges for group
development and socialization. Scholars show that it can be
difficult for virtual team members to develop shared norms,
form relationships (Jarvenpaa, Knoll, & Leidner, 1998), and
exchange or seek information (Andres, 2012). This places
importance on articulating explicit norms (Krumm, Terwiel, &
Hertel, 2013) and early use of videoconferencing technologies
to foster interpersonal interactions and trust (Malhotra,
Majchrzak, & Rosen, 2007). Although, members from some
cultures may not feel comfortable speaking up on a
teleconference call unless first asked, while members from
other cultures may be frustrated at those who do not speak up


on their own (Anawati & Craig, 2006). Even better is to begin
a virtual team project with a face-to-face meeting to enable
informal interactions that can help build trust, establish a
team identity, and solidify team norms and culture.



Teams develop through a series of stages, from formation to
adjournment. These stages relate to the time needed to
develop a team’s internal processes and the changing demands
of its tasks. The developmental perspective shows the
different types of challenges teams face during their
existence. Rather than a smooth progression, teams go through
periods of low activity followed by bursts of achievement and
from periods of smooth relations to conflict. Understanding
these stage theories helps explain why teams do most of their
productive work during the later stages of projects.

The group socialization process describes the changing
relationship between a team and its members. The team and its
members evaluate one another to determine reciprocal levels
of commitment. Socialization proceeds through a series of
stages, from investigation to maintenance. Many types of
teams have dynamic team membership, which makes socialization
an ongoing activity for teams. This increase in team member
turnover has positive and negative impacts on team

Goals define a team’s purpose and values. They are an
important factor in the team’s success. Goals often are
divided into objectives that are linked to performance
criteria. Effective team goals are measurable in order to
provide feedback on performance and moderately difficult in
order to motivate performance. One common goal problem for a
group is hidden agendas. Hidden agendas occur when individual
team members have unspoken goals that conflict with the team
goals. These can create conflict and distrust in the team and
must be managed carefully.

Team norms define appropriate behavior for team members. They
help the team operate more smoothly and create a distinctive


group identity. Norms often evolve gradually. A team should
formally establish its operating norms, however. The impact
of team norms can be both positive and negative. Norms help a
team operate better internally, but teams can develop norms
that do not encourage high performance.

One of the values of viewing the ways teams evolve is that it
illustrates the problems teams have at the beginning of
projects. Teams must address the problems of undeveloped
social relations, ill-defined projects, and ambiguous goals
and norms before they can focus on performing their tasks.
The operation of teams can be improved by focusing on these
problems at the beginning of the team.


Team Leadership Challenge 3

It is the first meeting of a new product development
team. The team’s goal is to create the next
generation of kitchen appliances for the company. The
team is composed of members from engineering, product
design, marketing, manufacturing, and finance. This
project will be the main work activity for team
members for the next 8 to 10 months.

As the team leader, you need to get the team started
quickly on the project. Management has given you an
overall goal for the project, but you have had limited
time to plan how to manage it. Because of the limited
time for completing the project, you are concerned
about getting the team off to a good start.

What are the three most important issues for you
(the team leader) to

focus on at the beginning of the team project?

What should happen at the first meeting?


Activity: Observing Team Development

Objective: Teams often progress through stages of
development, from forming, storming, norming,
performing, and adjourning. During these stages, they
develop norms, set goals, and develop interpersonal
relationships. Teams can observe and evaluate these
stages in this condensed activity.

Activity: Observe a team (or record videos of teams
for analyzing themselves) completing the Marshmallow
Challenge presented by Tom Wujec (2010) during his TED
Talk. During this challenge, teams compete to build
the tallest freestanding structure in 18 minutes using
only 20 pieces of uncooked spaghetti, 1 yard of
string, and 1 yard of tape. A marshmallow must be
placed at the top of the structure. The team with the
tallest structure as measured from the base to the top
of the marshmallow is the winner.

Analysis: Observers should be attentive to how the
team advances through the stages of team development
(forming, norming, storming, performing, and
adjourning). Make notes using the prompts on Activity
Worksheet 3.1.

Discussion: How did the team advance through stages of
group development? What helped or hindered
development? What did the team not do that you think
they should have done?


Activity Worksheet 3.1: Observing Team


Table 3.4

Forming: How did members get to know one another?
Was anyone left out? How? Describe the patterns of

Storming: What disagreements emerged about roles,
goals, and procedures? How were they resolved?
Describe the patterns of communication.

Norming: What implicit and explicit norms surfaced?
Where did they come from? Did a leader emerge?
Describe the patterns of communication.

Performing: How are decisions made and tasks
assigned? Did the team set clear goals and roles?
Did members have a clear idea of what they were
supposed to do?

Adjourning: How did group interactions change as
the timer was running out? What is the mood at the
end of the project?


Activity: Developing a Team Charter

Objective: Team charters help establish the goals,
roles, norms, and performance expectations of a team.
Developing a charter is a valuable first step in
establishing guidelines for the operation of a team.

Activity: Form groups of four to six students who will
plan and conduct an event. The event could be a
charity fundraiser, concert, or party. This is the
start-up meeting for the event team. Using Activity
Worksheet 3.2, develop a team charter for the event

Analysis: Are the goals clear and specific enough to
provide direction for the team? Do the roles
adequately define each team member’s
responsibilities? How will the team enforce its norms?
Do members feel confident they know what is expected
of them?

Discussion: What is the value of developing a team
charter? Was it difficult to define the goals, roles,
norms, and expectations for the team? How can the team
get members to commit to the charter?


Activity Worksheet 3.2: Developing a

Team Charter

Table 3.5

Team Goals: What are the goals for the team? What
does each team member hope to achieve from working
on this team?

Roles: What are the primary roles and
responsibilities of each team member?

Norms: What are the operating rules for the team?
(Consider establishing norms for decision making,
attendance, assignments, participation, and

Performance Expectations: What criteria will be
used to evaluate the team and each member’s

Consequences: What are the consequences for members
that violate norms or performance expectations? Who
will enforce these consequences, and how will they
be delivered?




Motivation, group cohesion, role assignments, task and social behaviors, and team learning
are the basic building blocks of successful team performance. Team members working in a team
may be motivated to work harder, but sometimes individual effort decreases when individuals
work in a team. This phenomenon is called social loafing. Developing challenging tasks that
require interdependent actions, improving the reward system, fostering team efficacy, and
increasing commitment to the team can help reduce social loafing and motivate the team.

Beyond motivating a team, successful performance depends on other factors. Group cohesion is
the bond that ties the members together. Cohesive teams generally perform better, but
cohesion also can cause performance problems. Like the roles in a play, people perform roles
in a team. Poorly defined roles can lead to stress and inefficiency, while clear roles help
teams operate with less stress and more efficiently. Although task behaviors typically
dominate in work teams, social behaviors are necessary to build relationships among team
members. Teams sometimes suffer from a lack of activities aimed at building relationships
among members. Teams need to adapt to changing situations and learn how to improve their
performance. Learning requires setting aside time to reflect on how the team is doing.


Learning Objectives

1. Understand the causes and solutions to social loafing in a team.
2. Explain how to motivate a team.
3. Describe the positive and negative effects of cohesion.
4. Explain the causes of role ambiguity and role stress.
5. Describe the formal roles commonly played by team members.
6. Explain how task and social behaviors affect team performance.
7. Explain the importance of team learning and reflection.



The potential of teamwork lies in team synergy—that the whole is greater than the sum of
its parts. That is, the collective work of the group is greater than the work that its
individuals could accomplish separately. While a team can achieve synergy through
integrating the diverse perspectives of members and through the motivating impact of team
spirit, it does not always work out that way. In some circumstances, working together causes
a decrease in motivation that may be due to social loafing. Understanding this problem can
inform ways of increasing team motivation.


Social Loafing

One of the biggest motivation problems for teams is social loafing, which occurs when
individual contributions are less identifiable in group tasks. This results in the reduction
of individual effort when people work in groups compared to working alone (Latané, Williams,
& Harkins, 1979). One of the best ways to understand social loafing is to look at a
situation where it rarely occurs, such as a championship basketball game. Only the team’s
score counts in determining the winner, but every individual’s participation is observable
and measurable. The task is motivating by itself and becomes more motivating through the
social aspects of performance. The task requires an integrated and coordinated performance.
One player cannot win the game alone, so each player is dependent on the coordinated efforts
of the team to win. Winning is important, and success is highly rewarded. Social loafing
diminishes when team tasks share these characteristics.

Social loafing is related to several other group phenomena. People can become free riders
who perform little in a team because they do not believe their individual efforts are
important, and they know they will receive their share of the team’s reward regardless of
their efforts (Sweeney, 1973). Both social loafing and free riding contribute to the sucker
effect, in which otherwise good performers slack off in teams because they do not want
others to take advantage of them (Kerr, 1983). Demotivation can be contagious in teams,
resulting in all team members reducing their contributions to the task.

A variety of factors contribute to social loafing (Karau & Williams, 1993). If the tasks the
team is performing are just a collection of individual tasks, why does the team need to
perform in a coordinated way? This reduces motivation because of the lack of a perceived
need to work as a team. Individual performance can be hidden in the team’s collective
effort, leading members to reduce their effort because they are no longer concerned about
what others think of their performance. Finally, team members might be unaware of how much
effort others are putting into the task. As a result, they do not know whether they are
doing their fair share. Unfortunately, people tend to overestimate the extent of their
contributions to the team.

Research on work teams shows that these sports principles apply to work. When work teams are
given challenging tasks, when they are rewarded for team success yet have identifiable
individual performance indicators, and when there is commitment to the team, social loafing
does not occur (Hackman, 1986).


Increasing Team Motivation

Increasing a team’s motivation depends on multiple factors: the task it performs, how
performance will be evaluated and rewarded, the team’s belief in its ability to succeed,
and the team members’ sense of commitment or belonging.


A team is more motivated when the task it performs is interesting, involving, and
challenging. Probably the best description of how to create this type of task comes from the
job characteristic model (Hackman & Oldham, 1980). A satisfying job creates three critical
psychological states: experienced meaningfulness, responsibility for outcomes, and knowledge
of results. A task is meaningful when it provides the opportunity to use a variety of
skills, to complete an entire piece of work from beginning to end, and to affect others with
its completion. Responsibility for outcomes is experienced when a team is given the autonomy
to design, schedule, and carry out the task as desired. Knowledge of results comes from
feedback on the effectiveness of one’s performance.

However, a good team task is more than just a good individual task. A good team task
requires task interdependence; team members must work together to successfully complete the
task. Task interdependence is an additional factor that can be added to the job
characteristic model (Van Der Vegt, Emans, & Van De Vliert, 1998). It is a shift from
individual responsibility to team responsibility for outcomes. To be successful, team
members must feel responsible for both their own work and the work of the other team
members. It is only when team members experience both types of responsibility that they work
in a cooperative way.

Task interdependence can come from the distribution of skills among team members and the
work processes of the team. It is one reason why action teams (e.g., sports teams) and
cross-functional teams (e.g., design teams where members have different skills) often are
more successful than student project teams. In a sports team, the players need one another
to succeed. In a cross-functional team, working together is the only way to complete a
project. However, in a student team, the students typically have similar skills and
knowledge, so they do not need one another to complete the task.

Interdependence helps motivate team members in several ways. When team members depend on one
another to complete a task, power is shared among the members (Franz, 1998). The more team
members need one another to complete a task, the more power each team member has in the
team. Task interdependence affects how conflict, cohesiveness, work norms, and autonomy
relate to team effectiveness (Langfred, 2000). When teams are highly interdependent, these
variables have a more powerful effect on how well teams perform. Interdependence also
encourages members to believe that their contributions to the team are indispensable,
unique, and valuable, thereby making them more willing to put effort into the team’s task
(Kerr, 1983; Kerr & Bruun, 1983).


Motivation is also enhanced through indispensability effects (Weber & Hertel, 2007), which
occur when the significance of a team member’s contribution to the overall team outcome is
emphasized. An indispensability approach activates both individual motives (e.g., avoiding
being responsible for group failure) and collective motives (e.g., maximize group outcomes)
to foster cooperation and mutual responsibility. It can even promote positive mood and self-


esteem. These effects are triggered by communication that stresses the importance of a
member’s contribution and assigning a unique subtask to individual members. However,
members can also experience significant pressure and stress because of their
indispensability to the team (Baumeister, 1984). Appropriate social and resource support
should be available to indispensable members to prevent poor health and performance

Evaluations and Rewards

Interdependence relates to both the task and the outcome of the team’s work. The task may
require a coordinated effort, but team members may believe their evaluations and rewards are
primarily based on individual performance rather than on the success of the team’s effort.
Research shows that a belief in outcome interdependence is crucial because it helps motivate
members to work together (Van Der Vegt et al., 1998).

To be successful, team members must feel responsible for both their own work and the work of
other team members. Team goals and team reward systems encourage this dual sense of
responsibility. For example, managerial teams often do not perform well because managers are
more concerned about what happens in their respective departments than in the organization
as a whole. One of the values of companywide profit-sharing programs is to make
organizational success an important goal. When it is achieved, each member of the management
team is rewarded. This encourages managers to think about what is good for the organization
rather than only about what is good for their departments.

A balance of individual- and team-based rewards is necessary to encourage both a commitment
to the team and an incentive for individual performance (Thompson, 2004). Finding the right
balance can be difficult for an organization. In addition, the performance evaluation system
must fairly identify both team success and an individual’s contribution to that success.
When individual contributions to the team are identifiable and linked to the reward system,
motivation is increased (Harkins & Jackson, 1985). (The topic of evaluating and rewarding
teams is discussed in more detail in Chapter 16.)

Team Efficacy and Potency

Teams evaluate their ability to succeed by examining their personal resources and their
ability to work together (Hirschfeld & Bernerth, 2008). Team efficacy is the perception that
the team can perform well at a particular task (e.g., “We are going to rock at interviewing
these customers!”). As projects progress and tasks change, team efficacy may ebb and flow.
In contrast, team potency is the perception that the team is generally capable of
successfully performing across various tasks (e.g., “Whatever comes our way, I am sure that
we can all handle it.”). Increasing a sense of team efficacy helps increase motivation.
Teams with higher collective efficacy have higher levels of motivation to perform, show
greater resilience when encountering difficulties and setbacks, and experience improved
performance (Bandura, 2000). Both team efficacy and team potency relate to team performance,
especially when there are high levels of task interdependence (Mathieu et al., 2008).

Team efficacy has a reciprocal relationship with team performance. In other words,
successful performance increases team efficacy and vice versa (Ilgen, Hollenbeck, Johnson, &
Jundt, 2005). Several factors influence team efficacy. Teams that have been successful in
the past have higher levels of team efficacy. Leaders who believe their team is competent
foster higher collective efficacy. Teams with higher collective efficacy are more likely to
set higher performance goals, which encourage greater performance (Goncalo et al., 2010).


Teams with a stronger group identity, whose members more highly value their membership in
the team, also have greater team efficacy (Lee, Farh, & Chen, 2011).

Commitment and Cohesion

When people value membership in the team, they are more motivated to perform. The increased
sense of commitment and attraction to a team is called group cohesion. Cohesive teams are
less likely to experience social loafing (Karau & Williams, 1993, 1997). Group cohesiveness
includes a commitment to the task that the team is performing. In a highly cohesive team,
members enjoy the task that the team is performing, enjoy working together on the task, have
personal involvement in the task, and take pride in the team’s performance. Highly cohesive
teams have more commitment to their tasks and perform better (Wech, Mossholder, Steel, &
Bennett, 1998). Because group cohesion has important effects besides increased motivation, a
more complete discussion of it is presented next.



Group cohesion refers to the bonds that develop over time that hold a team together.
Cohesion is a multidimensional concept that represents the sum of forces that act upon
members to remain in the group (Festinger, 1950; Festinger, Schachter, & Back, 1963). These
forces can stem from interpersonal relationships, commitment to the task, and the emotions
and attitudes present in the group (Salas, Grossman, Hughes, & Coultas, 2015).

The most commonly studied of these forces include interpersonal attraction, group pride, and
task commitment (Beal, Cohen, Burke, & McLendon, 2003). Interpersonal attraction encompasses
a preference for members of the group based on similarity and positive social relationships
(Seashore, 1954). This is exemplified in teams that get along well, develop friendships with
each other, and may want to spend time together outside of work. Group pride is the extent
to which members value their membership and strongly define themselves as being a member of
the group (Hogg, 1992). Cohesive members will often use we and us as opposed to I or me when
talking about the group (Donnellon, 1996). Finally, task commitment refers to members
bonding over a shared desire to achieve group tasks or goals.

The sense of identification within cohesive teams has important implications. Some
implications, like better management of stress and conflict, are favorable. Other
implications, like conformity, can be detrimental to the success of a team.


How Cohesion Affects the Team’s Performance

Group cohesion can provide many benefits to organizations, individuals, and teams. People
who are part of cohesive teams are more satisfied with their jobs (Hackman, 1992), engage in
more organizational citizenship behaviors (Kidwell, Mossholder, & Bennett, 1997), and have a
higher commitment to the organization (Wech et al., 1998). Support from group cohesion can
protect against the negative impacts of stress and burnout (Li, Early, Mahrer,
Klaristenfeld, & Gold, 2014). Cohesion also contributes to member satisfaction with the team
and increases the desire of group members to work together in the future (Tekleab et al.,
2009). The interpersonal effects of group cohesion are generally positive, but the effects
on a team’s performance are mixed.

Group cohesion has a generally positive impact on team performance, particularly for smaller
teams (Beal et al., 2003). This relationship is reciprocal: Cohesion improves performance,
and performance improves cohesion (Mathieu, Kukenberger, D’innocenzo, & Reilly, 2015).
Cohesion improves performance through increased coordination and members having a shared
understanding of the team’s task. Indeed, cohesion based on task commitment has a more
substantial impact on performance than does cohesion based on interpersonal attraction or
group pride. Performance also improves cohesion when a group achieves success in its task.
However, when a team is not successful, disappointment and blame reduce group cohesion
(Naquin & Tynan, 2003). The effects of cohesion are more impactful when the team’s task
requires high levels of interaction, coordination, and interdependence (Beal et al., 2003).

Members of a cohesive team are more likely to accept the team’s goals, decisions, and
norms. The increased interpersonal bonds among team members amplify the pressure to conform
to team norms. As was seen in the discussion of team norms, norms can either support or
hamper team productivity (Sundstrom et al., 2000). Effective work teams have norms that
support high-quality performance and a level of group cohesiveness that provides social
support to its members. However, cohesive teams that lack effective performance norms may be
ineffective and highly resistant to change (Nemeth & Staw, 1989). Moreover, high levels of
cohesiveness can impair a team’s decision-making ability. Sometimes, team members will
“agree” to a decision not because they genuinely agree with it but because they do not
want to upset the team’s relationships or oppose the norm (Janis, 1972).

An important aspect of group cohesion relates to conflict management and problem solving. A
team with poor social relations will avoid dealing with problems until they disrupt the
team’s ability to perform the task or threaten its existence as a team. A team with good
social relations is better equipped to handle problems when they arise. The team can do this
because its more open communication allows team members to manage conflicts constructively.
This is one reason it is important to develop group cohesion and good social relations early
in the team’s existence. Forming good social relations early means a team has a better
capacity to solve problems and manage conflicts throughout the team’s work.


Building Group Cohesion

Research has identified several factors that encourage cohesion in work teams. Fostering
acceptance of group goals, promoting teamwork, establishing high performance expectations,
and acting as a mentor can enhance task and social cohesion (Callow, Smith, Hardy, Arthur, &
Hardy, 2009). Similarly, Lacerenza and colleagues (2018) recommend implementing
transformational leadership training to promote behaviors like mentoring, risk taking,
charisma, and initiating structure to increase team cohesion. Well-defined team structures,
roles, and relationships that emerge from these behaviors can promote cohesion by
establishing routines and minimizing conflict (Moody & White, 2003).

Cohesion can also increase from positive interactions with team members. Having emotional
exchanges, fostering equal interactions among team members, and reducing status differences
promotes group cohesion (Lawler & Yoon, 1996). Team members in a cohesive group tend to have
similar attitudes and personal goals. Spending time together increases their opportunity to
develop common interests and ideas. Social media (McFarland & Ployhart, 2015) and online
multiplayer games (Bozanta, Kutlu, Nowlan, & Shirmohammadi, 2016) offer emerging ways for
teams—particularly virtual teams—to develop cohesion through online interactions.

There are a variety of team building activities that can increase group cohesion, like
wilderness experience programs. These approaches are discussed in Chapter 17. Nevertheless,
one of the strongest predictors of group cohesion is team success. Creating opportunities
for successful performance and rewarding these successes improves a team’s sense of
efficacy, increases a sense of pride in the team, and builds cohesion among team members.



Roles are one of the basic building blocks of successful team performance (Driskell,
Driskell, Burke, & Salas, 2017). A role is an enduring set of behaviors typical of a person
in specific social contexts. Roles within a team are similar to roles in a play: They
describe what an individual is supposed to do and how their part relates to what others in
the team are doing. Moreover, members have different roles—a baseball team composed
entirely of catchers would be ineffective. Instead, it is when members have specific roles
and when members understand their interdependencies with each other that baseball teams
perform effectively as a cohesive unit. Likewise, work groups perform better when each
member has a specific role to fulfill and they understand how it fits into the roles that
others are playing.

Three kinds of roles emerge in teams (Mudrack & Farrell, 1995). Task-related roles act to
advance the group toward achieving its goals (e.g., coordinating, providing information, and
seeking opinions). Social-related roles attend to the emotional needs of members and
strengthen group-centered attitudes (e.g., encouraging, praising, and mediating conflict).
Finally, disruptive roles are dysfunctional behaviors that undermine group performance by an
individual dominating or distracting the group (e.g., expressing unrelated personal
interests or opinions, seeking recognition, and interrupting others).

The selection of roles may occur in a variety of ways. The organization, team, or individual
may assign roles. For example, management in the organization may assign the team leader,
the team may elect its leader, or the team may have no official leader. Even without
deliberately assigning formal roles, team members assume informal roles that emerge over
time as the team interacts. Two complementary types of leaders often emerge—one focused on
task activities and the other focused on the socioemotional concerns of members (Bales &
Slater, 1955). The type of role also affects the selection process. The team often selects
members to perform skill-based tasks, whereas social and disruptive roles often emerge by
self-selection. Disruptive roles may emerge when individual needs are not being met by the
team (e.g., need for influence, affection, or inclusion).


Role Stress

Roles contribute to stress through role ambiguity and role conflict (Jackson & Schuler,
1985). Because team roles often emerge without formal definitions, the responsibilities of
the roles often are ambiguous. A person fulfilling a role may not understand what other
group members expect of them, thus creating uncertainty in the role performer and hostility
from the other team members when the role is not performed as desired. Clarifying team
member roles and expectations can alleviate some role stress.

Team members also occupy several roles at a time, which may involve conflicting demands. Two
types of role conflict are a source of stress. Interrole conflict occurs when a person has
several incompatible roles. For example, during the COVID-19 outbreak, many people working
from home struggled with fulfilling the roles of being a good employee and caring for their
young children. Likewise, people experience role conflict while attempting to fulfill the
demands of their membership in multiple, simultaneous teams or other spheres of their life
(e.g., work/life).

Intrarole conflict occurs within a single role. For example, someone newly promoted to a
manager position often experiences conflict between being a manager and being a friend to
former peers. Friends may expect leniency from the new manager, while administration expects
more strict supervision. Alternatively, when participating in a task force composed of team
members from different areas of the organization, members may experience a conflict between
making choices to benefit the task team’s goals or choices that benefit their own
organizational areas.

Role stress contributes to several negative outcomes (Örtqvist & Wincent, 2006). It results
in emotional exhaustion, feeling drained by contact with colleagues, and reduced involvement
and participation with teammates. It also decreases commitment to the organization, job
satisfaction, job performance, and feelings of competence. Unsurprisingly, role stress is
associated with increased turnover intention and feelings of anxiety after the typical

For a project team, role problems often appear to worsen near the end of the project. As
team members rush to complete their assignments, they become more aware of the different
(and unmet) expectations that members have about who performs what role. These different
role expectations lead to conflicts when the team is already stressed about the project

To address role problems, a team should make role expectations explicit (e.g., short-term,
measurable tasks), provide constructive feedback to members, and emphasize the importance of
members fulfilling their roles. The tasks that the group is performing may also be
prioritized so that team members can decide what to do when there are conflicts among tasks.


Types of Team Meeting Roles

Team meetings provide an example of how roles are useful for a team. Meetings operate more
efficiently when major task roles are explicitly defined, and team members are assigned to
fulfill them (Kayser, 1990). One of the main meeting roles is that of leader or facilitator.
The leader is responsible for structuring the team’s interactions to ensure that the team
completes its goals. The leader manages the structure of the meeting but not its content.
The primary activities of the leader are to (a) develop the agenda to help structure team
meetings; (b) ensure that information is shared, understood, and processed by the team in a
supportive and participative environment; and (c) remove internal problems that hinder the
team’s operations.

The recorder takes notes on the meeting, capturing key decisions, actions, who is
responsible for actions, and deadlines for actions. The notes focus on the main points
rather than capturing the entire discussion. Proper documentation serves to remind members
what was said at the meeting, confirms that statements were captured correctly, and
establishes that postmeeting tasks are completed as recorded in the meeting by responsible
individuals. Notes also provide a way for absent members to feel connected to the meeting
and for secondary nonattendees (e.g., stakeholders affected by the issues being discussed)
to feel included (Rogelberg, 2019).

Another role is team timekeeper. When the agenda is presented at the beginning of the
meeting, teams may identify the time allotted for each item. The timekeeper reminds the team
when it has used the time allotted for an agenda item. The team may continue on that topic,
recognizing that to do so will extend the meeting longer than planned.

These team meeting roles should be recognized and filled at the outset of a team’s
existence. However, team members need not be permanently assigned to these roles. It is
often better to rotate people through roles, giving everyone a chance to try them out before
the team assigns permanent roles (Kayes, 2006; Kayser, 1990). There are several benefits to
this rotation. Every team member has the chance to practice roles. It is a good learning
experience, enabling members to fulfill other roles later if there are team absences. In
addition, the team has a chance to see how everyone performs. After team members have tried
out roles for several meetings, the team is better able to select who should fill them on a
more permanent basis.



Teams perform two basic types of behaviors: task behaviors and social behaviors. Task
behaviors focus on the team’s goals and tasks, while social behaviors focus on the social
and emotional needs of the team members and help maintain social relations among them. To
function effectively, teams need both task and social behaviors.

Task and social behaviors are used to support the members of the team and are essential
factors in team success (Hüffmeier & Hertel, 2011). Task-related support includes both
information sharing and behavioral assistance. Giving ideas and advice and explaining how to
perform a task are examples of information sharing, while helping another team member with
work tasks and providing supportive backup behaviors are types of behavioral assistance.
Social support includes social recognition, such as expressing acceptance and encouraging a
sense of belonging to the group, and encouragement, such as rewarding others and listening
to their personal issues.

Figure 4.1 shows how task support and social support relate to team performance. Task
support increases the collective efficacy of the team and improves coordination among team
members. Social support increases group cohesion and helps motivate team members. Both of
these factors interact to improve team performance.

The optimum balance between task and social behaviors depends on the characteristics of the
task and the team (Belbin, 1981). For example, technical teams with limited time may focus
on task-oriented behaviors to the exclusion of group process issues. Under these conditions,
teams may fall back on traditional management methods rather than using teamwork to get the
job done (Janz, Colquitt, & Noe, 1997). In general, effective work teams spend about 80% of
their time working on the task (Wheelan, 2005).

The right mix of task and social behaviors also depends on the maturity level of the team.
When teams are in the forming stage, they must engage in more social-oriented behaviors to
develop the social relations of the group. Teams in the performing stage will be dominated
by task-oriented behaviors. When a work team develops good social relations early in a
project, the team is better able to handle the time pressure at the end because it has
developed the working relationships it needs to complete the project.


Figure 4.1 Task and Social Support in Teams

Source: Adapted from Huffmeier, J., & Hertel, G. (2011). Many cheers make light the
work: How social support triggers process gains in teams. Journal of Managerial
Psychology, 26(3), 185–204.


Value of Social Behaviors

Often, a team tends to focus on the task and ignore the social or relationship aspects of
teamwork. Many team members do not value social behaviors. It is important to recognize that
a team needs a balance. Social behaviors are important for building trust, encouraging the
team to operate smoothly, providing social support, and rewarding participation. Negative
social relationships among team members can hurt team cohesion and team performance (de
Jong, Curs¸eu, & Leenders, 2014). When a team runs into problems, it often blames individual
team members and does not recognize that poorly developed social relations in the team may
have caused these problems.

Although team members and managers often state that task skills are more important than
social skills, they do not select new team members on that criterion. Teams more often
select likable people with limited skills than competent people who are challenging to work
with (Casciaro & Lobo, 2005). Social relations are vital in work teams. Members who like
their teammates will try to get the best possible performance out of those individuals. On
the other hand, it can be so challenging or unpleasant to get information and assistance
from difficult people that members avoid asking them to participate.

There is no formula for the right balance of task and social behaviors. Some teams operate
well when most of their behaviors are task oriented. A team is out of balance when emotions
or personality conflicts become disruptive to team operations. Such behaviors indicate a
breakdown in social relations.

Observation studies on task teams show that one deficit in team communication is lack of
praise, support, and positive feedback (Levi & Cadiz, 1998). All team members are
responsible for this lack of positive communication. Members are quick to criticize another
member’s idea if they do not like it, but they are reluctant to praise a team member for a
good idea or even for good performance. Increasing positive support by team members greatly
helps improve social relations within the team and increases its effectiveness.



Adaptability is among the few teamwork behaviors that appear to be universally relevant
across teams and tasks (Salas et al., 2018). Highly effective teams not only perform tasks
but also adjust their actions to meet changing situational requirements. Organizations face
change from economic and political instability, societal shifts, and technological advances.
Teams also experience change from things like members leaving or joining, decreased
motivation, and unexpected events. These triggers prompt the team to modify tasks or team
processes in response to new situational demands (Travis Maynard, Kennedy, & Sommer, 2015).
The diverse repertoire of knowledge, skills, and experiences available in teams enable them
to better adapt to change (Burke, Stagl, Salas, Pierce, & Kendall, 2006).

Not all teams adapt equally as well—members must have a learning mindset to effectively
adapt (Edmondson, 2012). Team learning is “an ongoing process of reflection and action,
characterized by asking questions, seeking feedback, experimenting, reflecting on results,
and discussing errors or unexpected outcomes of actions” (Edmondson, 1999, p. 354). Openly
discussing mistakes, alternative perspectives, confusions, and unexpected events allows
teams to generate knowledge and improve their collective understanding of the situation.

However, people are not often accustomed to talking about failure—particularly individual
failure (Edmondson, 2011). Fear of appearing incompetent instead encourages members to
deflect or silently compensate for failure, which prevents the team from learning.
Overcoming this requires developing psychological safety in the team, so that members do not
fear exposing themselves to the group. Psychological safety is a team climate that makes it
safe to take interpersonal risks. (Psychological safety is discussed in Chapter 6.)

As team members interact with each other, two kinds of memory systems develop that have
important implications for the performance of the team: team mental models and transactive
memory systems.


Team Mental Models

A team mental model is a shared understanding across team members about the team’s tasks
and the operation of the team (Hirschfeld, Jordan, Feild, Giles, & Armenakis, 2006). Have
you ever had a team member who had a vastly different idea of what task they were supposed
to complete before a meeting? Or perhaps you turned in an assignment to an instructor that
somehow deviated significantly from their expectations? These are examples of poorly shared
mental models.

As they interact, each team member develops mental models about the task and social
characteristics of the team: what problem the team is trying to solve, what norms are
present, what their role is, when assignments are due, and how to interpret a quiet
member’s nonparticipation. Without effective communication, however, each team member
likely generates different understandings of the team’s task and social characteristics.
This produces misunderstandings and frustrations that can impede coordination and social
relationships. By contrast, teams that effectively communicate—such as establishing goals,
assigning specific roles, and clarifying expectations—can generate a shared mental model.
This amounts to team members “being on the same page” with each other regarding the
team’s task and how to interact with each other.

There are two primary considerations about team mental models: the accuracy of the model and
the degree of agreement among team members about the model (Hirschfeld et al., 2006). Just
because a mental model is shared does not mean that it is accurate. Through dysfunctional
information processing, social influence, and power dynamics, teams may converge on a mental
model that does not accurately reflect reality. For example, a team might incorrectly
converge upon an understanding of a problem that they are trying to solve, which produces an
inadequate solution. However, when teammates hold both accurate and similar mental models,
they are better able to coordinate their activities, solve problems the team encounters, and
perform effectively. Since there are many ways for teams to successfully operate, there may
be many possible accurate team mental models (Smith-Jentsch et al., 2008). Research shows
that both the accuracy and degree of agreement about the team’s mental model are essential
for team success (Mathieu et al., 2008).


Transactive Memory Systems

A team’s transactive memory system is an awareness of the distributed expertise possessed
by its members. Teams with a developed transactive memory system are aware of who knows what
and who is best at it (Bachrach et al., 2019). This means that team members understand who
possesses specialized knowledge, how credible that knowledge is, and how to coordinate its
use by the team (Lewis, 2004). Early communication about team roles and responsibilities is
important to the development of transactive memory (Pearsall, Ellis, & Bell, 2010). When
individuals are aware of the specialized knowledge and skills of teammates, they can more
effectively assign tasks to and seek advice from the most qualified members. This improves
team coordination, problem solving, and decision making (Moreland, Argote, & Krishnan,
1996). It also helps the team deal with problems, especially on complex and nonroutine tasks
where the coordination of team members’ skills and knowledge is needed (Zhang, Hempel, Han,
& Tjosvold, 2007). Team learning occurs when team members reflect on how they have dealt
with the challenges they faced and adapted by implementing alternative approaches to how
they operate (Wiedow & Konradt, 2011).

Leaders can encourage team learning by fostering cooperative goals and creating a climate
that supports open discussion about the team’s processes and tasks. This promotes the
development of transactive memory and shared mental models, both of which improve team
performance. Transactive memory predicts the efficiency and effectiveness of team processes,
while a shared mental model predicts the team’s success (Mesmer-Magnus, Niler, Plummer,
Larson, & DeChurch, 2017). Teams need to set aside time to reflect on their actions and
learn from feedback about their performance. Teams also learn by using group process
observations to better understand how they operate.

Team mental models differ from transactive memory in several ways (Mohammed, Ferzandi, &
Hamilton, 2010). Team mental models focus on the shared memory of the team; team members
know other members’ roles or they have a common explanation of how the team operates. In
contrast, transactive memory is an awareness of the specialized task knowledge that each
team member possesses. The knowledge is distributed among the team members rather than
shared by the team as a whole. For example, in an airplane flight crew, their team mental
model includes an understanding of the different roles of the crew members and how those
roles need to be coordinated to fly the plane and handle emergencies. The crew’s
transactive memory is an understanding of the skills and knowledge of the team members. Who
on the crew can speak French? Who is most knowledgeable about first aid?


Reflexivity and Team Debriefing

Reflexivity is the process of taking time to reflect upon and openly discuss the team’s
goals, strategies, and processes in order to improve them (West, 2012). Systematic
reflection about a team’s performance is a powerful tool for learning from experience
(Ellis, Carette, Anseel, & Lievens, 2014). Systematic reflection has three functions:
develop explanations for why the behaviors occurred, verify team members’ perspectives
about what occurred, and receive feedback about the success or failure of actions.
Reflection is valuable for both successful and failed experiences. It is important for teams
to understand their problems and erroneous actions, but it is also important to understand
what works by examining the team’s correct actions.

Debriefings and other types of formal team performance reflections started out as a military
training approach, but their use has spread to other types of action teams, from airline
crews to surgical teams (Allen, Reiter-Palmon, Crowe, & Scott, 2018). They are used to
discuss what happened and how it can be done better, to analyze how member behavior
contributed to performance, and to consciously integrate lessons learned from an experience
or event. Effective debriefings are associated with numerous benefits to individuals, teams
and organizations (Allen et al., 2018). Individuals reduce cognitive bias, reduce role
ambiguity, increase job satisfaction, and increase engagement in their work. Teams can
improve performance through developing psychological safety, refining teamwork behaviors,
building cohesion, and reducing critical events. A meta-analysis shows that debriefings
increase team performance by 25% above control groups (Tannenbaum & Cerasoli, 2013).
Finally, organizations can decrease the likelihood of dangerous incidents and improve
organizational effectiveness through effective debriefings.

Team reflexivity can also be useful for temporary teams without consistent membership
(Vashdi, Bamberger, & Erez, 2013). After-action reviews are common in some types of action
teams, like surgical teams, who change membership after completion of their mission. Even
though their membership changes, surgical teams benefit from team debriefings and other
types of reflexivity experiences. The focus of the learning activities is not about the team
members but the roles performed by the team. The impacts of these learning experiences
manifest in shorter surgeries, more team members helping, and fewer surgical errors.


Using Feedback

Team learning requires teams to use feedback effectively. Sometimes, cohesive teams only
discuss positive feedback in order to preserve group harmony. Team leaders may only give
negative feedback because they believe that it is best to focus on improvement. One of the
major complaints team members have about their leaders is their focus on giving negative
feedback (West, 2012). However, emerging research casts some doubt as to the effectiveness
of negative feedback. Green, Gino, and Staats (2017) analyzed four years of peer feedback
and social-network data from an agribusiness company. They found that receiving negative
feedback led employees to “shop for confirmation”—changing their roles to be around
people who give them more positive evaluations. Still, the best type of feedback about a
team’s performance includes both positive and negative information (Smith-Jentsch et al.,

The key to obtaining and using feedback is to create a safe environment where people are
willing to raise questions and issues without fear of retaliation (Edmondson, Bohmer, &
Pisano, 2001). Team members who feel safe are more willing to provide feedback and reflect
on their performance in order to learn how to improve the team’s operation. For example,
surgical teams with a higher level of team safety had more inclusive team leaders; they
helped minimize status differences among team members and encouraged discussions about how
to improve. These teams learned more from each other, were more engaged in their work, and
had superior performance than the teams with less psychological safety.


Group Process Observations

Group process observation and analysis may be used to improve a team’s interactions. The
group process observer provides valuable support by observing and commenting on how the team
is operating. Many team-building programs use outside group process observers to evaluate
team interactions and advise the team on improving its performance. Although this is a
valuable function, it is better if the members of the team conduct these observations
themselves (Dyer, Dyer, & Dyer, 2007). Developing group process observation skills among
members allows the team to work on its problems when they occur rather than waiting for an
outside consultant.

When a team analyzes its group process, several common problems emerge (Hayes, 1997). In
most cases, the team uses only a limited range of available behaviors. For example, team
members might frequently give opinions but only rarely provide support for the ideas of
others. Team members also can become stuck in behavioral patterns rather than responding to
the needs of the team. For example, one member may become the team’s critic and rarely
provide information to foster decision making. The team’s performance improves when people
are more flexible, using behaviors more suited to team needs than to their personal
behavioral styles. The use of group process observations may help group members see what is
lacking in their interactions and may encourage team members to adjust their personal styles
to enable the team to operate more effectively.

Many of the activities in this book are structured approaches to group process observation.
By having a team member observe the team’s use of task and social behaviors or conflict
resolution styles, the team can obtain feedback about how it is functioning. This feedback
can be used to analyze the team’s operation and develop more effective ways of interacting
within the team.



Managing the basic team processes of motivation, cohesion, roles, task and social behaviors,
and team learning are critically important to the success of virtual teams (Ferrazzi, 2014).
It is, however, also more challenging because virtual teams often have fewer meetings and
lack face-to-face interactions. This makes it difficult to coordinate actions, monitor
progress, and provide feedback. It also provides fewer opportunities for team discussions,
which is where team learning occurs, cohesion develops, and roles are clarified. For
example, virtual teams often experience social loafing (Alnuaimi, Robert, & Maruping, 2010).
Members frequently assume that social loafing is occurring without actually perceiving it
(Monzani, Ripoll, Peiró, & Van Dick, 2014).

The solution to many of these challenges is for frequent communication, both as a team and
one on one. Ferrazzi (2014) offers several recommendations, such as taking time during
conference calls for informal talk and encouraging members to share a video of their
workspace to help create a mental image of teammates. Even using music to transition between
agenda items during a meeting can foster fun and opportunities to develop cohesion. It is
also important to establish and maintain a clear understanding of goals, roles, and rules.
For example, establishing collective goals early can increase team cohesion and performance
(Brahm & Kunze, 2012).



Motivation is a problem for many teams. Working in a team can encourage social loafing,
which is the reduction in individual effort that occurs when the individual is performing in
a group. Free riders and the sucker effect are related motivational problems. These
motivation problems may be caused by tasks that do not require coordinated efforts,
inability to identify individual contributions to the team’s work, and the false belief
that individual members are doing their fair share.

Improving group motivation requires countering the negative effects of social loafing. The
team’s task should be involving and challenging and should require coordinated effort to
complete. The team evaluation and reward system must recognize and reward both individual
and team performance. The team’s goals should create the belief that motivated effort leads
to success. Finally, strengthening commitment to the team by increasing cohesion helps
increase group motivation.

Group cohesion is the interpersonal bond that forms within a team. It can emerge from
feelings of belonging, social identification, interpersonal attraction, or commitment to the
team’s task. In most cases, a cohesive team performs better than a noncohesive team because
of improved coordination and mutual support. However, high levels of group cohesion may
sometimes encourage conformity and impair decision making. One of the main ways to develop
group cohesion is to improve communication within the team.

Roles are sets of behaviors that people perform in teams. They may be deliberately created
and filled, or they may operate on a more informal basis. Ill-defined roles (i.e., role
ambiguity) and conflicts among roles may create stress for team members. Formal team roles
(e.g., leader, recorder, or timekeeper) help a team operate more efficiently.

Team members perform task behaviors and social behaviors. Task behaviors help the team
perform its task, whereas social behaviors maintain the team’s interpersonal relationships.
Work teams often ignore the importance of social behaviors, leading to a reduction in
interpersonal support and an increase in stress. Team interactions may be improved by better
balancing the types of behaviors performed.

Teams can adapt and change how they operate to deal with changes in their environment. Team
learning occurs when teams reflect on these changes and develop new action models. These
models include a shared understanding of how to perform as a team and an awareness of the
knowledge and skills within the team. Both positive and negative feedback can promote team
learning. Also, team members must learn how to act as process observers to improve the
team’s interactions.


Team Leadership Challenge 4

You are the student team leader in a senior-level engineering lab course. The team
has seven members and is halfway through a semester-long project that is not going
very well. Although some students are highly motivated, a few slackers are creating a
discouraging atmosphere for the rest of the team. At the last team meeting, a project
discussion turned into a heated and personal argument. Since then, relations among
several students have been strained.

One aspect of the argument among the students was about who is responsible for
various tasks. Multiple team members are addressing some tasks, while other tasks are
being neglected entirely. As the team leader, you are uncertain who is responsible
for these missing assignments. You need to intervene to get the team back on track.

What problem should the team leader focus on first?

How should the leader try to improve the performance of the team?

Is the primary cause of the team’s problems social or task issues?

Explain why.


Activity: Tracking Teamwork Behaviors

Objective: Track and visualize your motivation and cohesion levels while considering
teamwork behaviors. Motivation is the degree to which you are committed to the group
and its goals. Cohesion is the degree to which you feel bonded to the group. Teamwork
comprises task (e.g., goal-oriented) and social (e.g., interpersonal)

Activity: At the end of each day or week, individually reflect on what happened in
your group. Using Activity Worksheet 4.1, draw a line that represents how motivated
and cohesive you felt during the past week. The top of the timeline represents
feeling completely committed and connected to the group, while the bottom represents
dislike and disconnection. Annotate the line with the teamwork behaviors that explain
how it changes. For example, your line may have increased after successfully managing
conflict with a group member and feeling more connected to the group. Or your line
may decrease after two members failed to show up to a critical meeting, making you
feel less motivated.

Analysis: Periodically meet with members of your team, who also complete this
activity individually. Each share your timeline and explain the teamwork behaviors
that caused changes in your motivation and cohesion. Note when timelines do not
overlap with other members—how do members experience the team differently?

Discussion: What teamwork behaviors are working well for the group? Where can the
group improve to increase motivation and commitment? How might this be achieved?


Activity Worksheet 4.1



Descriptions of Images and Figures
Back to Figure

Data shown by the flowchart are listed as follows:

Task Support: lnformation Sharing and Behavioral Assistance

Collective Efficacy and Coordination

Social Support: Social Recognition and Encouragement

Group Cohesion and Motivation

The second level bullet points, Collective Efficacy and Coordination and Group Cohesion and
Motivation, are connected to each other via a double-headed arrow, and each of them points
at Improved Team Performance, which is the last step in the flowchart.

Back to image

Data shown by the charts are listed as follows:

The top chart is titled “Example Worksheet.” Its horizontal axis is consecutively
scaled from Week 1 to Week 8 and the vertical axis, which is perpendicular to the
horizontal axis, is labeled “Motivation and Cohesion.” Data shown by the chart are
listed according to the decreasing amount of motivation and cohesion over a week as

Completely committed and connected to the group

Week 1: Initial meeting was fun!

Week 2: Member did not show up to meeting

Week 7: Stressed about preparing for the presentation

Dislike and disconnection

Week 3: Struggling with how to do the task

Week 5: Confronted team members and established clear ground rules

Week 4: Poor grade on the assignment and team blames me

Week 3: I ended up doing the entire team assignment


The bottom chart is titled “Tracking Teamwork Behaviors.” Its vertical axis is labeled
“Motivation and Cohesion.” This chart is empty.




Cooperation is necessary for teams to operate smoothly and effectively, and a cooperative
atmosphere offers many benefits for team members. However, many team members find themselves
in mixed-motive situations that include both cooperation and competition. Team members may
be competitive for cultural, personal, and organizational reasons. Cooperation can be
encouraged through strategies focused on team goals, communication, and interpersonal
actions. However, if teams become too cooperative, then conformity and poor decision making
can result. Competition can create adverse effects for the team, even when the team is


Learning Objectives

1. Describe the impact of a mixed-motive situation.
2. Explain why people act competitively in teams.
3. Distinguish between cooperators, competitors, and individualists.
4. Describe the impact of intragroup and intergroup competition.
5. Explain the benefits and problems of cooperation.
6. Understand how teams respond to competitive versus cooperative rewards.
7. Determine how a team can deal with the negative effects of competition.



The essence of teamwork is the cooperative interactions of team members. Yet cooperation is
often limited by an individual perceiving incompatible personal goals (“I want to go to a
music festival this weekend”) and team goals (“We need to have a meeting this weekend”).
These kinds of mixed-motive situations produce competition between team members when they
focus on individual rather than common goals (Deutsch, 1973). Competition makes team members
work against one another when their individual goals become more important than the team

Being a team member should encourage people to act cooperatively, but team members often
find themselves in a mixed-motive situation. Consider the following examples:

You are the member of a budget committee that must allocate funds to various
departments within the organization. As a committee member, you want to do what is
best for the organization, but you also want to make sure your department gets more
than its fair share of funds.

As a student working on a group project, you want to do a good job so you can get a
good grade. However, you have other classes and demands on your time. What you
really want is to put in the least amount of effort and still get a good grade.

As a basketball player, only the team’s score determines the winner. You should be
focused on coordinating your plays with the other team members. However, there is a
scout in the audience, and being the game’s high scorer will get you the attention
you need.

Team members commonly find themselves in these kinds of mixed-motive situations. These
examples are neither entirely cooperative nor competitive situations; they are both
simultaneously. They create social dilemmas for the participants. Each member wants to
maximize their rewards and minimize their costs. Selfish behavior may be the best strategy
for each individual in the short term, but acting cooperatively often benefits everyone in
the long term (Van Lange, Joireman, Parks, & Van Dijk, 2013).

Unfortunately, many people decide to be competitive in a mixed-motive situation. Once they
start acting competitively (putting in reduced efforts for the team), others respond in the
same way. The result is poor team performance. This is one of the reasons why students
complain that the worst problem with group projects is that not everyone does their fair
share (Wall & Nolan, 1987).

Cooperation in a mixed-motive situation is encouraged by several factors (Van Lange et al.,
2013). People consider how much they trust that other members will cooperate (Balliet & Van
Lange, 2013), the sanctions for not contributing fairly (Balliet, Li, Macfarlan, & Van Vugt,
2011), and how much they believe that their contributions to the team are valuable and
important (Kerr & Bruun, 1983). Individuals with a prosocial value orientation tend to
maximize joint outcomes and equality in groups (De Cremer & Van Lange, 2001). Finally,
smaller teams tend to be more cooperative than larger teams (Kerr & Bruun, 1983).



Maintaining cooperation on a team is challenging and often requires constant effort to avoid
slipping into a competition (Johnson & Johnson, 2005). Team members may misperceive the
situation and turn a cooperative situation into a competitive one, or they may choose to act
competitively even when it is in their best interests to act cooperatively. Why do people
misperceive a cooperative situation and turn it into a competitive one? The explanations for
this phenomenon have to do with culture, personality, and organizational rewards.



One way to view cultural differences is along an individualist–collectivist dimension
(Hofstede, 1980). Individualists—while not being necessarily opposed to cooperation—are
more often competitive with their coworkers compared to collectivists. They tend to
prioritize personal goals, seek status and power, value self-direction and independence, and
desire personal achievement. This contributes to competitive behavior between group members
(intragroup competition), such as dominating group discussion and making decisions that
favor individual interests (Earley, 1999).

This contrasts with a collectivist orientation. Collectivists prioritize others, engage in
prosocial behaviors, maintain social harmony, and conform to group expectations. Group—not
individual—success is more highly valued. Many collectivist cultures have developed a
strong inside–outside perspective toward working in teams (Chen & Li, 2005). That is to
say, they act cooperatively with their team members but act competitively with those outside
of their team (intergroup competition).

Comparing the United States (a more individualistic society) and Japan (a more
collectivistic society) offers an example of these differences. David (one of the authors of
this book) used to teach English in a Japanese high school. One student had spent several
years in the United States on account of her parents’ work. This student was fluent in
English. However, she would purposefully make mistakes and exaggerate an accent in class.
When questioned about this behavior, the student explained that she did not want to stand
out and make her classmates look bad by comparison. She was also concerned about receiving
criticism or retaliation from classmates, noting the Japanese proverb: “The nail that

sticks out gets hammered down.” By contrast, demonstrating fluency in another language is
more likely to be a source of pride and accomplishment in the United States.

A majority of societies in the world, around 70%, have a collectivist orientation (Triandis,
1995). Most people in the world are primed to work in groups with the expectation and desire
to cooperate. Teams comprising more collectivistic members exhibit higher levels of
cooperation and performance (DeMatteo et al., 1998). Moreover, collectivists tend to value
social-maintenance behaviors of teamwork, while individualists value task contributions
(Gomez, Kirkman, & Shapiro, 2000). Still, culture is malleable: Individualistic practices
and values have risen around the world by 12% since 1960, driven predominantly by
socioeconomic development (Santos, Varnum, & Grossmann, 2017).



Some people are more competitive than others and act more competitively regardless of the
situation. They misperceive or refine situations as opportunities to act competitively. This
can be explained by differences in personality (Van Lange, 1999; Van Lange et al., 2013).
Specifically, social values orientation theory asserts that two sets of values determine our
willingness to compete or cooperate with others: prosocial (i.e., maximize others’
outcomes) and proself (i.e., maximize personal outcomes). These two values produce three
personality types that explain why some people are competitive. These personality types
affect how people interpret the situations they are in and how they define success. Figure
5.1 shows how these personality types relate to individual concerns.

Cooperators are both proself and prosocial, concerned with both their own outcomes and those
of others. They focus on the team and attempt to make sure the team is successful. They also
value that rewards are distributed equitably among team members.

Competitors are proself, but they define success not in terms of their individual goals or
the team’s goals but rather relative to others’ performances. They view a situation as an
opportunity to win or lose. To a competitor, success means performing better than others—
they seek to minimize the outcomes of others. Whether they succeed or the team succeeds is
less important than whether they excel more than the other members of the team.

Individualists are proself, but they define success relative to their own personal goals.
Unlike competitors, they do not evaluate their performance relative to others. They may or
may not care about the success of the team. The team’s success is important only if they
have adopted the team’s goals for themselves.

A cooperative personality type is correlated with many of the standard personality traits
used in psychology (Morgeson et al., 2005). Conscientious people are focused on successful
performance, so they are more willing to cooperate with others in teams. Extroverts enjoy
cooperation because they like working with others. Agreeable people are more cooperative
because they want to avoid the conflicts that competition creates. Finally, people with
higher levels of emotional stability tend to be more cooperative and helpful to others.
Research indicates that 46% of people are cooperators, 38% are individualists, and 12% are
competitors (Au & Kwong, 2004).


Organizational Rewards

Teamwork can conflict with a company’s human resources practices. Although managers want
employees to work as a team, organizational practices often do not encourage or reward
teamwork. Scientific research offers a poignant example. While transformative scientific
discoveries tend to occur through cooperation with other scholars, competition for limited
jobs, tenure, and funding can reduce resource sharing, creativity, and research integrity
among researchers (Fang & Casadevall, 2015). Similarly, performance evaluations in many
organizations focus on individual performance, and evaluation is relative to the performance
of the other employees. Employees receive a mixed message: Do what the manager says is
important (engage in teamwork) or do what you will be rewarded for (stand out as superior to
your coworkers).


Figure 5.1 Personality Type and Competition

Culture, personality, and organizational rewards may all encourage competition when it is
not appropriate. However, cultural values and personality traits are difficult to change.
This makes augmenting rewards a useful factor to encourage teamwork and discourage
individual competition. (Evaluation and reward approaches are discussed in Chapter 16.)

Incentives and punishments can promote cooperative behavior in teams (Balliet, Mulder, & Van
Lange, 2011). However, shifting a team to cooperative rewards may not change team members’
behaviors if they have already established competitive relationships (Beersma et al., 2009).
The cutthroat competition effect explains that it is harder for teams to change from a
competitive to a cooperative relationship when the rewards change than it is to move in the
opposite direction. The problem is that once competitive roles have been firmly established,
team members do not trust each other to change their behaviors. Changing this requires that
team members renegotiate their roles and improve coordination in order to build trust,
reduce conflicts, and encourage cooperative behaviors.



What is wrong with competition? Why should competition not help motivate a team? A
successful team has members who work together to reach a common goal. However, when team
members compete against one another, individual goals conflict with team goals. Tensions
exist between doing what is best for the individual to succeed (by being better than the
others) and doing what is best for the team. Moreover, competition can create problems
regardless of the team’s success, as social relations degrade from suspicion, lack of
collaborative effort, critical comments, and power struggles (Deutsch, 2006). Understanding
the dynamics of competition can help explain when and where competition is appropriate.


Competition Erodes Trust

Goal confusion emerges when individuals are unsure if team members are committed to the same
goal. This fosters distrust in one another because members are uncertain of each other’s
motives. Consider a competitive basketball player who, rather than passing the ball to a
teammate with a clear shot, tends to take more risky shots themselves in the pursuit of
being a “star.” Over time, this behavior can degrade social relations and make teammates
reluctant to pass the ball to this player.

Erosion of trust and goal confusion also occur at the organizational level, such as when
managers decide on budget allocations. Should a department manager try to do what is best
for their department or what is best for the organization as a whole? If the departments are
competing for limited resources, should the managers request what their departments need, or
should they assume that all the other departments are trying to get ahead and aggressively
bargain to get as much as they can? Is there any reason to trust the budget estimates from
other departments? These questions can lead to budget battles where false numbers are used
to justify competitive positions.

Distrust in the motives of teammates is prevalent during complex and ambiguous situations,
such as emergency responses. Decision making in these risky contexts requires trusting that
all members are working toward a collective goal and will support each other (Das & Teng,
2004). However, goal confusion and distrust can impede timely decision making and increase
misunderstandings (Wilson, Salas, Priest, & Andrews, 2007). These dynamics extend to
interagency contexts, in which teams from multiple agencies (e.g., paramedics, fire, and
police) respond to an event (Power, 2018). Competing goals can produce conflict between
teams of first responders. For example, the goal of paramedics to save lives can be
prevented by police services declaring a zone too risky for operations.


Competition Reduces Learning

Teams and team members make mistakes. Learning from these experiences and adapting team
behaviors, goals, and strategies are essential components of effective teamwork (Edmondson,
2011). However, competition hinders the opportunity for learning, as teams and individuals
often defend and continue misguided actions in order to avoid blame or protect their
reputation. Competition promotes blaming (Tjosvold, Yu, & Hui, 2004) and withholding of
information (He, Baruch, & Lin, 2014) among teammates. Under a competitive climate, a
mistake is considered a failure and something to be hidden from teammates.


Intergroup Competition

While intragroup competition involves internal competition among members of a single group,
intergroup competition exists between members of different groups. Sherif’s (1966) studies
of boys at summer camp is the foundational example of intergroup competition. In this study,
the boys were arbitrarily divided into two groups and then competed against each other in a
variety of activities. Both beneficial and harmful effects resulted from this competition.
While it enhanced the cohesion of members within each group, it also fostered prejudice—
negative beliefs about the abilities of the other group and the personalities of its members
—and conflict between the groups.

How competition leads to conflict and hostility is pronounced in the intergroup situation.
Groups are more likely to act competitively with each other than are individuals (Wildschut,
Pinter, Vevea, Insko, & Schopler, 2003). One explanation for this observation comes from
social identity theory (Hornsey, 2008), which reports that a person’s sense of self-worth
is connected to the groups to which they belong. Consequently, one views their own group as
superior. This translates into an in-group bias, where group members view their own group in
overly positive terms and out-groups in overly negative terms. When the superiority of the
group is challenged, members rally to support it and attack the out-group. The conflict
escalates quickly because group behavior is more anonymous, with fewer interpersonal
connections between members and the out-group.

When a team enters intergroup competition, the teams may experience an increase in cohesion
and group spirit. Team members become more task focused and tolerate more autocratic
leadership. As the competition continues, more loyalty and conformity are demanded by team
members. In the short run, these changes may increase productivity and efficiency. In the
long run, however, problems arise for the team, regardless of its success. A team in a
competition focuses on its task to the exclusion of internal social and emotional issues.
Over time, ignoring these social issues can lead to the breakdown of the team. Demanding
loyalty and conformity from team members may hurt the team’s ability to adapt to change.
Creativity and innovation may be stifled by competition.

Negative effects of competition can occur in both winners and losers. When teams compete,
the winners attribute their success to their own superiority (Forsyth & Kelley, 1996). This
causes the winners to ignore their problems, which go unsolved. The losing teams often enter
a period of blaming and scapegoating (Worchel, Andreoli, & Folger, 1977). Team members first
blame their losses on the situation, then on one another. Eventually, if the teams survive
the internal emotional turmoil, they can move to the next step to recognize and solve their

Intergroup dynamics can emerge between social groups of a single team. For example, Chen and
Li (2005) conducted a cross-national experiment that investigated the degree to which
collectivist Hong Kong and individualistic Australian participants would cooperate during
mixed-motive business decisions. They found that collectivistic members were less likely to
trust and cooperate with the out-group members. Collectivistic participants would, however,
cooperate more with members of their own in-group during mixed-motive business decisions.

Other research examines the contexts in which men and women act more cooperatively (Simpson
& Van Vugt, 2009). A meta-analysis spanning 50 years of research yielded compelling insights
(Balliet, Li, et al., 2011). First, they did not find that men and women differed in levels
of cooperativeness. However, they did identify situations in which cooperation was moderated
by sex. While women were more cooperative in mixed-sex groups, all-male interactions were
more cooperative than all-female interactions. The results also suggested that women are
more cooperative than men in larger groups.


When Is Competition Appropriate?

Competition may be positive within an organization when jobs are independent rather than
interdependent. For example, an organization may sponsor competitions among its sales staff
and reward the best performers. This works when salespeople do not depend on one another to
make sales. However, most jobs within an organization are interdependent. This is especially
true when the organization uses teams. Internal competition among teams within an
organization can lead to sabotaged work, unjustified criticism, and withholding of
information and resources (Tjosvold, 1995). So when can competition be constructive?

Unchecked competition can foster distrust, conflict, and hostility in teams. Competitive
group climates create stress for all members, which generally only benefits team members who
are highly competitive to begin with (Fletcher, Major, & Davis, 2008). However, competition
can, under certain circumstances, improve team performance without hindering the group
climate (Johnson, 2003; Tjosvold, Johnson, Johnson, & Sun, 2003).

First, team members should prioritize skill development and enjoyment rather than winning.
Focusing on self-improvement establishes teammates as helpers who can assist members in
learning new things (He et al., 2014). By contrast, an emphasis on winning at any cost
encourages manipulation, aggression, exploitation, cheating, and denigration of others. This
can encourage team members to view each other as adversaries.

Second, competition can be productive when participants have an equal chance of winning.
There is a reason why your high school football team does not regularly compete against the
Steelers, Patriots, and Packers—no one is likely to walk away from that contest feeling
satisfied. Rather, competitors tend to exert little effort when winning is either improbable
or guaranteed. Similarly, employees that feel chronically disadvantaged at work seek to
leave their job (Tjosvold et al., 2003).

Third, ensuring fairness through enforcing rules and criteria for winning is also necessary
for constructive competition (Tjosvold et al., 2003). The absence of clear rules promotes
cheating, feelings of injustice, and dissatisfaction in the group.



Competition is good for the winners. However, winning a competition also necessitates that
most people lose. In other words, for most people in a competitive situation, it is not a
good thing. This can make competition demotivating for team members. Cooperation has the
opposite effect, as members are motivated by interdependent goals—they collectively sink or
swim together in achieving their goals (Deutsch, 2006). This approach offers many benefits
to both the team and its members. However, in some situations, too much cooperation can
disrupt a team’s performance and decision-making abilities.


Benefits of Cooperation

A cooperative approach toward teamwork offers many benefits to team members. This includes
greater satisfaction with group members, higher identification with team values and ideas,
friendliness, and a willingness to help and learn from one another (Deutsch, 2006).
Cooperative teams communicate more supportively (Johnson, 2003), which improves effective
coordination, organization, and execution of group tasks; increases satisfaction with
working together; and boosts overall team performance (Cohen & Bailey, 1997). They are
better able to discuss errors and learn from mistakes (Tjosvold et al., 2004).

A meta-analysis of several hundred studies reveals three broad categories of cooperation
outcomes (Johnson & Johnson, 1989). First, cooperation enhances effort to achieve. People
perform better in cooperative situations than in competitive and individualistic situations.
They take on more challenging tasks; use more reasoning, metacognitive thought, and critical
thinking; learn more; and have more positive attitudes toward tasks. Moreover, cooperative
teams tend to spend significantly more time working on tasks.

Second, cooperation leads to higher quality relationships and social support. Members of
cooperative teams like each other more, which promotes more frequent and open communication.
In turn, members are more empathetic, confident, and cohesive. This heightens commitment to
common goals, reduces absenteeism, improves persistence, and facilitates active listening
with each other. These benefits also aid in fostering an inclusive environment for diverse
members of the team.

Third, cooperation directly benefits the health of team members. Cooperativeness is
associated with emotional maturity, social competencies, self-confidence, self-esteem, self-
worth, and self-acceptance. By contrast, competitive and individualist situations tend to
promote self-rejection (Johnson & Johnson, 2005). Social support can also promote the
psychological health and coping abilities of team members.

Cooperation has been extensively studied in the context of college classrooms (Johnson,
Johnson, & Smith, 2007). Results show that students in cooperative learning experiences have
greater academic success, higher-quality relationships with other students and with faculty,
improved psychological adjustment to college, and more positive attitudes toward college
(Johnson, Johnson, & Smith, 1998). The success of cooperative learning has made it a
dominant approach to college education, particularly in engineering programs (Froyd, Wankat,
& Smith, 2012).

Many of the benefits of cooperation for teams are due to the way that conflicts are managed
(De Dreu, 2007). To make better decisions, teams need to be motivated to process information
and manage differences of opinion in a constructive manner. Cooperation, trust, and safety
are preconditions for allowing constructive controversy to occur. When teams handle
conflicts constructively, they learn more from each other and perform more effectively.
Teams that work cooperatively have less tension, fewer conflicts, and fewer verbal
confrontations (Tjosvold, Wong, & Chen, 2014). They also enjoy a stronger sense of team
spirit and greater group cohesion.


Problems With Cooperation

Cooperation has its own problems. A team can be too cooperative. It can become so focused on
maintaining its internal social relations that it loses sight of the team’s goals. Problems
with cooperation affect both performance and decision making.

Cooperation Is Fragile

Cooperation is not simply an initial agreement by teammates that then persists thereafter.
Instead, cooperation is a process—a fragile one at that. It is nurtured through the ongoing
choices and actions made by individuals on the team. A single “bad apple” that acts
competitively or individually can undermine the motivation of team members to act
cooperatively (Felps, Mitchell, & Byington, 2006). A central problem with cooperation is the
ease with which it is curtailed by competitive or individual actions. It takes sustained
effort by team members to maintain a cooperative approach.

Cooperation Fuels Conformity

Highly cooperative teams tend to become highly cohesive. Through cohesion, team members
become socially and emotionally invested in one another. While this improves communication
and coordination, it can also create problems when the team becomes too oriented toward
itself and its performance. Highly cohesive teams demand conformity from their members and
discourage behavior that is not accepted by the group. This can be effective when norms
promote open communication and disagreement. However, dysfunctional norms can result in poor
team performance. For example, Rovio, Eskola, Kozub, Duda, and Lintunen (2009) found that
highly cohesive sports teams established unrealistically positive evaluations of team
performance. Conformity can make the team resistant to outside influence and resistant to
changing the way it operates (Nemeth & Staw, 1989). Such overconfidence can impede team
adaptation and learning.

Cooperation Promotes Unhealthy Agreement

Another negative impact of cooperation involves a team’s ability to make decisions.
Decision making should focus on making the best decision, given the constraints of the
situation. Cooperation aids decision making by establishing trust, which encourages open
communication. However, when a cooperative team is cohesive, then the fact that members like
one another can disrupt the decision-making process.

The Abilene paradox describes a problem with group decision making caused by members trying
to be friendly and cooperative (Harvey, 1988). This occurs when group members adopt a
position because they believe it is what other members want. The members fail to challenge
one another because they want to avoid conflict, or they want to achieve consensus. In the
end, they support a proposal no one really wants because of their inability to manage
agreement. For example, a project team may continue working on a design strategy that no one
thinks will work. However, everyone believes that the other team members support this
approach, so no one raises objections during team meetings.

The Abilene paradox is an example of unhealthy agreement within a team. In the Abilene
paradox, the team’s desire to reach agreement on an issue becomes more important than its
motivation to find a good solution (Dyer et al., 2007). Team members look for the first


acceptable solution or just go along with the leader’s solution to avoid disagreements and
conflict. This search for quick solutions and avoidance of conflict can lead to poor
decisions that cause problems and time delays later in the project. The team is suffering
from unhealthy agreement.

The following are some symptoms of unhealthy agreement:

Team members feel angry about the decisions the team is making.

Team members agree in private that the team is making bad decisions.

The team is breaking up into subgroups that blame others for the team’s problems.

People fail to speak up in meetings or fail to communicate their real opinions.


Competitive Versus Cooperative Rewards

There are benefits and problems with both competitive and cooperative reward systems
(Beersma et al., 2003). Competitive rewards are effective in motivating individual
performance, while cooperative rewards promote trust, cohesiveness, and mutual support,
which, in turn, promote team performance. When a task requires coordinated effort,
cooperative rewards are more effective than competitive rewards. However, this simplistic
view of cooperative and competitive rewards ignores several important factors that influence

What is the primary performance goal? Accuracy and speed of performance are separate,
unrelated criteria. Most complex tasks in organizations require both speed and accuracy, but
the relative importance of these two factors may vary. A manufacturing team may be
encouraged to produce as fast as possible, but this is likely to negatively affect the
quality of their performance. Emergency medical teams often must work quickly. At the same
time, they must be concerned with the accuracy of their performance. Competitive rewards are
strong motivators, especially for encouraging speed (Beersma et al., 2003). Cooperative
rewards encourage discussion, collaboration, and information sharing, which may improve
accuracy but will slow the speed of performance.

One of the arguments against using cooperative rewards is that they may encourage social
loafing by the team’s poor performers (Beersma et al., 2003). High performers are often
internally motivated and knowledgeable about how to perform the task, while poor performers
have either motivation or skill problems. One of the purposes of organizing people into
teams is to enable team members to share their workload and help one another (Ilgen et al.,
2005). When a member performs poorly because of skill or ability problems, team members will
provide assistance and share their knowledge, especially when there are cooperative rewards.
When a low-performing member is engaging in social loafing or has motivation problems,
competitive rewards may increase their motivation. Even with cooperative rewards, team
members may not assist someone whose performance is low because of a lack of motivation.

Sometimes, it is the combination of cooperation and competition that works best (Tauer &
Harackiewicz, 2004). In a basketball shooting experiment, there was no difference between a
cooperative and competitive approach on motivation or performance when performing
individually. However, when people worked together to compete against another team, they had
higher levels of motivation, satisfaction, and performance. Cooperation encourages
participants to be more enthusiastic about working together, while competition focuses
participants on the task and challenge. The combination of cooperation and competition
rewards accomplishes both objectives. Indeed, “coopetition” is increasingly being
investigated at the individual, team, and organizational levels (Devece, Ribeiro-Soriano, &
Palacios-Marqués, 2019).



What does it take to encourage cooperation in a team? Cooperation is a process that is
influenced by several factors and actions made by teammates. Johnson and Johnson (2005)
identified five essential elements of cooperation:

1. Interdependence—Team members are committed to a common goal, particularly one that
necessitates all members working together to achieve.

2. Individual accountability—The performance of each member is monitored and compared to a
standard for performance. Feedback is provided, and all group members hold each other
accountable for contributing to the team’s success.

3. Interaction patterns—Members encourage each other, provide help, constructively
challenge conclusions, and act in trusting ways.

4. Social skills—Interpersonal and small-group skills are used to manage the team’s
climate to encourage open communication, trust, shared goals, and constructive conflict

5. Group processing—Teams periodically reflect on helpful and unhelpful member actions and
on how these actions can continue or change in the future.

The central issue in cooperation is the beliefs that team members hold about team goals and
the motives of other members (Tjosvold, 1995). Cooperation stems from mutual goals that
encourage trust. Competitive actions create suspicion and doubt about other team members and
their goals. Strategies for dealing with these effects should focus on developing common
goals and rebuilding trust and communication (Figure 5.2). In addition, when teams are in a
competitive relationship, team members can develop a strategy for negotiating cooperation in
the future.


Common Goals

Groups need some reason to work together in order to break down competitive situations. One
approach to forming bonds is through the use of superordinate goals (Sherif, 1966). A
superordinate goal is a common goal that all the groups or sub-groups accept as important.
This unifies members as they view themselves as part of the same group or team. By working
together on this common goal, prejudice and conflicts between the groups decrease.


Figure 5.2 Dealing With the Negative Effects of Competition

Pursuing a common goal can be easier said than done (Gollwitzer, 1999; Gollwitzer & Sheeran,
2006). Research on leadership suggests that appealing to a sense of community can be an
effective way to establish shared goals. However, this is less effective for younger
generations of workers (e.g., millennials), who are motivated more by personal achievement
and meaningful work (Twenge, Campbell, Hoffman, & Lance, 2010; Wesner & Miller, 2008).
Instead, reframing individual goals so that they align with team goals can be an effective
strategy for younger generations. For example, one can frame achievement of the team goal as
a means to build a case for an individual’s promotion or as an opportunity to have a
meaningful impact on the world. Leaders need to be aware of the individual motivations of
team members and be skilled in communicating how team goals help to achieve these desires.


Rebuilding Trust and Communication

Cooperation is encouraged by trust; competition leads to a breakdown in trust. Trust is a
multidimensional construct encompassing values, attitudes, moods, emotions, and cognitions
(Jones & George, 1998; Smith, Carroll, & Ashford, 1995). In general, trust is the belief
that one will not be taken advantage of by another, given the opportunity to do so. Trust is
reciprocal—it can be encouraged in others when a team member opens themselves up to being
vulnerable (Serva, Fuller, & Mayer, 2005). Several factors contribute to the rebuilding of
trust in teams.

Gender plays a role in repairing trust after a violation. A study measuring changes in trust
after a transgression found several gender-based results (Haselhuhn, Kennedy, Kray, Van
Zant, & Schweitzer, 2015). Women were more likely to lose trustworthiness than men after
repeated violations. However, women were also more likely to repair trust after a violation.
Moreover, women were more likely than men to trust one another after a transgression. These
findings were attributed to the tendency for women to be more concerned about maintaining
relationships than men.

Virtual teams have increased opportunities for misunderstandings, uncertainty, and conflict
(Cramton, 2001). Overcoming these barriers requires trust. Yet there are fewer opportunities
for premeeting conversations or hallway talk to develop social bonds, so a fragile “swift
trust” often develops among members of global virtual teams (Jarvenpaa & Leidner, 1999).
While the development of trust has long been considered a challenge for virtual teams, a
meta-analysis reveals an important nuance (Breuer, Hüffmeier, & Hertel, 2016). Yes, higher
levels of trust are associated with improved performance and cooperation in virtual teams.
However, the virtual context also allowed for the automatic documentation of team
interactions (e.g., e-mails, groupware systems, collaborative documents). Such
documentation, independent of trust, also enhances team performance because it provides
opportunities for peer monitoring and transparency. This suggests that documentation of
interactions may be an alternative to building trust in virtual teams.

Cooperation encourages constructive controversy, whereas competition reduces communication
and encourages avoidance (Tjosvold, 1995). Constructive controversy allows for open
feedback, the raising of questions, and increased communication. Cooperation improves
decision making because it increases task-related conflict. Members are able to express a
conflict openly without creating social problems within the team. By contrast, conflict is
avoided in competitive situations because it is too destructive to social relations. Table
5.1 presents a set of communication rules to foster constructive controversy within a team.

Table 5.1 Rules for Constructive Controversy

1. Establish
openness norms.

Encourage all team members to express their opinions and feelings.

Do not dismiss ideas because they appear at first too impractical
or undeveloped.

2. Assign opposing

Assign a person or subgroup the role of critically evaluating the
team’s current preferences.

3. Follow the golden
rule of controversy.

Discuss issues with others the way you want issues discussed with
you. If you want others to listen to you, you should listen to


4. Get outside

Search for information from a diverse set of outside sources to
help the team make a decision.

5. Show personal

Criticize ideas, if you want, but do not attack a person’s
motivation or personality.

6. Combine ideas. Avoid either/or thinking, and try to combine ideas to create
alternative solutions.

Source: Adapted from Tjosvold, D. (1995). Cooperation theory, constructive controversy, and effectiveness:
Learning from crisis. In R. Guzzo & E. Salas (Eds.), Team effectiveness and decision making in organizations
(pp. 79–112). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.


Encouraging Altruistic Norms

Cooperation can develop within a team through positive social interactions. Once
established, it becomes a norm for the team. Team altruism is defined as team members’
voluntary actions that benefit others (Li, Kirkman, & Porter, 2014). These helping behaviors
benefit the team but are not required by the team or leader. Two different motives can drive
team altruism. Altruism can be somewhat self-serving, which is when its motives are
impression management or social approval. Team altruism is also driven by prosocial motives,
such as concern and empathy for others or moral principles (e.g., doing the right thing).

A developmental perspective shows how altruism develops and spreads within a team through
social interactions. Team members may initiate altruism due to individual motives, such as
social approval or concern for others, but then these acts of altruism encourage team
coordination and model the value of cooperative behaviors. These positive consequences
encourage team altruism to become a norm for the team, which encourages all members to act
altruistically toward each other. Thus, the motivation for altruism shifts from personal
motives (concern for others) to following the team’s norms.


Negotiating Cooperation

Research on the negative effects of competition has identified various strategies that can
encourage cooperation with an opponent. There is an entire research field that uses
simulation gaming, such as the prisoner’s dilemma, to explore the various options. This
research has found optimal strategies for encouraging cooperation (Axelrod, 1984).

The problem for people in a competitive situation is making the transition to cooperation.
Once competition starts within a team, it tends to continue. If a member tries to threaten
the competitors, they become defensive and increasingly hostile. If a member tries to always
cooperate with the competitors, then exploitation typically follows. An effective strategy
must resolve this dilemma.

One effective strategy has two rules. First, when the opportunity arises, a team member
signals their desire to form a cooperative relationship by acting cooperatively. The team
member should always start by acting cooperatively and creating opportunities to start over
again during transition points in the team’s existence. Second, the team member should
respond in kind to his or her competitors’ moves (i.e., the tit-for-tat rule). If the
competitor acts cooperatively, then the member should respond cooperatively. However, if the
competitor acts competitively, the member should respond competitively. This is necessary
because an individual who always acts cooperatively is usually exploited. There is, however,
a significant limitation to the tit-for-tat approach—there is no room to correct for a
mistake or misunderstanding (Selten & Hammerstein, 1984). This can produce a long chain of
misplaced retaliation.

An approach that overcomes this limitation is win-stay, lose-shift (Nowak & Sigmund, 1993).
This strategy consists of repeating the previous act when it resulted in cooperation (win-
stay) but shifting when it does not (lose-shift). For example, if a teammate cooperated
after you acted competitively, continue being competitive. If they then act competitively,
act cooperatively. While tit-for-tat is efficient for initiating cooperation, once
established, win-stay, lose-shift is better at maintaining it.

Incidentally, the win-stay, lose-shift strategy explains the behavior of people playing
rock-paper-scissors (Wang, Xu, & Zhou, 2014), providing an advantage to those that master
this strategy. A player who wins a round is most likely to repeat the same move again (win-
stay). However, when a player loses two or more bouts, they are more likely to switch to the
choice that just beat them (lose-shift). A player anticipating this behavior can better
predict the course of the competition.



Cooperation is the essence of teamwork. However, team members often find themselves in
mixed-motive situations that are a combination of cooperation and competition. This is
caused by the conflict between individual goals and the team’s goals.

People in teams become competitive for three reasons. First, culture may encourage
competition over cooperation. Second, personality traits influence one’s tendency to be
competitive over cooperative or individualist. Third, the organization may reward
competition among team members. Although all these encourage competition, the
organization’s reward system is the most useful explanation of the source of competition.

Competition hurts a team by creating goal confusion. Competitive team members focus on
individual rather than team goals to guide their behavior. This leads to distrust, which
eventually disrupts communication within the team. Competition with other teams also can
create problems, leading to hostility and conflict. Although competition with outside
organizations may be appropriate, internal competition can be destructive to the team and

Cooperation provides benefits for both individuals and the team. Individuals are motivated
and supported in cooperative situations. Cooperation encourages communication and
interpersonal support in the team. However, cooperation can cause problems. A cooperative
team has high levels of conformity that can reduce performance and creativity and lead to
unhealthy agreement, where team members make bad decisions in order to preserve group
harmony. Cooperative rewards are more effective in promoting quality work and encouraging
the team to help poor performers.

Several team tactics can be used to deal with the negative effects of competition and to
build a cooperative environment. A commitment to common goals helps unite team members.
Trust-building activities can be used to help rebuild any breakdown in a team’s
communication. Finally, certain negotiation tactics can effectively respond to inappropriate
competitive behavior in the team.


Team Leadership Challenge 5

Last year, the manufacturing plant where you work reorganized into self-directed work
teams. You are the team leader for one of several teams in the assembly area. The
transition to teamwork was difficult, but recently things have been working fairly
well. Several months ago, upper management announced a new team incentive program
that rewards each team for exceeding production targets. This incentive program had
mixed effects on team performance and created some problems at the plant.

Your team is now highly motivated to maximize production, but this has created
conflicts with other teams. You find yourself competing with the other manufacturing
teams for access to the company’s technical support staff. The team has been
ignoring machine maintenance issues in order to spend more time producing. There have
been several arguments with other teams in the plant who supply parts for your
assembly area, and communication with these other teams has deteriorated. You think
that the cause of these problems may be the new reward program, but upper management
is very supportive of the rewards program.

How should you (the team leader) help the team deal with their internal problems?

What can be done to improve relations with the other teams at the plant?

How can you explain your team’s problems to upper management?


Survey: Cooperative, Competitive, or Individualistic


Purpose: To make you aware of your orientation toward others in the team. People vary
in their orientation toward other members of the team because of personality
differences and different past experiences working on teams. You can develop a
cooperative or competitive relationship with other team members or have a more
individualistic focus within the team.

Directions: Use the following scale to rate how well these statements describe you:

1 = Not at all   2 = Somewhat   3 = Moderately   4 = Greatly

_____1. I like it when everyone on the team works together so we all succeed.

_____2. It is important to me to be the best performer on the team.

_____3. I don’t care how well others do, as long as I succeed at the task I am
working on.

_____4. I enjoy working on team projects where people share ideas and resources
with each other.

_____5. Even on a team project, I am motivated to do better than others.

_____6. I want to get a good grade in this class regardless of the grades that
other students receive.

_____7. I learn a lot by working with other people on a team.

_____8. I often compare myself with other team members to see who is best.

_____9. Even on a team project, I like to spend most of my time working by

_____ 10. I like work situations where people help each other to do a good job.

_____ 11. Most team members evaluate their performance by comparing it to others.

_____ 12. I don’t like it when I have to work with others on a project.

_____ 13. I am more productive when I can work with other people.

_____ 14. People perform best when they are encouraged to outperform others.

_____ 15. I would rather work alone than have to coordinate with others.



Add questions 1, 4, 7, 10, and 13 to obtain your cooperative orientation score.

Add questions 2, 5, 8, 11, and 14 to obtain your competitive orientation score.

Add questions 3, 6, 9, 12, and 15 to obtain your individualistic orientation

Discussion: How did you compare with other members of your team? If you are highly
cooperative or highly competitive, what can you do to make yourself a better team
player? What is the impact to the team of having highly cooperative or highly
competitive members? How should the team deal with members who are very competitive
in their orientation?

Source: Adapted from Johnson, D., & Johnson, F. (1997). Joining together: Group theory and group
skills (6th ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.


Activity: Understanding Competitive Versus Cooperative


Objective: Teamwork should be a cooperative activity. Whether team members act
cooperatively or competitively depends on how they are evaluated and rewarded. This
activity lets groups experience working under competitive and cooperative conditions.

Activity: The class is divided into groups and instructed to make two construction
projects. The first project (tower) has a competitive goal, while the second project
(arch) has an individualist or cooperative goal. Activity Worksheet 5.1 contains
instructions for this activity. It may be useful to assign observers to note how the
groups perform these two activities.

Analysis: How did the groups behave differently during these two activities? What
were some examples of cooperative and competitive behaviors that occurred in or
between the groups? How did group members feel about participating in the two

Discussion: How do competitive and cooperative goals affect behavior within and
between groups? What is the impact of quantity (and/or production) versus quality
goals on teamwork?


Activity Worksheet 5.1: Competitive Versus Cooperative



Construction Projects

1. Divide the class into groups of four or more members.
2. Give each group a box of supplies, including colored paper, one or more

magazines, cardboard, tape, scissors, markers, and paper clips.


Project 1—Construct the Tallest Tower

Groups have 15 minutes to construct the tallest free-standing tower possible.

The group with the tallest tower wins an award (such as candy).


Project 2—Construct a Beautiful Arch

Groups have 15 minutes to construct an attractive free-standing arch.

Groups are allowed to share ideas and materials with one another.

Judges will give awards (such as candy) to all beautiful free-standing arches.


Descriptions of Images and Figures
Back to Figure

Data shown by the image are tabulated as follows:

Personality Type Individual Concern

Competitors Outperforming others

Cooperators Group’s success

Individualists Personal success

In the image, each personality type is connected to a corresponding individual concern via a
rightward arrow with the exception of Individualists, which is connected to Personal success
as well as Group’s success.

Back to Figure

Details shown in the flowchart are listed as follows:


Goal confusion

Common goals

Breakdown in communication

Rebuilding trust and communication

In the image, the second level bullet points are labeled “Negative Impact” and third level
bullet points are labeled “Solution.”




Central to any team’s actions is communication. People respond both to the content of a
message and how a message is communicated. Communication climate, psychological safety,
social processes, and trust influence the flow of a team’s communication, which impacts
both the team’s productivity and cohesiveness. Additionally, the emotional intelligence of
the team and individuals in the team help make the team’s communication more sensitive and
effective. Improving communication requires building trust within the team, facilitating
team meetings, and developing good communication skills.


Learning Objectives

1. Describe the communication process.
2. Explain the importance of verbal and nonverbal communication.
3. Understand the causes of dysfunctional information processing.
4. Understand how communication and gender are interconnected.
5. Explain how to build and repair trust within a team.
6. Distinguish between communication that promotes supportive and defensive

7. Understand how psychological safety and emotional intelligence affect a team’s

8. Plan and facilitate a productive team meeting using communication skills.



Communication involves a sender’s attempt to produce a message that conveys an internal
state (e.g., an idea, belief, or feeling) and the recipient’s attempt to interpret this
message (Burleson, 2010). A message comprises two dimensions (Watzlawick, Bavelas, &
Jackson, 1967). The content dimension focuses on what is said verbally. The relational
dimension focuses on how it is said through nonverbal cues like vocal tone, facial
expressions, and gestures. Information encoded in the relational dimension of the message
(e.g., attitudes, emotions, power) can augment the interpretation of the content of a
message. Communication is successful when all parties have a common understanding of the
sender’s internal state, and when the speaker’s social goals are achieved. Burleson (2010)
identifies three kinds of social goals served by communication:

1. Instrumental functions—providing information, persuading others, and providing support
2. Relationship management functions—resolving conflict, establishing authority, and

maintaining privacy
3. Interactional management functions—directing a conversation, changing topics, and

managing affect and impressions

Many group processes already discussed in this text—norms, motivation, cohesion, roles,
learning, cooperation—emerge from communication. It is not a surprise then that
communication skills are consistently among the most desired by employers. Yet while
communication may seem straightforward, people sometimes lack conscious awareness of their
communication goals or the strategies they employ to pursue them (Motley, 1990).

Communication in teams can be viewed as a transaction (Barnlund, 1970). This perspective
emphasizes that communication is more than simply the transmission of a message from a
sender to a recipient. Rather, the transactional model of communication recognizes that
people are both simultaneously senders and recipients of messages—both verbal and nonverbal
feedback provided by a recipient continuously influences the message that a sender sends.
Consider a team member beginning a meeting with an enthusiastic update about the team’s
progress, only to receive blank stares from others on the team. Such nonverbal communication
might be interpreted as disinterest, leading to a loss of enthusiasm and change in the
direction of the discussion by the speaker. A second component of the transactional model is
that all parties involved in communication influence and are influenced by each other. For
example, we often change our communication style depending on the recipient of our
communication—your communication around your coworkers is likely different from your
communication when your manager is present.

Taken together, the simultaneous sending and receiving of messages and the mutual influence
of team members illustrate how team communication is a dynamic process that is constantly
changing. Consider what occurs when an instructor suddenly appears to check in on a group
discussion during class; the students’ discussion might shift from the previous night’s
events to quickly blurting out praise and intrigue about the concepts from the lesson.
However, members are not the only dynamic affecting communication in teams; levels of trust,
power, status, and motivation also change over time and have consequences for the
cohesiveness and productivity of a team. These dynamics emphasize that not only what you
communicate but how you communicate is influenced by and influences the functioning of a
team. It is crucial, then, to be aware of how your communication positively or negatively
impacts the team, while also attending and adapting to how others are influencing the team.



Verbal Communication

When communicating verbally, we use language in an attempt to share meaning with others.
This might include determining the purpose of your team project, sharing information, or
deciding on a solution. While this may appear rather straightforward, the nature of language
often makes sharing meaning difficult. This is because the meanings of words are often
highly subjective. Language is based on words (like dog), which are themselves symbols that
refer to something else (a four-legged carnivorous mammal that is often a pet).

While the meaning of some words is concrete, many others—particularly those involved in
conflict, problem solving, and innovation—are ambiguous. Overlooking this communication
element can lead to frustration, failed projects, and wasted time. Consider a team wanting
to expand healthy food options on a university campus. There are various contested
understandings of what healthy food means—such as low calorie, not processed, locally
sourced, organic, non-GMO, vegan, raw, meat-free, and so forth. It is likely that each
member of a team will have a different understanding of what is and what is not healthy
food. The team must collectively define precisely what they mean in order to effectively
research and implement their goal of expanding healthy food options on campus. In other
words, effective teams use communication to construct a shared understanding. This, in turn,
facilitates the development of shared mental models about the team’s task, goals, and

However, team members often assume that everyone understands the same meaning for a word.
This is called bypassing, and it can be a source of much misunderstanding and conflict when
engaging in activities, such as assigning tasks and processing information. Consider the
coordination of a team assignment. The leader may instruct the team members to e-mail their
sections of the report by Thursday in order to assemble them for class on Friday. While the
leader may have been expecting the sections by noon, some team members may wait until 11:59
p.m. This delay could prevent the leader from effectively combining the sections and lead to
decreased team productivity, as well as increased conflict between members. Similarly,
speakers often have poor perspective-taking and overestimate a receiver’s familiarity with
the information being discussed (Keysar & Henly, 2002). This lack of perspective-taking is
one reason why technical professionals, such as engineers, have difficulty sharing
specialized knowledge in a team—they assume that the receivers have sufficient background
information to make sense of brief messages. This represents a poorly shared team mental

To avoid verbal miscommunications, team members need to disambiguate their words with clear
definitions and clarify the meanings of others. One useful approach for this is creating a
boundary object (Star, 1990). A boundary object is a visual or experiential representation
of an idea, which can come in such forms as a document, sketch, drawing, prototype, improv
skit, or collage. The idea is to create a common object or experience so that others can
examine, question, critique, refine, and build upon it. For example, students often request
from professors an example of previous student work. This permits them to really “see”
what the professor expects and confirm their understanding of an assignment. A team charter
is a boundary object that clarifies team member expectations and norms. Similarly, team
members can develop boundary objects to help visually or experientially represent their
ideas, observations, problems, solutions, or concepts. Through reconciling the team’s
varying understandings of the boundary object, they can foster a truly shared understanding.


Nonverbal Communication

In addition to using verbal language to share meaning with others, nonverbal cues, such as
body language, vocal tones, gestures, touch, eye contact, facial expressions, and use of
time and space, can also communicate emotional or attitudinal meanings to others. Moreover,
nonverbal messages can replace, emphasize, or even contradict our verbal communication. For
example, members can assert dominance over the team through their posture and vocal tones or
express contempt through arriving late to a meeting and sarcastically apologizing. Some
displays may likewise be strategically feigned or exaggerated in order to influence others
(Van Kleef, Van Doorn, Heerdink, & Koning, 2011).

Just like verbal communication, nonverbal communication is also ambiguous and easily
misunderstood (e.g., is a member not participating because they are tired, disinterested in
the project, or angry at another member?). Additionally, nonverbal communication is also
continuous—we are always communicating something nonverbally, whether intentionally or
unintentionally. Effective team members need to develop awareness as to how their nonverbal
communication might be influencing the team and also develop sensitivity to the nonverbal
messages of others on the team. Indeed, those skilled in decoding nonverbal communication
benefit from increased relational success (Carton, Kessler, & Pape, 1999). As will be
discussed later, sensitivity to the nonverbal messages of others and attentiveness to your
own nonverbal messages are essential components of team emotional intelligence.


Communication Within Teams

The simultaneous sending and receiving of verbal and nonverbal communication and the mutual
influence of all members have widespread implications for the development and functioning of
a team. Poor communication can lead to dysfunctional processing of information and
unnecessary conflict among team members. However, by developing the knowledge and skills of
effective and appropriate communication (Spitzberg, 1983), teams can foster shared mental
models, transactive memory systems, trust, appropriate team norms, and creativity. More
importantly, it is through continued effective and appropriate communication that these
benefits are realized. Trust, for example, once attained, does not last forever. Rather, it
is continuously affirmed and reaffirmed through the ongoing interactions between team
members. Communication is a transactional process through which team members are continually
defining and redefining their relationships with each other.

Interventions to promote self-awareness about team communication dynamics—such as
storytelling, framing discussions as giving feedback about group processes, modeling
constructive feedback, and reflecting on communicative actions—can promote a positive group
climate (Hedman-Phillips & Barge, 2017). Attention to the flow of team communication
empowers you to make informed communicative choices that maximize productivity and foster
cohesiveness among members.



Communication plays a vital role in the functioning of a team. Members need to be aware of
how to communicate in a manner that is both effective and appropriate for reaching team
goals and maintaining relationships. Ineffective communication contributes to the
dysfunctional processing of information, leading to poor decisions. Misunderstandings also
emerge from differences in communication styles. Similarly, inappropriate communication
damages the cohesiveness between team members and impedes the development of trust. Choices
in how you communicate can establish and maintain a safe communication climate that
encourages team members to express their knowledge, opinions, and feelings in difficult
situations. Interpersonal processes influence the willingness of team members to share
information in team discussions. Trust provides the foundation for open and honest
communications in the team.


Dysfunctional Information Processing Within the Team

The use of teams creates the potential to make better decisions because members can pool
information from diverse backgrounds and experiences. This benefit of using teams occurs
only if members share and integrate their unique information. However, teams frequently
engage in dysfunctional information sharing and processing that leads to poor decision

Teams often experience the common knowledge effect (Gigone & Hastie, 1997). This occurs when
team members spend most of their time discussing the information already shared by all
members, rather than combining the unique knowledge and perspectives of members. Focusing on
common rather than unique information also explains why teams often overlook technical
information. This type of information is likely to be known to only a few team members, so
the team rarely discusses it. Consequently, the information held by most team members before
a discussion has more influence on a decision than information received during a meeting,
regardless of whether this information is accurate.

Biases in information processing prevent teams from making good decisions because important
information that one member holds is ignored by the team (Stasser, 1992). For example,
confirmation bias is the tendency for people to seek information that confirms their already
held beliefs and attitudes, while ignoring information that contradicts their currently held
beliefs and attitudes (Nickerson, 1998). In other words, team members often find what they
expect to see when processing information.

For example, one study found that the auditory perception of a patient’s breathing (a
critical symptom that distinguishes between two life-threatening conditions) by teams of
physicians was influenced by the diagnoses they had anticipated (Tschan et al., 2009). These
physicians reported hearing a breathing pattern that was consistent with the presumed
diagnoses, even though this breathing pattern was not objectively present. Patients were
misdiagnosed because physicians ignored information that disconfirmed their beliefs.
Likewise, design teams may not seek out information that disconfirms the assumptions held by
the team about the nature of the problem or solution. However, teams that actively process
disconfirming information can produce more creative designs or, at the very least, avoid
implementing poor solutions. To combat confirmation bias, members should actively find and
passionately present disconfirming evidence and information to the team. It can be helpful
to formally assign a member the role of devil’s advocate to challenge the team’s

Information can be also be processed poorly by a team if they discuss topics in terms of
false dichotomies. A false dichotomy is the tendency to view options as two opposing extreme
possibilities (e.g., either/or) when other possibilities exist (Rothwell, 2015). In other
words, perceiving the world in absolute terms (e.g., you are either with me or against me)
is often false, since much of reality (and creative solutions) exists in the gray area
between these extremes. However, despite this sounding rather obvious, it is difficult to
easily communicate about these gray areas because our language lacks appropriate words.
While we can immediately think and speak in terms of opposites (e.g., short/tall,
loud/quiet, etc.), the words to describe the midpoint between these concepts are often vague
and nonspecific to the word pairing (between short and tall is average, between loud and
quiet is also average, etc.). This illustrates how language can predispose us to think in

False dichotomies can influence the nature of solutions that teams design. Consider the
example of a group of students who wished to address the skateboarding ban on campus by
advocating for the ban to be repealed—a clear allow/ban dichotomy in devising a solution.
Given the university administration’s concern for the safety of both pedestrians and


skateboarders, the entire proposal was rejected, and the group was unsuccessful in achieving
their goal. However, a more fruitful solution might have been to advocate for a middle-
ground position between banning and allowing, such as for permissible times and locations
for skateboarding to be allowed on campus (which incidentally is how bicycling on campus is
regulated). Such an integrative solution allows for the needs of both parties to be met.
Combating the false dichotomies that emerge in group discussions requires questioning
absolute statements made by members and using provisional language (e.g., sometimes, often,
etc.) when discussing information. This provides the communicative space in a discussion to
explore alternate solutions.


Gender and Communication

Decades of research examining the differences between men and women has found that they are
mostly similar (Hyde, 2005, 2014; Zell, Krizan, & Teeter, 2015). However, researchers have
observed slight differences between men and women in their communication. For example,
contradictory to prevailing stereotypes, men tend to be more talkative than women in
workplace and public contexts (Leaper & Ayres, 2007). Still, these same researchers also
found that men tended to speak more assertively, while women tended to show more support and
agreement in conversations. Why might these differences exist?

Scholarship suggests that men and women learn to produce and interpret messages differently
based on gender role expectations (Tannen, 1990). The masculine communication style
emphasizes status. This means that men attend more to aspects of a message that relate to
independence, competition, exerting control, and reporting knowledge. According to Tannen,
men use communication to establish and elevate their status in a group. Consequently, men
tend to speak more, focus on task-oriented information, interrupt, offer advice, and make
jokes more often than women.

In contrast, the feminine communication style focuses on emotional connection. This includes
talk that embodies interdependence, cooperation, and empowerment in an effort to facilitate
agreement, interest in others, and participation. Tannen asserts that women, then, tend to
share feelings, invite others to speak, and listen in order to foster bonds between members.
Conversely, women may punish others by creating emotional distance and pushing them away.

By understanding these styles of communication, members can better adapt their communication
to the group and minimize misunderstandings. For example, the masculine tendency to focus on
task-oriented communication may lead a member to consider the sharing of feelings to be a
waste of meeting time and discourage a feminine speaker from sharing their emotions with
other members. In this scenario, the feminine speaker’s desire to foster connection among
members is being marginalized, contributing to a less fulfilling and supportive environment.
Likewise, a feminine speaker may share their emotions about a difficult day with the desire
of gaining comfort and sympathy from teammates; however, a masculine member may instead
offer suggestions on how to fix the cause of their problems. Here, these two communication
styles are misaligned, and a member is not meeting the communication needs of another
member. Such misunderstandings may decrease the trust and cohesiveness of team members.
Rather than privileging either feminine or masculine communication styles as superior, team
members should seek to respect the need for both to coexist. Indeed, instrumental and
relational aspects of teams need to be appropriately managed and understood.

Critically, masculine and feminine communication styles are not to be conflated with gender
or sex. Rather, both communication styles can be contextually adopted by men and women.
While offering a framework for considering gender and communication, this model is limited.
It has been critiqued for its binary conceptualization of gender, for perpetuating gender
stereotypes, and for oversimplifying the complex relationship between gender and
communication (Edwards & Hamilton, 2004; Prentice & Carranza, 2002).


Repairing Trust

Trust is the willingness to be vulnerable to the actions of another (Mayer, Davis, &
Schoorman, 1995; Schoorman, Mayer, & Davis, 2007). In teams, this encompasses both
interpersonal trust between team members and collective trust in the team (Costa, Fulmer, &
Anderson, 2018). For team members to trust, they must believe the team is competent to
complete its task (team efficacy) and the team environment is safe for all members (Ilgen et
al., 2005). Trust within a team encourages communication and cooperation and makes conflicts
easier to resolve.

Trust is developed over time as team members cooperate, share information, and monitor each
other (Lau & Liden, 2008). At the beginning of a social encounter, people take a chance on
trusting the other person, while monitoring how the other responds. The experience of future
trust is determined by what happens in the relationship. Trust is built and maintained over
time through social interactions—through the sharing of feelings and thoughts. Yet trust
develops differently across cultures. For instance, a basis for trust in Western cultures is
through having a shared category membership with group members (e.g., both went to the same
college), while in Eastern cultures, trust is impacted by sharing interpersonal ties with
group members (Yuki, Maddux, Brewer, & Takemura, 2005).

Although building trust is a slow process, trust is quickly and easily destroyed, often by a
single incident that undermines the perceived competence, benevolence, or integrity of a
team member (Mayer et al., 1995). The lack of trust by only a few members of the team can
break down the positive relationship between trust and team performance. Team leaders need
to build trust among team members and be aware of specific relationships within the team
where trust is low. When there are problems with a lack of trust between particular members,
procedures for them to monitor each other’s performance and ensure obligations are met can
help the team rebuild trust in specific relationships.

When trust is violated, an apology is an effective response. Research has identified the
following components to an effective apology (Lewicki, Polin, & Lount, 2016):

1. Express sincere regret: “I’m sorry for not having completed my portion of the task.”
2. Explain the reasons why the violation occurred: “I overestimated how much time I had to

work on this task.”
3. Acknowledge responsibility for your part in causing the violation: “I was wrong for not

bringing up my lack of progress before the deadline.”
4. Declare repentance and intention not to repeat the violation: “I learned my lesson, and

I will not let the team down again.”
5. Offer a way to repair trust: “I will take the lead on the next task and take

responsibility for getting it finished early.”
6. Request forgiveness: “Please forgive me for slowing down the team and for the stress I

have caused you.”

While apologies that include more of these components are viewed as more effective, the most
critical components are explaining the violation, acknowledging responsibility, and offering
a repair.

Longer-term strategies for repairing trust can also be useful (Lewicki & Brinsfield, 2017).
Teams can adopt policies, procedures, contracts, and monitoring that limit the possibility
of subsequent violations (Sitkin & Roth, 1993). However, policies that limit interpersonal
interaction (e.g., agree to stay away from each other) may hinder the repair of trust
(Malhotra & Murnighan, 2002). A violator of trust may also retroactively reframe the
violation by providing information that alters the victim’s perception of the incident
(Dewulf et al., 2009).


Psychological Safety

Trust is closely associated with psychological safety in teams. Psychological safety is the
perception that members are free to take interpersonal risks and to express their thoughts
and feelings without fear of consequences (Edmondson & Lei, 2014). It is a climate of
interpersonal trust and mutual respect where team members can offer ideas, provide feedback,
raise issues, admit mistakes, and ask for help without fear of retribution. This is
particularly important to teams where the sharing of diverse information and integration of
perspectives is a central activity. Indeed, research consistently shows that psychological
safety is associated with higher ability to learn from mistakes (Hirak, Peng, Carmeli, &
Schaubroeck, 2012), success in diverse teams (Caruso & Woolley, 2008), creativity (Baer &
Frese, 2003), and team performance (Frazier, Fainshmidt, Klinger, Pezeshkan, & Vracheva,
2017). Virtual teams also benefit from psychological safety, as this mitigates the negative
effects of geographical dispersion, electronic dependence, and national culture on
innovation and performance (Gibson & Gibbs, 2006).

The value of psychological safety can be seen in the operation of cross-functional teams
that are composed of members from a variety of technical backgrounds (Edmondson & Nembhard,
2009). The diversity of viewpoints in these teams is crucial for their success, but this
only happens if team members are willing to share their knowledge and learn from each other.
These teams encounter communication problems, such as socially induced silence, unproductive
communication, and differences in professional language. Members of some cultures may also
withhold questions, feedback, or disagreement due to cultural norms dictating politeness or
face-saving behaviors.

To overcome the problems created by diversity, teams need to develop an environment of
psychological safety to mitigate the interpersonal risks of interacting. Team leaders play
an essential role in establishing psychological safety by inviting input and feedback, while
demonstrating their own openness to receiving critical information. They can also encourage
members to speak up by facilitating communications and minimizing status differences.
Assigning the role of devil’s advocate can help to legitimize disagreement in teams.
Leaders also demonstrate that failure is an opportunity for learning rather than threatening
punishment for communicating about problems. While psychological safety is generally viewed
as a cognitive phenomenon, it manifests through communication (Gibson & Gibbs, 2006). This
indicates that all team members can foster psychological safety by promoting a supportive
communication climate.


Communication Climates

Closely related to psychological safety is the communication climate of groups. Gibb (1961)
identified six patterns of group communication that increase or decrease the degree of
defensiveness exhibited by members. How one communicates can influence whether team members
focus on the content (what they said) or structure (how they said it) of the message. A
defensive climate occurs in response to perceived threats to one’s self-esteem. It shifts
mental attention away from the message content and team tasks to instead defending oneself
and distorting information. In the short term, this decreases team productivity and erodes
cohesiveness. In the long term, a defensive climate can lead to burnout and turnover
(Becker, Halbesleben, & O’Hair, 2005). By contrast, a supportive climate emphasizes the
content of a message and yields increased cooperation and trust, which is essential for the
development of psychological safety. Team members establish and maintain a supportive
communication climate through choices of how they structure their communication. Gibb offers
the following patterns of communication that can contribute to a defensive versus supportive

Evaluation Versus Description

Messages with evaluations contain judgments, accusations, “you” statements, contempt,
fault finding, and criticism (e.g., “You haven’t contributed enough to this

presentation”), which are often met with efforts to absolve oneself from blame (e.g., “But

I came to every meeting! Besides, you never gave me clear directions”). By contrast,
descriptions that involve framing comments in a manner minimize unease and consider the
perceptions and feelings of the sender (e.g., “I’m concerned that our presentation won’t

go well and have some requests that I’d like you to consider”). Strategies to adopt more
descriptive language include using “I” statements rather than “you” statements and
providing genuine praise before negative feedback (Hornsey, Robson, Smith, Esposo, & Sutton,

Control Versus Problem Orientation

A defensive climate can emerge from communication aimed at controlling other people by
telling them what to do. Indeed, research on psychological reactance reveals that efforts to
control one’s behavior are often met with resistance or even the opposite behavior (Brehm &
Brehm, 1981). This can be illustrated by imagining the typical response of a child being
told to clean their room. Similarly, members in teams often respond negatively to demands
placed on them by others. For example, demanding that a team member skip a planned social
event in order to finish an assignment might lead to resistance. However, a more effective
pattern of communication is to focus instead on the problem and invite ideas for solving the
problem (e.g., “What can we do in order to finish this project by tonight?”). This allows
for a productive conversation aimed at how to solve the problem, rather than placing demands
on specific team members.

Strategy Versus Spontaneity

People are sensitive to strategies employed to manipulate or deceive them, such as members
excusing themselves from a meeting by calling in “sick” or leaving a meeting early because
they suddenly have an “appointment.” While certainly there are times when such reasons may
reflect reality, they contribute to a defensive climate when perceived to be strategic ways


of evading uncomfortable questions, withholding information, or not participating. Instead,
employing spontaneous communication that is honest, assertive, and contains true self-
disclosure can promote an atmosphere of trust in a team (e.g., “I did not sleep well last

night and can’t meaningfully contribute to this meeting. Can I make it up somehow?”).

Neutrality Versus Empathy

When people communicate, they want to feel heard and to have their perspective considered.
In team discussions, however, members may respond with indifference or make little effort to
acknowledge others. An example of neutrality is responding to a member’s concern about the
ethics of a group decision with a dismissive, “No, it’s fine. Don’t worry. Let’s move

on.” Other times, a member’s e-mail or text message to the team might be completely
ignored—even professors can feel devalued by students that fall asleep in class or are
distracted by technology. Such behaviors are frustrating and disrespectful, which can
contribute to a defensive climate. A supportive climate can be fostered by communicating
with empathy—taking another’s perspectives and feelings into account. This is achieved
through positive nonverbal behaviors (e.g., listening, putting away a phone during
conversations) or verbal behaviors (e.g., “Let’s devote the next 5 minutes to discussing

your concern about the ethics of our decision”).

Superiority Versus Equality

Teams often are composed of members possessing differences in power, intelligence,
knowledge, skill, wealth, and so on. Despite these differences, messages that are
communicated in a superior, belittling manner (e.g., “You’re taking too long; I’ll just

show you the right way to do this,” or “No, I’m the one who has done this before. I know

best”) evoke defensiveness that can stifle trust and even promote hostility. This
defensiveness can impede the psychological safety of the team by limiting the ability or
desire of members to provide meaningful feedback or ask for help that they may need.
Instead, adopting communication that embodies a tone of equality (e.g., “I can show you

what worked for me, if you’d like,” or “I’d like to hear all of your thoughts on this

matter”) and even self-deprecating humor (Greengross & Miller, 2008) encourages harmony and
productivity in a team.

Certainty Versus Provisionalism

Few things in life are absolutely certain. On standardized exams, answers containing
absolute statements (e.g., always, never, or impossible) are often the incorrect choices and
are a source of frustration for students failing to recall this test-taking strategy.
Similarly, team members who communicate with absolute certainty can come across as narrow-
minded and unwilling to acknowledge other points of view. Communicating with certainty may
shut down discussion (e.g., “That idea will never work!”) and decrease motivation (e.g.,
“We’ll never finish this presentation by tomorrow!”) in the team. Instead, qualifying
messages through provisional language by using words like possibly, might, and sometimes can
contribute to more supportive climates where issues can be openly discussed and explored
(e.g., “That idea might work, but I have a few concerns”).

These six patterns of communication offer guidance in fostering a supportive communication
climate. A communication climate develops in cycles (Lumsden & Lumsden, 1997). When team
members communicate with supportive statements, others tend to reciprocate with supportive
statements, which encourages trust and openness and increases their willingness to


communicate again. This cycle further increases trust and maintains a supportive climate.
However, defensive communication begets defensive communication from others and can quickly
spiral into criticism, conflict, and decreased trust. This underscores the importance of
quickly recognizing and breaking dysfunctional cycles of defensive communication when they
emerge in teams. Adopting supportive patterns of communication can help to establish and
maintain psychological safety and promote trust in the team. Still, these should not be
expected to work in all situations. There are times when defensive strategies are needed,
such as using control when dismissing an underperforming member from a team.



Feelings and emotions pervade the fabric of teams. Emotional intelligence (EI) is the
ability to solve emotional problems (Salovey & Mayer, 1990). EI is an important aspect of
communication in team discussions and is associated with enhanced levels of team performance
(Rezvani, Barrett, & Khosravi, 2019) and improved conflict resolution (Jordan & Troth,
2004). It is also consistently associated with leadership emergence in teams (Côté, Lopes,
Salovey, & Miners, 2010). EI includes the following four components:

1. Self-awareness—the ability to identify, understand, and discuss one’s emotions
2. Empathy—the ability to perceive, recognize, and experience others’ emotions
3. Emotional regulation—the ability to regulate one’s emotions and control the expression

of emotions
4. Relationship management—the ability to respond to others’ emotions with respect and

concern for the relationship (See Figure 6.1.)

Although EI can be viewed as a skill of individual team members, EI can also be viewed as a
part of the team’s communication climate. Team EI is about building norms that support the
awareness and regulation of emotions within the team (Druskat & Wolff, 2001). Our
relationships with team members are not the product of any single interaction but, rather,
are constantly being defined and redefined during ongoing communication exchanges (Sias,
2008). The ability to recognize and regulate one’s emotions and the emotions of others
during these ongoing interactions can enhance the relationships of team members. Regulating
ones’ expression of emotion is important because emotions are contagious in small groups
(Ilies, Wagner, & Morgeson, 2007; Sias, 2008), often occurring without members even being
aware of it (Hatfield, Cacioppo, & Rapson, 1993). In particular, team leaders have the most
influence over team emotions (Visser, van Knippenberg, Van Kleef, & Wisse, 2013).


Figure 6.1 Components of Team Emotional Intelligence

Source: Adapted from Greenberg, J. (2011). Behavior in organizations (10th ed.). Boston,
MA: Prentice Hall.

The development of emotional awareness of a team is influenced greatly by norms. Indeed,
collectively endorsed team norms can shape the emotions felt and displayed in teams (Barsade
& O’Neill, 2014). Consequently, team norms can also develop that suppress emotions (Menges
& Kilduff, 2015), require the expression of specific emotions (Van Maanen & Kunda, 1989), or
encourage open expression of a range of emotions (Martin, Knopoff, & Beckman, 1998). One way
to foster team EI is through developing emotional awareness norms, such as taking time to
get to know each other in order to increase interpersonal understanding and to ensure equal
participation so that all perspectives can be considered. Emotional regulation norms include
setting ground rules for conversational courtesy, providing emotional support to help team


members, creating outlets to express emotions, and developing a positive communication
environment. These behavioral norms help build trust among team members, create a strong
team identity, and develop a sense of team efficacy.

Emotionally intelligent teams are aware of the emotional reactions of team members and
develop norms that encourage both confrontation and caring. For example, when a team is
trying to make a decision and one member disagrees, it is easy for the team to vote and move
on to the next issue. However, an emotionally intelligent team would pause and try to better
understand why a team member objects to the decision. They would engage in perspective-
taking to help understand the issue from alternative views. This shows that the team
appreciates and has respect for this perspective, and it may lead to a consensus decision
that is acceptable to all team members.

Team EI has many positive impacts on team processes and performance. Emotionally intelligent
teams are better able to work through emotional problems, which motivates team members and
increases group cohesion (Ayoko, Callan, & Härtel, 2008). They have higher levels of team
trust, which is vital for developing a collaborative environment and promoting creativity
(Barczak, Lassk, & Mulki, 2010). EI teams are more effective when working in demanding and
stressful situations because they have better coordination and fewer conflicts and use more
collaborative conflict resolution approaches (Farh, Seo, & Tesluk, 2012).

One of the most significant results of team EI is the way conflicts are managed. In
interdisciplinary teams like medical teams, teams with low levels of EI have poorer social
skills and more disruptive behaviors and use more coercive power tactics (McCallin &
Bamford, 2007). Conflicts in these teams threaten the psychological safety of members. Teams
with higher levels of EI have fewer conflicts, and the conflicts are less intense (Ayoko et
al., 2008). These teams are more likely to use a collaborative approach to resolve conflict,
while teams with lower levels of EI are more likely to use avoidance as a conflict
resolution strategy (Jordan & Troth, 2004).

Teams can improve their EI in several ways. Emotionally intelligent team leaders can model
appropriate behavior and facilitate sensitive team communications (Koman & Wolff, 2008).
Teams can develop behavioral norms to guide how they manage emotions. Team settings are an
excellent way to teach people how to act with emotional intelligence (Ferris, 2009).
Experiential group activities, such as role-plays, can be used to learn how to perceive
emotions, manage one’s emotional responses, and act effectively in emotionally challenging
social situations (Pool & Qualter, 2012). Team-based learning approaches also help build
social bonds within the team by creating a psychologically safe context for applying the
newly learned emotional abilities (Clarke, 2010).

To discover your own level of EI and discuss how emotionally intelligent norms impact team
communication, take the team EI survey at the end of this chapter.



Team meetings are often viewed negatively as a waste of time (Rogelberg, Shanock, & Scott,
2012)—many of the meetings you have attended in the past likely were a waste of time if
they were poorly structured, started late, lacked purpose, went off-topic, were dominated by
a few individuals, and/or ended late (Rogelberg, Allen, Shanock, Scott, & Shuffler, 2010).
Luckily, bad meetings are not inevitable. By introducing a structure that helps control and
facilitate communication, meetings can make more efficient use of everyone’s time.

The nature of meetings does not change based on whether they are conducted face to face or
virtually using technologies—the advice is generally the same. The exception to this rule
concerns the unique challenges of remote, audio-only meetings (Rogelberg, 2019). Audio-only
meetings lack visual cues, which increases opportunities for people to interrupt and
misinterpret each other. They also facilitate social loafing as participants can easily
multitask on other assignments as their disengagement can go unnoticed. While a skilled
facilitator can make audio-only meetings productive, it is advisable to avoid them.

Meetings are where teams build relationships, share information, make decisions, solve
problems, and make sense of their purpose. While a well-structured meeting can actually save
time and improve the effectiveness of a team, many people choose not to invest the time in
preparing a useful agenda or managing the participation of members. Instead, poorly led
meetings are often dominated by a few members—in a typical four-person group, two people do
more than 70% of the talking; in a six-person group, three people do more than 85% of the
talking (Shaw, 1981). Equal participation is an important predictor of success in a variety
of team tasks (Woolley et al., 2010), while unequal participation contributes to
dissatisfaction and frustration. Moreover, effective meetings can improve attitudes toward
meetings and the team as a whole.

In general, meetings start with a review of the agenda and warm-up activities designed to
get people talking socially. The body of the meeting focuses on managing the communication
process and making the team’s decisions. The meeting ends with a summary of decisions and
assignments and an evaluation of how well the team is operating. (See Figure 6.2.) Research
provides guidelines for organizing and conducting effective meetings (Rogelberg, 2019):


Figure 6.2 Facilitating a Team Meeting

Source: Adapted from Kayser, T. (1990). Mining group gold. El Segundo, CA: Sherif.


1. Only have a meeting when there is no other alternative. Consider the tasks that need to
be accomplished and determine if a meeting is truly necessary. A meeting is needed when
interaction is required between participants. Use alternative communication channels if
the task is a simple announcement or update (e.g., voting via e-mail or sending a memo
with an update).

2. Keep meeting participants lean. Based on the aims of the meeting, only include people
who need to be there. Effectiveness diminishes after about seven participants for
decision-making or problem-solving tasks. Some tasks, like idea generation, can be
successful with 18 people.

3. Construct an agenda several days before the meeting. Meetings function more effectively
when participants have the agenda in advance (Rogelberg, Scott, & Kello, 2007), and
meeting participants enjoy meetings more when they have a clear objective (Allen et al.,
2012). Soliciting agenda topics from members can also enhance their commitment,
engagement, and identification with the team. If a proposed topic does not make it into
the agenda, address the issue with the team member or move it to a future meeting.

4. Distribute the agenda before the meeting. Several days before the meeting, send members
an agenda that includes the location, time, duration, and purpose of the meeting. Most
importantly, include a concise list of discussion topics, time estimates for topics, and
reading materials so that members can come prepared.

5. Keep the meeting on time. People often dislike meetings because they go off-topic and
run late. Assign a team member to be a timekeeper whose job is to keep the meeting on
schedule and end on time. However, do not rush discussions of important topics: Meeting
facilitators may need to adjust the agenda or create a future meeting based on the flow
of the meeting.

6. Manage disruptive behaviors. Disruptive team members may dominate the discussion, be
overly talkative, or be rude to other team members. All team members share
responsibility for handling difficult members; it is not just the job of the leader to
maintain the flow of the meeting. The leader should acknowledge and verbally reward
acceptable behaviors. If problem behaviors persist, the leader should talk privately
with repeat offenders. If none of these approaches work, assistance from outside the
team (e.g., a manager responsible for supervising the offender) may be required.

7. Summarize important discussions and decisions. The leader must keep team members focused
on the agenda topics. To keep the group process flowing, the leader should stop after
the discussion of each major agenda item and summarize the team’s conclusions. This
allows for a check on whether all team members agree with what has happened at the

8. Evaluate the group process at the end of each meeting. The team should evaluate the
effectiveness of meetings to identify how the meeting operated, whether there are areas
for improvement, and if the meeting objectives were achieved. It is beneficial to gather
perceptions from all meeting attendees about the meeting quality because leaders tend to
have more positive perceptions of the meeting than those who are not in a position of
power (Cohen, Rogelberg, Allen, & Luong, 2011). These group process evaluations provide
feedback to the team about its performance and help deal with problems before they get
emotionally out of hand. (See the Appendix for a discussion of the use of group process

9. Distribute minutes of the meeting. Lack of follow-through on what is discussed is
another predictor of dissatisfaction with team meetings (Rogelberg et al., 2010).
Indeed, it can be frustrating when a member assigned with completing a task comes to the
meeting and announces that they forgot they were supposed to do that. This can be
alleviated by assigning someone to create a summary of what was discussed, what
decisions were made, what needs to be deliberated, and what actions are expected of
members before the next meeting. This not only keeps team members accountable for their
assigned tasks but also updates members who may have been absent from the meeting.



Many communication skills are useful for team members. This section reviews four skills.

1. Ask questions. Asking questions can clarify ambiguous understandings. In general, open-
ended questions encourage discussion, whereas closed-ended questions (e.g., yes/no
questions) tend to limit discussion. It is better to ask the team to discuss the pros
and cons of an idea than to ask team members whether they agree or disagree with it.
After someone has answered a question, it is often useful to ask follow-up questions to
clarify the issues. When questions are addressed to the leader, they should be
redirected back to the team, if possible, to promote discussion.

When the leader asks an individual member of the team a direct question, it can be a
threatening experience that reduces discussion. Leaders should try to ask questions of
the entire team whenever possible. After asking a question, the leader should remember
to give team members sufficient time to respond. The leader should reward participation
by acknowledging responses. If no one responds, the leader should try rewording the
question or going around the room and having everyone comment on it. A lack of response
may mean that the question has a bias or is putting some team members on the defensive.

2. Listen actively. One of the best ways to improve understanding is to stop talking and
listen. Active listening is an approach to communication that focuses on the other
person (Brunner, 2008). In this approach, listeners paraphrase what they heard and ask
the sender if this is correct. The paraphrasing should convey the listener’s
understanding of the communication rather than a simple parroting of the message. This
sends a message that the listener cares about understanding the message and allows the
sender to clarify the communication if needed. Although this is a useful technique, it
can become tiresome if used all the time.

Good listeners communicate their desire to understand the message and improve their
understanding rather than being a conversation narcissist. When listening to a team
member, you can respond with either a support response or a shift response (Brunner,
2008; Vangelisti, Knapp, & Daly, 1990). A shift response can erode a supportive climate
through refocusing attention from the speaker to oneself by changing the topic of
discussion, therefore disregarding the concerns of the speaker. By contrast, a support
response demonstrates your awareness by keeping the team’s attention on the speaker and
their topic. For example, the leader of your team mentions that they are frustrated with
the meetings frequently starting late. A shift response is, “Well, I am frustrated that

we never have food here. We should do something about that.” A support response is,
“That is frustrating. What do you think we should do about it?”

3. Give constructive feedback. Everyone needs feedback to improve performance. However,
receiving feedback (especially negative feedback) may be an uncomfortable experience.
Improving one’s ability to give constructive feedback is a vital teamwork skill
(London, 2014).

The first step in learning to give constructive feedback is recognizing the need for it.
Both positive and negative feedback are important. Before giving feedback, examine the
context in order to better understand why the behaviors occurred. If a situation is
emotional, it is best to wait until things calm down before giving constructive
feedback. A team member or leader giving feedback should describe the situation
accurately, try not to be judgmental, and speak for himself or herself. When receiving
feedback, one should listen carefully, ask questions to better understand, acknowledge
reception of the feedback, and take time to sort it out.


If a member is giving solely negative feedback, they are not being constructive.
Expressing solely negative feedback on the performance or ideas of other team members
makes the receivers defensive and discourages communication. It is better to reward
desired ideas and behaviors rather than punish undesirable ideas and behaviors. When
giving negative feedback to a team member, corrective alternatives should be offered.
Also, negative feedback should be given privately to avoid embarrassing the recipient.

Several techniques can improve a team’s ability to accept feedback about its

Focus on the future. Focusing on the past makes people defensive. Focus the
information on how to improve future performance.

Focus on specific behaviors. Providing general information does not help the team
identify the changes needed in its behavior.

Focus on learning and problem solving. The information provided should help the team
improve, not just focus on its deficiencies.

4. Manage feelings. When emotions become disruptive to the operation of the team, they must
be managed effectively (Kelly & Barsade, 2001). People cannot be prevented from becoming
emotional. When emotional issues are related to the team’s task, the issues should be
addressed in the team meeting. Emotional conflicts related to personal issues may need
to be handled in private. All team members should learn how to handle emotional
interactions in the team. The following is an approach to managing feelings during team

Stay neutral. People have a right to their feelings. The team should encourage and
acknowledge the expression of feelings.

Understand feelings rather than evaluate them. All team members should be sensitive
to verbal and nonverbal messages. When dealing with emotional issues, it is best to
ask questions and seek information to better understand the feelings.

Process feelings in the group. When the team’s operation is disrupted by emotions,
the team should stop and be silent briefly to cool down. Once that has happened, the
task-related issues should be discussed as a group.

This approach to managing emotions is useful when emotional issues are related to tasks.
Team norms that encourage open communication of emotions increase the performance benefits
of task-related conflict (Jehn, 1995). However, norms that encourage open communication
about relationship-oriented conflict have a negative impact on teams. When emotions are
about personal or relationship issues, it is not a benefit to process them with the team.



Communication is one of the central activities of a team—it is an ongoing process in which
members are continuously influencing and are influenced by other team members. By
understanding how your verbal and nonverbal communication impacts the team, you can employ
communication choices that are more effective and appropriate.

The meaning of words and nonverbal gestures are often ambiguous and subjective, particularly
in teams with diverse members. This requires that members clarify definitions and confirm
interpretations to avoid misunderstandings. The team’s ability to effectively process
information depends on members who actively question their assumptions, seek disconfirming
information, and do not speak in false dichotomies. Mutual respect for masculine and
feminine communication styles provides insights as to the needs of team members and fosters
a more fulfilling environment. Trust is needed for members to fully participate in teams,
which necessitates developing psychological safety and supportive communication climates.
This strongly impacts the willingness of members to pool knowledge in order to make better

Recognizing and managing emotions is an important aspect of a team’s communications.
Emotional intelligence is both an individual skill and a set of team norms that encourage
effective ways to handle emotions in teams. Emotionally intelligent teams have more
supportive communications and higher levels of trust, and team members collaboratively
handle conflict.

Team meetings operate more effectively if a facilitator structures the communication before,
during, and after the meeting. Providing an agenda in advance allows both that members are
adequately prepared and that they are held accountable for coming to the meeting prepared.
During meetings, the facilitator should maintain an open and collaborative climate, manage
disruptive behaviors, manage differences, summarize important decisions, and evaluate the
group process. After meetings, provide the team with minutes summarizing the decisions, and
remind members of the actions expected before the next meeting.

Several important communication skills are useful for team members to learn and perform.
Asking open-ended, nonthreatening questions fosters better team interactions. Active
listening helps clarify the communicator’s meaning and acknowledges the importance of the
message. Giving constructive feedback is a technique that helps team members learn to
improve their performance. Emotions can disrupt teams; learning how to process emotions in a
group is an important skill.


Team Leadership Challenge 6

You are the leader of a customer service improvement team that meets weekly at the
end of the workday. Early in the team’s life, the team had some communication skills
training. You closely follow the analysis and decision-making structures from the
company’s Customer Service Improvement Manual. Over time, as the team has become
more comfortable with analyzing quality problems and creating solutions, you have
been using less structure in facilitating the team meetings.

However, you begin to notice problems with the meetings. Not everyone is
participating, and the discussions are becoming dominated by several of the older
male team members. You notice that their critical personal remarks have silenced some
of the women team members. An argument that took place several meetings ago has
caused other team members to stop participating during the meetings. Also,
discussions tend to drift off-topic and seem like repeats of previous conversations.

What should the team leader do to get the team’s communications back on track?

What is the best way to handle problem team members during the meetings?

Does the team need more skills training, more communication structure, or outside
facilitation? Justify your answer.


Survey: Team Emotional Intelligence

Purpose: To make you aware of your level of emotional intelligence. The survey shows
how an emotional intelligence perspective affects communication in a team. You may
know what the most emotionally intelligent response is to a situation yet recognize
that you do not always act in this manner.

Directions: Imagine you are a team member facing the following difficult situations.
Select the response that best indicates what you think someone should do and what you
would most likely do in that situation.

1. You are a relatively new member of the project team. The team leader has given
you an important assignment. This is your chance to show the team leader your
value to the team—but only if you are successful. If you fail at this task, it
could damage your career.
a. Put off working on the assignment for a while, because thinking about it

makes you anxious.
b. Try to relax, think about some alternative approaches to the assignment, and

then talk with some other team members about which alternative is best to

c. Work on the assignment for several weeks before telling the other team
members about it.

d. Explain to the other team members how worried you are, and ask them to
support your ideas.

People should do: __________ I would do: __________

2. You are a member of a manufacturing team and a friend of yours on the team has
borrowed one of your tools. Although you asked her to return the tool to you, she
has not done it so far.
a. Ignore it. Maintaining a friendship is more important than getting the tool

b. Act coolly toward her until she returns the tool.
c. Explain to your friend that you need the tool and ask her politely to return

d. Think about ending the friendship because friends don’t act this way.

People should do: __________ I would do: __________

3. During the last few team meetings, you notice that one of the team members seems
nervous when talking with you.
a. Decide that the team member isn’t interested in working with you, so you

focus your communications toward other team members.
b. Try to interact with the team member in more informal situations so that you

can get to know him better.
c. Communicate more formally with this team member since they are not being

d. Be very careful around the team member because you suspect that you have done

something to offend him.

People should do: __________ I would do: __________

4. A team member who works near you has the annoying habit of singing to himself
while working on a computer. This is really starting to bother you.


a. Tell the team leader that it is their responsibility to fix the situation by
getting the person to stop or moving him to another work area.

b. Make jokes about this habit to the team member and hope that he gets the

c. Explain to the team member that this habit annoys you, and ask that he stop
doing it.

d. Ignore the problem because you don’t want to disrupt team relations.

People should do: __________ I would do: __________

5. While making lunch in the break room, you accidentally knock over a cup of coffee
that falls on the floor.
a. Get angry at yourself because you are a clumsy person.
b. Clean up the mess and laugh about how accidents always seem to happen to you.
c. Become embarrassed, and leave the break room before anyone sees you.
d. Glare at the other people in the break room so they won’t say anything.

People should do: __________ I would do: __________

6. You have been working on an important part of the team project for the last
several months. When you present your work at a team meeting, the team leader
criticizes your work.
a. Ignore the criticism, and convince yourself that the team leader was just

having a bad day.
b. Focus on trying to improve your work based on the criticisms you received.
c. Feel so emotionally upset that you go home for the day.
d. Think about how unfair the criticisms are and how the team does not

appreciate your hard work.

People should do: __________ I would do: __________

7. There is a heated disagreement at the team meeting about how to handle a problem.
Another team member forcefully attacks your position.
a. Hold firm to your position, and make new arguments to support it.
b. Get angry with the critical team member, and attack their position.
c. Try to develop alternative solutions to the problem in a calm fashion.
d. Shift the discussion at the meeting to a new topic.

People should do: __________ I would do: __________

8. At a social gathering of the team, a male team member criticizes a female team
member who is not present. You like and respect the female team member.
a. To get along with the group, agree and add a few other negative comments

about the female team member.
b. Don’t say anything during the event, but later, in private, tell the male

team member how you really feel about his comments.
c. Tell the male team member that his criticisms are inappropriate, and then

shift to another topic of conversation.
d. Don’t say anything, but then later, feel bad about not intervening in the


People should do: __________ I would do: __________



Scoring is based on demonstrating empathy and showing respect. The most emotionally
intelligent responses are the following: 1 = b, 2 = c, 3 = b, 4 = c, 5 = b, 6 = b, 7
= c, 8 = c.



1. How well did you do on the survey? How does your score compare to others?
2. Is there a difference between your “should” and “would” answers? How do you

explain the difference? Is this a problem?
3. Focus on Question 8. Why is the best answer c instead of b? When and how should

you stand up for others?

Source: Adapted from Greenberg, J. (2011). Behavior in organizations (10th ed.). Boston, MA:
Prentice Hall.


Activity: Observing Communication Patterns in a Team

Objective: Communication within a team often develops into patterns. Team members can
either speak to the entire team or speak to individual team members. Some team
members talk a lot, while others remain relatively silent. Observing communication
patterns reveals whether the team is working collaboratively, developing subgroups,
or being dominated by certain individuals.

Activity: During a team meeting or group discussion of the Team Leader’s Challenge,
note when a team member speaks and to whom. The member can either speak to another
individual or to the team as a whole. Using Activity Worksheet 6.1, record the
team’s communication pattern by drawing arrows connecting the various communicators.
Use slash marks on the arrows to note additional communications.

Analysis: Was most of the team’s communication to the team as a whole? Did you
notice any patterns of communication? Were certain team members more likely to
dominate the team’s discussion? Can you determine who the team leader is by
observing this communication pattern? How equal were the team’s communications?

Discussion: What should the team leader do to facilitate more equal participation in
team discussions?


Activity Worksheet 6.1: Competitive Versus Cooperative



Descriptions of Images and Figures
Back to Figure

Details shown in the image are tabulated as follows:


Self Other

Awareness Self-awareness Empathy

Behavior Emotional regulation Relationship management

Back to Figure

Details of the flowchart, which flows from left to right, are listed as follows:


Review agenda: purpose and desired outcomes

Warm-up activity


Maintain open climate

Manage disruptive behaviors

Manage differences

Make decisions


Summarize important decisions

Check results against desired outcomes

Group process evaluation




Shutterstock/Oshchepkov Dmitry




Conflicts of various types are a natural part of the team
process. Although we often view conflict as negative, there
are benefits to conflict if it is managed appropriately.
People handle conflict in their teams in a variety of ways,
depending on the importance of their desire to maintain good
social relations and to develop high-quality solutions. Teams
can use a variety of approaches to manage conflicts.
Developing a healthy solution to a conflict requires open
communication, respect for the other side, and a creative
search for mutually satisfying alternatives.


Learning Objectives

1. Understand that conflict is normal in teams and
can be beneficial.

2. Distinguish between task, relational, and process
conflict, and understand their different impacts
on team functioning.

3. Understand the different approaches to managing

4. Determine the best approach for managing task,
relational, and process conflict.

5. Explain how to foster an open-minded discussion
that leads to an integrative solution.

6. Understand how teams can prevent and prepare for



Conflict is the process by which people or teams perceive
that others have taken some action that has a negative effect
on their interest. This includes disagreements about ideas,
team roles, or timelines. Unfortunately, people have
misconceptions about conflict that interfere with how they
deal with it. These misconceptions include the following:

Conflict is bad and should be avoided.

Misunderstandings by team members cause conflict.

All conflicts can be resolved to everyone’s

In reality, conflict is a normal part of life. Moreover, it
is inevitable—as people become closer and more
interdependent, conflict becomes more frequent and more
intense (Deutsch, 2006). You probably have more disagreements
with your immediate family, friends, and roommates than you
do with your distant relatives. Teams, which are defined by
interdependence among members, are going to have conflict.

In many instances, it is healthy for teams to have moderate
levels of disagreement about their tasks or objects. These
differences create conflicts, but these conflicts have a
positive effect on team problem solving and decision making
because opposing views are heard; challenges and problems are
identified; and new, more creative solutions are developed
(Tjosvold et al., 2014). If a team has no conflict, it might
be a sign of a problem. A team without conflict might be
suffering from unhealthy agreement, have a domineering leader


who suppresses all conflict and debate, or routinely perform
its task without trying to improve.

Teams, however, often do not handle their conflicts very
well. Members may simply avoid dealing with conflict. Or they
have a highly intense emotional response, which has a
tremendous impact on whether conflict will be productive or
not (Weingart, Behfar, Bendersky, Todorova, & Jehn, 2015).
Conflicts that escalate to highly emotional interactions
beget further strife, interfere with communication and
coordination, and divert attention from tasks and goals. Such
conflicts can destroy team cohesion and create winners and
losers, becoming a source of further conflict in the future.

Learning how to manage conflict successfully is an important
developmental process for a team. This depends on accurately
analyzing the situation so that effective strategies can be
adopted. To achieve this, this chapter begins with the
sources and types of conflict experienced by teams. Then,
strategies for responding to conflict are discussed, followed
by guidance for managing and preventing team conflict.



Conflict arises from many sources, including confusion about
people’s positions, personality differences, differences of
opinion, hidden agendas, poor norms, competitive reward
systems, and poorly managed meetings. The difficulty lies in
determining whether the source of conflict is healthy or
unhealthy for the team.

Healthy conflicts are caused by a variety of factors.
Differences in values and objectives of team members,
differing beliefs about the motives and actions of others,
and different expectations about the results of decisions can
all lead to conflicts about what the team should do. This can
improve team performance.

Unhealthy conflicts may spring from organizational, social,
and individual sources. Organizational causes of conflict
include competition over scarce resources, ambiguity over
responsibilities, status differences among team members, and
competitive reward systems. For example, teams comprising
high-power members (e.g., top management teams) are likely to
disagree with procedures and distribution of work (Greer,
Caruso, & Jehn, 2011).

Conflict may be due to social factors within the team. A team
with a leader who has poor facilitation skills can have
poorly run meetings with much conflict. Poor team norms often
show up in poorly managed meetings. When meetings are
unproductive, conflict may arise because team members are
dissatisfied with the team process. Spending time evaluating
and developing appropriate norms helps deal with this type of

Conflict arises out of individual differences. Of course, the
integration of these differences is the foundation for the


potential of teams to outperform individuals. Conflict is
more prevalent in diverse teams (Thatcher & Patel, 2011).
Teams comprising members from different professional (e.g.,
job-based or educational background) and demographic (e.g.,
age, gender, or racial) backgrounds tend to experience more
conflict (Ayub & Jehn, 2014; Jehn, Chadwick, & Thatcher,
1997; Jehn, Greer, Levine, & Szulanski, 2008; Jehn,
Northcraft, & Neale, 1999; Mohammed & Angell, 2004; Mooney,
Holahan, & Amason, 2007; Pelled, Eisenhardt, & Xin, 1999;
Vodosek, 2007).

One reason that demographic diversity may be associated with
conflict concerns intergroup dynamics. Intergroup dynamics
(Tajfel & Turner, 1979) are grounded in theories of social
identity (Tajfel, 1982) and self-categorization (Turner,
Hogg, Oakes, Reicher, & Wetherell, 1987). People have a
tendency to develop conceptions of “us” and “them” based
on various social categories (e.g., gender, race, ethnicity,
or college major), organizational departments (e.g., sales,
administration, or accounting), and/or cross-functional team
roles (e.g., researchers, designers, engineers, artists, or
writers). We view members of our own category (us) as “in-
group” members and those who are not in our category (them)
as “out-group” members, which contributes to intergroup
bias (Hewstone, Rubin, & Willis, 2002).

A consequence of intergroup bias is in-group favoritism,
whereby people automatically and without awareness assign
more trust, cooperation, resources, positive evaluations, and
empathy to in-group members compared to out-group members. By
contrast, out-group derogation can result in discrimination,
poor evaluations, and negative attitudes toward out-group
members. In teams, these tendencies can marginalize some
members while privileging others, causing intergroup conflict
over incompatible goals, competition for resources, cultural
differences, and power discrepancies.



The sources of conflict give rise to three distinct kinds of
conflict: task conflict, process conflict, and relational
conflict (Jehn, 1995, 1997). Each of these has different
impacts on the team and the implications for their
management. In general, task conflict is healthy when it
occurs without process or relational conflict (O’Neill,
McLarnon, Hoffart, Woodley, & Allen, 2018). By contrast,
process and relational conflict is generally unhealthy and
tends to decrease team performance.


Task Conflict

Task conflict arises from disagreements about ideas,
opinions, and perspectives (i.e., what the team should do).
This might include a new product development team disagreeing
about what customer problem needs to be addressed, a health
care team debating the correct diagnoses of a patient, or
student teams arguing about what time works best for group

Whether task conflict is healthy or unhealthy depends on
specific circumstances (Bradley, Anderson, Baur, & Klotz,
2015). A moderate amount of task conflict improves team
performance and innovation, while too little or too much can
undermine it (De Dreu, 2006). Well-managed task conflict aids
teams that perform nonroutine tasks (O’Neill, Allen, &
Hastings, 2013), which are characterized by uncertain, open-
ended, and ill-structured problem solving. Task conflict
triggers deliberation that leads to better and more creative
decisions (Choi & Sy, 2010; Matsuo, 2006). By contrast, task
conflict concerning routine tasks (e.g., filing an expense
report) for which there are stable procedures is unproductive
because there is little room for finding a resolution.

Finally, to be productive, task conflict must not co-occur
with or evolve into relational conflict (de Wit, Greer, &
Jehn, 2012). When team members have a high degree of trust in
each other, task-related conflict is less likely to lead to
relational conflict (Peterson & Behfar, 2003).


Process Conflict

While task conflict pertains to what a team should do,
process conflicts concern how the team should do it.
Specifically, process conflicts are disagreements about how
duties and resources are assigned or how workload is executed
(Behfar, Mannix, Peterson, & Trochim, 2011). This includes
disagreements about time management, task quality, how
decisions are made, and who has power in a team. For example,
a team member may be insulted by being assigned an
undesirable task that they feel is beneath them, or they
might feel that the proposed timeline conflicts with their
individual goals. Unresolved process conflicts occurring
early in a team’s development predict higher levels of all
three forms of conflict later in the team’s development
(Greer, Jehn, & Mannix, 2008).

Process conflict is the most detrimental kind of conflict (de
Wit et al., 2012; Greer & Dannals, 2017). This is because
such disagreements are often based on underlying values
regarding justice, personal worth, respect, and fairness and
thus are highly personal and emotional (Greer & Jehn, 2007).
Process conflicts can evoke long-lasting negative emotions,
like anger, that promote irrational decisions and behaviors
(Brief & Weiss, 2002). They are often expressed passive-
aggressively through power struggles, withholding
information, blaming, and tardiness (Wall & Callister, 1995).
Managing process conflicts early is important for reducing
the emergence of task and relational conflict later in the
team’s development (van den Berg, Curseu, & Meeus, 2014).
However, discussing process conflict can lead to relational
conflict if team members do not regulate their emotions well.


Relational Conflict

Relational conflict arises from interpersonal
incompatibilities, which can stem from things like perceived
personality differences, political preferences, or
inappropriate criticism. Receiving negative performance
feedback early in the team’s development can also spur
blaming that promotes relational conflicts (Peterson &
Behfar, 2003). Poorly communicated task conflict can easily
transition into relational conflict (Jehn, Rispens, Jonsen, &
Greer, 2013). It is difficult to say, “I don’t like your

ideas,” and not have it heard as, “I think you are

stupid.” Relational conflicts produce animosity, annoyance,
and tension that damages team cohesion, distracts members
from progressing on the task, and impedes team performance
(Chen & Ayoko, 2012; Greer, 2012).

Since people do not easily change their personality,
behaviors, or values, there are few useful strategies for
managing relational conflict in teams. Attempts to manage it
can actually worsen team performance by refocusing attention
away from taskwork (De Dreu & Van Vianen, 2001). Preventing
relational conflict may be more effective than actively
managing it. For example, teams may proactively discourage
the emergence of relational conflict by intentionally
developing trust, respect, and cohesion (Jehn & Mannix,



The way a team manages the conflict process determines
whether the conflict is constructive or destructive to the
team (DeChurch, Mesmer-Magnus, & Doty, 2013). Productive
conflicts are about issues, ideas, and tasks. The team
typically tries to resolve productive conflicts cooperatively
and takes a learning approach to the conflict. Unproductive
conflicts are about emotions and personalities. The team
typically tries to resolve these conflicts with one side
trying to dominate the other.

The conflict management style a team uses can be either
cooperative or competitive (Somech, Desivilya, & Lidogoster,
2009). The cooperative style focuses on developing
collaborative solutions that are good for the individual and
the team, while the competitive style focuses on what is good
for the individual. The cooperative style encourages
communication and the exploration of alternative approaches
to solving problems, while a competitive style discourages


Two Dimensions of Conflict

The approach that people take to manage conflict depends on
their personalities, their social relations, and the
particular situation. The types of conflict management
approaches can be analyzed using the following two
dimensions: assertiveness (concern about one’s own outcomes)
and cooperativeness (concern about the outcomes of others)
(Rahim, 1983; Thomas, 1992). In other words, people in a
conflict can be assertive and try to get the most for
themselves, or they can be cooperative and concerned with how
everyone fares. These two dimensions create five approaches
to conflict management:

1. Avoidance (low assertiveness and low cooperativeness).
This approach tries to ignore the issues or denies that
there is a problem. By not confronting the conflict, team
members hope it will go away by itself.

2. Accommodation (low assertiveness and high
cooperativeness). Some team members express initial
disagreement but quickly suppress it in order to maintain
social relationships. They are cooperative, but it costs
the team the value of their opinions and ideas.

3. Competing (high assertiveness and low cooperativeness).
Aggressively imposing one’s goal upon the group or
individual is a way to deal with conflict. However, a
focus on winning often prevents effectively managing the

4. Compromise (moderate assertiveness and moderate
cooperativeness). One way to balance the goals of each
participant and the relations among the teams is for
everyone to “give in” a little. While this is a
workable solution, it is not a mutually satisfying one.

5. Collaboration (high assertiveness and high
cooperativeness). When both sides of a conflict have
deep-rooted concerns, the team needs to search for


solutions that satisfy everyone. This requires both
cooperativeness and respect for others’ positions.


Comparing Different Conflict Management


Although all these approaches can be used to manage conflict,
each approach has its advantages, drawbacks, and
consequences. Moreover, individuals and teams tend to develop
a preferred conflict management style that they routinely
enact—they might be more comfortable with one approach
compared to another (Kuhn & Poole, 2000). Successfully
managing conflict requires not simply adopting an approach
out of familiarity or fear but because an analysis of the
situation reveals it to be the appropriate response.

Team members commonly employ an avoidance/accommodation
approach to conflict management, in which they suppress
personal needs in favor of the needs of others. By not
addressing concerns, negative feelings tend to build up.
Eventually, these feelings can explode in an emotional and
often ineffective confrontation. This negative experience
reinforces the belief that conflict should be avoided. Since
the underlying issues are never addressed, teams find
themselves returning the same unresolved issues again later.
Still, there are times when avoidance and accommodation are
appropriate for teams. Since relational conflicts can seldom
be resolved to both parties’ satisfaction, avoidance can be
a useful strategy (De Dreu & Van Vianen, 2001).
Alternatively, lower status members may strategically
accommodate to a high-power member to avoid potential

Competing is used to force one’s opinion, idea, or
perspective on the team. This can include imposing rules on
the team. It can also manifest by yelling, mocking, and
threatening, particularly when the other responds in kind.
Participants can get stuck in a cycle of escalation as they
attempt to outdo each other. De-escalation is then


challenging because backing down is considered losing, as the
desire to “win” or to “be right” overrides the desire to
find a mutually acceptable resolution. Still, confrontation
can be appropriate in some cases. During emergencies, people
are more likely to accept a confrontational style because
they value a quick resolution. Alternatively, a disruptive
team member may need to be forcibly dismissed from the team
after other interventions have failed.

Compromise works somewhat better because everyone wins a
little and loses a little. A compromise promotes equity or
fairness but usually does not result in optimal decisions
because members are making concessions. The benefit of this
approach is that it is usually quicker than collaboration.
However, if used consistently to resolve conflict, it can
breed discontentment; how rewarding can a team be if members
never quite get what they want? Teams must avoid compromising
too quickly.

When possible, teams should use a collaborative approach. In
collaboration, team members search for an alternative
solution that allows everyone to win. Conflict emerges from
the perception that there are incompatible goals between
parties. Yet this perception is often inaccurate. Thompson
and Hrebec (1996) found that 50% of people in a conflict
failed to realize when they had interests completely
compatible with each other, and 20% failed to reach agreement
even when their interests were compatible. One reason for
this failure is that they did not exchange information about
their interests and overlooked areas of common interest
(Thompson & Hastie, 1990).

When engaged in a deliberate open-minded discussion that
critically and respectfully considers all views, people can
identify third, fourth, and fifth alternatives that satisfy
all parties’ interests. For example, two members may have a
need to be in control and fight over leadership of the team


(process conflict). Perhaps the project can be creatively
divided into two subprojects, each led by one of them.
Alternatively, if the team cannot agree on one of two ideas
to move forward with (task conflict), conflict might be
resolved by quickly testing each idea with a prototype and
selecting the idea with the most promising feedback
(prototyping is discussed in Chapter 12).


Aligning Conflict Type With Conflict

Management Styles

How can these conflict management styles be applied
strategically? Behfar, Peterson, Mannix, and Trochim (2008)
conducted a longitudinal, mixed-method study to investigate
how the tactics used by teams to address relational, process,
and task conflict impacted both team performance and team
satisfaction. The results provide rich context into
differences between high- and low-performing groups.

Teams with high performance and high satisfaction were unique
in that they proactively managed process conflict (e.g.,
scheduling, time management, or work quality). They held
discussions to forecast scheduling and commitment conflicts,
then assigning unambiguous expectations, roles, and
responsibilities to prevent potential problems from arising.
Task conflict was resolved through nonemotional debate and
open communication, which produced earnest consensus around
integrative solutions. If consensus was not reached, a
compromise was used only after a full discussion of the pros
and cons. These teams reported little to no relational
conflict and avoided it when it occurred.

Teams with high levels of performance but low satisfaction
adopted tactics based on reactionary rules, voting, and
compromise. While relational conflict was often avoided or
ignored, teams would acknowledge this conflict when it
negatively impacted the team. In response, they created rules
or procedures to mitigate their impact (e.g., take a 30-
minute break to cool down when emotions run too high).
Similarly, process conflict was managed through creating
rules aimed at curbing individual behavior (e.g., monetary
penalty for poor performance) or addressing the problem
(e.g., allowing a third-party team member to arbitrate a
conflict). Task conflicts were managed primarily through


compromise and dissatisfying majority voting. While these
rule-based teams performed well, it came at the cost of
member satisfaction with the team.

Teams having low performance but high satisfaction primarily
adopted avoiding and accommodating tactics. As this passive
strategy might suggest, these teams reported little to no
relational and process conflict. Task conflict was managed
through superficial debates and premature consensus—these
teams attempted to integrate all the members’ ideas, rather
than critically selecting the best ones. These teams avoided
difficult conversations to maintain harmony at the cost of
task performance.

Finally, teams with low levels of both performance and
satisfaction had unclear roles and responsibilities. They
experienced extreme relational conflict. While open
communication was used to discuss relational conflict, it was
not useful for managing it. Process conflict was largely
ignored, and teams reported little understanding of the root
causes of process issues. As a result, they would haphazardly
“try different things” to resolve it with no success. Task
conflict was addressed through apathetically accepting a
compromise or giving in to a domineering team member.

The results of this study provide guidance for managing
conflict in teams. Teams should invest early in preventing
process conflict by creating team charters, disambiguating
roles and responsibilities, and agreeing on scheduling.
Rules-based management of conflict may improve performance
but at the cost of satisfaction with the team. Meanwhile,
directly addressing relational conflict, ignoring process
conflict, and prematurely compromising on tasks appears to be
the recipe for a disastrous team experience.

These findings also reaffirm that collaborative solutions to
task conflict are ideal. They are, however, time-consuming
and potentially uncomfortable at times. If the team has the


necessary resources and time, the benefits of collaboration
generally outweigh the costs, encouraging creativity, leading
to greater commitment to decisions, and improving
relationships among team members (Tjosvold et al., 2014). To
engage in collaboration most successfully, team members need
to engage in open-minded discussions to find an integrative


Fostering Collaboration Through Open-Minded


There are many approaches to engaging in open-minded
discussions, including integrative negotiation (Pruitt &
Carnevale, 1993) and constructive controversy (Johnson,
Johnson, & Tjosvold, 2014). Regardless of the specific
approach, constructively managing conflicts requires team
members to openly express their views, listen and understand
the positions of other team members, and then try to
integrate the opposing opinions into an agreement. It is
crucial to develop cooperative work relationships so that
disagreements are not misinterpreted as personal attacks.
When teams maintain trust and psychological safety, they can
resolve differences without creating relational conflict
(Tekleab et al., 2009).

In part, this requires a shift away from a dysfunctional
mindset about conflict. Many people associate conflict with
negativity—that it is painful, threatening, and best
avoided. We can instead adopt a more positive mindset about
conflict—that conflict is an opportunity to improve
relationships and resolve problems. Indeed, conflict can be a
precursor to positive change in teams, organizations, and

Open-minded discussions necessitate that team members believe
that they are in a cooperative relationship where team
members are committed to helping each other satisfy their
goals. This occurs when team members view issues as problems
to be solved (rather than a challenge to be won), can freely
express their interests, avoid win–lose strategies, and are
able to argue their positions until they are convinced
otherwise (Walton & McKersie, 1965). By contrast, operating
under high time pressure tends to produce a suboptimal quick
compromise (Harinck & De Dreu, 2004).


Developing integrative agreements requires initially focusing
discussion away from positions (i.e., what you want) and
toward interests (i.e., why you want it). Imagine being on a
committee whose goal is to reduce violence in local high
schools. As the committee begins to search for solutions, a
conflict arises over whether the schools should use
electronic surveillance technology (a position on the issue).
Committee members divide over this position, and all future
ideas are evaluated on the basis of support for or opposition
to this position. Over time, the debate becomes increasingly
hostile, and new ideas are rejected according to whoever
expressed them rather than being evaluated for their quality.

The solution to this conflict is to find an integrative
agreement that addresses the committee’s goal to improve
safety in the school but does not depend on either position.
The participants need to step back from their emotional
involvement and understand their interest: reducing violence
without decreasing privacy in the schools. Alternative
positions that may address this interest include training
students in conflict management, using students to monitor
compliance with safety rules, and providing teachers with
training to help them deal with aggressive incidents.

The search for an integrative solution can be difficult. It
is often useful for a team to use an outside mediator when
issues have become too emotional or team members refuse to
interact. Mediators operate by gaining trust among
participants, managing hostilities, developing solutions to
conflicts, and gaining commitment to the solutions from
participants (Carnevale & Pruitt, 1992). They also help
control the communications between people on both sides of
the conflict to ensure courtesy and respectful communication.
They create controlled opportunities for each side to express
their views and listen to and acknowledge the other side’s
perspective. This helps reduce the impact of miscommunication
and confusion about the other side’s position. Mediators


search for small areas of agreement in order to build trust
and demonstrate that there is common ground.


Negotiated Agreements

What does open-minded discussion look like? Negotiation or
bargaining is a process where the two conflicting sides
engage in an exchange of offers and counteroffers in an
effort to find a mutually acceptable agreement (Brett &
Thompson, 2016). Adapted from Fisher, Ury, and Patton (1991),
the following is the structure for negotiation of a conflict:

1. Separate the people from the problem.

Negotiations must deal with both the issues and the
relationship, but these two factors should be

Diagnose the cause of the conflict. What goals are in
conflict? Identify what each side in a conflict
wants; make sure each side clearly understands the

Encourage both sides to recognize and understand
their emotions. Ask them to view the conflict from
the perspective of the other side and practice active

2. Focus on the shared interests of all parties.

Focus on the issues, not on positions.

Identify how each side can get what it wants.
Determine the issues that are incompatible between
the two sides. Recognize that both sides have
legitimate multiple interests.


Have each side identify and rank its goals in the
conflict. This often shows that the important goals
of each side are different, thereby helping each side
see how to trade off unimportant goals to get what it
really wants.

3. Develop many options that can be used to solve the

Creatively try to generate alternatives that provide
mutual gains for both sides. Separate the generation
of ideas from the selection of alternatives.

Look for areas of shared interest. Invent multiple
solutions as well as solutions to parts of the

Practice viewing the problem from alternative

4. Evaluate the options using objective criteria.

Develop objective criteria to use as a basis for
decisions. Define what fair standards and fair
procedures to use to resolve the conflict. Agree on
these principles before agreeing on a solution.

Talk through the issues in order to eliminate
unimportant issues. Discuss important differences,
searching for the common points on each side.

Focus on solutions to which both sides can agree. Do
not give in to pressure.


5. Try again.

Creative solutions are difficult to develop. Practice
brings about success.

Teams do not always resolve their conflicts, but they
do try to manage conflicts while working through
their various tasks.

Establish monitoring criteria to ensure that
agreements are kept.

Discuss the ways in which the team can deal with
similar issues in the future. How can the team
improve its ability to manage conflicts?

Source: Adapted from Fisher, R., Ury, W., & Patton, B.
(1991). Getting to yes: Negotiating agreement without giving
in (2nd ed.). Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.


Conflict in Virtual Teams

Virtual teams, or teams that interact primarily through
communications technology, may have more conflicts
(Wakefield, Leidner, & Garrison, 2008) and more problems
resolving conflicts (Zornoza, Ripoll, & Peiro, 2002).
Conflicts are more likely to occur in virtual teams because
of the limitations of verbal and nonverbal communication that
produce misunderstandings, time lags, and reduced social
presence (Hinds & Bailey, 2003). This is especially true for
emotional issues because people are not very good at
communicating emotions in writing, and the increased
anonymity of communication technology may encourage more
uninhibited emotional communication. Once conflicts start in
virtual teams, they tend to escalate (sometimes called “e-
mail wars”) because the miscommunication builds with each

Conflicts in virtual teams can be harder to resolve. Virtual
teams often have less developed social relations and group
cohesion, which makes resolving social issues more difficult.
For example, when bargaining through e-mail, allowing
participants to engage in a “get acquainted” telephone call
before the bargaining session increases the chances of
reaching an agreement (Thompson & Nadler, 2002). Also, there
is less pressure toward agreement in virtual teams, so team
members are less willing to accommodate the views of other
team members. The ability to send messages to all team
members and others increases the number of participants in
the conflict.

When conflicts escalate in virtual teams, the first step in
managing the conflict is to stop sending electronic messages
advocating your position or expressing your emotions. These
messages are often misinterpreted, so they do not help to
resolve the conflict. In many cases, the team leader needs to


intervene and facilitate the resolution of virtual conflicts
to prevent them from continuing. Since the core of the
problem is often miscommunication, a face-to-face meeting is
often necessary to resolve the misunderstandings.




While conflict management styles offer a response to
conflict, teams can also be proactive in managing conflict.
Conflict can be prevented by selecting team members based on
personality and dispositions. They can also be preempted by
creating an environment that allows for dealing with
conflicts without creating emotional and relationship
problems. Training and knowledge in conflict management
strategies can also promote healthy task conflict.


Preventing Conflict

Team members can be selected based on their predisposition
for constructively managing conflict. For example, teams with
members who are high in openness to experience and have
stable emotional dispositions are more likely to engage in
productive task conflict (Bradley et al., 2013). Recognizing
that conflict is often highly emotional (Chen & Ayoko, 2012),
recent conflict management research is informed by emotional
regulation theory (Griffith, Connelly, & Thiel, 2014). Rather
than being destined to undermine team processes and
performance, these scholars assert that relational conflict
can be harnessed as a growth point for a team. This depends
on how team members respond to relational conflict.

People often respond to negative emotional events with
expressive suppression—masking emotional responses through
controlling facial expressions or outwardly displaying an
incongruent emotion to others (Gross & John, 2003). In other
words, we avoid expressing conflict and fear that efforts to
talk it out may backfire. A more effective strategy for
managing relational conflict is cognitive reappraisal. This
perspective-taking strategy focuses on reinterpreting an
emotional event, considering its greater context, and
identifying its underlying causes (Gross, 1998). For example,
a reappraiser might respond to a teammate’s harsh critique
by contemplating how an impending deadline may have
influenced their response. Reappraisers tend to more openly
talk about emotions and demonstrate greater objectivity when
faced with a negative experience or interpersonal interaction
(Gross & John, 2003). Groups also benefit from reappraisers,
reporting closer relationships with each other.

When experiencing relational conflict, teams with higher
levels of cognitive reappraisal can recover over time to be
as—or more—effective than teams that did not experience any


relational conflict (Thiel, Harvey, Courtright, & Bradley,
2019). The results of this longitudinal study depart
significantly from studies suggesting that relational
conflict is a one-way street to poor team performance.
However, the drawback to cognitive reappraisal is that it is
an individual response and not a process. While training in
cognitive reappraisals is possible, it can be lengthy (Denny
& Ochsner, 2014). It may be more advantageous for teams to
select members based on a predisposition for cognitive
reappraisal than to train members.


Preparing for Conflicts

Teams often try to ignore or avoid conflicts rather than
addressing them. This strategy can establish and reinforce
avoidance as the dominant way that the team manages conflict.
It also allows the conflict to grow, and sometimes task
conflicts become relational conflicts because they have not
been resolved. The negative emotions from these unresolved
conflicts disrupt trust, hurt communications, and make the
conflicts harder to resolve.

Teams should take a more proactive approach to conflict
management by preparing for conflicts. Preparing for
conflicts means developing approaches to identify conflicts
early and creating an environment that supports constructive
controversy so that disagreements can be expressed.

Because people try to avoid conflict, problems within a team
often go unspoken and unaddressed. Teams need to create a
communication climate where members feel safe to raise issues
and voice disagreement (see supportive communication climate
in Chapter 6). Leaders need to facilitate team meetings in a
manner that encourages participation from all members. In
addition, teams should regularly conduct group process
evaluations to help identify problems and periodically set
aside time for task and social reflexivity sessions to
identify unresolved issues and team process problems (West,

Constructive controversy involves progressing through four
stages of discussion (Tjosvold, 2008):

1. Develop and express. Despite usually having incomplete
and inadequate information about a problem, we tend to be
rather confident in our conclusions. By organizing and
communicating your perspective, ideas, and information,


both you and your team can gain a deeper understanding of
your interests.

2. Question and understand. As we learn more about others’
perspectives, we tend to question the correctness of our
own. Engage others with curiosity to learn more about
their perspectives. Thoroughly consider the perspectives
of others. Listen critically, ask probing questions, and
check that your understanding is correct.

3. Integrate and create. As we hear, articulate, and defend
various rationales, we are exposed to new information.
Learning about others’ interests (why they want what
they want) opens space to integrate perspectives and
improve upon or generate new solutions—propose many
solutions that combine all the interests held by team
members. Follow good ideas, regardless of who presented

4. Agree and implement. Reach an integrative solution that
is mutually acceptable for everyone. Clarify ambiguity
about the solution and have a clear understanding of how
to implement it. If mutual acceptance is not reached,
then repeat the entire process.

Team members can help prevent unhealthy conflict by
practicing communication skills. Both negotiation and
constructive controversy rely on skills, like argumentation,
listening, and reasoning. Argumentation consists of
convincingly gathering, organizing, and presenting
information and using inductive and deductive reasoning to
draw tentative conclusions. It also includes appropriately
challenging the rationale of opposing positions. Careful
listening can prompt probing questions that enhance
understanding of opposing perspectives. Avoiding common
fallacies of reasoning (e.g., false dichotomies) helps to
generate new ideas that address underlying issues.

These conflict management skills can be practiced and
developed. Indeed, training programs are useful for


preventing destructive conflict in teams. For example,
O’Neill and colleagues (2017) devised a training program
focused on building knowledge of constructive controversy and
types of team conflicts using structured role-plays,
simulated conflict, and reflection. Teams particularly
benefited from reflecting upon experiences involving task,
process, and relational conflict, noting how they were
handled and how well constructive controversy was used. This
training improved team performance by fostering productive
task conflict and minimizing relational and process conflict.

Teams benefit more from conflict when members have a high
degree of trust and psychological safety (De Dreu & Weingart,
2003) and when it occurs during the beginning (Farh, Lee, &
Farh, 2010) or middle (Schulz-Hardt, Jochims, & Frey, 2002)
of its development. The goal is to make it safe early for
team members to address conflicts without creating unwanted
emotional problems within the team. This requires that team
members trust each other to constructively deal with conflict
without damaging their relationships within the team.
Psychological safety encourages teams to address conflicts
collaboratively rather than to avoid them (Bradley,
Postlethwaite, Klotz, Hamdani, & Brown, 2012). It allows
dealing with task conflicts to have a positive impact on team
performance without creating relational conflicts that hurt

Teams can engage in other preemptive conflict management
strategies to help avoid conflicts (Marks et al., 2001).
Preemptive conflict management strategies include the
development of cooperation and trust-building among members,
team charters that identify how to handle difficult
situations, and the development of norms for managing
communications within a team. These actions help the team
effectively address conflicts and reduce the destructive
impact of conflicts when they occur.



Conflict is a normal part of a team’s existence. It is a
sign of healthy team interactions. However, teams often do
not handle conflict well. Sometimes, they make bad decisions
in order to avoid conflict rather than learning how to manage
it effectively.

Conflict may be analyzed in terms of its sources and types.
Conflicts that are healthy for a team come from disagreements
on how to address task issues; conflicts that are unhealthy
originate from organizational, social, or personal sources.
These produce task, process, and relational conflict. The
type of conflict informs the way it should be managed. When
conflicts are about misunderstandings and task issues, they
can be managed using negotiation to develop acceptable
agreements. When conflicts arise from social or personal
sources, they often require team building to develop social
skills and improve social relations.

Conflict brings both benefits and problems to a team.
Conflict helps the team perform its task by fostering debate
over issues and stimulating creativity. Conflict hurts the
team when it creates strong negative emotions, damages group
cohesion, and disrupts the team’s ability to operate.

Approaches to resolving conflicts vary, depending on how
assertive participants are about getting their way and how
cooperative they want to be. Although team members use
different conflict management approaches depending on the
situation, collaboration typically is the most effective
approach. Collaboration attempts to identify an alternative
solution that satisfies both parties. Although they may be
more difficult and time-consuming to achieve, collaborative
solutions encourage acceptance and support for the results.


Improvement of a team’s ability to manage conflict can be
achieved in several ways. Creating a psychologically safe
environment helps teams collaboratively deal with conflicts
rather than trying to avoid them. Mediators can be used to
help manage communications during a conflict and develop
trust among the participants. Integrative solutions to
conflicts can be developed through the use of structured
negotiation practices that focus on the interests of all
parties involved.


Team Leadership Challenge 7

The high school in your town has been having problems.
Recently, the number of gangs at school has increased.
Acts of vandalism and juvenile delinquency are also
increasing. Although there have not been any major
outbreaks of violence, stories in the media of
violence in other communities have raised concerns
among parents. The school board created a committee of
teachers, administrators, students, and concerned
parents to develop proposals for dealing with problems
at the local high school. You are the leader of this

The meetings started with polite sharing of ideas, but
tensions soon became apparent. The four groups had
very different ideas about the degree of seriousness
of the problem and appropriate solutions. Polite
criticism of ideas shifted into cynical asides and
finally into heated attacks. As people became more
emotional, negative comments became more personal. You
are aware that some of the participants have fought
over other school issues in the past.

How can you (the leader of the committee) reduce the
negative emotions in this situation?

How do you build trust among the groups?

What can be done to negotiate agreement among the four


Survey: Conflict Management Styles

Purpose: Understand your preferred style for dealing
with conflicts. There are five basic approaches for
dealing with conflicts: avoidance, accommodation,
confrontation, compromise, and collaboration. The
style that you prefer depends on how assertive you are
about getting what you want and how much you value
your relationship with the other participants.

Directions: Use the following scale to indicate the
amount of your agreement with each of the following
statements about how you deal with conflict.

1 2 3 4 5

Strongly Disagree Strongly Agree

_____ 1. I try to avoid stating my opinion in order
not to create disagreements.

_____ 2. When there is a disagreement, I try to
satisfy the needs of the other people involved.

_____ 3. I use my influence to get my position
accepted by others.

_____ 4. I try to find the middle course to resolve

_____ 5. I try to discuss an issue with others to find
a solution acceptable to all of us.

_____ 6. I keep my opinions to myself if they disagree
with others’ opinions.


_____ 7. I usually go along with the desires of others
in a conflict situation.

_____ 8. I am usually firm about advocating my side of
an issue.

_____ 9. When I negotiate, I usually win some and lose

_____ 10. I like to work with others to find solutions
to a problem that satisfy everyone.

_____ 11. I try to avoid disagreements with others.

_____ 12. I often go along with the recommendations of
others in a conflict.

_____ 13. I stick to my position during a conflict.

_____ 14. I negotiate openly with others so that a
compromise can be reached.

_____ 15. To resolve a conflict, I try to blend the
ideas of all of the people involved.



Add questions 1, 6, and 11 to obtain your avoidance

Add questions 2, 7, and 12 to obtain your
accommodation score.

Add questions 3, 8, and 13 to obtain your
confrontation score.

Add questions 4, 9, and 14 to obtain your compromise

Add questions 5, 10, and 15 to obtain your
collaboration score.

Discussion: Did you have a preferred conflict
management style? What would encourage you to be more
collaborative? How do you deal with people who use a
different style of conflict management?

Source: Adapted from Rahim, M. (1983). A measure of
styles of handling interpersonal conflict. Academy of
Management Journal, 26, 368–376.


Activity: Observing Conflict

Management Styles

Objective: Team members use one of the following five
styles to handle conflicts and disagreements:

Avoidance: trying to ignore the issue or deny that
there is a problem

Accommodation: giving up one’s position in order
to be agreeable

Confrontation: acting aggressively and trying to
get one’s way

Compromise: seeking a balance so that everyone
gets at least a part of what they want

Collaboration: searching for a solution that
satisfies everyone

Activity: Observe a team or group discussion, and note
what happens when there is conflict or disagreement.
As an alternative, divide a group and assign them
positions on a debate topic. As another alternative,
see the Team Leader’s Challenge, which presents a
conflict with multiple roles (teachers,
administrators, students, and parents) that could be
assigned and used to create a conflict. Using Activity
Worksheet 7.1, note the types of communications that
occur during the conflict.


Analysis: How well did the group members handle the
conflict? Which conflict management styles did the
team members use? How effective were the conflict
styles in persuading others? Did the team handle its
conflicts in a constructive manner?

Discussion: How can the team better handle conflicts?
What can be done to encourage more use of
collaboration as a conflict resolution style? Would an
outside facilitator be helpful? What would the
facilitator do?


Activity Worksheet 7.1: Observing

Conflict Management Styles



1 2 3 4 5 6

Gives ideas and suggestions

Clarifies or organizes the

Criticizes or attacks others’

Agrees with or supports others’





Teams use their power to influence behaviors by providing
information on how to behave and by exerting pressure to
encourage conformity. Individual team members secure
compliance through drawing upon power resources and using a
variety of power tactics to influence other members and
secure compliance. The dynamics of power in teams is a major
influence on the leader’s behavior, how team members
interact, the impact of those in the minority, and the amount
of influence members have on one another. Empowerment is at
the core of teamwork where members have been given power and
authority over a team’s operations. Within the team, members
need to learn how to use their own power to work together
effectively. Learning how to act assertively, rather than
passively or aggressively, encourages open communication and
effective problem solving.


Learning Objectives

1. Understand how social influence operates and how
people respond to social influence.

2. Distinguish between conformity, obedience, and
minority conversion.

3. Understand how to employ different bases of power.
4. Determine which influence tactics to use in face-

to-face and virtual contexts.
5. Explain how power changes the person holding power.
6. Describe how unequal power affects team

7. Understand what empowerment is and how to empower

8. Explain how passive, aggressive, and assertive

power styles affect a team and its members.




We often find ourselves doing things in groups that we would
otherwise not. We might go along with a decision that we
disagree with. Or we might work much harder on a task than we
would alone. This occurs because of influence originating
from both individuals and the group itself. Social influence
is the interpersonal process of changing the behaviors,
thoughts, or attitudes of others. Attempts at social
influence can spur defiance, resistance, acceptance, or
compliance (Rothwell, 2015).

It is no surprise to hear that we often do not like being
told what to do. We can respond to social influence with
defiance or resistance. Defiance is openly disagreeing with
and rejecting the request, which generally sparks
confrontation and conflict. This can be positive, as
constructively working through conflict can resolve issues
and produce better results. However, many people,
particularly those with less power or status, are
uncomfortable with confrontation. Resistance is more subtle
and manifests covertly, even creatively, to reject social
influence. For example, a barista may “accidentally”
provide caffeinated coffee to a customer who harshly demands
decaffeinated. Or a flight attendant required to smile for
passengers may display an obviously fake smile (Hochschild,
1983). They are not openly defying the request, but they are
knowingly not doing precisely what was asked. This passive-
aggressive response is generally unproductive as it involves
mixed messages and deceit (Bach & Goldberg, 1974).

When social influence is successful, it can produce two
outcomes. Acceptance is a change in both public behaviors and
private attitudes due to social pressure—a person


legitimately changes their perspective. Compliance, however,
is a change in public behaviors due to social pressure, but
it is not a change in internal beliefs or attitudes. If we
are repeatedly influenced to change our behaviors over time,
we may internally accept the new way of behaving. Therefore,
changes in behavior can lead to changes in attitudes.

Why do we change our behavior in groups? There are three
sources of influence. The majority of members can influence
us through a process of conformity. A single deviate or
minority of members can also spur change through a process
called conversion. Finally, obedience results from social
influence originating from an individual.

We each have a different capacity to exert social influence
on others. This is called power. By drawing upon bases of
power (e.g., expertise, authority, coercion), we can control
another’s valued physical (e.g., safety, harm, food, etc.),
economic (e.g., money, position, evaluation, etc.), and
social (e.g., belonging, respect, meaning, etc.) outcomes
(Fiske & Berdahl, 2007). For example, professors exert
influence on students by rewarding or punishing them with
grades. Critically, power can be harnessed productively to
create a high-functioning and satisfying team. Or power can
be poorly wielded to become a source of stress and conflict.

Social psychologists conducted several classic studies on
power to demonstrate the basic characteristics of social
influence. These studies show how a team influences the
behaviors of its members and the power that team leaders have
over the members.



Conformity results from a person receiving information about
appropriate behavior or through implied or actual group
pressure. When a majority of team members present a unified
front on an issue, it can be hard to resist. Social
psychologists provide two main reasons for conforming to
group pressure: normative influence and informational
influence (Deutsch & Gerard, 1955). Normative influence
refers to change based on the desire to meet the expectations
of others and to be accepted by others. For example, new
employees at Google may feel pressure to act Googley, a term
that encompasses values such as going the extra mile,
striving for excellence, and being humble (Meiert, 2013).
When team members act and talk about being Googley, it
creates peer pressure for new members to conform to these
values. Informational influence is change based on accepting
information from others about a situation. For example,
online reviews can have a powerful influence on our purchase
decisions because we compare our judgments with those around

Asch’s (1955) conformity studies show that even when group
pressure is merely implied, people are willing to make wrong
judgments. The participants in these experiments were asked
to select which line was the same length as a target line.
Participants who worked alone rarely made mistakes. However,
when participants were in a room with people secretly
instructed to state the wrong answers, the participants gave
the wrong answers 37% of the time. Only 20% of participants
remained independent and did not give in to group pressure at
least once. The others conformed to group pressure even
though there was no evident pressure to conform (i.e., no
rewards or punishments).


Follow-up studies using this approach to study conformity
explain why people gave in to the group even when there was
no direct pressure. For many of the participants, the
influence was informational. They reasoned that if the
majority was giving answers that were obviously wrong, then
the participants must have misunderstood the instructions.
Other participants went along with the majority for normative
reasons. They feared that group members would disapprove of
them if their answers were different. Later studies showed
that nonconformists were rated as undesirable group members.

The level of conformity is affected by several factors (Bond,
2005). Conformity plateaus at around 32% beginning with a
group of four people (i.e., three against one)—there is not
much difference in conformity when increasing group size
beyond this number. It is most potent when publicly
expressing opinions, rather than recording them privately.
Finally, conformity is highest when an individual believes
that members of the majority reached their decision
independently from each other, as opposed to collectively
forming the opinion (Wilder, 1977).

These studies show the normative and information influence
that a team has over its members. In these experiments,
temporary groups set up in psychology laboratories were able
to change what people believed and how they behaved. The
impact on a team where members have ongoing relationships
with one another is much stronger. This is especially true
when the team has a high degree of group cohesion: Cohesive
teams have more power to influence members (Rovio et al.,
2009; Sakurai, 1975).



Conversion is the process by which the minority influences
the majority (Moscovici, 1980, 1985). The term minority here
has a statistical meaning; a minority is a person or subgroup
within a larger group that has fewer members than the
majority. A small coalition—or even a single individual—can
deviate from the majority attitude, opinion, or behavior.
Minority members who are consistent in their opposition can
slowly motivate the majority to rethink their positions and
seek out new information. This depends on their consistency,
self-confidence, belief in their autonomy, and positive
relationship with the group overall (Nemeth, 2011).

Minorities become influential by sticking to their positions.
When minorities are consistent, their determination
encourages the majority to rethink their position, use more
information, and consider more options (Nemeth & Wachtler,
1983). If minorities are going to be influential, they must
appear to be autonomous and able to make their own choices.
If the minorities are viewed as supported or influenced by an
outside group, their impact is reduced. Finally, minorities
must appear to be part of the team. They are less effective
if they reject the team or are always seen as dissenters
(Levine, 1989).

The value of a minority opinion is its ability to stimulate
team members to view an issue from more than one perspective:
Majorities foster convergent thinking, while minorities
foster divergent thinking. That is to say, majorities tend to
search for information that supports majority views, while
minorities stimulate a search for information on multiple
sides of an issue (Nemeth & Rogers, 1996; Park & DeShon,
2010; Peterson & Nemeth, 1996). The overall effect on the
team is to encourage more flexible thinking, which increases
creativity and innovation. The minority may not get its way,


but over time, it can have a substantial impact on how the
team thinks and acts.

It can be challenging to be a minority team member who
disagrees with the majority. Because of the desire to be
accepted by the team, individuals are often unwilling to
disagree or even present an alternative view. It takes self-
confidence to resist this pressure. Indeed, minority
dissenters are often less liked than those who conform
(Levine & Kerr, 2007). Consistent dissent may also impede
progress on team goals; however, when minority opinions have
some support within the team, they are more likely to be
expressed and accepted (Ilgen et al., 2005). Teams that
create a climate of trust and psychological safety encourage
members to express their unique opinions.



The Milgram (1974) obedience studies show that people are
obedient to authority figures even when the requested
behaviors are inappropriate. Participants believed they were
part of a learning experiment at Yale University. They
assumed the role of a teacher and were asked to give an
electric shock (between 15 and 450 volts) to a learner
whenever the learner made a mistake, and they increased the
voltage of the shock with each mistake.

The participant and learner were in separate rooms and
communicated to each other through speakers. However, the
participant was unaware that the learner was working with the
researcher and that the shocks were not real. The learner
would, by design, protest the shocks (e.g., complaining of a
heart problem, screaming in pain, demanding to leave,
pounding on the walls). Eventually, they stopped responding
altogether. When participants hesitated to administer the
shocks, an authority figure in the room (i.e., a researcher
in a white lab coat) would encourage them with phrases like,
“Please continue” and “It is absolutely essential that you
continue.” Under these conditions, nearly all participants
were willing to administer mild shocks. Most (65%) obeyed the
authority figure and reached the highest level of shock, even
after the learner protested and stopped responding.

Variations of this study design demonstrated that several
factors influenced the level of obedience. First, the more
legitimate the authority figure, the more likely people were
to be obedient. Obedience dropped to 48% when conducted in a
strip mall and claiming to be a private industry research
firm. When the researcher had to unexpectedly leave and was
replaced by an unknown person (who was secretly working for
the researcher), obedience dropped to 20%. Second, proximity
to the authority figure and learner was important.


Participants were most likely to obey when the authority
figure was in the room monitoring their performance. When
absent, many participants would not administer a shock and
lie to the authority figure about their actions. Obedience
also dropped when the participant and learner were in the
same room (40%) and when the participant needed to physically
press the learner’s hand onto a shock plate (30%). Finally,
when there was a group of people running the shock device,
obedience dropped to 10% if one other person refused to obey.

The critical finding in the Milgram studies is that obedience
occurs even when the authority figure does not actually have
the power to reward or punish participants. Rather, it was
the researcher’s perceived authority that enabled them to
influence the participants. In most teams, the leaders are
given limited power by their organizations. For example, team
leaders usually do not conduct performance evaluations of
members. Instead, evaluations usually are done by outside
managers. Even without this source of power, the tendency of
team members to obey authority figures gives leaders
considerable power over team operations. Even in the absence
of any formal positions, teams form their own power hierarchy
within minutes of interacting (Gould, 2003; Tiedens, Unzueta,
& Young, 2007).



Team members use various types of power to influence one
another and the team. The types of power that members possess
can be examined in several ways. The study of bases of power
is concerned with the sources of power, whereas the study of
influence tactics examines how various power tactics are


Bases of Power

There are two types of power that an individual can exert in
a team or organization: soft power and harsh power (French &
Raven, 1959; Raven, Schwarzwald, & Koslowsky, 1998). Soft
power derives from an individual’s characteristics or
personality and includes expert, referent, and information
power. Harsh power is based on an individual’s formal
position in an organization. It includes legitimate, reward,
and coercive power. Definitions for these bases of power are
provided in Table 8.1.

The types of power are related to each other and are often
used together (Podsakoff & Schriescheim, 1985). For example,
the more one uses coercive power, the less one is liked, so
the less one can exert soft power. The more legitimate power
one has, the more reward and coercive power one typically can
exert. Because team leaders have less legitimate power than
traditional managers, they often rely on expert and referent
power to influence the team (Druskat & Wheeler, 2003).

Soft power is often more effective than harsh power (Kipnis,
Schmidt, Swaffin-Smith, & Wilkinson, 1984). People prefer
soft power because it permits greater freedom in the choice
to comply with the request (Pierro, Kruglanski, & Raven,
2012). When supervisors use hard power, it shapes perceptions
of organizational fairness and contributes to decreased
performance and satisfaction with the manager (Zigarmi,
Roberts, & Randolph, 2015). Alternatively, employing soft
tactics can increase creativity, feelings of meaningful work,
and pride.

Reward and coercive power can be used to influence people to
do what is desired. In that case, though, people do what is
desired only because they desire the reward or fear the
punishment. The result is compliance but not acceptance.


These two strategies are useful for changing overt behaviors
but not for changing attitudes and beliefs. Consequently, the
influencer must monitor the behaviors to ensure results are
forthcoming (Zander, 1994).

Table 8.1 Types of Power

Soft Power

Expert Power based on one’s credibility or
perceived expertise in an area

Referent Power based on another’s liking, respect,
and admiration

Information Power based on the providing, withholding,
organizing, or manipulating information one
has about a topic

Harsh Power

Legitimate Power based on the recognition and acceptance
of a person’s authority

Reward Power based on the ability to distribute
impersonal (e.g., money, promotion, etc.) or
personal (e.g., praise, belonging, etc.)


Soft Power

Coercive Power based on the ability to threaten or
punish (e.g., ostracism, demotion,
humiliation, etc.) undesirable behavior

Source: Adapted from French, J., & Raven, B. (1959). The bases of power.
In D. Cartwright (Ed.), Studies in social power (pp. 150–167). Ann Arbor:
University of Michigan Press.

Teamwork should rely on the personal power of team members.
Team decision making is better when people who have the most
expertise and relevant information add to the discussion,
rather than those who have more authority. Cooperation is
more likely to be encouraged when team leaders use personal
power sources than when they use threats of punishment. When
team leaders rely on positional power to get their teams to
comply with their requests, members are likely to feel
manipulated and may resist.

Interdependence may help a team perform better by changing
the amount of power team members have over one another
(Franz, 1998). Dependence in a relationship is a basis for
power, as heightened levels of overall task interdependence
are associated with increased personal power. The more team
members need one another to complete a task, the more power
each team member has over the team.


Influence Tactics

Power bases enable team members to use a variety of social-
influence tactics. Descriptions of these tactics are
presented in Table 8.2. Their use depends on the target for
influence (e.g., subordinate, peer, superior) and the
objective of the influence (e.g., assign task, get support,
gain personal benefit) (Yukl, Guinan, & Soitolano, 1995).

These social-influence tactics vary by directness,
cooperativeness, and rationality. Direct tactics are
explicit, overt methods of influence (e.g., personal appeals
and pressure), whereas indirect tactics are covert attempts
at manipulation (e.g., ingratiation and coalition tactics).
Cooperative tactics encourage support through rational
argument or consultation; competitive tactics attempt to deal
with resistance through pressure or ingratiation (Kipnis &
Schmidt, 1982). Finally, some tactics are based on rational
argument or the exchange of support, whereas inspirational
and personal appeals rely on emotion.

Table 8.2 Social-Influence Tactics


Use logical arguments and factual
information to persuade

Consultation Seek a person’s participation in the


Attempt to arouse enthusiasm by appealing
to a person’s ideals

Personal Appeal to a person’s sense of loyalty or


appeals friendship

Ingratiation Use flattery or friendly behavior to get a
person to think favorably of you

Exchange Offer to exchange favors later for
compliance now

Pressure Use demands, threats, or persistent


Make claims that one has the authority to
make the request


Seek aid and support from others to
increase the power of the request

Source: Adapted from Yukl, G. (1989). Managerial leadership: A review of
theory and research. Journal of Management, 15, 251–289.

People prefer the use of direct and cooperative strategies.
Indeed, those who employ ingratiation or rational arguments
experience greater career success (Higgins, Judge, & Ferris,
2003). Additionally, a study comparing the outcomes of using
soft and hard tactics found that soft tactics were more
successful than using a hard tactic. The most effective
tactics are rational argument, consultation, and
inspirational appeals (Falbe & Yukl, 1992). These are more
socially acceptable tactics and are useful in most
situations. However, status differences in a team determine
which tactics are used. Traditional managers often use
pressure and legitimizing tactics to influence subordinates,
while subordinates often use rational argument, personal


appeals, and ingratiation to influence managers. Team leaders
have less positional power than managers, so they are more
likely to use cooperative influence strategies (Druskat &
Wheeler, 2003).


Influence Tactics in Virtual Teams

Virtual teams use influence tactics differently. Online
environments limit possible influence tactics because the
online context decreases one’s social presence (i.e., how
much one feels that others are involved in a communication
exchange) and because many nonverbal cues present in face-to-
face interactions are not typically transmitted through text-
and audio-based interactions (Short, Williams, & Christie,
1976; Walther, 1995). As a result, virtual team interactions
are more prone to ambiguity and targets of influence have a
greater ability to ignore influence attempts.

One study reveals that the most common tactics used in
virtual teams include pressure (e.g., prefacing an e-mail
title with “Urgent”), legitimizing tactics (e.g., cc’ing
e-mails to higher organizational members), rational
persuasion (e.g., using technology to record and generate
data), and consultation (e.g., electronic polling, screen
sharing) (Wadsworth & Blanchard, 2015). It is noteworthy that
the two most common tactics—pressure and legitimizing—are
considered more direct and harsher. Moreover, pressure was
successfully used to influence those higher up in the
organization, which is not typical in face-to-face contexts
(Yukl & Falbe, 1990).

There are other differences in influence tactics when
interacting virtually. Virtual team members use a novel
approach called intermediation, which involves getting advice
about how to approach a target from an intermediary who knows
them (Steizel & Rimbau-Gilabert, 2013). This is useful when
distributed members may be less familiar with the preferred
interaction styles of supervisors. Finally, ingratiation—
which is among the most common influence tactics in physical
environments—does not emerge in studies of virtual teams
(Steizel & Rimbau-Gilabert, 2013; Wadsworth & Blanchard,


2015). Successful ingratiation requires an emotional bond
between people, which can be more difficult to foster through
online interactions alone.



The use of power changes the dynamics of the group process.
Unequal power changes the way the leader treats other team
members, and the way members communicate with one another.
Subgroups that disagree with the majority can have a
substantial influence on how the team operates.


Status and the Corrupting Effect of Power

Power is rewarding, so people with power often want more of
it (Kipnis, 1976). It has a corrupting influence: People with
more power often give themselves a higher share of rewards.
It is easy for someone with power to give commands rather
than make requests. Because powerful people get mostly
positive feedback from subordinates, they begin to care less
about what subordinates say and have an inflated view of
their own worth.

Kipnis (1976) demonstrates the corrupting nature of power in
studies on teams in business organizations and families. He
documents a cycle of power where power leads to a desire to
increase one’s power. Table 8.3 shows how the cycle

One of the problems with this effect is that its impact is
often unconscious. Over time, powerful leaders come to
believe their subordinates are externally controlled and
therefore must be monitored and commanded by their leaders to
get them to do anything. It is a self-reinforcing cycle. A
team may try to deal with this problem by rotating team
leaders. When leaders know that they will eventually become
just another team member, they are less likely to use
controlling power tactics.

Table 8.3 Cycle of Power

Access to power increases the probability that it
will be used.

The more power is used, the more power holders
believe they are in control.


As power holders take more credit, they view the
target as less worthy.

As the target’s worth is decreased, social distance

Use of power elevates the self-esteem of the

Source: Adapted from Kipnis, D. (1976). The powerholders. Chicago, IL:
University of Chicago Press.


Unequal Power in a Team

Teams vary in the ways power is distributed. When teams have
unequal power levels among members, there tends to be more
mistrust, less communication, and more social problems than
in more egalitarian groups. Teams with powerful leaders tend
to have less communication and more autocratic decision
making, thereby reducing the quality of team decisions.

Unequal power is often caused by status differences, which
have an impact on team communication (Tost, Gino, & Larrick,
2013). High-status members talk more and are more likely to
address the entire team. High-status leaders have lower
opinions of other team members’ communications, are less
willing to view issues from the perspective of others, and
are less likely to listen to others. Team members communicate
more with high-status people and pay more attention to what
they say. Low-status members often talk less because they
recognize that their contributions are not valued. They are
unwilling to state their true opinions if they differ from
those of high-status people. Consequently, when high-status
people speak, people tend to either agree or say nothing. As
a result, high-status people have more influence in team
discussions. This communication pattern does not lead to good
decision making or to satisfied and motivated team members.

Women tend to experience a backlash effect from engaging in
high-status displays (e.g., speaking longer or taking
charge), which—according to dominant gender hierarchies—are
reserved for men (Rudman, Moss-Racusin, Phelan, & Nauts,
2012). Because of the backlash effect, when women display
status cues, they are perceived by both men and women as less
likable, less competent, and less suitable for leadership.
Moreover, women may purposely speak less than men in order to
prevent the backlash effect, which can threaten their ability
to attain positions of power and status in organizations and


teams. For example, while high-power men tend to speak more,
high-power women speak just as much as low-power women and
low-power men (Brescoll, 2012).

Unequal status within a team can have positive and negative
effects on the ability of the team to manage conflicts (Greer
& van Kleef, 2010). In some cases—for example, factory teams
—unequal status can help resolve conflicts because
influential leaders are better able to manage the process and
coordinate a decision to resolve the conflict. However,
unequal status in professional teams may lead to more team
conflicts because of feelings of inequality and increased
internal competition. These teams are more resistant to
solutions dictated by the team leader and may experience more
process and relational conflict.

Finally, various cultures have different degrees of
acceptance for unequal power in teams and organizations.
Power distance reflects the extent to which those who are
less powerful accept and expect power to be unequally
distributed in teams, organizations, and institutions
(Hofstede, 2011). People from societies with a large degree
of power distance—such as those in Eastern Europe, East
Asia, and Africa—tend to accept authority without
justification, are obedient to those with power, and may
expect to be told what to do. By contrast, people from
societies with a low degree of power distance—like the
United States and Western Europe—tend to expect equal
treatment, may not show deference to managers, and expect to
be consulted by superiors. How team members respond to power
imbalances and status display can be greatly influenced by
cultural expectations of power distribution. For example,
higher status is associated with fewer acts of dominance in
Western cultures but increased acts of dominance in Eastern
cultures (Kuwabara, Yu, Lee, & Galinsky, 2016).


Managing Unequal Power in a Team

In theory, a team should have only equal-status
communication, but this is not always the case. The team
leader may assume a higher status than the other team
members. A team is sometimes composed of members with
different levels of status within the organization. Team
members should leave their external status positions at the
door so that everyone on the team has equal status. However,
it is difficult to interact as an equal with someone in one
situation and be deferential with the same person in other
situations. This is why teachers sometimes have difficulty
interacting in student teams, for example.

When power is unequal because of status or other factors, a
team can try to improve the situation by using team norms to
equalize power and control communication. Norms level the
playing field in a team. They equalize power by putting
constraints on the behaviors of powerful members. For
example, the norm of consensus in decision making limits the
power of the leader. The team may have norms that encourage
open and shared communication, prevent the use of
intimidation or threats, and value independent thinking. An
alternative approach is to train team leaders in facilitation
skills so that they are better prepared to promote safe and
equal communications within the team (Tost et al., 2013).

Computer-mediated communication tools that limit social cues
and afford anonymity have some potential to minimize power
differences and encourage equal participation (Dubrovsky,
Kiesler, & Sethna, 1991). For example, communication channels
that make people feel more anonymous and less visible are
also perceived as being safer and more useful (Mao &
DeAndrea, 2019). However, research reveals important caveats.
First, it can be difficult to maintain anonymity. Men often
attempt to reduce anonymity by soliciting and introducing


status information during online interactions, while women
adopt strategies to maintain anonymity (Flanagin,
Tiyaamornwong, O’Connor, & Seibold, 2002). Second, anonymous
participants are seen as less trustworthy, less persuasive,
and having less goodwill toward the group (Rains, 2007).
While people may be more willing to speak up anonymously,
they are also less likely to be perceived as credible.

Taken together, the use of anonymity in a team meeting should
be consensual and strategic. Members should talk about why
anonymity is needed and collectively agree to its use, or
else it may undermine any of its benefits (Rains & Scott,
2007). Additionally, anonymity might be used strategically
during brainstorming, but subsequent discussions about ideas
may be conducted when members are identified.

Another option to manage power imbalances is for lower-status
people to increase the power available to them. For example,
they can increase their expertise by learning the skills or
knowledge necessary for the team to achieve its goals. They
also can develop communication skills, such as assertiveness
and charisma, to increase their referent power.



Traditional bureaucratic organizations are built upon unequal
power: Managers plan work, while workers execute the
manager’s plan (see Chapter 1). In other words, managers
retain power to make decisions, set goals, and distribute
resources (Silver, Randolph, & Seibert, 2006). The worker’s
role is simply to comply. Unequal power between managers and
workers has at least two important consequences. First, these
environments can produce apathetic workers who are disengaged
from their work, contributing to turnover, low performance,
and quality issues. Second, bureaucratic structures are
slower to adapt to change, which is opposed to the
flexibility required of contemporary organizations operating
in a complex and uncertain environment (Maravelias, 2003).

Empowerment—the redistribution of power and control from
managers to workers—emerged in response to these needs.
Rather than a workforce dependent upon direction and routine,
an empowered workforce exercises discretion and creativity in
order to better adapt their roles and tasks to meet the
demands of a dynamic environment (Johnson & Szamosi, 2019).
Moreover, both team performance and job satisfaction increase
as members feel more empowered. However, empowerment is not
as simple as telling people they have power. Imagine your
professor empowering the class with a $20 budget and two days
to develop and implement the reading list, syllabus,
schedule, assignments, lectures, activities, and grading for
your course. Would learning be as effective as a more
traditionally taught course? Likely not, unless the students
had sufficient training and support.

Empowerment is a set of beliefs held by individuals and the
team as a whole (Mathieu, Gilson, & Ruddy, 2006). Team
empowerment is the delegation of authority or responsibility
to the team, while individual empowerment is when team


members accept responsibility and are given the ability to
make decisions and solve their own problems. Empowerment
consists of four beliefs and cognitions:

1. Potency—belief is held that the individual or team can
be effective at the task.

2. Meaningfulness—tasks are viewed as valuable and

3. Autonomy—individual or team has freedom and discretion
over their work.

4. Impact—individual or team tasks are seen as significant
for the organization.

These beliefs are important to foster at both the individual
and team level. A team member that lacks self-efficacy in an
otherwise empowered team will feel less psychologically
empowered (Conger & Kanungo, 1988).

Empowerment benefits individuals, teams, and organizations
(Seibert et al., 2011). Employees who work in empowered jobs
have increased motivation because of a sense of control over
their work. Empowerment increases employees’ sense of
responsibility for their work and confidence in their ability
to perform a task. This helps to increase employee
engagement, which is one’s commitment and dedication to
one’s work (Mills et al., 2013). The ability to change how
the team works encourages continuous improvements and
innovative solutions to problems (Zhang & Bartol, 2010).
Empowered teams provide better customer service because they
are more willing to accept responsibility for handling
customer problems (Kirkman & Rosen, 1999). Organizations
benefit by having teams that function more effectively, have
greater organizational commitment, and show increased
acceptance of change.

The level of empowerment for teams in organizations is
increasing, and teams are now using shared leadership more
often to operate (Tannenbaum et al., 2012). This change is


driven by the recognition that self-management and
empowerment are motivating for teams. However, economic
pressure and organizational downsizing also are encouraging
this trend. Team members are being asked to do more and take
on more responsibility because of reductions in middle
management. These business changes are requiring teams to
take more responsibility for developing the team, regulating
the team’s operations, and improving the team. Empowerment
is particularly important for virtual teams whose members are
unable to regularly interact face to face, as this requires
that members have higher levels of initiative and proactivity
(Kirkman, Rosen, Tesluk, & Gibson, 2004).


Degrees of Empowerment Programs

There are many ways in which organizations and managers can
foster empowerment. Sharing information is the minimum
requirement for empowerment. Team members cannot meaningfully
participate and make decisions without access to information,
such as budgets or strategic goals. However, for a team to be
fully empowered, it must have the power to make and implement
decisions. Without some power to act, employees have little
incentive to continue to improve the way their team operates.

Managerial practices that increase the information and
control that people and teams have over their work, such as
information sharing, training to develop skills,
participative decision making, and contingent compensation,
can foster all four of these beliefs (Liao, Toya, Lepak, &
Hong, 2009). For example, learning about the larger
strategies of an organization provides the team with the
discretion to determine the best course of action to achieve
these goals.

The use of power bases by managers impacts feelings of
empowerment in employees (Randolph & Kemery, 2011).
Specifically, managerial use of power via referent and
personal rewards (e.g., praise or affirmation) is associated
with fostering empowered workers. By contract, managerial use
of expert power minimizes feelings of psychological
empowerment. This suggests that managers need to be aware of
how their exercise of power bases may support or undermine
empowerment programs.

Social and political resources also promote empowerment
(Seibert et al., 2011). For example, meaningfulness and
impact stem from employees who feel trusted by managers,
believe that the organization values their contributions, and
receive support from peers. Empowerment also stems from


leaders who coach and provide feedback to team members, as
opposed to control and dictate actions (Spreitzer, 2008).
External leaders encourage team empowerment by allowing the
team to set its own performance goals and letting the team
decide how to accomplish those goals. When teams are given
more responsibilities for production, customer service, or
quality improvements, they experience more empowerment. Team
coaches—who guide and facilitate the team but are not
involved in executing its work—may be more important for
fostering empowerment than external leaders (Rapp, Gilson,
Mathieu, & Ruddy, 2016). Human resources policies may give
the team more control over staffing, performance evaluation,
and training to promote empowerment.

Another dimension of analyzing empowerment programs is the
breadth of empowerment activities. Most empowerment programs
give team members control over job content (i.e., the task
and work procedure they perform) but not over job context
(i.e., goals, reward systems, and personnel issues) (Ford &
Fottler, 1995). For example, quality programs may allow
employees to make changes to improve the quality of their
work operations but may not allow them to influence personnel
decisions. By contrast, companies like Zappos, Valve, W. L.
Gore, and Morning Star are adopting a holacratic structure,
in which job titles and managers are removed. Instead, self-
managed units design their own work and goals and govern
themselves (Bernstein, Bunch, Canner, & Lee, 2016).


Barriers to Empowerment Programs

Although research shows that empowerment is effective,
empowerment programs are limited by managerial beliefs and
organizational support. One of the main problems with
empowerment programs is resistance from managers and
supervisors (Mathieu et al., 2006). Managers are often told
to empower work teams under their supervision, but they are
ultimately held responsible for how the team performs. This
is why surveys show that although 72% of supervisors believe
that empowerment is good for the organization, only 31%
believe that it is good for supervisors (Klein, 1984).
Although some supervisors support empowerment, many are
concerned about the loss of status and lack of support from
upper management (Stewart, Astrove, Reeves, Crawford, &
Solimeo, 2017).

Additionally, managers primarily engage in command-and-
control actions because that is what they are comfortable
doing (Argyris, 1998). However, this requires retaining
power, which is at odds with empowerment. Power is frequently
viewed as a limited resource in organizations: The more that
power is shared with teams, the less power that managers have
(Hollander & Offermann, 1990). This makes managers reluctant
to empower teams (Tjosvold & Sun, 2006). However, power is
not finite in organizations (Tannenbaum, 1968). Rather,
empowerment increases the amount of power available to
everyone within a team.

The increase of power is illustrated by Captain David
Marquet’s command of the USS Santa Fe, a nuclear submarine
in the U.S. Navy (Marquet, 2013). Marquet was shifted to
command the Santa Fe at the last minute after being trained
for another submarine with different operational
requirements. At the time, it had the lowest operational
performance and morale in the navy. His lack of training


resulted in giving erroneous orders. Yet the knowledgeable
crew would not correct the captain because they were trained
to follow orders rather than speak up. In response, he
distributed power to the crew. Rather than provide orders to
the crew, the crew provided their intent and reasoning up the
chain of command. For example, an officer would say,
“Captain, I intend to submerge the ship. We are in water we
own, water depth has been checked and is 400 feet, all men
are below, the ship is rigged for dive, and I’ve certified
my watch team” (Marquet, 2013, p. 88). Marquet simply gave
his approval. This structure shifted responsibility to the
individual crew members and empowered them to make critical
decisions. Every crew member exercised discretion over their
tasks, yet the captain still retained command. During its
next inspection, the Santa Fe achieved the highest retention
and operational standings in the navy.

Resistance from supervisors and managers may be handled in a
number of ways (Klein, 1984). Supervisors need to be involved
in the design of the empowerment programs. The roles of
supervisors should be evaluated, and their new
responsibilities and authority should be clearly defined.
Often supervisors need additional training in teamwork skills
to prepare them for their new roles as team leaders. This
includes understanding how to effectively delegate tasks
without overburdening the team and encouraging managers to
see themselves as a member of the team (Stewart et al.,
2017). Additionally, empowerment entails the management of
employee attitudes and beliefs, more so than the supervision
of tasks. This requires developing a broad set of
communication and interpersonal skills.

The success of team empowerment programs also relates to the
organization’s structure and culture (Hempel, Zhang, & Han,
2012). Organizational decentralization enhances team
empowerment because decision-making authority is delegated
downward to the team. Organizational formalization at higher
levels can enhance team empowerment if it reduces uncertainty


within the organization. Managers should allow team members
to make their own decisions and have control over their work,
but organizations should create formal goals and values for
the teams. This provides guidance to the team and reduces
uncertainty, but, at the same time, it gives the team the
flexibility to decide the best ways to operate.



People express power through their behaviors. They may act
passively, aggressively, or assertively (Alberti & Emmons,
1978). Their emotional tone and the ways they confront
problems define these power styles. Assertiveness is both a
skill and an attitude (Jentsch & Smith-Jentsch, 2001). When
team members act assertively, they show their willingness to
be independent and accept responsibility for their actions.


Power Styles

The use of these power styles has important impacts on
communication in teams. For example, teamwork problems are
one of the chief causes of major airline accidents. Accidents
happen when crew members are unwilling to communicate
problems to their superiors. This lack of assertiveness in a
team is a major problem—for airline crews, medical teams,
police teams, and firefighting teams, among others—which is
why assertiveness training is a standard element in training
for action teams (Cannon-Bowers & Salas, 1998; Weiss, Kolbe,
Grote, Spahn, & Grande, 2017). Table 8.4 presents an overview
of power styles, their impacts on teams, and situations where
they often are used.


The passive style is polite and deferential. A sweet,
pleasant, or ingratiating emotional tone is added to one’s
communication. A person using the passive approach tries to
avoid problems by not taking a stand or by being unclear
about their position. By being evasive, the person using this
approach is trying not to upset or anger anyone by
disagreeing. The person’s desire to be liked by others is
based on personal insecurity or fear of the situation.

The goal of the passive approach is to win approval and
acceptance. Unfortunately, this style does not work well.
Passive people often feel stressed and resentful, in part
because problems never seem to go away. The receivers of
passive communication often have mixed responses. They often
get their way, but they are uncertain what the passive
communicator really believes, so they tend to lack respect
for a person using this approach.


The passive approach is appropriate in some situations. When
a conflict becomes highly emotional, a passive response may
defuse the situation. When interacting with a person of
higher status, a passive response may be expected from a
subordinate. There are situations where being assertive is
risky. For instance, acting aggressively toward the boss may
be an inappropriate or dangerous tactic.

Table 8.4 Power Styles

Style Impact Use

Polite and






Focuses on





Style Impact Use

Clear and


and trust




The aggressive style is forceful, critical, and negative. A
negative emotional tone is added to the communication so that
it appears more powerful. A person using the aggressive
approach deals with problems and conflicts by trying to win
and refusing to compromise. The underlying emotions of the
aggressive style are anger, insecurity, and lack of trust. In
some ways, this is similar to the passive style, which is why
people sometimes swing back and forth between passiveness and
aggressiveness without ever reaching an assertive position.

Use of the aggressive style is often rewarded. In many
situations, people give in to people who are acting
forcefully, in part because of a misapplication of the rule
of reciprocity. People may defer and agree to someone’s
position because it is important to them, simply because they
then expect to get their way in things that are important to
them. What the aggressive person does is act forcefully in
all situations. There is a cost to the aggressive style.
People on the receiving end of the aggressive style feel


resentment, act defensively, and try to withdraw from the

The aggressive style can be appropriate, as in problem or
emergency situations requiring forceful action. It can be a
valuable approach for dealing with blocked situations where
progress is stalled. If there is resistance, and change is
vital to the team’s goals, then aggressiveness can be the
appropriate response.


The assertive style uses clear and confident communication.
No emotions are added to messages. Assertiveness is
communicating openly with concern for both others and
oneself. It is taking responsibility for one’s own
communication. The assertive person takes a direct problem-
solving approach to conflicts and problems. The goal is to
find the best solution, so the person is willing to listen
and compromise.

Although they are not always successful, assertive
communicators are generally satisfied with their performance.
The assertive style shows respect, encourages trust in
others, and inspires open communication in a team. High self-
esteem and trust in the team underlie the assertive style.

The assertive approach is appropriate in most situations in
which people are interacting on an equal basis and should be
the most typical type of communication within a team. The
absence of the assertive approach is a sign of unequal status
differences that are disrupting communication within the team
or unresolved conflicts that are creating a defensive
communication environment in the team.


Use of Power Styles

Teams are more productive when their communication is
primarily assertive (Lumsden & Lumsden, 1997). Both passive
and aggressive styles create resentment and inhibit open
communication. Teams may adopt unproductive power styles for
several reasons. An aggressive style triggers a passive
response, whereas an assertive style triggers an assertive
response. Assertiveness is a power style used among people
with relatively equal power; passiveness and aggressiveness
are power styles used among people with differing levels of

Although the most appropriate power style to use depends on
the situation, there is a tendency for people to have
preferred power styles they enact regardless of the situation
(Ames, 2008). They may focus primarily on the task or social
aspects of situations. A task orientation leads to the use of
more forceful power styles, while a social focus leads to
less assertive styles.

Differences in power styles are often attributed to
personality, gender, or racial differences. This explanation
is rarely true and gets in the way of improving team
communication. For example, women often act more passively
than men in business teams, causing some men to assume that
women are passive. Kipnis (1976) shows that this stems from
organizational power, not gender. When men and women have
equal power in a situation, women are not more likely than
men to act passively.

Assertiveness is primarily a reflection of the distribution
of power in a team. To encourage assertive communication, the
team needs to reduce power differences among its members. In
an organization, people work in a hierarchy that gives
everyone different amounts of power. However, when people are


working in a team, they need to treat fellow team members as
if everyone has the same amount of power.


Encouraging Assertiveness

Assertiveness is the power style most appropriate for
teamwork. The primary key to encouraging assertiveness is to
equalize power among team members. However, equalizing power
might not be enough. People develop habits in communicating,
so it may be necessary to provide team members with training
in assertive communication (Alberti & Emmons, 1978).
Assertiveness training programs use several techniques to
encourage better communication in teams:

1. Active listening. Active listening is summarizing and
repeating a speaker’s message to ensure it has been
understood. This technique clarifies the message, shows
respect and attention, and encourages more communication.

2. Positive recognition. Learning how to give others
positive recognition reduces the need for manipulative
power tactics. Too often, high-status people criticize
what they do not like but do not acknowledge what they

3. Clear expectations. Learning to state expectations
clearly is another communication technique that
encourages assertiveness. People often misinterpret
behaviors as inappropriate or resistant when, in reality,
they are caused by not understanding what is desired.
Clarifying expectations lets everyone know the actual

4. Assertive withdrawal. Being assertive is not always the
right response, so people need to know when not to
participate. When situations become either too
emotionally heated or threatening, people need to learn
how to send a clear message of their desire to postpone
or terminate conversations.

Assertiveness is a situation-specific behavior (Jentsch &
Smith-Jentsch, 2001). The willingness to be assertive depends


on the situation and the individual’s relationship to the
other people involved. People may be assertive in social or
personal situations but not in work situations. They may be
assertive with friends but not with strangers or business
associates. This is why it is important to conduct
assertiveness training in environments where team members
need to apply assertive behavior.



Social influence is the process of changing the attitudes,
beliefs, and behaviors of others. It can result in defiance,
resistance, acceptance, or compliance. Influence stems from
conformity to the majority, conversion from the minority, and
obedience from individuals in the team. Power is an
individual’s capacity to exert influence.

Power can be analyzed by examining where it comes from and
the types of techniques that are used to exert power. Team
members gain power through soft bases (e.g., being an expert)
and harsh bases (e.g., having authority delegated by the
organization). Influence tactics can be based on encouraging
others or trying to control others. People prefer to use
personal power bases and cooperative tactics because these
approaches are less likely to create resistance.

The use of power by teams has several important dynamics.
Power tends to corrupt its users. People with power tend to
use it and take personal credit for the success of their
teams, which encourages them to continue to use this power
approach. Unequal power in teams caused by status differences
among members disrupts team communication—high-status people
talk more, and people tend to agree with them more often. As
a result, low-status people become reluctant to state their
true opinions.

One of the core notions of teamwork is empowerment. To be
effective, teams need power, authority, and responsibility to
control their own behaviors. Unfortunately, organizations
often have trouble sharing managerial power with teams.
Empowerment programs may range from simple information
sharing with team members to the development of self-managing
teams. Successful empowerment programs must deal with the


perceived loss of power by supervisors and managers by
incorporating them into the teams’ activities.

Team members may act in a passive, aggressive, or assertive
manner. These are personal power styles. Although there are
situations in which acting passively or aggressively is
appropriate, in most team situations, assertiveness is the
best approach. Assertiveness encourages clear communication
and a rational approach to problems but is disrupted by
unequal status in the team. There are several techniques for
training group members to act more assertively.


Team Leadership Challenge 8

You are the manager of a technical services team that
provides support services for other organizations. Over
the past year, you have been trying to make the
transition to a more self-managing team. For instance,
you now call yourself the team leader rather than the
manager. As part of the transition, the team now makes
decisions about scheduling, partnering, and other task
assignments. Team meetings where employees passively
listen to instructions have been replaced by team
discussions and group decision making. You have worked
hard to encourage team members to speak up at meetings,
and they are now contributing more.

At today’s meeting, a team member suggested a new way
to organize work practices. You told the team you
didn’t like the idea because you had tried a similar
plan in the past and it did not work well. Another team
member ignored your explanation and complained that you
were stifling innovation and were unwilling to share
power with the team.

How can you (the team leader) respond to a “bad” idea
without discouraging team participation?

What is the best way to handle team members who
challenge the leader’s authority?

What norms could be adopted to help the team
communicate more effectively?

How much power-sharing (or empowerment) is appropriate
for a work team?


Activity: Using Power Styles—Passive,

Aggressive, and Assertive

Objective: Team members may use one of three different
power styles. The passive style is polite and
deferential. This approach tries to avoid problems by
not taking a stand or by being unclear about one’s
position. The aggressive style is forceful, critical,
and negative. This approach deals with problems and
conflicts by trying to win. The assertive style uses
clear and confident communication. The assertive person
takes a direct problem-solving approach to conflicts
and problems.

Activity: Observe the interactions in a team
discussion of the Team Leader’s Challenge. Write down
examples of passive, aggressive, and assertive
behaviors you observed. Using Activity Worksheet 8.1,
note the frequency of team members acting passively,
aggressively, or assertively. An alternative activity
is to break into groups and have individuals take turns
using one of the three power styles during a group
discussion. Participants should analyze their own and
others’ performances according to their perception and
reactions to each style.

Passive behavior:

Aggressive behavior:

Assertive behavior:


Activity Worksheet 8.1: Observing

Passive, Aggressive, and Assertive

Power Styles

Team Members

1 2 3 4 5 6




Analysis: Which power style did the team use most
often? Did certain team members adopt a similar power
style for most communication? Was the team’s
communication dominated by assertive, passive, or
aggressive communication? Did the leader primarily use
the assertive style?

Discussion: What triggers the use of a power style? Is
it personality or team characteristics? How would you
encourage the team to engage more in equal-status
assertive communication?




Decision making is a central activity of teams. One of the
benefits of teams is their ability to bring together multiple
skills and perspectives in making decisions. Teams use
different approaches to make decisions. These approaches vary
in quality, speed, and acceptance by team members.

Teams encounter a number of problems when trying to make good
team decisions: Group polarization and groupthink are two
examples of these problems. There are structured decision-
making approaches that help improve the decision-making
process. Although it may be difficult at first, learning how
to make consensus decisions is an important skill for teams
to develop. Teams can also use crowd-based platforms and
artificial intelligence to make decisions.


Learning Objectives

1. Understand what factors are useful for evaluating
a decision-making approach.

2. Describe different individual, group, crowd-based,
and algorithmic approaches to making decisions.

3. Explain the main advantages and disadvantages of
each decision-making approach.

4. Determine when group interaction is and is not
needed to make a good decision.

5. Understand how individual, group, and algorithmic
biases influence decisions.



Decision making is the process of selecting a course of
action from a set of alternatives. It is a central activity
of teams and organizations. Teams make decisions that impact
the group itself, such as determining goals, assigning
duties, and choosing how to make decisions. Teams also make
decisions for organizations, such as estimating future sales,
forecasting economic changes, developing a new product, and
creating a strategy for achieving goals.

There are several methods teams can use to make decisions.
Selecting the right decision-making approach is an important
consideration. These options may be viewed as lying along a
continuum, from decisions made by individuals, by the team as
a whole, or by online crowds or artificial intelligence
algorithms. These options are shown in Table 9.1. Each of
these approaches has strengths and weaknesses, and each has
consequences for decision speed, accuracy, and acceptance by
the team.




There is no single optimal decision-making strategy. Rather,
teams must evaluate the situation and select the decision-
making approach that best meets the nature of the problem.
The best decision might be made by deferring to an expert,
voting, reaching a consensus, or using an artificial
intelligence algorithm. What should be considered when
determining how to make a group decision? Three interrelated
criteria for evaluating a decision-making approach are
quality, speed, and acceptance (Johnson & Johnson, 1997).

The first criterion is quality. In general, decision-making
techniques that combine unique information held by team
members produce higher quality decisions. This is especially
true if the problem is ill-structured or complex.
Successfully launching a new product, for example, relies on
integrating expertise in marketing, engineering, and finance.
Yet, if the decision is not complex or team members all share
the same information and perspectives, the decision may not
improve with group discussion. In this case, a leader or
expert can make high-quality decisions alone. Additionally,
facilitating productive task conflict is advantageous for
improving decisions, as this encourages members to reconsider
and combine their knowledge in new ways.

Table 9.1 Approaches to Decision Making

Individual Decision Making

Leader decides autocratically.


Designated expert makes the decision.

Consultative: Leader consults with the team and then

Group Decision Making

Team decisions are aggregated without interaction (e.g.,

Team decisions are aggregated with limited interaction
(e.g., nominal group technique).

Democratic: Team discusses, votes, and decides by
majority rule.

Consensus: All team members participate and agree to
accept the decision.

Crowd and Algorithmic Decision Making

Wisdom of the crowd: The response of a large, diverse
group is aggregated.

Prediction markets: Participants make forecasts by buying
and selling various probabilities of an event occurring.


Artificial intelligence: Algorithms are used to identify
patterns and make predictions.

The second criterion is speed. Group decision making is often
slower than individual decision making, but the importance of
speed as a criterion varies. In many cases, the issue is not
speed but priority. It is important to prioritize the
decisions a team needs to make. Some decisions are important
and must be made quickly, whereas other decisions can be put
off until the team gathers more information. Teams often
spend too much time on unimportant decisions and not enough
time on the important ones. Meanwhile, time pressure can
encourage teams to preemptively converge on a decision before
a full discussion of information, which reduces the quality
of the decision.

The third criterion is acceptance. To the extent that a
decision requires the support and acceptance of team members
to be implemented, the decision should include input from
team members (Murnighan, 1981). Teams often use majority
voting to speed up the decision-making process, but this
technique can limit the level of acceptance of the decision
by the losing minority. When acceptance is important, teams
should use consensus decision making. However, teams can also
overvalue and thus overuse consensus for trivial issues.

A critical caveat regarding acceptance relates to the
cultural dimension of power distance (Hofstede, 2011).
Cultural values create differences in the degree to which
people accept unequal power distributions in a group. This
encompasses the extent to which participation is typically
practiced and accepted in group decision making. Team members
from a high power distance culture (e.g., many Asian, South
American, and Middle Eastern countries) are generally less
willing to participate in decision making, instead preferring
that decisions be made autocratically by a leader (Khatri,


2009). By contrast, a leader in a low power distance culture
(e.g., Austria, Sweden, and the United States) is typically
expected to engage in more participatory decision-making

Once the nature of the problem is understood, the best
approach can be selected. In general, a more group-oriented
approach (e.g., voting, consensus) is best when a high-
quality decision is needed or when team acceptance is needed
to implement the decision. Although, the effectiveness of
group decision-making approaches also depends on skilled



Decisions impacting the group can be made by an individual,
such as a leader or expert. While these decisions can be made
quickly, they may also reduce group performance and cohesion
by fostering conflict, competitive behavior, and


Leader Decides

A leader can make an autocratic decision without any
participation from the group. This approach is typically used
by a manager to make routine administrative decisions or by a
leader when they believe they have expertise lacking in the
team. If the leader is indeed the most knowledgeable person
on the team, then this approach can produce an effective
decision. However, autocratic decisions may be less likely to
be embraced by a team in low power distance cultures, so it
should be used when group acceptance is unimportant to the
implementation of the decision (Vroom & Jago, 1974).


Designated Expert

A decision may be assigned to an internal or external expert
when other team members lack essential knowledge. Deferring
to an individual expert can lead to a superior decision if
they possess the requisite knowledge. However, experts
possess specialized but narrow knowledge (Larrick & Feiler,
2016). This means that they often have an incomplete view of
complex problems, making expert decisions fallible in these
instances. Additionally, the wrong expert may be selected.
Expertise is difficult to recognize (Baumann & Bonner, 2013),
and managers are overly confident in the capabilities of
single experts (Groysberg, Lee, & Nanda, 2008). The group
also may disagree on the expertise of the designated
individual, which reduces acceptance of their decision and
fuels conflict.


Consultative Decision Making

Consultative decision making—also called a judge-adviser
system—occurs when one person has the authority or
responsibility to make a decision, but they ask for advice
and comments from team members before deciding (Bonaccio &
Dalal, 2006). This approach is useful because it takes little
time to complete, and it can provide the leader with crucial
information to aid in decision making.

While the judge benefits from receiving advice, the extent of
this benefit is limited by several factors. First, the judge
is subject to egocentric advice discounting—the tendency to
give more weight to one’s own opinion over that of an
advisor (Yaniv, 2004). As a result, leaders tend to
undervalue the opinions of others (see Morrison, Rothman, &
Soll, 2011), although this tendency decreases when the
advisors are known experts (Goldsmith & Fitch, 1997) and when
judges are less familiar with the domain of the decision
(Harvey & Fischer, 1997). Second, the most influential
advisor is not necessarily the most accurate. Leaders weigh
advice based on their evaluation of the adviser’s
confidence, yet confidence is poorly related to information
accuracy (Barton & Bunderson, 2014).

Finally, this approach does not optimally use all of the
team’s expertise, and members may silence their true
opinions due to norms, obedience, or fear of retaliation
(Morrison, 2014). It also does not fully develop commitment
to the group’s decision. Rather, it may encourage
competition among team members to influence the leader and
become a source of process conflict.


Problems With Individual Decision Making

While individuals can make good decisions, there are a host
of counterproductive behaviors and cognitions that impede
their accuracy. An individual’s capacity to make decisions
is bounded by their limited access to and processing of
information (Simon, 1972). People are subject to confirmation
bias (Nickerson, 1998). This means that they seek out or
interpret information in ways that support their preconceived
beliefs and expectations, while avoiding or disregarding
information that contradicts their beliefs and expectations.

Individuals experience decision fatigue when they repeatedly
make decisions, which leads to impaired, impulsive, and
irrational choices (Pignatiello, Martin, & Hickman, 2018;
Vohs et al., 2008). Decision fatigue also makes people more
susceptible to using heuristics (Pocheptsova, Amir, Dhar, &
Baumeister, 2009). Heuristics systematically and predictably
distort how information is processed (Kahneman, 2011). They
reduce the cognitive effort required for decision making at
the cost of the accuracy of the decision.

As shown by research conducted by Tversky and Kahneman (1974,
1981), heuristics can deteriorate the quality decision of
even talented individuals. Through the availability
heuristic, for example, people overestimate the prevalence of
events concerning information that is vivid or frequently
heard. You are more likely to die from taking a bath, being
struck by lightning, or fireworks than from flying in a
plane. However, the frequency and vividness with which media
outlets discuss airline accidents make them more easily
recalled. Individuals rely too much on readily available
information, even when it is insufficient for making an
accurate judgment. Research has identified several other
heuristics, such as the tendency to be overly influenced by
arbitrary starting points, accepting more risk when a


decision is framed as a potential loss compared to a
potential gain and being overconfident in one’s ability to
make predictions (Bazerman & Moore, 2013).



Teams can also collectively make decisions in which all
members participate. This approach is best suited for
decisions that are too complex for one individual to perform
or problems that are too difficult for one individual to
solve. Additionally, a group composed of similar members with
overlapping skills and knowledge is less likely to benefit
from making group decisions. Composing teams with
heterogeneous members can improve decisions by increasing the
amount of unique information available to the team (Winquist
& Larson, 1998). There are three primary advantages to group
decision-making techniques: knowledge pooling, error
reduction, and group acceptance of the decision.

First, teams can collectively pool and process more
information than is possible by any single person (Laughlin,
Hatch, Silver, & Boh, 2006). Group discussions allow the team
to better integrate information and produce knowledge and
ideas that no single member would have developed (Barnier,
Sutton, Harris, & Wilson, 2008). This enables teams to make
higher quality and more complicated decisions than an
individual (Barnlund, 1959; Hill, 1982).

Second, teams make fewer errors. Teams are more likely than
individuals to detect and reject incorrect information
(Rajaram, 2011). Teams also are better judges of their own
knowledge (Thompson & Cohen, 2012), meaning that they are
more aware of what they do and what they do not know. This
focuses attention toward areas of less confidence that need
to be understood before making a decision. Finally, teams
have a better collective memory, which protects against
misremembering details or repeating prior mistakes.

Third, team members accept the decision more and they are
more committed to implementing the decision when they


participate in the process (Vroom & Jago, 1988). Involving
the team in the decision can reduce the emergence of conflict
and motivate members.

There are several ways in which groups can combine
information. These vary on the degree to which team members
interact with each other, which has implications for how
information is integrated.


Aggregation Without Interaction

Although counterintuitive, group interaction is not necessary
for superior group decisions. High-quality decisions can
result from aggregating the individual preferences of group
members without any direct information exchange. Aggregation
is well suited for two kinds of decisions. It is useful for
making estimations (e.g., how many sales will we make this
quarter?) and for deciding among a set of discrete
alternatives (e.g., preference for Option 1, 2, or 3).
Estimations are aggregated using the group average, while
votes are determined by the pluralistic majority (i.e.,
response with the most votes). Aggregated group decisions are
often superior to the judgment of individuals and, in some
cases, of interacting groups (Hastie & Kameda, 2005).

The effectiveness of aggregation rests on a diverse set of
participants independently contributing their preference—
that is, without knowledge of other group members’
preferences (Ariely et al., 2000). Diversity of perspectives
is needed to avoid amplifying biases rooted in shared
opinions or information. Independence is necessary to prevent
social influence and conformity from affecting preferences.
When these conditions are met, aggregation can produce
superior decisions with little cognitive or social effort
(Hastie & Kameda, 2005). The aggregated preferences of just 5
to 10 experts can make highly accurate decisions (Mannes,
Soll, & Larrick, 2014).

This approach was used to locate the wreckage of a lost
nuclear submarine (Surowiecki, 2005). In 1968, the USS
Scorpion disappeared on its way back to Virginia after a tour
of duty in the Atlantic. The navy identified a 20-mile
diameter search area with depths of two miles. Searches based
on expert opinion and deliberation had failed to locate the
wreckage. Dr. John Craven, a navy scientist, crafted a series


of scenarios about what could have happened to the submarine
and what the crew’s response might have been. He then asked
a range of specialists—mathematicians, submarine crews,
salvage workers—to individually bet on the likelihood of
each of these scenarios. These guesses were aggregated using
Bayes’ theorem to create a probability distribution of where
the wreckage was most likely to be. The USS Scorpion was
found a mere 220 yards (that is just 0.125 miles) away from
the location of the highest probability. Despite no
individual choosing that location, the group’s collective
estimate was incredibly accurate (Thompson, 2012).

There are several advantages to aggregation. It works best
when group members do not interact, which reduces the time
and resources necessary. This also makes it preferable for
larger or virtual teams where it is not practical for
everyone to meet. It is also relatively easy to include
people from outside the team if additional expertise is
needed for the decision. Finally, aggregation is considered
fair, so the team often accepts the decision.

Aggregation is not without drawbacks. The primary challenge
is ensuring that team members contribute their preferences
independently from each other. Also, if the team is not
sufficiently diverse or if all members share redundant
information, aggregation can amplify biases and produce low-
quality decisions. At the same time, critical information has
less influence because each member’s contribution is equally
weighted and there is no information exchange between group
members. This makes it less suited for complex problems that
require integrating group knowledge.


Aggregation With Limited Group Interaction

Sometimes, it is desirable for group members to exchange
information before reaching a decision. The challenge is to
do so while limiting the negative impacts of social and
informational influence. Techniques achieve this by
anonymizing group members or structuring group interactions
before aggregation.

Nominal Group Technique

The nominal group technique allows a group of people to focus
on the task of making a decision without developing any
social relations. It is called nominal because it does not
require a true group. When using this technique, the leader
states the problem to the group. People write down their
solutions or estimates to the problem privately. Each person
then publicly states their answer, and the answers are
recorded so everyone can see them. Group members may ask
questions to clarify the others’ positions, but they cannot
criticize the ideas. The participants then use a rank-
ordering procedure to rate the value of the solutions. This
rank ordering is used to select the group’s preferred

The advantage of the nominal group technique is that it is
relatively quick, discourages pressure to conform, and does
not require group members to get to know one another before
the decision-making process (Delbecq, Van de Ven, &
Gustafson, 1975). However, this technique requires a trained
facilitator to conduct the session, and only one narrowly
defined problem can be addressed at a time.


Delphi Technique

The Delphi technique uses a series of written surveys to
generate ideas and make forecasting estimates (Dalkey, 1969).
A group of experts is given a survey containing several open-
ended questions about the problem to be solved. The results
of this survey are summarized and organized into a set of
proposed solutions by a facilitator. These solutions are sent
to the participants, who are then asked to comment on the
solutions based on the first survey. The process allows some
limited information exchange and is repeated until the
participants start to reach an agreement on a solution to the

The Delphi approach is useful when it is necessary to include
a specific set of people in a decision who are distributed
geographically and cannot meet in person (Delbecq et al.,
1975). The number of people involved makes no difference, so
a large group of people could participate at the same time.
This approach is also useful when there is great disagreement
on an issue that requires subjective judgments to resolve.
However, the process is time consuming (it can take more than
a month for a typical decision) and requires developing and
analyzing surveys.


Fully Interacting Teams

Teams can also fully interact with each other prior to making
a decision. This allows for greater information exchange and
error reduction. However, some group discussion is
necessarily devoted to coordination and social issues, which
prevents individuals from focusing solely on their tasks.
Additionally, discussions are asynchronous—only one person
can effectively communicate at a time. As a result, it takes
time for all team members to discuss their perspectives and

Communication problems emerge when teams have decision-making
discussions (Di Salvo, Nikkel, & Monroe, 1989). Decisions can
get bogged down in emotional conflicts that damage the morale
of teams. Powerful or talkative team members can dominate
discussions and disrupt a group’s ability to integrate
information. Discussions in a team can get sidetracked,
interrupted, or become disorganized. Finally, minimally
engaged (i.e., social loafers) members may contribute little
to the discussion and fail to critically listen to what
others are saying. Efficient group decision making requires
skillful facilitation, carefully structured meetings, and a
productive communication climate.

To fully benefit from group discussion, members need to share
all relevant information before making a decision. Tindale
and Winget (2019) offer the following strategies for
achieving this:

1. Ensure that there is sufficient time to devote to group

2. Instruct participants not to express their initial
preference for a decision and to avoid forming an initial
preference until the end of the discussion (Mojzisch &
Schulz-Hardt, 2010).


3. Establish a transactive memory system (Wegner, 1987) such
that certain team members are responsible for certain
kinds of information depending on their relative
expertise and role. This improves the information
processing capacity of the team by reducing the cognitive
load of each member (Stasser, Vaughan, & Stewart, 2000).
Additionally, teams are more likely to share unique
information when members are aware of each other’s
expertise before deliberations (Baumann & Bonner, 2013).

4. Frame decision making as first gathering information as
accurately and thoroughly as possible before making a
decision (Brodbeck, Kerschreiter, Mojzisch, & Schulz-
Hardt, 2007). Focusing on reaching a consensus
discourages members from bringing up unique information
(Postmes, Spears, & Cihangir, 2001).

5. Keep a record of all information that is presented during
group discussion, instead of relying on memory (Sawyer,

6. Maintain a norm of information sharing, and facilitate
information exchange (Larson, Foster-Fishman, & Franz,
1998). Forcing groups to continue a discussion—even if
they believe all relevant information has been discussed
—can improve sharing of unique information (Larson,
Foster-Fishman, & Keys, 1994).

7. Establish groups that add a new diverse member, so that
they are more open to questioning their conclusions and
can shift to a more accurate decision (Phillips,
Liljenquist, & Neale, 2009).

Following these strategies increases the likelihood of teams
making a high-quality decision through voting or by reaching
a consensus.

Democratic Decision Making


In democratic decision making, the group discusses and
exchanges information before making a decision by aggregation
(i.e., averaging or majority vote). Although this is a
popular decision-making style that benefits from information
exchange, it can create problems. The biggest problem is when
time constraints, impatience, and decision fatigue causes
teams to prematurely close discussion on an issue and rush to
a vote. Moreover, those who disagree with the vote may be
unwilling to support and implement the decision after it has
been made (Castore & Murnighan, 1978). Because there are
winners and losers, voting may create resentment among team
members. This can lead to a lack of commitment from the
losing minority.

Additionally, members are likely to conform to the majority
views if the vote is taken publicly. Worse still, teams may
begin a discussion with a vote to see what members think—
this fosters conformity and inhibits a broad discussion of
relevant information. Despite these limitations, democratic
decision making can be a successful approach if preceded by a
carefully structured group deliberation.

Consensus Decision Making

The consensus approach to decision making involves members
fully combining preferences and collectively agreeing on a
decision. Accepting the decision does not mean that the
decision is a member’s favorite alternative: It means that
each team member is voluntarily willing to support the
decision (Hackett & Martin, 1993). Consensus is achieved when
each team member can answer “yes” to the following

Are you willing to agree that this is what the team
should do next?


Can you go along with this position?

Can you support this alternative?

The goal of consensus decision making is to develop a
collaborative solution that allows all participants to win.
Rather than voting, where one side wins and another side
loses, consensus decision making attempts to create win–win
solutions. Teams using consensus not only make better
decisions, but the process improves their decision-making
skills and social relations among team members.

Consensus decision making might be time-consuming, but it is
the best way to fully use team resources. When successful,
consensus also produces the most satisfaction of any
decision-making approach (Schweiger, Sandberg, & Ragan,
1986). The consensus approach should be used for complex
decisions requiring the full support of the team for
implementation. It takes time, energy, and skill to reach
consensus, but consensus decisions have a greater likelihood
of being implemented by the team. Table 9.2 (see page 181)
presents some guidelines to help team members reach a

Table 9.2 Guidelines to Help Reach Consensus

Avoid arguing for your own position without listening to
the position of others.

Do not change your position just to avoid conflict.

Do not try to reach a quick agreement by using conflict
reduction approaches, such as voting or tossing a coin.


Encourage others to explain their position so that you
better understand any differences.

Do not assume that someone must win and someone must lose
when there is a disagreement.

Discuss the underlying assumptions, listen carefully to
one another, and encourage the participation of all

Look for creative and collaborative solutions that allow
both sides to win rather than compromises where each side
only gets some of what it wants.

Source: Johnson, D. W., & Johnson, F. P. (1997). Joining together: Group
theory and group skills (6th ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

These guidelines show the techniques people can use to help
obtain consensus on an issue, but they can be difficult to
apply. When people disagree, the emotions generated by the
disagreement work against these guidelines. Conflict is
uncomfortable, and people want to end it quickly. It is
psychologically easier to adopt a quick-solution strategy
rather than to be patient, listen, and search for
collaborative solutions.

If a team gets stuck trying to reach consensus, it can use
several options to break the impasse. The team can agree to
not agree and then move on to a related issue. Changing
topics and returning to an issue later reduces the emotional
tension created during a conflict. If a decision must be made
quickly, the team can decide that it must use an alternative,
such as voting, or it may decide to develop a compromise
solution whereby each side gives in on one or more of its
demands. When time is available, the team may ask for outside


help or bring in a trained facilitator to manage the decision


Problems With Group Decision Making

The benefits of group decision making, however, are not
absolute. Teams are susceptible to normative and
informational influences that can produce consensus on a
disastrous decision that no individual would have selected
alone (Nijstad, 2009). There are many different types of
problems that can disrupt a team’s ability to make a good
decision. The team may not sufficiently share unique
information. Group stressors, like disagreements, negative
emotions, and time pressure, can impede decision making.
Group polarization can affect a group decision by making the
result more extreme because of interpersonal processes. The
term groupthink describes a number of group decision-making
flaws caused by the group’s desire to maintain good
relations rather than to make the best decision.

Discussion of Shared Information

Group discussions produce superior decisions when members
exchange unique information. However, teams rarely actually
do this (Stasser, 1999). Instead, group discussions
overwhelmingly focus on already shared information or common
knowledge. Even the use of computer-mediated communication
technologies is not associated with greater sharing of unique
information (Lu, Yuan, & McLeod, 2012). Three kinds of poor
information processing suppress unique information from being
shared: negotiation focus, discussion biases, and evaluation
bias (Brodbeck et al., 2007).

Teams with a negotiation focus approach discussion as a means
of sharing opinions and identifying the majority preference
for a decision, rather than exchanging information and
learning from each other. Second, several discussion biases


emerge in group discussions. Shared information is often
brought up first during discussions (Stasser & Titus, 1985),
and shared information is repeated more often than unique
information. Third, individuals evaluate shared information
differently. Team members socially validate each other’s
shared information as being correct. This increases the
perception that shared information is more credible and
important, which makes it more influential in the final group
decision. When these problems disrupt the discussion of the
decision, the group needs to focus on improving its internal


A common group decision-making problem is premature closure—
that is, trying to avoid disagreement by voting to make a
quick decision. This technique works for making the decision
but often leads to implementation problems later. Politics, a
domineering leader, hidden agendas, poor norms, and other
factors can cause disagreements. Because of the
disagreements, there is social pressure for people to agree
with each other in a meeting, so misinformation is often not
corrected and may be amplified (Sunstein & Hastie, 2014).

Too little disagreement can also be a problem. Disagreement
helps stimulate thinking and leads to better decisions. Group
discussions with some disagreement lead to better decisions
than conflict-free group discussions (Schwenk, 1990).
However, these constructive conflicts come at a cost. Group
discussions with substantial disagreement are rated as less
satisfying experiences by team members and reduce interest in
continuing to interact with the team.

Impact of Emotions


Emotions have both positive and negative effects on group
decision making. Positive emotions can help to improve group
discussions and decision making (Emich, 2014). When team
members feel positive, they are more likely to share their
unique perspective with the team, and they are more likely to
ask questions and try to understand other team members’
perspectives. Positive emotions encourage team members to
feel more confident in interacting with the team. This
increases the information available to a team when making a
decision, which improves the quality of those decisions.

However, negative emotions can create problems for group
decision making. When teams face a lot of pressure, they tend
to become risk averse and head toward safe, generic solutions
that have worked in the past (Gardner, 2012). There is a
drive toward consensus that prevents the stating of
alternative views, ideas, and perspectives. Team members tend
to defer to the team leader. These factors reduce the amount
of team creativity and the quality of decisions.

Negative pressure on a team may be due to time constraints or
outside influences. Teams respond to time pressure by trying
to make quick decisions. To do this, they often use decision-
making approaches that are simple and inadequate (Zander,
1994). For example, a team may support the first useful
suggestion and prevent further discussion of alternatives. A
team may select a plan that has worked in the past without
fully examining whether it is applicable to the current
situation. Finally, a team may delegate the decision to the
leader or a team member, thereby forgoing the benefits of
team analysis.

Stress from forces outside a team may also lead to poor
decision making. When teams experience stress, they have a
stronger desire for uniformity of opinion among members (Kerr
& Tindale, 2004). This desire for unanimity means that the
team exerts stronger pressure on deviant opinions. This can


lead to groupthink or allowing the leader to make the
decision. Stress disrupts the decision-making process by
reducing the number of ideas generated and the analysis of
issues. It can cause a desire to make decisions more quickly
in order to reduce uncertainty, thereby rushing the decision-
making process. All this leads to poor-quality decisions.

Group Polarization

Although it might be expected that the outcome of group
discussions would be a decision that corresponds to the
average of the team’s initial position, this is not always
the case. The effect of a group discussion can lead to a
final decision that is more extreme than the average position
of its members, which can be either a riskier or more
cautious decision, depending on the initial inclination of
the team. This phenomenon is called group polarization.

Research by Stoner (1961) showed that groups made riskier
decisions than individuals. This was called the risky shift
phenomenon. Groups tend to move toward an extreme and become
either more risk oriented or more conservative (Myers & Lamm,
1976). This is caused by normative and informational

Normative influence describes how the existing team norm
affects the decision-making process. Team members want to
create a favorable impression, so they compare their answers
to the team norm and then shift their positions to try to
attain more consistency with the norm (Myers & Lamm, 1976).
The team norm shifts as members change their positions in an
attempt more typically represent the team’s position. The
combined effect of these shifts is to move the team’s
decision more to the extreme.


Information influence is caused by the amount of exposure to
information during a group discussion. When a team discusses
an issue, most of the discussion is from the dominant
position (Kerr & Tindale, 2004). People prefer to hear
information they agree with, so other team members reward the
sharing of common information. Because team members are more
exposed to arguments supporting the dominant position, they
shift their opinions in that direction (Burnstein & Vinokur,


The most famous type of group decision-making problem is
groupthink, a term coined by Janis (1972). Janis used the
analysis of historical decisions to show how decision-making
processes can go wrong. The U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2002,
based on the belief that Iraq possessed weapons of mass
destruction, is an example of groupthink (Badie, 2010).
Groupthink occurs when group members’ desire to maintain
good relations becomes more important than reaching a good
decision. Instead of searching for a good answer, they search
for an outcome that preserves group harmony. This leads to a
bad decision that is then accompanied by other actions
designed to insulate the group from corrective feedback.
Since the initial identification of groupthink, researchers
have expanded on the causes and implications of this
phenomenon (Table 9.3).

Table 9.3 Model of Groupthink

Antecedent Conditions

Structural: Group has a domineering leader and limited
input from outside the group.


Cohesiveness: The desire to maintain good relations is

Stress: Outside forces put stress on the group to make a

Decision Symptoms

Illusion of invulnerability: Group believes that its
decision will work.

Direct pressure on dissenters: Group suppresses negative
comments in group discussion.

Self-censorship: Group members do not state their
opinions if they differ from the group.

Illusion of unanimity: Group members believe that
everyone agrees with the decision.

Mind guards: Group members protect the leader and group
from negative information about the decision.

Decision Defects

Group considers only a few alternatives when making a


Group fails to examine the adverse consequences of its
decision or consider what to do if the decision does not

Group does not seek the advice of outside experts.

Source: Adapted from Janis, I. (1972). Victims of groupthink. Boston, MA:
Houghton Mifflin.

Three main factors contribute to groupthink: structural
decision-making flaws, group cohesiveness, and external
pressure (Parks & Sanna, 1999). Structural decision-making
flaws create bad decisions because they impair the group
decision-making process. These flaws include ignoring input
from outside sources, a lack of diversity in viewpoints
within the group, acceptance of decisions without critical
analysis, and a history of accepting decisions made by the
leader. Group cohesiveness encourages groupthink by creating
an environment that limits internal dissension and criticism.
External pressure for a decision limits discussion time and
encourages the group to support the first plausible option
presented to the members.

The external pressure experienced by the group leads to a set
of symptoms of groupthink. These symptoms convince the group
that it has made a good decision and that everyone in the
group agrees with it. Consequently, there is internal
pressure on members not to voice their concerns and
objections. The collective effect of these symptoms is a poor
decision, made without considering alternative options or
long-term consequences of the decision.

There are a variety of tactics that groups can use to help
overcome the groupthink effect and other decision-making
problems (Sunstein & Hastie, 2014). Because the leader has


more influence than other members, leaders should reserve
expressing their opinion at the beginning of the group’s
discussion. The group should establish a norm that encourages
critical thinking during decision making. Members should
acknowledge each other’s areas of expertise and roles, and
the leader should invite members to present their unique
perspectives. Finally, after a decision has been made, the
group should schedule another meeting to identify the
benefits and problems with decisions before finalizing them.



Technological advances provide new ways for teams to make
important decisions. Doing so can circumvent many of the
problems of group discussion while producing a superior
decision. Rather than relying on their own internal
expertise, teams can look outward to harness the wisdom of
crowds, prediction markets, or artificial intelligence.


Wisdom of the Crowd

The wisdom of the crowd (or crowdsourcing) draws upon the
same logic as group aggregation without interaction—that the
combined independent and diverse opinions of a group are more
accurate than individuals (Surowiecki, 2005). The difference
is a matter of scale. Online crowd-based platforms can
harness the collective intelligence of thousands, even
millions, of people. With the potential to quickly,
accurately, and cheaply produce superior decisions,
organizations are increasingly turning to the crowd (Afuah &
Tucci, 2012; Bonabeau, 2009). Using the crowd is best suited
for decisions that benefit from diverse opinions and
perspectives (Flostrand, 2017). Crowds can be used for market
research, forecasting future events, making estimates,
generating innovative ideas, or voting on decisions.

The classic example of this is Francis Galton’s 1906
competition to guess the weight of an ox at a county fair
(Surowiecki, 2005). Of the 800 respondents, no one got close
to the actual weight of 1,198 pounds. However, they all got
it right. The average of the 800 guesses was 1,197 pounds—
merely 1 pound off. This works because, with a large enough
group, as many people will overestimate as underestimate the
true value. This makes the group average much more accurate
than any individual (Larrick & Soll, 2006).

The relative ease and accuracy of using crowd-based platforms
make it a viable approach for teams to make some decisions.
However, there are important challenges to consider. First,
crowd-based platforms are sensitive to social influence,
which can lead to social herding when participants see what
previous participants have contributed (Muchnik, Aral, &
Taylor, 2013). It can also be challenging to recruit an
appropriately diverse and knowledgeable crowd to participate
—thousands of elementary school children are unlikely to


make accurate geopolitical forecasts. Attracting and
motivating the appropriate crowd with incentives like money,
reputation, or status is necessary (Malone, Laubacher, &
Dellarocas, 2010). Finally, outsourcing the decision to a
crowd-based platform may decrease the acceptance of the
decision by the team or organization. Even when organizations
intentionally turn to crowd-based platforms to broaden their
information, they more highly weight and rely upon
information from familiar internal sources (Piezunka &
Dahlander, 2015).


Prediction Markets

Organizations are also beginning to use prediction markets to
make decisions (Borison & Hamm, 2010). For example, Google
and Ford Motor Company use prediction markets to forecast new
product success, product quality, deadlines being met, and
other external events (Cowgill & Zitzewitz, 2015).

A prediction market operates much like the stock market. It
allows individuals to place monetary bets on the probability
of an event happening (e.g., will there be a recession in the
next year?). While participants generally do not directly
communicate with each other, they are influenced indirectly
through various market indicators (e.g., trading prices,
volume, and volatility) and external information. These
indicators influence the price at which participants are
willing to buy and sell various probabilities. Financial
incentives motivate participants to find the best information
and to learn from each other. This process continues until
the event occurs.

Prediction markets are accurate, efficient, and continuously
updated as new relevant information emerges. This makes them
suitable for making decisions in uncertain and dynamic
contexts. However, they require a critical mass of active and
informed participants, generally over 50 people.


Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning

Advances in artificial intelligence (AI) create new
possibilities for how humans and machines can work together
to make decisions. Already, professionals in such fields as
medicine, psychology, human resource management, banking,
science, transportation, public administration, and law use
AI to guide important decisions (Shrestha, Ben-Menahem, & von
Krogh, 2019). When talking about AI in this context,
typically people are referring to a subfield called machine
learning. Machine learning analyzes a set of defined examples
(i.e., training data) to generate an algorithm. This
algorithm is applied to new examples to make predictions or
categorize things.

Imagine that you want to create an algorithm to make hiring
decisions. First, you show the computer two sets of examples:
résumés from previous applicants that you hired and résumés
from previous applicants that you rejected. As the computer
analyzes these examples, it detects patterns that
differentiate the two groups of résumés. This might include
conventional things like GPA, but it might also detect subtle
differences like the number of letters in the applicant’s
middle name. The algorithm represents the combination of
these patterns that best differentiate the two groups. Once
completed, the algorithm can be applied to a new applicant’s
résumé to classify it as either hire or reject. Moreover,
feedback on the accuracy of this classification can be used
to further improve the algorithm.

The ability of AI to process the tremendous amounts of
information that organizations and teams have access to can
mitigate the problems of attention that people experience
during decision making (Van Knippenberg, Dahlander, Haas, &
George, 2015). There are four approaches for integrating AI
into the decision-making process (Shrestha et al., 2019):


1. Full human-to-AI delegation—AI algorithms make decisions
without any human intervention, such as for fraud
detection and dynamic pricing. This is useful for when
the speed of decision is critical, as a computer can
respond more quickly than a human decider.

2. AI-to-human sequential decision making—AI is first used
to generate a shortlist of alternatives, but humans make
the final choice. This is effective when the decision
contains a large number of alternatives, such as sifting
through thousands of job applications or ideas generated
by a crowd-based platform. AI categorizes,
differentiates, and narrows down the set of alternatives
so that humans can evaluate them more effectively.

3. Human-to-AI sequential decision making—Humans first
filter a small set of alternatives and then use AI to
evaluate and select the best. This is useful when humans
have high confidence in the small set of alternatives,
but narrowing them down further requires significant time
and processing large amounts of data. For example, the
team can create a shortlist of top potential baseball
players to hire and then use algorithms to analyze the
granular performance data of these candidates to make the
final decision.

4. Aggregated human–AI decision making—Both humans and AI
produce decisions, and the results are aggregated through
averaging or majority rule. Here, the AI operates more
like a team member.

AI enables teams to draw from near-limitless information to
quickly make accurate decisions and predictions (Agrawal,
Gans, & Goldfarb, 2018). Moreover, AI offers new
sophisticated ways of group interaction (Jarrahi, 2018). For
example, a human swarming platform uses AI algorithms to
enable people to anonymously interact with each other in
real-time to collectively converge upon a decision (Metcalf,
Askay, & Rosenberg, 2019).


While AI offers significant advantages for decision making,
it is essential that teams are aware of its limitations. AI
has an interpretability problem. The algorithm is a “black
box” that cannot explain the reasoning of how it came to a
decision—the combination of patterns and weighting of
factors is often too complex to describe. This makes it
difficult to identify hidden biases that might be present in
the algorithm. Ironically, AI is not free from human bias.
For example, Amazon abandoned the development of a hiring
algorithm based on 10 years of applicant résumés (Dastin,
2018). From the overrepresentation of male applicants during
this time period lead, the algorithm learned to discriminate
against female candidates based on data points like attending
an all-women’s college. Algorithms are only as good as the
data they are trained on. Bias in the training data can
amplify human stereotypes and discrimination.



Making decisions is a central function of teams. Decisions
can be made by an individual, the team, external online
crowds, and artificial intelligence. Considering the decision
quality, speed, and acceptance guides which decision-making
approach is most appropriate.

An individual can make decisions for routine or simple
problems where a diversity of perspectives is not needed.
High-quality decisions can be made by an individual if they
are the most knowledgeable person on the team. However,
expertise is difficult to determine. Decisions made by an
individual are less accepted by the team and can foster

Group decisions vary on the degree of interaction between
members. More interaction allows for greater information
exchange and higher decision acceptance but also introduces
social influences that can reduce decision quality and speed.
Aggregation without interaction can produce high-quality
decisions by integrating preferences by averaging estimates
or majority rule. Structured group techniques (nominal group
and Delphi) can take a long time and allow for information
exchange with limited interaction and reduced support.

Fully interacting groups discuss before either aggregating
decisions or reaching a consensus. Group decisions are better
than individual decisions when the team has a diversity of
perspectives, the discussion is open, and the problem is
suitable for a group. The largest advantage of group decision
making is the ability to bring more resources to solving
complex and ill-structured problems. Discussions need to be
effectively managed to broaden the information considered and
prevent premature decisions. This approach produces the most


acceptance by team members but is most susceptible to
counterproductive social and informational biases.

A team’s ability to make a decision can be disrupted by too
much or too little conflict, pressure to decide quickly, and
outside stress. Group decisions tend to be more extreme than
individual decisions because of the group polarization
effect. The desire to maintain good relations within a team
may disrupt the group decision-making process and cause
groupthink. Groupthink leads to inadequate decisions that are
nonetheless strongly defended by the group members.

Teams can also harness online crowds and artificial
intelligence to make decisions based on diverse perspectives
and large datasets. Crowd-based platforms allow thousands of
participants to vote or provide estimates that tend to be
highly accurate. Prediction markets allow participants to
dynamically buy and sell probabilities of a future event
based on new information and indirect signals. Machine
learning artificial intelligence creates algorithms from
training data that can accurately make predictions and
classify new data. These approaches can be highly accurate
but require additional resources to implement.


Team Leadership Challenge 9

You are the head of a university department with 10
faculty members. Although you try to organize meetings
using an agenda, things do not always work out as
planned. Faculty members often spend too much time
talking about minor issues and do not get around to
dealing with important issues. Most of the time, you
try to get the group to reach consensus on issues.
This is because voting often fails to resolve the
conflict over the issue, so you have to discuss and
redecide the issue in the future.

The dean is pressuring you to make a decision about an
admissions policy for new students. You have brought
the topic up several times in department meetings, but
the faculty cannot reach an agreement about the
details of the policy. The dean wants an answer soon,
or he will elect to impose a policy on the department.

How can you (the head of the department) improve
decision making at department meetings?

What type of decision style should you use for the
admissions policy?

If the department is unable or unwilling to make a
decision, how should you handle the situation?


Activity: Making Consensus Decisions

Objective: Consensus decision making requires
discussing an issue until all agree to accept it.
Acceptance does not mean that the decision is the
member’s favorite alternative; it means the member is
willing to accept and support the decision. Learning
consensus decision making is an important skill for a

Activity: Form a group and have it develop consensus
answers to the following questions:

What is the most important skill for a team member
to possess?

What is the most important characteristic of a
good team leader?

What is the greatest benefit of using teamwork?

What is the greatest problem with using teamwork?

While the group is trying to reach consensus, have an
observer use Activity Worksheet 9.1 to note whether
the group follows the Guidelines to Help Reach


Activity Worksheet 9.1: Observing the

Guidelines to Help Reach Consensus

Did the team follow the guidelines

presented below?
Yes No

1. Avoid arguing for your own position
without listening to the positions of

2. Do not change your position just to
avoid conflict.

3. Do not try to reach a quick agreement
by using conflict reduction approaches,
such as voting or tossing a coin.

4. Encourage others to explain their
position so that you better understand any

5. Do not assume that someone must win and
someone must lose when there is a


Did the team follow the guidelines

presented below?
Yes No

6. Discuss the underlying assumptions,
listen carefully to one another, and
encourage the participation of all

7. Look for creative and collaborative
solutions that allow both sides to win
rather than compromises where each side
only gets some of what it wants.

Analysis: Was the group successful in reaching a
consensus for its decisions? Did the group follow the
guidelines for consensus decision making?

Discussion: What advice could you give a team to
improve its ability to make consensus decisions?


Activity: Group Versus Individual

Decision Making

Objective: There are benefits and problems with group
decision making. Although groups should make superior
decisions because they can combine information from
multiple members, aspects of the group decision-making
process may prevent the group from fully using its

Activity: Create a list of about 15 items that can be
ranked and compared to a correct answer. This could be
a commercially available “survival” task, the
populations of a set of states, or the rankings of
U.S. presidents by historians. Have the participants
rank the items individually and then as a group
through group discussion. You may want to have an
observer record the number of communications from each
group member during the discussion.

Analysis: Present the correct rankings and calculate
the difference between the individual and group
rankings versus the correct answers. Is the group
score better than the average of the individual
scores? Is the group score better than the best
individual score? If you used an observer, what is the
relationship between knowledge of the topic and the
amount of communication?

Discussion: What are the advantages and disadvantages
of group decision making? What factors prevent the
group from fully using the knowledge of its members?





A team has many ways of selecting a leader and assigning
leadership roles. The leader may be assigned by the
organization or emerge from team interactions, or leadership
roles may be distributed among team members. What is the best
style of leadership? There is no definitive answer to this
question, but several approaches have been developed. Leaders
can be individuals with certain traits, behaviors, and
skills. Self-managing teams share leadership responsibilities
across members to provide a variety of benefits. It is
apparent that team leadership requires skills and
responsibilities that are different from traditional
leadership approaches. Team leaders do not manage the team;
they help the team solve problems in order to be more
effective. Additionally, burgeoning research is investigating
the role of followers and ideal followership.


Learning Objectives

1. Understand the process of leadership.
2. Describe how leader traits and follower

perceptions that contribute to leadership emerge
in groups.

3. Differentiate between trait, behavioral,
contingency, relational, and charismatic
approaches to leadership.

4. Understand how the situation and relationships
impact leadership.

5. Explain how to build high-quality leader–follower

6. Explain the importance of functional and shared
leadership in teams.

7. Understand why followership is important in teams.



Stogdill (1974) notes that “there are almost as many
definitions of leadership as there are persons who have
attempted to define the concept” (p. 259). This has
produced, by one estimate, 35,000 different definitions,
frameworks, and theories for understanding leadership
(Dubrin, 2000). After decades of research, there remains
little consensus on what leadership is.

So how do we make sense of leadership? There is general
agreement that leadership is best conceptualized as a goal-
oriented influence process between a leader and followers
(Day & Antonakis, 2017; Northouse, 2019). This influence
process results from leader traits and behaviors, follower
perceptions of the leader, and the context of the situation.
Influence implies change—leadership consists of actions that
transform the goals, values, beliefs, and emotions of
followers. Leadership in teams involves determining team
objectives, motivating shared commitment to achieve these
objectives, and establishing and maintaining the team’s
culture and social relationships.

Some scholars differentiate between management and
leadership, specifically regarding the power bases they use
to exert influence (Bass & Riggio, 2006). Managers typically
engage in transactional leadership, in which they draw upon
harsh-power resources (e.g., authority, reward, or
punishment; see Chapter 8) to influence workers. This
transaction is an exchange: Managers detail the tasks to be
completed (e.g., course syllabus) and provide rewards or
punishment (e.g., points) based on how well a worker meets
these requirements. By contrast, effective leaders engage in
transformational leadership, in which they draw upon personal
or soft sources of power (e.g., referent, information, or


expertise) to influence team members to voluntarily follow
them. They communicate a shared vision, foster team pride,
and otherwise inspire, stimulate, and motivate followers to
create a shared acceptance and commitment to the group’s
goals. While transactional leadership may be useful for
maintaining established routines, transformational leadership
is suited for situations that require change.

While a useful starting point, a definition of leadership
alone does not provide much guidance on how to be an
effective leader. Leadership research differentiates between
leadership emergence (i.e., being recognized as a leader) and
leadership effectiveness (i.e., being a good leader), both of
which offer insights for group dynamics. Emerging research
focuses explicitly on leadership in a team context. Finally,
it is also important to consider the critical yet underrated
role of followership—there can be no leader without



When no leader is assigned to a group, a leader usually
emerges to coordinate its actions (Hemphill, 1961). However,
people do not lead simply because they want to—they lead
because they are perceived as a leader by their peers.
Leadership emergence is the process by which the team
recognizes the leadership status of one or more leaders
(Paunova, 2015). The traits, abilities, and behaviors of the
potential leader, as well as the perceptions of the
followers, influence whether someone is recognized as a


Leader Traits, Abilities, and Behaviors

Personality traits affect who becomes a team leader. They
are, in order of greatest impact, extraversion,
conscientiousness, openness, emotional stability, and
agreeableness (Zaccaro, Dubrow, & Kolze, 2017). Extroverts
express confidence, dominance, and enthusiasm, so they are
often initially selected as leaders (Bendersky & Shah, 2013).
Potential leaders are also moderately assertive (Ames &
Flynn, 2007) and even narcissistic (Nevicka, De Hoogh, Van
Vianen, Beersma, & McIlwain, 2011). However, personality
traits that predict leader emergence are not necessarily
related to leader effectiveness. For example, agreeableness
is not strongly associated with leadership emergence but is
much more important for leadership effectiveness.

Cognitive abilities like intelligence, creativity, and
capacity to think divergently are strongly related to
leadership emergence (Ensari, Riggio, Christian, & Carslaw,
2011). Leaders often emerge because they offer a solution to
a problem faced by the team. However, individuals who are
significantly more intelligent than team members can have
difficulty being recognized as a leader (Simonton, 1985).
This discrepancy in intelligence translates into difficulty
communicating complex solutions, not being viewed as
representative of the group, and being socially aloof. In
support of this, a recent study shows that perceptions of
leadership effectiveness decline when the leader has an IQ
above 120 (Antonakis, House, & Simonton, 2017). Finally,
individuals with high emotional intelligence have a greater
capacity for empathy, emotional regulation, and understanding
emotions. Evidence shows that emotional intelligence has a
greater impact on leadership emergence than intelligence and
personality traits (Côté et al., 2010).


A significant predictor of leader emergence is participation
rate. Early research identified the babble effect, finding
that the most frequent communicator in a team often emerges
as the leader—regardless of the quality of their
contributions (Mullen, Salas, & Driskell, 1989). However,
subsequent research supports a quality-of-communication
hypothesis—that members who frequently provide low-quality
contributions to group discussions are viewed as having less
leadership potential (Jones & Kelly, 2007). Neuroscience
supports the importance of communication quality, showing
that frequent and high-quality leader-initiated communication
synchronizes the neural activities of followers and leaders
(Jiang et al., 2015). Neural synchronization and
communication frequency can predict leader emergence within
30 seconds of an interaction. In virtual and distributed
teams, participation rate and quality of written
communication are critical and have a much greater impact on
leadership emergence than do personality traits (Balthazard,
Waldman, & Warren, 2009).


Follower Perceptions

Leadership emergence is also influenced by characteristics
unrelated to leadership effectiveness, such as gender,
race/ethnicity, and physical features (Paunova, 2015). This
is explained by implzicit leadership theory, which explains
that people have prototypical notions about what constitutes
a good leader (Lord, 1985). Prototypical leaders tend to be
White (Gündemir, Homan, De Dreu, & Van Vugt, 2014), male
(Koenig, Eagly, Mitchell, & Ristikari, 2011), and attractive
(Little, 2014). Grint (2010) summarizes the prototypical
leader with the acronym THWAMP (tall handsome White alpha
males of privilege). While people rely on their prototypes to
decide who will be effective leaders, these prototypes are
not necessarily accurate.

Most implicit leadership research focuses on gender
differences. Men tend to emerge as leaders more frequently
than women, despite few differences in leadership
effectiveness (Badura, Grijalva, Newman, Yan, & Jeon, 2018).
Indeed, a meta-analysis spanning 49 years of research found
that women are rated by others as more effective leaders than
men, despite men rating themselves as more effective
(Paustian-Underdahl, Walker, & Woehr, 2014). Race can
likewise be gendered. For example, Asian stereotypes are more
feminine and Black stereotypes are more masculine compared to
White stereotypes (Galinsky, Hall, & Cuddy, 2013). As a
result, a Black person is more likely to be selected for a
masculine leadership position.

Gender differences in leadership emergence may result from
the way gender stereotypes intersect with leader prototypes
(Eagly & Karau, 2002). The typical feminine stereotype
emphasizes communal qualities, such as emotion and warmth,
whereas the typical masculine stereotype emphasizes agentic
qualities, such as productivity and power (Williams & Best,


1990). Although both communal and agentic qualities are
needed, members tend to overemphasize the importance of
agentic qualities in leaders (Koenig et al., 2011). This
causes team members to view males as more likely candidates
for leadership and to see male behaviors as more important in
leaders. However, stereotypes about leaders and gender
qualities are dynamic. Coinciding with greater societal
changes, women are being seen as more agentic (Donnelly &
Twenge, 2017), and effective leaders are being seen as more
communal (Duehr & Bono, 2006).



There is a difference between being recognized as a leader
and being an effective leader. Leadership effectiveness is
the subject of an immense amount of research. However, we
still have an elusive grasp on precisely what constitutes
effective leadership. Scholars generally agree that there is
no single universally effective leadership style. Instead,
different types of leaders and leadership are useful in
different situations, and leaders are more important in some
situations than in others. However, we may also romanticize
leadership too much, undeservingly overattributing team
successes or failures to the actions of leaders (Meindl &
Ehrlich, 1987).

Several approaches to leadership effectiveness offer
different implications for organizations and teams (see Table
10.1). Each of these approaches define effective leadership
by emphasizing different facets of the leader, followers, and
situation. None of these models individually offer a complete
view of effective leadership. However, they collectively
present a multifaceted framework for thinking about what
effective leadership might look like in a given situation.
Additionally, these models are also not mutually exclusive:
An effective leader may draw from or exhibit several of these
models at the same time.

Table 10.1 Models of Leadership

Model Implication

Trait Effective leaders can be selected by their
inherent traits.


Model Implication

Behavioral Effective leaders can be developed by
training in appropriate skills and

Contingency Effective leaders are defined by the
requirements of the situation.

Relational Effective leaders develop high-quality
relationships with each follower.

Charismatic Effective leaders communicate clear,
visionary, and inspirational messages that
motivate the team.


Trait Approach

The trait approach is the oldest model of leadership. It
assumes that leadership effectiveness results from an
individual possessing a certain set of attributes (e.g.,
height, intelligence, and confidence). Identifying and
measuring these attributes should allow for selecting good
leaders. While some traits may predict leader emergence, they
do not always correlate with leadership effectiveness.

Enthusiasm for trait leadership wavered after the 1940s as
research failed to confirm strong and consistent
relationships between traits and effective leadership
(Stogdill, 1948). The basic problem with the trait approach
is that people who are successful leaders in one situation
(e.g., business) are not necessarily successful in others
(e.g., politics, religion). In other words, leadership
effectiveness is not strictly the result of human traits but,
in part, defined by the context.

However, methodological advances and more complex theorizing
has revitalized trait leadership research (Zaccaro, 2012).
Contemporary research moves beyond direct correlational
relationships between traits and leadership and instead
offers complex models that more explicitly account for
combinations of traits, situational contingencies, and
processes. This new line of trait leadership has found more
consistent and stronger relationships between individual
attributes and leadership effectiveness. Effective leaders
have traits that bolster their capacity to influence others
(e.g., extraversion, dominance, emotional intelligence) and
to solve problems (i.e., intelligence, creative thinking).

Incidentally, many of these same leadership traits are
associated with narcissism (e.g., arrogant, entitled, self-
confident), Machiavellianism (e.g., manipulative, callous,


power-seeking), and psychopathy (e.g., thrill-seeking,
impulsive, little empathy). These three personality traits
are collectively known as the dark triad of personality
(Paulhus & Williams, 2002). People with these traits
frequently seek and attain positions of leadership (Furtner,
Maran, & Rauthmann, 2017). Despite these traits being less
socially valued, those with dark triad personalities can (but
not always) be effective leaders. Judge, Piccolo, and Kosalka
(2009) identify the dark and bright sides of these
personalities in terms of leadership.


Behavioral Approach

The behavioral approach defines effective leadership by the
ways that leaders act. This approach attempts to determine
what good leaders actually do in order to identify those
actions and train people to be good leaders. Most of the
research on leader behavior focuses on two issues: decision-
making style and task versus social focus.

The decision-making approach primarily compares authoritarian
with democratic leadership (Lewin & Lippitt, 1938).
Democratic leaders who invite the participation of followers
in making decisions tend to promote higher morale, job
satisfaction, and commitment. However, democratic decision
making can be slow, and leaders may be viewed as weak.
Autocratic leaders tend to be more efficient decision makers,
but this style can create dissatisfaction and implementation
problems among followers. For example, followers often slack
off when an autocratic leader is not around. Still, as
discussed in Chapter 9, there is no single optimal way to
make a decision—it depends heavily on the context and

Behavioral research also identified task and social
components of leadership (Katz, Maccoby, Gurin, & Floor,
1951; Likert, 1961; Stogdill & Coons, 1957). During their
interactions with followers, leaders can emphasize initiating
structure or social consideration. Initiating structure is a
focus on task-oriented and directive behaviors, while
consideration is a focus on developing and maintaining
supportive social relations between the team members. Is a
leader’s primary role to organize and manage the task, or is
it to ensure that team members feel satisfied and motivated?
Research in this area has been contradictory and
inconclusive, except for the finding that team members like
leaders who show social consideration (Yukl, 1989).


The behavioral approach provides a framework for leaders to
consider how their actions may advance or hinder the task and
social aspects of the team. However, it does not reveal
precise behaviors of good leadership: There is no universally
preferred style of leadership. Instead, this research
revealed that effective leadership behaviors are contingent
upon the situation. If a team is performing a routine task,
the leader should focus on social relations because the team
does not need help with the task. If a project team is
working on a difficult problem, a good leader helps the team
better understand and work on the task.


Contingency Approach

Scholars could not identify universal traits or behaviors
that defined effective leaders separate from the situation.
From this, several contingency theories consider how
effective leadership depends upon situational factors. Some
of these theories assert that the situation defines the right
kind of leader and that not all leaders can be effective in
all situations (Fiedler, 1964). Others emphasize that
effective leaders adapt their styles to the situation.

Perhaps the most enduring contingency theory is the
situational approach developed by Hersey and Blanchard
(1969). This theory is particularly relevant to groups
because it links the leader’s behavior to the
characteristics of followers. It also asserts that leadership
should develop followers to become more autonomous. While
this makes intuitive sense, the situational approach has also
been critiqued for a lack of empirical evidence supporting
its validity (Thompson & Vecchio, 2009).

Situational leadership theory starts with the assumption that
there are four basic styles of leadership, based on a
combination of task and relationship orientations. Leaders
can be directing (high task and low relationship), coaching
(high task and high relationship), supporting (low task and
high relationship), or delegating (low task and low
relationship). The appropriate style depends on the readiness
level of the team. Team readiness is based on the skills of
team members, their experience with the task, their capacity
to set goals, and their ability to assume responsibility. As
the team’s readiness level increases, the leader’s behavior
shifts from directing to coaching, supporting, and then


Imagine you are the leader of a team of adolescents in a
summer work program. On the first day, your team has little
experience with the task and little experience working
together. As the leader, you need to take control of the
situation and get the team to start working together. A task-
oriented (directing) approach is needed to structure and
assign tasks. As the team gains some experience, your
leadership style can soften (coaching) to reward the team’s
accomplishments. Once the team learns how to perform the job
and act responsibly, you need to further reward members by
allowing them to participate in the decision-making process
(supporting). This both helps increase their commitment to
the team and helps develop their leadership skills. When the
team can take full responsibility for performing its task,
your job shifts to addressing issues outside the team since
you are no longer needed to guide the team. As the leader,
you delegate most of the internal leadership functions and
let the team manage itself (delegating).

As may be seen from this example, situational leadership
theory makes two crucial points. First, the leader needs to
adjust their style of acting relative to the readiness of the
team. Second, leadership is a developmental process, and the
leader’s behavior should promote team autonomy and
readiness. A team that is unprepared for teamwork may need a
directive leader in order to perform well. However,
consistent directive leadership encourages dependence on the
leader rather than team learning and development (Lorinkova,
Pearsall, & Sims, 2013). Leaders need to focus on empowering
the team through active participation in decision making and
collaboration in developing work roles and processes. In the
long run, this approach encourages team learning,
performance, and resilience.


Relational Approach

Theories often assume that leaders have a consistent
leadership style with all followers. By contrast, leader–
member exchange theory focuses on the quality of the
relationship between a leader and each follower (Graen & Uhl-
Bien, 1995). As a leader forms high- or low-quality
relationships with followers, this creates in-groups and out-
groups. In-group followers receive more information,
attention, support, and resources. Consequently, they are
more productive, more committed, and more satisfied than out-
group members (Dulebohn, Bommer, Liden, Brouer, & Ferris,
2012). They also experience less role ambiguity and role
conflict and have more opportunities for professional
development by taking on additional tasks. This translates to
higher rates of promotions and career success.

The importance of this perspective is in the recognition that
a team is composed of several individuals. A leader does not
treat everyone alike, and a leader may be performing
effectively with some team members but ineffectively with
others. Leaders of virtual or distributed teams, for example,
can more easily form relationships with colocated members due
to the reduced communication cost (Liao, 2017). The
development of high- or low-quality relationships occurs
early and is based on little or superficial information about
the subordinates. Sometimes, it is influenced by irrelevant
factors, such as similarity, personality, and attraction
rather than by actual performance. A leader may form higher
quality relationships with members who are more similar to
themselves. This raises important issues of diversity,
equity, and inclusion.

Leaders need to be mindful of the consequences of developing
high-quality relationships unequally across team members.
This fosters relationship and status conflicts (Schermuly &


Meyer, 2016) and encourages secretive, exclusionary, and
retaliatory behavior among followers (Omilion-Hodges & Baker,
2013; Townsend, Phillips, & Elkins, 2000). Discrepancies can
also be a source of discrimination that impacts the career
success of out-group members (Gelfand, Nishii, Raver, &
Schneider, 2007). By contrast, inclusive leaders that develop
high-quality relationships with diverse members can reduce
team member turnover (Nishii & Mayer, 2009).

How do you develop high-quality leader–member relationships?
Communication plays a critical role. Omilion-Hodges and Baker
(2017) identified several dimensions of leader–member
communication associated with high- and low-quality
relationships (see Table 10.2).


Charismatic Approach

The idea of charismatic leadership was first introduced by
sociologist Max Weber (1947). He defined it as people who, by
virtue of an extraordinary set of personality and physical
characteristics, are seen by followers as exceptional leaders
and capable of great feats. While this near-supernatural
conception of charismatic leadership remained popular,
contemporary theorizing has moved away from this trait
perspective (Antonakis, Bastardoz, Jacquart, & Shamir, 2016).

A contemporary view of charismatic leadership focuses not on
the outcome of inspiring fervent followers but instead on
communicating clear, visionary, and inspirational messages
that motive the team. Far from being an innate trait that the
lucky few are born with, charisma is a set of verbal and
nonverbal communication skills that can be practiced and
learned (Antonakis, Fenley, & Liechti, 2011). These skills
are not new: Aristotle first articulated the importance of
logos (using convincing logic and rationale), ethos
(establishing credibility), and pathos (evoking strong
emotions) in order to influence an audience. Despite these
skills being taught in introductory public speaking classes,
they tend to be less well-known in business contexts.

Table 10.2 Dimensions of Leader–Member Communication Exchange

Dimensions of High-

Quality Leader–Member

Communication Exchange

Dimensions of Low-Quality

Leader–Member Communication


Professional trust—
recommends for high-

Professional trust—

provides harsh critiques


Dimensions of High-

Quality Leader–Member

Communication Exchange

Dimensions of Low-Quality

Leader–Member Communication


profile projects and
asks for opinion


discusses career goals
and provides
developmental feedback

Verbal communication

compliments, praise,
and recognition


attention and uses eye

concern for emotional

available for

and disregards

Professional development

—does not explain
important task, career,
and organizational

Verbal communication—
interrupts and provides
abrupt and impulsive

Nonverbal communication

—sighs and provides
discouraging body

Social—excludes from
jokes and informal
conversations and

Betrayal—spreads lies
and shares information
provided in confidence

Source: Adapted from Omilion-Hodges, L. M., & Baker, C. R. (2017).
Communicating leader–member relationship quality: The development of
leader communication exchange scales to measure relationship building and
maintenance through the exchange of communication-based goods.
International Journal of Business Communication, 54(2), 115–145.


What is in the magic sauce that enables leaders to be
charismatic? Antonakis, Fenley, and Liechti (2012) identified
12 charismatic leadership tactics that have the most
substantial impact on improving perceptions of leadership,
competence, and trustworthiness (see Table 10.3). A little
rhetorical flourish can have a considerable impact: 65% of
leaders trained in these techniques were perceived as above-
average leaders, compared to only 35% of leaders who did not
receive training. When used during public speaking and during
everyday conversations with team members, these tactics make
messages more memorable, engaging, and impactful.

Table 10.3 Charismatic Leadership Tactics

Tactic Example


“This persistent conflict is like a riptide
pulling us away from land. The longer we
wait to address it, the farther from shore
we will be and the harder it will be to get

Stories and

“I was filled with pride from watching
patients receive imaging in the MRI machine
that I designed. However, it was when I saw
a little girl sobbing with fear at the
prospect of being placed within one that I
realized my failure to consider the
experience of children in my design.”

Contrasts “I joined this company not for the prestige
but to do good in the world.”


Tactic Example


“Do you want to sell sugar water for the
rest of your life, or do you want to come
with me and change the world?”

—Steve Jobs convincing then Pepsi executive
John Sculley to join Apple in 1983


“Completing this project by tomorrow is
going to take a lot of commitment,
creativity, and coffee.”

of moral

“Who is going to ultimately pay for this
mess that we’ve created? It is not our
donors but the children we are supposed to
be helping. This is not right, especially
because the fix is so simple.”

of group

“I know that you are all tired because I
feel the same way. Just like you, I am
disappointed and demotivated. But I have a
plan, and by this time tomorrow, we will be


Tactic Example

high goals

“It’s possible to make a self-sustaining
city on Mars by 2050, if we start in 5

—SpaceX Founder Elon Musk in 2019,
explaining his strategy to colonize Mars
with 1 million people

in the
ability to

“The deadline is daunting. Another team
might tremble at this timeline. But we are
not just another team. I believe that we can
rise to the challenge of meeting this
deadline. We have the experience and
intelligence. All we need is the will to do


Passionate speakers change the speed, pitch,
and volume of their voice to emphasize
emotions like sadness, excitement, and


Eye contact and, as appropriate, smiling,
frowning, and laughing can reinforce a

Gestures Hand movements can reinforce confidence and
command attention.


Source: Adapted from Antonakis, J., Fenley, M., & Liechti, S. (2012).
Learning charisma. Transform yourself into the person others want to
follow. Harvard Business Review, 90(6), 127–130.



While many traditional leadership theories can be applied in
teams, they do not adequately explain the range of leadership
processes present in teams. Instead, traditional theories
treat leadership the same across individual, team, and
organizational contexts (Kozlowski, Mak, & Chao, 2016).
However, team contexts are unique. Some teams may have, at
the same time, several formal and informal leaders, both
internal and external, to the team (Morgeson, DeRue, & Karam,
2010). Other teams have no formal leadership, while still
others distribute or rotate leadership roles among members.

A predominant difference between traditional views of
leadership and team leadership lies in the difference between
vertical leadership and shared leadership (Pearce & Conger,
2002). Most leadership theories assume the leader is
positioned hierarchically above and external to the team
(i.e., vertical leadership). However, many teams do not
functionally operate this way (Carson, Tesluk, & Marrone,
2007). The complexity and ambiguity faced by teams mean that
no single member is likely to possess all the requisite
skills and knowledge to successfully lead. Moreover,
specialized and skilled team members often desire increased
autonomy in exercising their knowledge.

In response to these issues, theories of team leadership
offer a more complete view of leadership processes in teams.
Understanding team leadership requires moving away from
thinking of a leader as a single individual but as a set of
functions that may be shared by many of a team’s members
(Day, Gronn, & Salas, 2004). These functions revolve around
problem-solving activities that advance team effectiveness.
Any team member that advances team effectiveness is then
engaging in leadership.


Functional Approach

From a functional leadership perspective, the leader helps
the team operate more effectively (Zaccaro, Rittman, & Marks,
2001). The leader’s “main job is to do, or get done,
whatever is not being adequately handled for group needs”
(McGrath, 1962, p. 5). In other words, a leader is a problem
solver who identifies what team functions need improvement
and then develops actions to correct the situation (Mumford,
Todd, Higgs, & McIntosh, 2017). Functional leadership is not
a specific style of leadership behavior but, rather, the
problem-solving orientation to dealing with the emergent
problems that teams face. This, of course, requires adequate
knowledge of group dynamics for teams.

The focus of the team leader depends on the specific
situation the team faces. Morgeson and colleagues (2010)
identified 15 leadership functions: composing the team,
defining the mission, establishing expectations and goals,
structuring and planning, training and developing,
sensemaking, providing feedback, monitoring team performance,
managing team boundaries, challenging the team, performing
team tasks as needed, solving task- and relationship-related
problems, providing resources, encouraging self-management,
and supporting social climate. These functions illustrate the
range of problems that leaders can encounter, from managing
conflict and developing cohesion, to setting objectives and
making decisions. Moreover, they must do this while also
navigating changing and uncertain organizational
environments, constraints, and resources (Zaccaro et al.,

Leaders are rarely provided prepackaged problems complete
with all of the necessary information needed to solve them.
Rather, many team problems are ill-structured and have no
straightforward solution path, meaning that both the problem


and solution can be construed in several different ways
(Mumford & Connelly, 1991). Leaders must determine, gather,
and evaluate the information that is relevant to the problem.
From this, they must devise and implement a solution. The
problem might concern new products and services being
developed by the team, or they may pertain to the dynamics of
the team itself. A leader, for example, may need to identify
and manage team conflict. There is no one correct path for
achieving this, and the potential paths depend on the
specific individuals and circumstances of the team.
Ultimately, leaders help the team solve problems in order to
meet its goals, while developing the skills and abilities of
the team members so they have the collective capacity for
leadership. They promote team learning by giving performance
feedback to the team and using this information to help the
team develop performance strategies that are more effective.

Successfully navigating these kinds of problems depends on
the leader cultivating problem-solving skills, social-
judgment skills, and knowledge (Mumford, Zaccaro, Harding,
Jacobs, & Fleishman, 2000). Problem-solving skills include
defining problems, analyzing the problem causes,
understanding the solution constraints, and evaluating ideas
(Chapters 11 and 12 discuss problem solving and creativity in
more detail). Social-judgment skills include perspective-
taking to assess how others will respond to a solution;
understanding the needs, goals, demands, and problems of
others; adapting behavior; motivating team members; and
communicating the solution vision. Finally, the leader needs
relevant knowledge of the task, coworkers, and organization.
For example, knowledge of group dynamics provides you with a
set of concepts, frameworks, and theories that can be applied
to diagnose and treat various team problems. In the absence
of this knowledge, you are less likely to successfully
recognize, talk about, and solve team problems.


There are several approaches that team leaders can take to
support the team (Hackman, 2012). Leaders can focus on the
structure and context of the team to ensure it has the
capabilities to succeed. Alternatively, team leaders can be
actively involved in the internal operations of the team to
facilitate performance. Finally, leaders can assume the role
of coach to guide the team when they encounter challenges to
performance. From a leadership perspective, establishing the
context for the team is the most critical factor.

Providing a Context for Teams

Team leaders provide a supportive context for teams by
focusing on the team’s direction, structure, and external
relations (Hackman, Walton, & Goodman, 1986; Wageman,
Hackman, & Lehman, 2005). One of the primary roles of the
team leader is to set the direction for the team.
Establishing a clear and engaging direction for the team is a
crucial part of motivating team performance.

The leader creates the circumstances that enable successful
performance. This includes a facilitative group structure and
a supportive organizational context. A facilitative group
structure includes engaging tasks, a team whose members have
the skills to complete the task, and team norms that
encourage effective performance. A supportive context
provides the team with necessary information and resources
and rewards team excellence.

The third leader role is oriented toward the team’s external
relations. The leader links the team to the organization and
buffers the team from any interference from the organization.
The leader has a public relations job to perform, making sure
the team has the resources and support it needs from the


Facilitating Internal Operations

Active team leaders impact the team’s cognitive,
motivational, emotional, and coordination processes (Zaccaro
et al., 2001). From a cognitive perspective, team leaders
help identify the issues that the team needs to manage,
facilitate problem solving by the team, and help form the
team’s performance strategies. They do not solve the team’s
problems directly but facilitate the team’s ability to
engage in effective problem solving.

Another major role of the leader is to motivate team members
to work hard for the team. Leaders do this by facilitating
team cohesion and a sense of collective efficacy. They
develop challenging task assignments that require
interdependence in order to encourage commitment. Leaders
acknowledge good performance and celebrate team successes to
reward team performance.

From an emotional perspective, the leader helps manage the
team’s stress and promote a positive mood among team
members. The leader impacts the team’s mood by modeling
positive states, providing counseling and support to team
members, and constructively managing conflict. This means
creating a safe environment where team members feel free to
participate without fear of punishment.

Finally, the leader improves coordination in the team by
identifying the individual roles of team members, matching
team members’ capabilities to their roles, developing
performance strategies, and monitoring and providing feedback
about performance. The leader is also responsible for
creating times for the team to reflect on its performance and
reevaluate its goals and processes.


Team Coaching

Team coaching is a team leader intervention designed to
improve coordination and performance by guiding the team
(Hackman & Wageman, 2005). There are three types of team
coaching: motivational, consultative, and educational.
Motivational coaching is designed to minimize social loafing
and increase team commitment. Consultative coaching focuses
on strategies to improve team performance and increase
coordination among team roles and tasks. Educational coaching
helps build the knowledge, skills, and abilities of team
members and the team as a whole.

How the leader coaches a team depends on its stage of
development. These stages affect the readiness of the team to
accept and use different types of coaching. At the beginning
of a project, team members need to become oriented toward
each other and prepare to work on the task. A coaching
intervention that motivates the team by enhancing commitment
to both the team and the task is appropriate. During the
midpoint transition period, strategy-oriented coaching that
helps the team analyze and improve operations is valuable.
When most of the team’s work has been completed, educational
coaching helps the team learn from the experience and enables
members to use these lessons in future team activities.

Coaching is about building the team, not about directing the
team how to do its work. Unfortunately, leaders too often
focus on micromanaging the team’s activities rather than on
building the capabilities of the team. Research shows that
leaders who actively listen to team members and incorporate
their ideas into the team’s decisions help improve both
members’ evaluations of their teams and the quality of team
decisions (Cohen & Bailey, 1997). Dysfunctional team leaders
tend to micromanage their teams, engage in autocratic
decision making, and be overconfident in their own skills
(McIntyre & Salas, 1995). This pattern of leadership reduces


respect for such leaders and prevents constructive feedback
in order to improve their behavior.


Shared Leadership

While functional leadership centralizes the role of
leadership in a single person, shared leadership recognizes
that all leadership functions do not need to be performed by
the same person (D’Innocenzo, Mathieu, & Kukenberger, 2016).
Instead, functions can be shared, distributed across members,
or rotated among members as needed (Zhu, Liao, Yam, &
Johnson, 2018). Sharing leadership empowers all members to
concurrently monitor the team’s climate and performance,
diagnose problems, and develop solutions. This allows team
members to take on leadership roles in domains relevant to
their expertise, while being a follower in others. These
benefits improve team performance and allow the team to be
more responsive to complex problems (Morgeson et al., 2010).

Adopting shared leadership in a team offers several benefits.
Teams sharing leadership functions have more trust, more
cohesion, more consensus, and less conflict (Bergman,
Rentsch, Small, Davenport, & Bergman, 2012). Shared
leadership emphasizes the social relations among team members
and the collective enactment of leadership. Because it
promotes communication and support among team members, shared
leadership promotes trust, team cohesion, and satisfaction.
Consequently, shared leadership improves both the task and
social aspects of team performance (D’Innocenzo et al.,
2016; Wang, Waldman, & Zhang, 2014). It is also a better
predictor of team performance than vertical leadership
(Ensley, Hmieleski, & Pearce, 2006). Finally, virtual teams
adopting shared leadership benefit from improved
collaboration and performance (Hill & Bartol, 2016; Hoch &
Kozlowski, 2014).

Self-Managed Teams


Shared leadership is an important competency for fostering
self-managing teams (Magpili & Pazos, 2018). In order to
better adapt to rapid change and uncertainty, organizations
are increasingly flattening hierarchy and transferring power
to autonomous units of self-managing teams (Bernstein et al.,
2016). In the United States, nearly 75% of the top 1,000
firms use self-managed teams (Douglas & Gardner, 2004). This
shifts responsibility for team success from external managers
to the team itself. This reduces the need for managers and
allows the remaining managers to focus on tasks outside the
team. When they are successful, self-managing teams encourage
the empowerment of employees and the development of team
member skills.

The shift to self-managing teams is not an all-or-nothing
process. Rather, there are many levels of self-management
depending on how willing the organization is to give the team
new responsibilities (Hackman, 2002). Typically, self-
managing teams are responsible for monitoring and managing
their own work processes, but an external leader may either
provide support or directly intervene in the team’s
operations (Morgeson, 2005). When leaders intervene by
preparing teams for change or providing supportive coaching,
they are viewed as effective leaders and increase
satisfaction with leadership. When they directly intervene in
the team’s operations, they decrease satisfaction with
leadership. Active involvement by the leader is viewed as
negative by the team because it takes away the team’s
autonomy. Active interventions are only related to team
effectiveness and satisfaction when the team cannot manage on
its own.

Not all kinds of teams benefit equally from self-management
(Cohen & Bailey, 1997). Production or service teams benefit
more from self-management than professional and project
teams. In production teams, team members complete more
routine tasks and can be cross-trained, which allows them to


understand the issues involved in each other’s work. By
contrast, professional team members already have increased
autonomy and have different types of expertise, thereby
limiting members’ understanding of each other’s
perspectives (Uhl-Bien & Graen, 1992). Professional and
project teams have leaders who are highly involved in
managing the task (Levi & Slem, 1996). The lack of a single
best approach to leadership should not be too surprising.
When the task is complex and the team’s goals are unclear, a
strong leader is needed to provide clear direction. When the
task is relatively routine, the need for a leader is greatly
diminished. The more experience people have in performing the
task and working as a team, the better able they are to
become self-managing.



While many believe that having strong leadership skills on a
résumé is helpful, they might shirk at the notion of
emphasizing strong followership skills. Yet followers are the
unsung heroes of leadership, for there can be no leader
without followers. Compared to leadership, research on
followership is in its nascency (Uhl-Bien, Riggio, Lowe, &
Carsten, 2014). Given the increase of shared leadership
practices in teams, it becomes important to seriously
consider what it means to be a good follower.

Just as implicit leadership theories inform the prototypical
leader, leaders have implicit followership theories about
followers (Sy, 2010). Managers consider good followers to be
industrious (e.g., hardworking, productive, goes above and
beyond), enthusiastic (e.g., happy, outgoing, and excited),
and good citizens (e.g., loyal, reliable, and a team player).
By contrast, ineffective followers are defined by
incompetence (e.g., inexperienced, slow, and uneducated),
insubordination (e.g., arrogant, rude, and bad-tempered), and
conformity (e.g., easily influenced, soft-spoken, and follows
trends). While many of these traits are perhaps unsurprising,
it is notable that followers who conform are thought of
negatively. After all, influence is a cornerstone of
leadership. Understanding this requires thinking more
critically about what ideal followership might look like.

Kelley (1988) offers a two-dimensional framework for
followership. The first dimension captures how passively
(i.e., negative energy and withdrawn) or actively (i.e.,
positive energy and committed) engaged the follower is with
the group and their work. The second dimension reflects the
degree to which the follower is overly dependent on the


leader versus being capable of independent and critical
thought. These dimensions produce five kinds of followers.

1. Passive followers are passive and uncritical; they
complete tasks but take little initiative and do not
question the leader.

2. Conformist followers are active but uncritical; they are
compliant, to the point of being servile to the leader.

3. Alienated followers are critical thinkers who passively
fulfill their role; they are often disgruntled and

4. Pragmatic followers exist in the middle, adapting
themselves as needed to survive organizational change.

5. Effective followers are the ideal type—highly committed,
hold themselves accountable for high performance, provide
honest and constructive critiques to leaders, and
proactively seek out overlooked problems.

This framework praises followers who can engage in
constructive questioning and challenging of leaders, as
opposed to blind obedience and deference. Leaders would be
wise to consider how their actions may encourage or impede
effective followership. Likewise, followers should keep in
mind that not all leaders are effective—destructive leaders
produce harmful consequences for teams and organizations
(Thoroughgood, Sawyer, Padilla, & Lunsford, 2018). Engaged
and proactive followers play a critical role in defending
against dysfunctional leaders (Kelley, 2008). Effective
followership may itself evolve into leadership.



Leadership is an influence process between leaders and
followers. Leaders may be designated by their organizations,
teams may select their own leaders, or teams can be self-
managing. In the absence of an assigned leader, a leader
emerges through the team’s interactions. Leader emergence is
influenced by followers’ implicit theories and the potential
leader’s traits, skills, and behaviors.

Leader emergence is not the same as leader effectiveness.
There are several approaches to studying leadership. Each of
these approaches has different implications for the way
leaders should be selected and trained:

1. The trait approach defines the personality
characteristics of successful leaders.

2. The behavioral approach examines the value of different
behavioral styles, such as task orientation and social

3. The contingency approach considers how the situation
influences the kind of leadership needed.

4. The relational approach focuses on the development and
impact of leader–follower relationships.

5. The charismatic approach emphasizes the role of creating
impactful messages to influence and inspire followers.

6. The functional approach defines a leader as a problem
solver who identifies and solves problems faced by the

One of the most enduring leadership theories for teams is
situational leadership theory, which defines four styles of
leadership: directing, coaching, supporting, and delegating.
The leader should select the style to use based on the
readiness level of the team. In addition, the leader should
use an appropriate style to promote team development.


Leadership in teams also depends on solving functional
problems. Teams are increasingly engaging in shared
leadership, in which functional leadership roles are rotated
or distributed across members. This is essential for
implementing self-managing teams, which shift responsibility
from management to the team members.

Leaders only exist at the consent of followers. Followership
varies along dimensions of passive/active and
dependent/independent. Cultivating followers who
constructively disagree with leaders can improve team
effectiveness and prevent dysfunctional leadership.


Team Leadership Challenge 10

You are an attorney in a law office with several other
attorneys, paralegal assistants, clerical staff, and
an office technician. Leadership is shared among the
attorneys, and you are the leader for the staff
meetings and for office management issues. Decisions
about how the office operates are made in weekly
meetings with the entire staff. The office technician
has informed you that problems are increasing with the
office computer system and it is time to make a major
change. This technological decision will affect the
work of everyone in the office.

The office functions well, and people have good
working relationships. Although they do not welcome
learning a new computer system, many people in the
office recognize that a change in technology is
needed. For most office decisions, the staff discusses
issues and makes a group decision. However, there are
many technical aspects to the computer system
decision, and you are uncertain whether everyone
should be involved in this decision.

How should you (the leader for office management
issues) make the decision about the new computer

Are the team members capable of making this decision,
or is this a time when more authoritative leadership
is important?

What leadership style is best here? Why?


Survey: Leadership Styles

Purpose: To help you understand your preferred
leadership styles. Situational leadership theory says
that the best style of leadership depends on the
characteristics of the situation. However, people
often have preferred leadership styles that they use
frequently, regardless of the situation.

Directions: Imagine that you are the leader of a team
facing the eight situations that are listed below. How
should you as the team leader make the decisions to
resolve the situations? Review these four decision
options, and select which approach is best for each

Option A: Make the decision yourself, and tell the
team what to do.

Option B: Ask the team members for advice but make the
decision yourself.

Option C: Facilitate the team’s decision-making

Option D: Let the members of the team decide by
themselves what to do.

_____ 1. The team’s performance has been dropping,
and personality clashes are increasing. You have tried
to be friendly and sympathetic to their problems, but
this does not seem to be working. What should you do
to improve the team’s performance?

_____ 2. Because of financial problems in the
organization, you have been ordered to make budget


cuts for the team. There are a variety of options,
including reducing the number of team members or work
hours. How should you make the budget cuts?

_____ 3. You are considering a major change—replacing
the office computer system. The team works well
together and has been consistently successful. They
respect the need for change, but they are not computer
experts. How should you make the decision and manage
the change program?

_____ 4. It is the beginning of the sports season, and
your team needs to reduce the number of players on the
roster from 27 to 25. How should you decide who will
be removed from the team?

_____ 5. You have received information that indicates
some recent quality problems in the team’s work. The
team has a good record of accomplishment. You are not
sure what is causing the performance problems. What
should you do to improve the situation?

_____ 6. The team has just completed a major project
deadline, and it is time to celebrate. You think a
party or social activity is an appropriate reward.
What kind of celebration should you have?

_____ 7. The team has been performing fairly well. The
previous team leader was very controlling. You want
the team to continue to be successful, but you would
also like to improve the social relations among team
members. How should you try to improve the situation?

_____ 8. The team’s office is being redecorated, and
there are many decisions to be made. These decisions
relate to furniture, carpeting, wall colors, and so
on. The budget for the project has already been
established. How should these decisions be made?



The number of situations you marked A is your
directing score.

The number of situations you marked B is your coaching

The number of situations you marked C is your
supporting score.

The number of situations you marked D is your
delegating score.

Discussion: Did you have a preferred leadership style?
In which situations is this leadership style most
appropriate? How flexible are you with your leadership

Source: Adapted from Greenberg, J., & Baron, R. (1997).
Behavior in organizations: Understanding the human side of

work (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.


Activity: Observing the Leader’s


Objective: Situational leadership theory defines four
types of leader behavior: directing, coaching,
supporting, and delegating. The most useful behavior
depends on the readiness level of the team. Team
readiness relates to the skills, experience, and
responsibility level of the team.

Activity: Select a variety of situations to observe
and analyze the behavior of leaders. These situations
can come from teams or organizations you belong to,
videos of leaders interacting with teams, business
case studies, or the Team Leader’s Challenges in this
book. Use Activity Worksheet 10.1 to classify the
leader’s behavior using the types from situational
leadership theory, rate the readiness level of the
team, and analyze the match between these factors.

Analysis: According to situational leadership theory,
does the style of behavior used by the leader match
the readiness level of the team? Was the style of
leadership used effective? How should the leader
behave to be more effective?

Discussion: What are the implications of using a
leadership style that is too controlling or task
oriented? What are the implications of using a
leadership style that gives subordinates too much
freedom and responsibility? How will team members
respond to these styles of leadership?


Activity Worksheet 10.1: Rating the

Leader’s Behavior

Which of the following styles best describes the
leader’s behavior?

______ Directing (high task and low relationship)

______ Coaching (high task and high relationship)

______ Supporting (low task and high relationship)

______ Delegating (low task and low relationship)

Overall, how would you rate the readiness level of
the team?

______ Low ______ Medium ______ High ______

How well did the leader’s behavior match with the
group’s readiness level?

Leadership Style

Directing Coaching Supporting Delegating

Low Medium High


Group Readiness




Team problem-solving approaches are based on a rational model consisting of eight stages:
problem recognition, problem definition, problem analysis, solution criteria, generating
alternatives, selecting a solution, implementation, and evaluation of the results. In
practice, however, this rational approach is rarely followed, and teams often find
themselves developing solutions before they understand the problems. At each stage of the
problem-solving process, teams can use a number of techniques to improve their problem-
solving abilities. Using these techniques helps teams become more effective as problem


Learning Objectives

1. Distinguish between a well-structured and ill-structured problem.
2. Understand the differences between how teams typically solve problems and how

they should solve problems.
3. Explain each step of the rational problem-solving process.
4. Understand the factors that improve and disrupt the ability of a team to

recognize, define, and analyze problems.
5. Understand the factors that improve and disrupt the ability of a team to

recognize, define, and analyze problems.
6. Explain how to establish solution criteria, generate ideas, and select a

7. Describe the importance of the implementation and evaluation of a solution.
8. Explain several techniques for improving teams in their problem-solving efforts.



A problem can be many things: the difference between the current state and a desired state,
a dilemma with no apparent solution, an undesirable situation without a way out, a question
that cannot currently be answered, or a situation team members must manage effectively
(Pokras, 1995). Generally, a problem exists when there is a goal but an unclear path for
achieving that goal. Problem solving can be thought of as the process of identifying and
selecting a path to that goal.

Problems exist on a continuum from well structured to ill structured (Newell & Simon, 1972;
Schraw, Dunkle, & Bendixen, 1995; Schwaber, 2004). Well-structured problems have clear
beginning and ending states with an objectively correct and knowable solution path between
them (e.g., solving a puzzle or following a recipe). Solving well-structured problems
generally only requires the application of domain expertise or known procedures (Newell &
Simon, 1972). By contrast, ill-structured problems have vague beginning states, unspecified
goals, and indeterminate pathways between the problem and solution (e.g., fixing a failing
business or improving product quality). These problems involve conflicting assumptions,
evidence, and opinions that can produce multiple definitions of the problem with different
paths to several possible solutions. Moreover, it is also unknown if a possible solution
even exists.

Ill-structured problems are endemic to teams and organizations, from resolving interpersonal
conflict to developing business strategy. Leadership is increasingly associated with the
ability to facilitate problem solving (Reiter-Palmon & Illies, 2004). Advancing within an
organizational hierarchy corresponds to shifting from a focus on well-structured to ill-
structured problems (Brightman, 1978). An anecdote from a friend working in Silicon Valley
explains it like this:

When you first get hired, you are given a problem and a solution. Your job is simply

to build this solution. To get promoted, the expectation is that you can be given a

problem without a solution. Your job is to determine the right solution and then to

build it. Finally, at the senior level, you are not given anything—your job is to

find the unknown problems and lead your teammates into solving it.

It is little surprise that problem solving is considered the most important skill for new
college graduates (NACE, 2019). Despite 100% of employers across industries stating that
problem solving is essential to career readiness, only 56.8% of employers rated graduates as
proficient in this skill. As we will see in this chapter (and the next), effective problem-
solving strategies are not always intuitive.

In a work environment, a problem for many teams is simply how to complete their tasks or
assignments. A team’s assignment contains two primary problems: (1) determining the nature
of the assignments (i.e., task) and how to complete them (i.e., process) and (2) managing
problems and obstacles encountered when performing them. These obstacles may be technical
issues, conflicting viewpoints, or interpersonal conflicts.

While there is no single best way to solve all problems, scholars have developed general
models that help in this process. Research on problem solving can be divided into three
categories: describing the ways in which teams typically solve problems (i.e., descriptive),
prescribing an ideal process to solve problems (i.e., prescriptive), and explaining what
improves this process (i.e., functional). Teams that follow a procedure are often better at
solving problems.



The descriptive approach identifies the typical patterns of communication that teams follow
during problem solving. This is based on merely observing group interactions, without
recommending any specific structure. In a foundational series of studies, Poole and Roth
(1989a, 1989b) found that teams generally follow one of three distinct paths: unitary,
solution centered, and complex cycle.

The unitary path was the least used approach. It represents a rational approach to problem
solving in which the team advances through four stages: orientation, conflict, emergence,
and reinforcement (Fisher, 1970). These stages are analogous to the stages of team
development (forming, storming, norming, and performing) discussed in Chapter 3. In the
orientation stage, the team socializes to develop trust and cohesion and gets oriented to
the problem. The conflict stage involves members asserting different opinions regarding the
problem and possible solutions. In the emergence stage, the team becomes cohesive and
develops consensus around the problem and alternatives. In the reinforcement stage, the team
is satisfied with the group and confident in its solution.

The second most frequent path was solution orientation. Rather than attempting first to
define or analyze the problem, this path begins with the team discussing possible solutions
and making a decision. Without a clear understanding of the problem, these solutions tend to
be inadequate. Finally, the most common path was a complex cycle, in which the team repeated
several cycles of discussing the problem, then developing solutions, then returning to the
problem, and so forth. Over 50% of all the teams began with discussing solutions, bypassing
consideration of the problem. These teams invested considerable amounts of time in
discussing solutions before ultimately returning to analyze the problem.

The descriptive approach reveals the variety of paths that teams take when solving problems.
In understanding these paths, you can evaluate and intervene in the problem-solving process.
This research also shows that teams rarely engage in rational problem-solving processes when
their interactions are unstructured. Understanding as much as possible about a problem at
the beginning can reduce the overall time spent solving the problem.



The descriptive approach explains what teams typically do when solving problems. But what
should teams do to effectively solve problems? The prescriptive and the functional
approaches offer guidance.

The prescriptive approach recommends an “ideal” procedure for team discussions (Fisher,
1970, 1980). Rational problem solving is a stepwise model frequently used in organizational
problem solving (an alternative model, design thinking, is discussed in Chapter 12). This
approach is based on the assumptions that (a) team members should use rational problem-
solving strategies and (b) using a structured approach will lead to a better solution. The
value of formal structured approaches to problem solving varies depending on the type of
problem. The more ill-structured and complex the problem, the more helpful it is if the team
uses a structured approach to solve it (VanGundy, 1981, 1984). An outline of this approach
is presented in Figure 11.1, which shows the main steps in a formal, rational problem-
solving model.


Figure 11.1 Prescriptive Problem-Solving Approach

Source: Adapted from Dewey, J. (1910). How we think. New York, NY: Heath; VanGundy, A.
(1981). Techniques of structured problem solving. New York, NY: Van Nostrand Reinhold.

The functional approach builds upon the prescriptive approach but emphasizes that the
quality of team discussions is more important than systematically following the prescribed
order. In other words, effective problem solving is contingent on how well the team
satisfies critical five requisite functions (Orlitzky & Hirokawa, 2001):

1. Problem analysis—accurately understanding of the problem through investigating and
challenging its nature, seriousness, root causes, and consequences

2. Determining criteria—establishing what a solution must do to be considered effective
and identifying criteria or standards for evaluating solutions

3. Generating alternative solutions—generating or being aware of several feasible and
appropriate solutions

4. Evaluating positive consequences of solutions—evaluating each alternative solution
against the criteria and considering the relative merits of each solution


5. Evaluating negative consequences of solutions—evaluating each alternative solution
against the criteria and considering the relative weaknesses of each solution

A meta-analysis of the functional approach shows that the three most important requisite
functions for effective problem solving are, in order, (1) evaluating negative consequences,
(2) problem analysis, and (3) determining solution criteria (Orlitzky & Hirokawa, 2001). In
other words, teams that seek a complete understanding of the problem, carefully articulate
what a solution must do, and critically evaluate the negative outcomes of various solutions
are most likely to effectively solve problems.

What contributes to satisfying or inhibiting these requisite functions? Team members should
be vigilant, critical thinkers who pay attention to the process of problem solving (Tasa &
Whyte, 2005). However, teams often jump quickly to the solution stage without adequately
defining the problem (Hackman & Morris, 1975). In their desire to develop solutions quickly,
they focus on the symptoms of the problem rather than trying to understand the real causes
of the problem. The teams do not discuss their problem-solving strategies or develop plans
to research possibilities. Typically, they try to apply solutions that have worked in the

When teams rush to solve problems, their decision-making process is often based on
intuitive, automatic, emotional thinking rather than on rational, conscious, logical
thinking (Milkman, Chugh, & Bazerman, 2009). In many cases, problem solving is improved by
slowing down the decision-making process in order to promote rational rather than intuitive
thinking. Teams that spend time following a structured approach to problem solving make
better decisions, and members are more satisfied with the problem-solving process.

A team may not follow a structured approach to problem solving because of constraints on the
process, such as limited time, money, and information. Because of these constraints, teams
often seek satisficing solutions rather than optimal solutions (Simon, 1979). Perfection is
expensive and time-consuming. Collecting all relevant information needed to solve problems
may take longer than the time or resources available to teams. In most cases, teams try to
find acceptable solutions (those that meet their basic needs), given the constraints of the
situation. Next, we look more deeply at each stage in the rational problem-solving process.


Problem Recognition

Being able to recognize a problem is often more important than being able to solve one
(Mackworth, 1965). Teams should constantly monitor their task, goals, processes, resources,
environment, and social relationships for problems. Additionally, having an open and
flexible mind is essential, as people fail to notice problems that run counter to their

There are three ways in which problems can be “found” (Getzels, 1982). Presented problems
are given to the team and simply await being solved—they do not need to be recognized.
Discovered problems exist but are not clearly defined to the team. For example, a leader may
recognize that the team is not as cohesive as it could be (a symptom), but gathering more
information is needed to understand why (the problem). Finally, created problems involve
inventing a problem that is not currently recognized. Many scientific and technological
breakthroughs involve created problems.

Problems vary in their levels of severity, familiarity, and complexity (Moreland & Levine,
1992). The more severe a problem is, the more likely it is to be identified as a hindrance.
Acute problems with identifiable onsets and impacts are often recognized, whereas chronic
problems that are less visible are often ignored. Possessing domain knowledge makes problems
in that domain more familiar and more easily recognizable. Novel problems outside the domain
knowledge of team members are more difficult to interpret, and teams may assume they are
unique, one-time events that will go away by themselves. Complex problems are challenging to
analyze and interpret because they involve numerous interconnected factors. People often
fail to recognize the complexity of novel problems and instead treat them as simple
(Mumford, Martin, Elliott, & McIntosh, 2018).

Team norms have a substantial effect on problem recognition (Moreland & Levine, 1992). Teams
with norms supporting communication and positive attitudes toward conflict are more likely
to identify and discuss problems. Teams vary in how open they are to the environment. Closed
teams that are internally focused are less likely to be aware of problems in the
environment. Open teams monitor what is happening in the environment. Also, they are better
able to prepare for problems in the future because they identified the issues beforehand.

Team performance affects the problem recognition process (Moreland & Levine, 1992). A team
that is performing successfully will sometimes ignore problems. From their perspective, the
problems cannot be very important, given that the team is currently successful. Unsuccessful
teams also tend to ignore problems. These teams focus on their main performance problems
and, as a result, are less likely to notice other problems. The notion of continuous
improvement is designed to help deal with this issue. In continuous improvement, teams
assume that part of their function is to improve operations. In essence, all teams—both
successful and unsuccessful—are required to identify problems and work to solve them on an
ongoing basis.

Characteristics of the environment also affect a team’s ability to identify and analyze
problems (Moreland & Levine, 1992). Many modern environments (e.g., political, business,
technological) have substantial levels of change and uncertainty. The rapidity of change
creates a need to stay alert and prepare for future problems, while the level of uncertainty
makes it more difficult to do so. Teams vary in their relations to the outside environment.
For example, some work teams are required to accept the definitions of problems given by
their organizations. In contrast, other teams are open to information about potential
problems from outside sources (e.g., customers, suppliers, and the public).

Once a team identifies a problem, it may decide not to solve it. There are other
alternatives. The team may decide to deny or distort the problem, thus justifying their


choice to ignore it. The team may decide to hide from the problem, given that problems
sometimes go away by themselves. If the problem is difficult for the team to understand, it
may decide just to monitor the problem.


Problem Definition

Defining the problem consists of clarifying the scope of the problem. This is perhaps the
most pivotal task in problem solving, as it directs all future activities and defines
success of the project. How a problem is defined ultimately impacts the quality,
originality, and elegance of the solution (Arreola & Reiter-Palmon, 2016). Inaccurate
problem definitions produce ineffective solutions. Well-structured problems generally have
straightforward definitions, as there is a clear problem and solution path. Ill-structured
problems, however, are more difficult because they are complex and there are many ways to
frame the problem. Teams can simplify the problem and use constraints to improve the problem
definition. It is also important to take time and to consider multiple viewpoints when
defining the problem.

Defining ill-structured problems requires balancing between oversimplification and
overcomplication (Mumford et al., 2018). For example, the problem of microplastics polluting
the ocean and entering the food chain is well recognized (Ivar do Sul & Costa, 2014).
However, a single solution is unlikely to solve the entirety of this issue. Rather,
simplifying this problem into smaller and more manageable parts may be fruitful: How can we
clean microplastics from the ocean? How can we prevent microplastics from entering the food

supply? How might we eliminate microplastics from polluting the ocean to begin with? Each of
these problem definitions is different, and each requires different skill sets and expertise
to address. While simplification can be helpful, oversimplifying a complex problem reduces
the likelihood of finding a creative and effective solution.

Adding constraints is another way to improve the problem definition, as this adds structure
to ill-structured problems. For example, Medeiros, Partlow, and Mumford (2014) asked
students to develop an advertising campaign for a new product. Some students were provided
constraints relating to fundamentals (e.g., make a campaign for 18- to 24-year-olds), themes
(e.g., focus the ad on nightlife), and resources (e.g., you have a budget of $100,000). The
results indicated that having some constraints increased the quality and creativity of the
campaigns. However, it is important to note that both too few and too many constraints were
associated with lower quality solutions. Similar findings emerge in fields such as
architecture (Weisberg, 2011), engineering (Pool, 1997), art (Stokes & Fisher, 2005), and
business (Dean & Sharfman, 1996). Constraints may be provided by the organization,
determined by the team, or informed by problem analysis.

Effective problem definitions integrate the viewpoints of others and take time to develop.
Teams are often composed of members with different experiences, knowledge, backgrounds,
values, and personalities. As a result, members understand and define problems differently
(Reiter-Palmon, Herman, & Yammarino, 2008). However, team members are also rarely aware that
others define problems differently (Cronin & Weingart, 2007). This can be a source of
misunderstanding, disagreement, and conflict in the team. Teams must develop a shared mental
model of the problem. One strategy is to define the problem in several different ways before
moving forward (Baer, 1988). Finally, having an incubation period in which the team spends
time away from working on the problem can lead to insights about how to define it (Smith &
Blankenship, 1991).

In developing the problem definition, teams should discuss the gap between the existing and
desired states and evidence of this gap. The problem definition should avoid stating a
specific solution or presuming causes of the problem, as this can misdirect the team away
from more fruitful solutions. Gerald Smith (1989) summarized less effective and more
effective conceptualizations of problem definitions (see Table 11.1).

Table 11.1 Conceptualizations of Problem Definitions


Conceptualization Comments ExampleConceptualization Comments Example

Means and strategies—
preemptively specifying
a specific solution

People often overestimate the
effectiveness of an initial
solution, while closing off
from consideration other, more
promising solutions.

“We have to increase the size
of our team to get this done.”

Causal diagnosis—
presupposing potential
causes of the current

People incorrectly assume the
causes of a problem, which may
misdirect from actual causes.

“The real problem is that we
are not moving ahead quickly

Values and preferences

—stating the ends
served by a solution

Not all stakeholder values may
be reflected in the statement,
and therefore, it produces an
unacceptable solution.

“We need to convince the
professor to allow more time on
this assignment.”

identifying obstacles
to goal achievement

Obstacles can be assumed,
implicit, or self-imposed.

“It’s difficult advancing on
this project when we run out of
time at our meetings.”

Goal state

the desired goal

Provides an open-ended way of
stating a goal, but the goal
may evolve during problem

“This year’s sales must reach
$3.2 million.”

Gap specification—
comparing what is and
what is desired

Desired goals tend to evolve
during the problem solving

“Our projected team costs are
$100,000 over budget.”

Knowledge specification

—providing all
relevant known (and
presumed) facts and
beliefs related to the

It is hard to determine which
facts or beliefs are truly
relevant to the problem. The
amount of data may be

“Our product is 20 years old;
our competitor is outspending
us on advertising; sales are
going down.”

a point-of-view

This is an ideal statement
supported by observable facts
but also allows several
equally valid interpretations
to emerge.

“Students are increasingly
feeling stressed and anxious in
college, while demand for
mental health support exceeds
the available resources.”

Source: Adapted from Smith, G. F. (1989). Defining managerial problems: A framework for prescriptive theorizing.
Management Science, 35(8), 963–981.


Problem Analysis

Typically, the first encounter with a problem is only with its symptoms. Most of the real
problem lies hidden. The team must investigate deeper to find the problem itself and
validate its fundamental sources. It needs to separate the symptoms (which are effects) from
the causes. The team should also actively strive to validate or invalidate the problem’s
legitimacy, as initial problem definitions can be incomplete or inaccurate.

Problem analysis consists of seeking out information about the defined problem—who is
affected, what its impact is, when does it occur, where does it occur, why does it occur,
and how does it occur. This includes identifying the root causes, impacts, stakeholders, and
seriousness of the problem. The team may interview stakeholders, observe relevant processes,
experience the problem firsthand and generate necessary facts. The precise strategies to use
are dependent on the nature of the problem and the situation.

Teams are subject to the many biases described throughout this book (e.g., groupthink,
polarization, and conformity) as they gather and discuss information. Three problems are of
particular concern during problem analysis. First, teams can experience information overload
(Eppler & Mengis, 2004). Complex problems involve many variables, and there is often an
abundance of information available. Sifting through this data can be overwhelming. When this
happens, people gather information without critically processing it. Setting deadlines for
gathering information forces the team to stop and process the data—the team can always
decide that more information is needed. Second, teams may experience information underload
when insufficient data is gathered or when more time is spent on reviewing shared
information than on discussing specialized information (Stasser, 1992). Third is
conformation bias (Nickerson, 1998). People seek out information that confirms their
existing beliefs, so the team should intently seek out and discuss information that can
invalidate their assumptions about the problem and its definition. The team must instead
consider the problem from different, even opposing perspectives.

One method to encourage a team to consider new ways of thinking about problems and solutions
is six thinking hats developed by de Bono (1999). The team collectively discusses the
problem while each member is assigned a role based on one of six thinking styles, which are
represented metaphorically by a hat color. This encourages the team to think in different or
unfamiliar ways about the nature of the problem. Likewise, the team may ask a member to
“take off” a thinking hat to consider the problem differently.

Blue hat thinking is process oriented and focuses on metacognition (e.g., where are we
now?), planning (e.g., what should we do next?), and reflection (e.g., what should we
take away from that?).

White hat thinking offers a neutral perspective focused on the information that is
available (e.g., what do we know?) or needed (e.g., do we have the data to show that?).

Red hat thinking offers a focus on emotions, hunches, feelings, and intuition (e.g.,
have you considered how others might feel about that?).

Black hat thinking offers a critical perspective that uses logic, judgment, and caution
to consider the challenges and weaknesses of ideas (e.g., here is why that is not a good
idea … ).

Yellow hat thinking focuses on the benefits (e.g., how is that going to help us?) and
speculation (e.g., what if … ).


Green hat thinking focuses on creativity and encourages new ideas, alternatives, and
thinking “outside the box.”

Other tools may be useful for analyzing problems (Pokras, 1995). Charting unknowns directs
team members to discuss what they do not know about the problem, which generates hidden
facts, questions, and new places to look for information (Pokras, 1995). During symptom
identification, the team tabulates all aspects or symptoms of a problem. This can be used in
conjunction with repetitive “why” analysis (Serrat, 2017). In this process, a facilitator
states the problem or symptoms then asks, “Why is this happening?” For each answer, the
facilitator asks, “Why is that?” and repeats this several times until an underlying cause
is identified. The team should not provide a guess each step but, rather, verify responses
with data. Responses can be visually mapped out to aid in discussion.

While problem recognition, definition, and analysis are presented sequentially, teams move
fluidly back and forth across these functions (Pretz, Naples, & Sternberg, 2003). As a team
uncovers new information and dispels inaccurate assumptions, they can refine the definition
of the problem. These stages should be approached as an iterative process with the goal of
validating and refining the definition of the problem.


Establishing Solution Criteria

With a clear understanding of the causes and consequences of the problem, the team should
establish solution criteria (Orlitzky & Hirokawa, 2001). Solution criteria define the
requirements of an acceptable solution. They specify what the solution must do, not what it
is. For example, IKEA develops a new piece of furniture by first determining its price
(Terdiman, 2008). This one criterion significantly constrains the subsequent choice of
materials, construction, and design, yet there remains enough space to invite a wide range
of solutions.

Criteria incorporate necessary values, needs, functions, or constraints (e.g., time or
resources). They might come from the team’s analysis of the problem, or key stakeholders
might dictate them. There are many criteria possible to evaluate alternative solutions,
including cost, effectiveness, acceptability, and ease of implementation. Not all criteria
are equally important; some might be requirements, while others are preferences. Teams
should carefully consider the criteria that they use and rank order their importance.
Additionally, a rating scale can be developed (e.g., 0 = not acceptable, 1 = somewhat
acceptable, 2 = acceptable). From this, a criteria matrix can be created to rate
alternatives (Pokras, 1995). The criteria matrix allows the team to analyze and discuss the
relative merits of the alternatives in a structured manner.


Generating Alternatives and Selecting a Solution

Finding an effective solution depends on developing several high-quality alternatives
(Paulus, Kohn, & Arditti, 2011). The ability of a team to accomplish this is related to the
knowledge and skills of team members. However, it also depends on the team’s climate. The
climate of an effective team encourages open discussion of ideas, where minority ideas are
heard and taken seriously by the majority. A good solution balances the needs of various
team members and stakeholders, efficiently uses time and resources, and fosters group
harmony (Fisher et al., 1991).

Teams sometimes use creativity and other structured techniques to generate alternative
solutions to problems. Techniques such as brainstorming and the nominal group technique
(discussed in Chapter 12) can be used to generate alternatives. An important value of these
techniques is that participation by all team members is encouraged. However, these
participation techniques are useful only if the team is willing to give divergent ideas a
fair evaluation. Too often, conformity pressure leads teams to adopt solutions used in the

After generating alternatives, teams must consider how to determine the best solution. Teams
should consider the positive and, in particular, negative effects of each alternative
(Orlitzky & Hirokawa, 2001). To address this, teams can foster minority dissent or assign a
devil’s advocate to find faults with a solution (Valacich & Schwenk, 1995). It is important
to combat defending a favorite idea and instead focus on evaluating the benefits and costs
of the alternatives. This can lead to a final solution containing elements from multiple
alternatives. A criteria matrix can also be used to rank the alternatives to determine a
final solution.

Sometimes, none of the available alternative solutions are appealing, in which case the team
selects the least objectionable proposal. This leads to rationalizing among team members to
bolster their belief that the decision is acceptable. Teams may overemphasize the positive
attributes of a selected solution and deny its negative aspects in order to justify their
choice (Janis & Mann, 1977).

Teams can use many decision-making procedures to select the solution, such as voting and
consensus (see Chapter 9). After the team has made its decision, it may want to hold a
second-chance meeting to review the decision. Even when the team decides by consensus, it is
useful to have a second-chance meeting to air concerns about the decision. The meeting helps
prevent factors such as groupthink and the pressure to conform from inappropriately
influencing the decision.



A solution is not a good one unless it is implemented. This requires commitment from the
team to support and enact its solution. One of the benefits of team decision making is that
participating in the decision process creates a sense of commitment to it (Vroom & Jago,

A problem-solving team is obliged to think about implementation issues when making a
decision (Zander, 1994). It is not useful to agree on a solution that cannot be implemented.
This means that the team should plan how the solution is to be implemented, including
consideration of the required people, time, and resources. It may be useful to bring the
people affected by the planned solution into the decision-making process to encourage their
acceptance of the solution.

Implementing a new solution implies change. Force field analysis is a way to understand the
factors that support or inhibit change (Lewin, 1951). Driving forces are factors that
initiate or encourage change (e.g., the client desperately needs this product). Restraining
forces are the obstacles that prevent success and the factors that contribute to the problem
(e.g., the product is $500 over the client’s budget). Through identifying all these forces,
the team can use this information to decide on strategies for implementation—teams want to
increase the driving forces that encourage the change and reduce the restraining forces that
prevent the change from occurring. Teams often focus on the driving forces that are
promoting the change. However, most unsuccessful change efforts are due to the restraining
forces (Levi & Lawn, 1993). Reducing the power of the restraining forces is a necessary
precondition for change.

Finally, the implementation stage includes generating action plans, considering contingency
plans, and managing the project based on these plans. An action plan is a practical guide to
translating the solution into reality—a step-by-step road map, if possible (Pokras, 1995).
It emphasizes the timing of various parts and assigning responsibility for actions. The plan
also should establish standards to evaluate successful performance. Events rarely go as
planned (Buehler & Griffin, 2015). The team should establish a monitoring and feedback
system to ensure that team members are aware of the progress made. Larger action items
should be broken down into stages and monitored. Feedback to the team on progress with
individual assignments should be a regular part of team meetings.



Evaluation is one of the most overlooked steps of the problem-solving process. Once a
solution is implemented, the team needs to examine how the solution was implemented and what
the effects were. A successful solution addresses the goals specified during problem
definition. Even when teams do an excellent job of analyzing the problem and developing
solutions, there are unforeseen factors that may lead to failure. Sometimes, the solution
only solves a part of the problem, or implementing a solution creates new, unexpected
problems. The evaluation stage provides information for future problem identification and

Lewin (1951) suggested treating a solution as a hypothesis that needs to be tested. Teams
should evaluate the impacts of the solution and identify further actions that need to be
taken (and later evaluated). Problem-solving teams frequently engage in a problem–solution
cycle, in which the solution gives rise to another problem that needs to be solved through
the problem-solving process. A summary of the problem-solving process, along with effective
and ineffective practices, is provided in Table 11.2.

Table 11.2Summary of Effective and Ineffective Problem Solving


Effective Problem Solving Ineffective Problem Solving

Problem recognition
Monitoring group dynamics and
environmental cues for

Possessing relevant domain

Team norms that encourage

Failing to recognize the
complexity of novel

Presented with too many
problems for limited
attentional capacity

Minimizing or ignoring

Problem definition
Simplifying complex problems

Defining the problem with
relevant constraints

Considering multiple

Creating several definitions
of the problem

Taking time away from the

Oversimplifying or
overcomplicating the

Imposing too few or too
many constraints on ill-
structured problems

Unaware of differences in
how team members define the

Defining a problem with a
specific solution or cause



Effective Problem Solving Ineffective Problem Solving

Problem analysis
Validating the problem’s

Identifying gaps in knowledge

Gathering expert opinions and
information needed

Setting deadlines for
gathering data

Confirmation bias

Information overload

Information underload

Solution criteria
Criteria reflect relevant
stakeholder needs and values

Rank ordering criteria

Unnecessary or irrelevant
criteria based on guesses
or assumptions

alternatives and
selecting a solution

Generating many possible

Encouraging minority dissent
and devil’s advocacy

Vigorously considering
negative consequences of

Emergence of groupthink and

Overemphasizing positives
of a solution

Identify driving forces and
restricting forces that
impact implementation

Creating an action plan to
clarify timeline, procedures,
roles, and goals

Not considering the
required people, time, and



Effective Problem Solving Ineffective Problem Solving

Testing and validating
solutions toward solving the

Engaging in a problem–
solution cycle

Assuming the solution
solved the problem

Not monitoring for new
problems that emerge




Problem-solving teams are typically established for brief periods to solve specific
organizational problems or to encourage organizational improvements (Fiore & Schooler,
2004). These teams work on a variety of issues, such as quality, process improvement,
reengineering, and organizational development. Problem-solving teams may be composed of
people from different organizational levels, from production and service employees to
professionals and managers, and from different parts of an organization. Consequently, team
members often do not know one another’s areas of expertise and may have communication
problems because of professional language and background differences. Because of these
characteristics, problem-solving teams often rely on facilitators and the use of structured
problem-solving techniques.

Teams must have a shared conceptualization of a problem in order to solve it. A team cannot
coordinate its problem-solving efforts without this shared mental model. In problem solving,
the mental model includes the nature of the problem, roles and skills of team members, and
the mutual awareness of team members. A shared understanding of a problem ensures that all
team members are solving the same problem.

Process mapping is an engineering problem-solving technique that helps to construct a shared
mental model for the team (Fiore & Schooler, 2004). The team develops a process map of how
the situation currently operates (an “as is” map) that defines the parts of a process and
the linkages among the parts. The team then develops a “should be” map that describes how
the process should operate. These maps are then used to analyze the organization’s
operations and develop recommendations for improvement.

The value of process mapping is that it facilitates team communication regarding the problem
definition, which improves later problem solving. In jointly developing the process map, the
team arrives at a shared understanding of the problem. This overcomes the tendency of teams
to skip to the solution stages of a problem. It also creates an environment where diverse
team members can share their knowledge about the problem.

As team members engage in process mapping, the unique knowledge of each team member is made
explicit. The team becomes aware of both the unique and common knowledge it shares. It is
forced to negotiate its understanding of the issues related to the problem. Process mapping
creates an external representation of a shared problem that facilitates the team’s ability
to work together to solve the problem. It forces the team to acknowledge deficiencies (the
problems in the “as is” map) before attempting to develop solutions. The value of such
techniques is that they provide a structure for communications and focus the team on clearly
defining the problem before it develops solutions.

Research demonstrates that structured approaches help teams make better decisions, increase
members’ satisfaction with solutions, and increase commitment to implementation (Pavht,
1993). These problem-solving approaches are effective because they promote more equitable
participation in decisions, reduce the negative impact of unequal status, and increase the
likelihood that the ideas of low-status employees are considered.



Problems exist when there is an unclear path to a desired goal. Well-structured problems are
straightforward and often have one single, objectively correct solution. Ill-structured
problems are complex and often novel, with unclear problems and solutions. Problem solving
requires that a team analyze the nature of the problem, then develop and implement a
solution. Unfortunately, many things can go wrong during these two steps. The study of team
problem solving uses descriptive, functional, and prescriptive approaches to understand and
improve the problem-solving process.

The descriptive approach looks at how a team typically solves a problem. Most teams
iteratively cycle through discussions about the problem, then solutions, then the problem.
Many teams simply go straight to discussing solutions, bypassing consideration of the
problem altogether. Finally, a minority of teams go through a sequential problem-solving
process similar to stages of team development. Solutions are often generated in a rather
haphazard fashion, frequently without strong consideration of the problem.

The prescriptive approach to problem solving describes an ideal sequence of advancing
through discussions: problem recognition, problem definition, problem analysis, solution
criteria, generating alternatives, evaluating alternatives, solution selection,
implementation, and evaluation. The functional approach provides advice on how to improve
the team problem-solving process during this process.

The problem recognition is affected by the severity and complexity of the problem, team
norms about discussing problems, and the amount of uncertainty in the environment. Problem
definition requires simplifying problems, using relevant constraints, and considering
multiple viewpoints. During problem analysis, teams gather information to validate or
invalidate the existence of the problem, while avoiding confirmation bias, information
overload, and information underload. From this, the team should create and rank order
solution criteria.

The process of developing and selecting alternative solutions is improved by creativity
techniques to generate several alternatives. Teams need to avoid groupthink while evaluating
the positive and negative consequences of alternatives. Once a solution is selected, the
team should consider the driving and restricting forces influencing the implementation of
the solution and create a detailed action plan. Finally, the team should validate that the
solution solved the problem and monitor for new and unexpected problems.

An effective team views the problem from multiple perspectives, analyzes a variety of
alternatives using established criteria, and manages the group process to ensure that all
members may participate. The team’s ability to solve problems may be hurt by rushing to the
solution stage, constraints limiting the amount of analysis, confusion about evaluation
criteria, and social factors that disrupt the group process.

Organizations use temporary problem-solving teams to deal with a variety of issues and to
encourage improvement. These teams function more effectively if they use structured
techniques, such as process mapping.


Team Leadership Challenge 11

Your organization uses improvement teams composed of professionals and managers
throughout the organization to solve important organizational problems. Team
membership is highly valued because participation provides good visibility to upper
management. Consequently, team members are highly motivated to perform. You have been
selected to lead the next team. To prepare for the role, you have been discussing
problems with former team leaders.

The last improvement team got off to a fast start. At the first meeting, the team
diagnosed the problem and started generating solutions. Members quickly focused on a
preferred alternative and began developing an implementation program. After several
months of work, the team presented its proposal to top management. However, when it
started implementing the proposal, serious problems became apparent, and the project
was scrapped.

How can the new team leader avoid the problems of the previous project team?

What problem-solving approaches should you use?

How can you prevent the team from wasting time on a proposal that does not really
solve the problem?


Activity: Using Problem-Solving Techniques

Objective: Problem solving improves when a team follows a structured approach. The
team should analyze the problem thoroughly before developing alternatives. It should
develop a set of alternatives and then use evaluation criteria to help select a
solution. Force field analysis can be used to understand the issues related to
implementing a solution.

Activity: Have the team follow a structured approach to problem solving. The team can
be given either an organizational problem or a social problem to solve. For example,
develop a program to improve graduation rates at a university or encourage the use of
condoms. After a problem has been selected, the team should use a repetitive “why”
analysis to understand the causes of the problem, develop several alternative
solutions, use the criteria matrix to analyze the alternatives, select an alternative
solution, and use force field analysis to understand the issues that can affect
implementation of the solution.

Step 1: Analyze the problem using a repetitive “why” analysis (Activity Worksheet
11.1). State a clear definition of the problem. Then, complete the following analysis
of the causes of the problem by asking what caused the problem. Repeat to identify
underlying causes. This analysis helps the team understand the different causes of
the problem.


Activity Worksheet 11.1

Repetitive Why Analysis

Problem Definition:

Why? Causes of the problem Why? Underlying causes Why? Underlying causes

Source: Adapted from Team Problem Solving, a 50 Minute Manager Series publication by Sandy Pokras,
available from Logical Operations (

Step 2: Generate alternative solutions to the problem. Make sure that each
alternative relates to at least one of the causes identified in Step 1.

Step 3: Analyze the alternative solutions using a criteria matrix (Activity Worksheet
11.2). For this activity, use cost, effectiveness, and acceptability as criteria for
evaluating the alternatives. Rate each alternative solution as high, medium, or low
on these three criteria, and then combine these into an overall rating. Use this
analysis to select a preferred solution.


Activity Worksheet 11.2

Criteria Matrix

Evaluation Criteria

Alternative Solutions Cost Effective Acceptable Overall

Source: Adapted from Team Problem Solving, a 50 Minute Manager Series publication by Sandy Pokras,
available from Logical Operations (

Step 4: Good ideas often do not get implemented because the advocates focus on the
benefits of the proposals and ignore the problems. Evaluate the benefits and problems
of your solution using force field analysis (Activity Worksheet 11.3).


Activity Worksheet 11.3

Force Field Analysis

Driving Forces: What are the benefits

of our approach? Who will support it?


Restraining Forces: What problems does

our approach have? Who may resist it?


Source: Adapted from Team Problem Solving, a 50 Minute Manager Series publication by Sandy Pokras,
available from Logical Operations (

Step 5: Develop a plan to implement your proposal based on the results of the force
field analysis.

Analysis: Did the team members find the use of the structured problem-solving
approach helpful? What aspects of it did they like or dislike? Did it improve the
quality of the solution?

Discussion: What are the advantages and disadvantages of using a structured approach
to problem solving?


Descriptions of Images and Figures
Back to Figure

Details shown in the flowchart are listed as follows:

1. Problem recognition and definition
2. problem analysis
3. Generate alternative solutions
4. Select solutions
5. Implement solution
6. Evaluate outcome

An arrow from step 6, labeled “If not successful, feedback,” points to step 3.

An arrow from step 6, labeled “If successful, continue to next phase” points outward.





Developing creative and useful solutions to problems is an
important concern for teams. Designing thinking is a problem-
solving process that can stimulate group creativity and
produce solutions that meet human-centered needs. However,
the dynamics of teams tend to limit creativity because of
cognitive, social, and organizational problems. The solution
to promoting creativity in teams requires approaches that
combine the benefits of individual creativity and team
creativity. Organizations can help encourage creativity by
providing supportive organizational climates.


Learning Objectives

1. Understand the difference between creativity and

2. Describe the process of moving from idea
generation to idea implementation.

3. Explain how necessary team member skills change
during the innovation process.

4. Understand the iterative process of design

5. Apply brainstorming, the nominal group technique,
brainwriting, and hybrid brainstorming to improve
team creativity.

6. Understand what factors impede and support
innovation in teams.



Organizations use innovation teams to create novel solutions
to problems—from developing new products to designing new
procedures. Both creativity and innovation play a function in
this process (Anderson, Potocˇnik, & Zhou, 2014). Creativity
is the process of generating ideas that are not just novel
but also useful—a creative solution also must effectively
solve a problem (Amabile, 1983). By contrast, innovation
builds upon creativity by focusing on implementing the idea
to create better procedures, practices, or products (West &
Farr, 1989). Together, creativity and innovation represent
the beginning and end points of the innovation process.

The innovation process is both paradoxical and uncertain.
First, there is a notable paradox of innovation: The two
stages of idea generation and idea implementation often
require conflicting skills (Bledow, Frese, Anderson, Erez, &
Farr, 2009; Thayer et al., 2018). For example, playful and
relaxed group climates can aid in idea generation; however,
structure and stress improve idea implementation. This
paradox makes it challenging to compose and manage innovation
teams, as their requirements change as they progress. Second,
the innovation process is defined by uncertainty (Jalonen,
2012). Without knowing what solution to implement or problem
to solve, there are high levels of ambiguity surrounding team
tasks and expectations. This produces unclear roles,
responsibilities, and norms that interfere with efficient
teamwork and taskwork.

There is no single pathway to innovation. To aid in
navigating the sometimes paradoxical and uncertain
requirements of the innovation process, this chapter
introduces two models of innovation and their implications
for teamwork. First, the four phases of the idea journey


highlight the general steps involved in moving from
creativity to innovation in an organizational context. Next,
design thinking—a popular process for innovation—is
introduced. Finally, factors that foster team creativity are



Perry-Smith and Mannucci (2017) propose a four-phase model
that reflects the process of moving from creativity to
innovation: idea generation, idea elaboration, idea
championing, and idea implementation. While several factors
facilitate this process, these scholars describe distinct
needs associated with each phase: cognitive flexibility,
support, influence, and shared vision. This model provides a
useful synthesis of creativity and innovation research.


Idea Generation

The journey begins with idea generation, which is the process
of generating and selecting a novel and useful idea. This
might include creating the core idea for a new advertising
campaign, new product, or new research paper. At this point,
the selected idea is generally vague, flawed, and half-baked
—future phases focus on refining the idea further.
Generating novel ideas requires cognitive flexibility, or the
ability to shift cognitive schemas and form uncommon
associations between distant ideas (Amabile, 1983; De Dreu,
Baas, & Nijstad, 2008). Cognitive flexibility can include the
ability to break out of established mental models, appreciate
complexity, suspend judgment, and use broad categories to
view issues. It can be helpful to play with ideas and view
problems from alternative perspectives.

Cognitive flexibility is encouraged by exposure to divergent
perspectives and approaches from different team members
(Perry-Smith, 2006). It can also come from serendipitous
encounters with the social environment or unconscious
thoughts (Campbell, 1960; Zhong, Dijksterhuis, & Galinsky,
2008). Many famous creative ideas have come from looking at
something commonplace from a different perspective. For
example, Post-it notes were developed by scientists wondering
how to use a “low-tack” glue that had been discovered by
accident. Many creative ideas in science come from younger
scientists who are not fully indoctrinated into the existing
paradigm or from interdisciplinary scientists who are
changing fields. It is common to become locked in old ways of
thinking or routine ways of working, so we do not see
creative alternatives to our situation.


Idea Elaboration

The next phase is idea elaboration, which consists of
clarifying, evaluating, and refining the initial idea
(Mainemelis, 2010). Early ideas are rough and inconsistent.
This phase moves the idea from a vague concept to something
that is sharable with others, which might include drafting a
key message for an ad, sketching out a new product, or
writing the first draft of a research paper. Refinement can
help budding ideas achieve their full potential (Harvey,
2014). During this phase, emotional support and constructive
feedback are critical needs.

People fear appearing stupid, outrageous, or inappropriate
when sharing new and uncertain ideas (Detert & Edmondson,
2011). Psychological safety is essential at this stage.
Emotional support from team members and other stakeholders
can motivate and encourage them to continue developing the
idea. Constructive feedback is likewise needed to adjust and
change the idea (Harrison & Rouse, 2015). Novel ideas rarely
come into the world fully formed; it can take several
iterations of feedback and adjustment until it takes the
shape of a viable solution. Early harsh criticism, however,
can hinder motivation to continue the project.


Idea Championing

The next phase is idea championing, which consists of
obtaining approval and resources to continue with the idea.
This might be pitching the idea to a venture capitalist,
advocating to organizational leadership of the need for the
new solution, or submitting a patent to protect the idea.
Influence emerges as the key concern for this phase, so teams
benefit from charismatic leadership (see Chapter 10). A
compelling argument for the novel idea and its potential
impact must be articulated to secure the support of external
gatekeepers (Howell & Higgins, 1990). It may also be
necessary to persuade new members with needed skills to join
the team. Championing an idea requires presenting oneself as
(1) enthusiastic and confident about the success of the
innovation, (2) persistent under adversity, and (3) having
the right people involved (Howell, Shea, & Higgins, 2005).


Idea Implementation

The final phase is idea implementation, which consists of
both the production and impact of the innovation (West,
2002). Production includes transforming the idea into a
finished product, service, or process. This is accomplished
by developing a shared vision—“a common mental model of the
future state of the team or its tasks that provides the basis
for action with the team” (Pearce & Ensley, 2004, p. 260). A
shared vision is the most important factor in predicting a
team’s ability to produce an innovative outcome (Hülsheger,
Anderson, & Salgado, 2009). It is also associated with
positive teamwork behaviors like higher commitment,
coordination, information sharing, helping behaviors,
motivation, sense of ownership, and responsibility (Fleming,
Mingo, & Chen, 2007; Lingo & O’Mahony, 2010).

The impact of the innovation concerns its acceptance and use.
Just because an innovation does what it is supposed to do
does not mean that people will adopt it. Rather, novel
solutions and practices can be easily dismissed (Hargadon &
Bechky, 2006). A shared vision is likewise essential to
develop with those who should adopt the innovation. Failing
to communicate this vision clearly can lead to
misinterpretations of the idea that threaten its adoption
(Carlile, 2004).

A poignant reminder of this concern is the history of
handwashing (Best & Neuhauser, 2004; Davis, 2015). In 1846,
Hungarian physician Ignaz Semmelweis briefly saved the lives
of maternity patients. He was distraught by the high rate of
women dying of childbed fever in the hospital. After several
failed experiments (some considering the role of bells and
various birthing positions), he made the radical connection
between autopsies and maternity ward deaths. Believing that
physicians were transferring “cadaverous particles” from an


autopsy to a mother during childbirth, he began cleaning his
hands and instruments with a chlorine solution. Notably,
germs were unknown of at this time, and chlorine was not a
known disinfectant. Rather, Semmelweis believed that chlorine
best eliminated the smell from after an autopsy. Childbed
deaths remarkably decreased after this change. Upon
announcing this novel practice to his colleagues, the senior
physicians rejected it. They resented the implication that
they were to blame for childbed fever. Semmelweis eventually
lost this and subsequent jobs due to berating those who
rejected his handwashing practices. He died in 1865 at an
insane asylum. The importance of handwashing would reemerge
20 years after his death upon further development for germ
theory. This story illustrates the challenge of instilling a
shared vision with the intended adopters, even if it is a
superior solution.



A human-centered approach to innovation, called design
thinking, is increasingly popular in industry and education
(Brown, 2008, 2009). Design thinking has been adopted in
sectors as varied as banking, health care, technology, and
engineering. Companies using design thinking to develop
innovative products and services include Amazon, GE, Pixar,
IBM, Proctor & Gamble, Intuit, Kaiser Permanente, Panasonic,
and Deutsche Bank. Design thinking relies on
multidisciplinary team collaboration, making it an important
topic in contemporary teamwork practices. Despite its growing
popularity, however, there remains ambiguity as to precisely
what design thinking is and how it is practiced (Carlgren,
Rauth, & Elmquist, 2016). To understand what design thinking
is, it helps to first consider what it is not.

Teams can often converge too quickly on a specific solution
for a problem that is superficially understood. Significant
time and resources can be spent developing a new product,
process, or practice, just to learn that it is not desirable
by the people it is supposed to help. Such efforts fail to
solve the right problem. Take, for example, the U.S.
government’s failed attempt in the early 1900s to improve
the efficiency of acorn grinding (Beckman & Barry, 2007).
Acorn flour, a staple food for many Native American tribes at
this time, was processed by women who would sit together and
grind acorns by hand using a granite slab as a mortar. The
U.S. government provided them with iron grinders in an
attempt to improve their efficiency. However, these grinders
failed to be adopted. Acorn grinding was about more than just
food processing—it was an important component of their
culture and served as a way to pass along traditions and tell
stories. The iron grinders were an undesirable solution
because they interfered with these valued practices. Without


understanding the deeper meanings and broader context for
human behavior, solutions that are novel—and even useful—
may nonetheless fail to be adopted.

Design thinking approaches address this issue by reversing
the process: It begins with gaining a deep understanding of
the problem, then iteratively designing a solution to address
that problem (Beckman & Barry, 2007; Brown, 2008, 2009).
Desirability is a primary concern in design thinking, with a
focus on problem finding and problem framing. This process is
recursive—upon gaining further insights from interviews,
observations, and tests, teams frequently return to earlier
stages of the process. Moreover, design thinking carries with
it several mindsets and attitudes that inform practices, such
as failing fast and having a bias toward action (Carlgren et
al., 2016; Micheli, Wilner, Bhatti, Mura, & Beverland, 2019).
The story of Embrace Innovations’ development of a low-cost
infant incubator offers an overview of this process.


Embrace Innovation: Design Thinking in Action

Each year, 15 million low-birthweight and premature babies
are born around the world. One million of these children die
within 24 hours because they are unable to regulate their
body temperature. Many who survive face long-term health
problems. Most of these deaths (99%) occur in lower-income
countries because of the prohibitive cost of the treatment:
infant incubators that each cost $20,000. As a part of a
class at the Stanford, a team of students decided to
build an affordable incubator that would cost just $250
(Kelley & Kelley, 2013). This was a seemingly straightforward
technical challenge: Design a cheaper incubator to be used by
hospitals. Had they done this, however, they would have
failed to help.

Rather than jumping into creating a cheaper incubator, the
team traveled to Nepal. There, they toured hospitals and
interviewed physicians and parents to understand those
impacted by the problem. What they found was surprising—
these hospitals already had several infant incubators, which
were donated to them. However, they were not being used
because the babies needing them were born in rural villages
over a day’s travel away. To survive the trip, infants
needed to maintain constant skin-to-skin contact with the
mother to regulate their body temperature. Further interviews
revealed that most of these families simply could not afford
to travel to the hospital nor pay its fees. Moreover, limited
health care and access to electricity prevented placing low-
cost incubators in these rural locations. A $250 incubator in
hospitals would do little to improve infant health outcomes.

Faced with this complicated situation, the team reframed
their challenge away from hospitals. They needed to create a
low-cost warming device for parents in rural villages without
electricity. At this point, the team consulted external


experts, brainstormed ideas, and produced and tested several
prototypes. This resulted in a product that resembles a
sleeping bag that contained a pouch for a removable heating
pad. After placing a paraffin-based heating pad in boiling
water for a few minutes, it released an appropriate amount of
heat to maintain body temperature for four hours. They
returned to Nepal yet again to seek feedback on this
prototype. They discovered that Western medicines were
considered too strong, driving mothers to underdose their
children. This corresponded to mothers heating a pad to
around 30° Celsius, rather than the 37° needed to keep an
infant alive. The design team subsequently replaced a precise
temperature gauge with a binary indicator that simply
displayed “OK” to prevent second-guessing. Costing just
$25, this device has since helped over 300,000 babies in 22

This story of Embrace Innovations illustrates the process of
design thinking. It involves exploring and validating the
problem, questioning assumptions, reframing problems, and
testing many potential solutions. Early on, the team could
have devoted their energy to developing a $250 incubator.
Instead, they first focused on finding the right problem to
solve by focusing on the user. Next, we will explore the
design thinking process in greater detail.



Design projects can be assigned or inspired. An organization
might assign the team with achieving a strategic goal, such
as improving the waiting room experience for urgent care.
Alternatively, someone might be inspired by personal
experience. For example, Doug Dietz, a developer for GE
Healthcare, found himself in a hospital proudly watching
patients use the new MRI machine that he helped design
(Kelley & Kelley, 2013). Then he saw a young girl walking
toward his new machine, fearful and crying about the
forthcoming loud and confined experience. The technician
called an anesthesiologist to sedate the patient, which is
when Doug learned the heartbreaking statistic that 80% of
pediatric patients require sedation when having an MRI scan.
To a sick young child, his MRI machine was more an instrument
of terror than of imaging. Dismayed at this insight, Doug
became determined to fix this problem. He eventually did, by
redesigning the MRI machine experience to feel more like an
adventure for kids. For example, a room and machine were
painted to resemble a spaceship, and staff playfully
described the procedure (e.g., saying the loud noises are the
engines preparing to enter hyperspeed). Doug knew that he
achieved his goal when he overheard a girl who enjoyed the
experience so much that she asked if she could return the
following day to have another adventure.

There are a variety of ways in which design thinking is
conceptualized and practiced. Carlgren and colleagues. (2016)
identified five major themes of design thinking: user focus,
problem framing, visualization, experimentation, and
diversity. Beckman and Barry (2007) frame design thinking as
a process of problem finding, problem selecting, solution
finding, and solution selecting. Meanwhile, IDEO’s framework


reduces this down to the three-stage process of inspiration,
ideation, and implementation.

One of the most popular frameworks comes from Stanford’s, which divides design thinking into five phases
(Doorley, Holcomb, Klebahn, Segovia, & Utley, 2018; Micheli
et al., 2019):

1. Empathize—observe and interview those impacted by the
problem to gain insights into their needs, hopes, and

2. Define—synthesize the data as a team and (re)frame the
problem that the team will attempt to solve.

3. Ideate—generate many ideas for solving the problem.
4. Prototype—develop low-fidelity experiential, visual,

and/or tangible representations of the idea.
5. Test—invite potential users to experience the prototypes

to learn more about the problem and refine the solution.

Though design thinking is presented as a sequential process,
it is not. Teams often progress through these stages
nonlinearly, iteratively, cyclically, and concurrently with
each other. For example, prototype testing can be conducted
early on to gain empathy from users or redefine the problem.



Teams should begin the design project with exactly one
assumption: that they do not know enough about the problem.
The first goal is to gain a thorough understanding of the
users and their needs. Here, “users” constitute the broad
array of stakeholders who are affected by the problem and who
will be impacted by the innovation. Users include the various
people who will purchase, implement, use, and maintain the
innovation. If redesigning the waiting room experience for
urgent care, for example, relevant stakeholders include
physicians, nurses, orderlies, staff, interior designers,
patients, the family of patients, and insurance companies.
Teams can even gain additional inspiration talking to people
in other “waiting” contexts, such as checking out of the
grocery store or waiting for an attraction at Disneyland.

Building empathy is achieved through open-ended exploration
and ethnographic methods like observations and interviews.
Surveys are less helpful because they are closed-ended and
provide limited opportunities for elaborating, clarifying, or
probing deeper. By contrast, observations and interviews
produce valuable insights—interpretations of human behavior
that provide new directions for innovation. Insights provide
the aha moment that sparks a novel idea.


People do not always know what they need, as illustrated by
Embrace Innovations’ initial goal of making a $250 infant
incubator. It was after observing the absence of used
incubators that they stumbled upon the real problem.
Observing requires keeping a curious and open mind that can
see many viewpoints. Observations can be organized into the


AEIOU framework to capture details about human behavior
(Wasson, 2000):

Activities—describe the goals that people have and how
they are trying to achieve them.

Environments—describe the space where activities are
occurring and how people are behaving in it.

Interactions—describe the interactions between the user
and other people and/or artifacts that impact the
achievement of their goal.

Objects—describe the objects in the environment and how
they are being used (or not) by the user to achieve their

Users—describe the people being observed in terms of
their personality, roles, needs, values, and biases.

When observing, it is useful to separate objective
observations (e.g., what did you see people do?) and
subjective interpretations (e.g., how do you think they were
feeling?). Generating insights from observations requires
interpretation, but it becomes difficult to share and
reinterpret observations without the “raw” objective


The purpose of interviewing is to understand why people do
what they do. This provides insights into how they make sense
of their activities, their goals, and how they feel.
Ultimately, this provides insights into what the user needs.


What follows are some guiding principles for developing and
running interviews:

Consider your goals for the interview—what do you hope
to learn, or what assumptions do you want to question?

Draft the interview guide, including a brief introduction
regarding your intentions.

Test the interview guide with a teammate or friend, and
refine it based on feedback.

Interview in pairs, with one person taking notes and the
other fully engaging with the interviewee.

Ask questions that solicit stories, such as “Tell me
about the last time you felt frustrated waiting in urgent
care” or “When was the last time you had a good waiting

Avoid questions that can be answered with a “yes” or

Probe deeper by asking follow-up questions like, “Why?”
and “Tell me more about … ”

Follow up on nonverbal cues that interviewees display,
such as “You seem less than thrilled about these
changes; can you explain why?”

Invite your note-taking teammate to ask follow-up
questions at the conclusion of the interview.

Reflect on the interview, and revise the guide as needed.

Synthesizing Insights


The data collected during empathy building is messy and
unstructured—it is hard to know what is important. The team
must collectively synthesize their insights in order to
identify problems to solve. Teams can synthesize insights
using several tools. Beckman and Barry (2007) suggest
identifying interesting stories and visualizing user behavior
on two-by-two matrices. Other approaches include empathy
maps, personas, and journey maps.

An empathy map summarizes key insights from the interview
(Gray, 2017). Typically, empathy maps include sections to
write down the user’s goals and significant things that they
said, they heard from others, and actions and behaviors they
do. They also include room to provide interpretations of what
they might be thinking or feeling. Visualizing this
information can help to identify interesting contradictions,
themes, or needs that the user is experiencing. Similarly, a
persona integrates insights from several users to create a
representation of a typical user (Welsh & Dehler, 2013). A
persona often resembles a social-media profile, with
demographic information, brief narrative, interests, and
needs. This helps to keep focus on the user as the design
process unfolds. Finally, a journey map is a timeline of the
users’ activities that details the experiences and emotional
responses that users face (Dalton & Kahute, 2016). Creating
and discussing these artifacts as a team leads to
interpretations and hunches that inform user needs.



Problems rarely come appropriately labeled for the team to
implement. Rather, novel innovations stem from a novel
framing of the problem. Problem framing is among the most
challenging—and important—tasks in the innovation process
(Beckman & Barry, 2007; Bessant, Öberg, & Trifilova, 2014).
The problem statement is the jumping-off point for
brainstorming. It is typically framed by asking a “How might
we … ” question, such as these:

How might we improve the MRI experience for children?

How might we increase access to mental health resources
for at-risk youth?

How might we redesign the office hour experience for
college students?

How might we reimagine the lost-and-found process in

It is critical that the problem is framed neither too broadly
nor too narrowly. A narrowly defined problem boxes in
thinking and preemptively assumes a solution. Imagine that
people are disappointed with the food options on a college
campus. Narrowly framing the challenge as, “How might we
build more restaurants on campus?” anchors the problem
statement to a specific solution: physically building more
restaurants. Similarly, a broad challenge like, “How might
we make food better on campus?” encompasses many factors,
such as seating, lines, organic, healthy, faster, local,
diverse, cheaper, and so forth. Teams are likely to become


overwhelmed and discouraged without narrowing down the scope
of the challenge.

A well-scoped challenge focuses on a human-centered outcome.
For example, “How might we expand student access to a
variety of food options on campus?” This challenge focuses
on a specific outcome (i.e., access to a variety of foods)
that is desired by a specific user (i.e., students), without
defining a specific solution. This invites a range of
creative solutions that might achieve this outcome—drone or
robot delivery service, rotating food trucks, lunch exchange,
potlucks, and communal kitchens.

Teams can also focus a challenge around how they want to make
a user feel as a result of their innovation. Imagine that a
design team learns that students feel uncomfortable accessing
mental health resources on campus because it requires
traversing an open and seldom-used lawn to enter the
building. This walk makes students feel exposed and visible
because it is obvious to any spectators where they were
going. The team can frame this challenge as, “How might we
help students feel less exposed when accessing mental health
resources?” Focusing on feelings shifts attention away from
any specific solution. Rather, it emphasizes what the
solution must do to be effective. This opens many
possibilities, such as a privacy tunnel to access resources,
telemedicine to avoid physically walking to resources, and
lawn games to increase foot traffic to the unused lawn.

Crafting a well-scoped design challenge is an art, one that
balances the right amount of creativity and constraint for a
team to create a novel and useful solution. Moreover, teams
will often find themselves refining and reframing the problem
as they discover more about the user. If the team has trouble
framing a problem, they can brainstorm around questions to
ask about the challenge (Gregersen, 2018).



With a well-scoped problem statement, teams are ready to
ideate. This involves both generating potential solutions and
selecting a solution. Generating many ideas is important as
it increases the probability of producing a good solution
(Paulus et al., 2011). There are many methods for generating
ideas: Smith (1998) identified 172 strategies, tactics, and
enablers used by designers! Some commonly used techniques
include mind mapping, analogies, and brainstorming.


Visualizing ideas aids in their expression and refinement
(Bresciani, 2019; Gonçalves, Cardoso, & Badke-Schaub, 2014).
Mind mapping is a nonlinear, free-formed way of imaging and
exploring spontaneous associations between concepts (Buzan &
Buzan, 2006; Davies, 2011). This makes it useful as a form of
individual brainstorming or as collaborative sensemaking
(Liedtka, 2015). It begins with placing an image or topic in
the center of a paper (e.g., entertainment in a waiting
room). Associated concepts are added in a radial manner with
lines connecting ideas (e.g., parade, in-flight consoles,
arcade, and noisy). Lines and text progressively get thinner
and smaller as they move outward, with the entire map
eventually resembling a neuron. The mind map can spur new
associations among ideas, while also developing a shared
mental model among the team members.



A challenge of generating novel ideas is expressing a novel
idea—something new is sometimes difficult to explain.
Analogies are powerful ways of spurring novel ideas (Hey,
Linsey, Agogino, & Wood, 2008; Nonaka & Takeuchi, 2007). An
analogy encourages consideration of how two ideas are alike
and not alike, and in doing so, it creates an opportunity to
consider something from a new perspective. Imagine, for
example, what the Netflix of virtual teaching might look
like. Or the Uber of higher education? Or how Disney would
design an urgent-care waiting room? Reconciling the
similarities and differences of these two disparate ideas can
spur innovative ideas: What is the equivalent of binge-
watching a course? What would on-demand education look like?
How could waiting in urgent care be fun? Analogies force
people to rethink or discard previous ways of thinking. The
classic example of this is Canon’s development of the
minicopier, in which a cheaply produced beer can was the
analogy that spurred the development of a replaceable drum
kit for a new copy machine (Nonala & Kenney, 1991).


The best-known and most widely used idea generation technique
is brainstorming (Osborn, 1957), during which group members
interact face to face to share thoughts and ideas with each
other. Brainstorming is designed to deal with the problem of
less structured group discussions—that groups spend too much
time evaluating ideas and not enough time generating ideas.
The four basic rules of brainstorming are to (1) not
criticize any ideas, (2) encourage contributing wild ideas,
(3) focus on quantity, not quality, of ideas, and (4) combine
and build on the ideas of others. These rules work best when
modeled by a leader and reinforced through norms.

Despite its popularity, a considerable body of research shows
that group brainstorming often produces fewer ideas and fewer


good ideas than individuals working alone (Mullen, Johnson, &
Salas, 1991; Putman & Paulus, 2009). Several factors account
for these findings (Diehl & Stroebe, 1987; Heslin, 2009;
Rietzschel, Nijstad, & Stroebe, 2006; VanGundy, 1984). First,
production blocking occurs when participants cannot vocalize
their ideas because others are talking. Moreover, it can be
difficult to remember an idea until it can be shared with the
group. Production blocking increases as group size increases
(De Vreede, Briggs, & Reiter-Palmon, 2010). Second,
evaluation apprehension occurs when participants withhold
their ideas out of fear that others, particularly high-status
members, will not approve of them. Participants may also
doubt the quality of their contribution. Finally, other
factors like social loafing and going off-topic also inhibit
effective brainstorming. While a skilled facilitator can help
to improve face-to-face brainstorming (Santanen, Briggs, &
Vreede, 2004), subsequent methods have been developed to
overcome these limitations.

The nominal group technique involves pooling a group’s ideas
without interaction and, therefore, with limited production
blocking (Ven & Delbecq, 1974). A facilitator announces the
brainstorming topic, but then group members silently think
and write down ideas individually. After 20 to 30 minutes,
each person reads aloud an idea while the facilitator records
them visually. Clarifying questions are only allowed after
all ideas have been posted. The nominal group technique
outperforms interactive brainstorming groups, with nominal
groups producing more ideas and more original ideas
(Rietzschel et al., 2006).

Brainwriting was designed to limit production blocking and
social loafing and encourage the processing of ideas (Heslin,
2009; VanGundy, 1984). This entails team members writing down
an idea on a sheet of paper, each with a different color ink
to reduce social loafing. Then, they pass the paper to the
person on the right. The person receiving the paper silently


reads the idea and adds their own idea before passing it
along to the right again. Participants can pass if they are
unable to think of an additional idea. When a participant
receives a paper with four ideas, they read those ideas and
place the paper on the center of the table. Paulus and Yang
(2000) found that this brainwriting is as good or superior to
the nominal group technique.

Electronic brainstorming uses technological platforms that
allow participants to communicate virtually. This affords
greater levels of anonymity and the ability for all
participants to interact and contribute simultaneously.
Participation can also be tracked. As a result, teams
experience lower production blocking, evaluation
apprehension, and social loafing. A meta-analysis confirms
that electronic brainstorming produces more and higher
quality ideas than face-to-face brainstorming (DeRosa, Smith,
& Hantula, 2007). However, these benefits generally surfaced
with eight or more participants. Participants interacting
electronically are also more satisfied than those who
interact face to face. Perhaps most interesting of all is
that, contrary to face-to-face groups, the quality and
quantity of ideas increases as group size increases.

Finally, hybrid brainstorming involves alternating between
individual and group ideation. This approach can be more
effective than individual or group ideation alone. Studies
show benefits to both alone-to-group and group-to-alone
hybrid brainstorming. Alone-to-group brainstorming provides
time for participants to individually generate ideas without
production blocking and evaluation apprehension, then be
inspired by and build upon ideas in the group setting.
Indeed, one study found that a period of individual
brainstorming, followed by group brainstorming, produces more
ideas (Baruah & Paulus, 2008). However, group-to-alone
brainstorming provides time for individuals to reflect and
build upon ideas previously shared in the group. This


ordering has also been shown to be more effective, both in
initial brainwriting (Paulus, Korde, Dickson, Carmeli, &
Cohen-Meitar, 2015) and face-to-face conditions (Korde &
Paulus, 2017). The general conclusion is that hybrid
brainstorming can be beneficial, regardless of the order in
which it takes place.

Design teams use any and all of these methods for idea
generation—there is no single prescribed way. Research does,
however, offer a few suggestions for brainstorming. One of
the critical problems in brainstorming sessions is that
people often spend their time looking for faults in new ideas
(West, 2012). This reduces enthusiasm and participation in
creativity activities like brainstorming. When commenting on
a teammate’s idea, rather than saying “no” or “yes, but
… ,” team members are encouraged to say “yes, and … ”
This phrase facilitates building on the idea being presented
before deciding it will not work. This simple technique
changes the climate of a team meeting and encourages everyone
to try out new ideas. A few rounds of “yes, and … ” can
produce insightful and novel ideas.

Research indicates that creative synergy occurs in teams
using constructive controversy with psychological safety
(Fairchild & Hunter, 2014; Somech & Drach-Zahavy, 2013).
Constructive controversy supports creativity because it
results in team members sharing a more extensive range of
ideas, more closely analyzing ideas, and developing more
original solutions. However, this only occurs when the team
has sufficient psychological safety that creates an open
learning climate for discussion and innovative thinking. For
creativity to flourish, team members need to feel comfortable
expressing their opinions as well as giving and receiving
feedback from others.

In summary, some useful brainstorming guidelines include the


Foster norms that support a playful and psychologically
safe group climate.

Remind the team of rules for brainstorming.

Brainstorm around a defined, well-scoped problem

Begin with group or solitary brainstorming before

Strive for quantity of ideas, not quality.

Make ideas visual to everyone using short phrases or

Build upon a single idea (use “yes, and … ”) before
moving on to another.

Refrain from evaluating or critiquing ideas.

Idea Selection

After many ideas are generated, teams must select an idea.
This begins with reviewing the alternatives generated and
combining items that seem similar. At this point, teams can
vote or reach consensus to determine which idea to move
forward with. Another technique is multiple voting, in which
team members each have three to five votes. Sometimes these
votes might be labeled (e.g., most feasible idea, wildest
idea, etc.). Each team member then applies these votes to the
ideas that they support. When all team members have completed
their selections, the votes are tallied, and items that
received zero to one vote are removed. The alternatives that
were selected are discussed, and the team considers new ways
of combining or synthesizing alternatives. These steps are


repeated until only a few options remain. At this stage, the
team can use consensus to select the final alternative.

Another approach for idea selection includes determining
selection criteria and rating ideas against these criteria.
Criteria formation can be time-consuming but also can spur
important discussions regarding the project and its goals
(Beckman & Barry, 2007). Depending on the nature of the
challenge, the team may decide to move forward with several
ideas and rapidly test them out in the next stage.



During this stage of design thinking, teams create prototypes
of the selected solution. A prototype is a visible, tangible,
or experiential representation of an idea. They can be used
to quickly validate or invalidate the hidden assumptions
present in their solution. They can also stimulate
imagination and act as a form of idea generation itself. This
stage emphasizes a bias for action: If the team is uncertain
about something or deliberating the merits of an idea, they
should create a prototype that makes the idea visible or
testable. Emphasis is placed on quickly building scrappy
prototypes (Meyer & Marion, 2010). Early prototypes can be
made in 20 to 30 minutes using nearby cheap materials. New
products can be prototyped using cardboard. New apps can be
prototyped typed using paper. New services can be prototyped
through skits. Effective prototypes are designed to test
assumptions and are experiential for the user.

Testing Assumptions

Prototyping is somewhat analogous to the study design
component of scientific research. Researchers do not begin a
study by blindly handing out surveys, assigning
interventions, or mixing chemicals. Before this, they
identify an important hypothesis or research question—the
answer to which will advance knowledge in a meaningful way.
Then, they design a study that can convincingly answer this
question. Upon completing the study, they can identify which
claims about the world they can and cannot support.

Similarly, prototypes are designed to test an assumption
about the nature of the solution. New ideas are full of these
assumptions, and they are often incorrect. For example, the


previous example of providing iron acorn grinders to Native
American tribes was based on the (untested) assumption that
the users wanted to more efficiently grind corn. They did
not. People design assumptions about the user and the problem
into solutions. In the example of Embrace Innovations, the
team initially created a precise temperature gauge of the
incubator, assuming that this would be helpful for the user.
However, upon testing it, they learned that users feared
overdosing their children and would keep the heating pad at a
lower temperature than required. As a result, solutions may
not be used as intended, may not address a need, or might be
too complex. Prototypes allow the team to test specific
questions and gain valuable user feedback early. The results
provide direction for refining the solution.

The founding of e-commerce store Zappos is perhaps the
archetypal example of prototyping (Ries, 2011). In 1999, Nick
Swinmurn had the radical idea of selling shoes online. At the
center of this business model was the assumption that people
would buy shoes online without trying them on first. Online
retail was, at this time, unproven. So he designed a
“study” to validate this assumption. He went to a local
store and took photos of various shoes. He put the photos,
descriptions, and prices on a rough website and waited.
People started buying the shoes. When they did, he simply
went to the shoe store, bought the shoes, and shipped them to
the customer. In doing so, his prototype validated a key
assumption of the solution—that people would indeed buy
shoes online without trying them on first. With this
validation, Swinmurn was able to move the business idea
forward and convince others of its promise. A single
prototype does not need to represent the entire solution. It
is sometimes better to test smaller features in isolation to
identify more precisely what works and what does not. Teams
can also test alternative versions of a feature to see which
users prefer and discover why. A useful tool to facilitate
this process is the test card (Osterwalder, 2015). This is a


fill-in-the blank card that details (1) what the team
believes (e.g., people will buy shoes online), (2) how they
will verify this (e.g., post pictures and a description of
shoes online), (3) what they will measure (e.g., how many
people purchase shoes online), and (4) how the team knows
they are right (e.g., if 20 people buy shoes in one day).

Experiential Prototypes

Prototypes also need to be experiential. Explaining a
solution to a user is unlikely to be useful. Ambiguity makes
it difficult for the user to fully understand the solution
verbally, and it limits the usefulness of feedback they might
provide. To be experiential, the prototype should be
something visual or tangible to the user. This can include
things like 3D-printed objects or a wireframe of an app. It
can also include low-fidelity prototypes like storyboards,
sketches, and scrappy objects made with available materials.
An experiential prototype acts as a boundary object
(discussed in Chapter 6), which allows both the designer and
the user to manipulate, discuss, and critique a budding
solution in more concrete terms.

For example, a friend is an architect who uses prototyping to
design houses. Upon meeting with a client, he places a nearby
object, like a water bottle, on the table and says, “I’m
going to build you a house. It will look like this.” The
client usually protests, stating a preference for something
else (e.g., something more square-shaped). With this
feedback, the architect finds a suitable object in the
environment (e.g., a book) and says, “Okay, I’m going to
build you a house that looks like this.” After several
iterations and joining of objects, both the architect and
client create a shared understanding of what the desired
house will look like. In this case, the initial prototype is
relatively unimportant. Prototyping is not necessarily about


“getting it right” the first time but, instead, creating a
jumping-off point to learn more about the user needs and
validate assumptions about a solution.

Experiential prototypes also include role-playing, scenarios,
or improv skits with users. These are particularly useful for
service-based solutions (Zomerdijk & Voss, 2011). Here, the
design team devises a scenario in which users play a central
role. Again, the team is not merely performing for an
audience of users but, rather, creating a scenario in which a
user will be the star. This enables the team to quickly
observe how the user responds to a new situation.

Imagine a team redesigning the urgent care waiting room
experience. They converge upon the solution of making urgent
care feel fun by providing an optional waiting room with
entertainment like, say, an animal balloon artist. Ahead of
time, the team plans a rough dialogue with specific roles
that each member plays, such as the receptionist, the animal
balloon artist, and other patients waiting in the room. They
also design a role for the user to play, such as the patient
checking in. Upon finding a user to participate, they explain
the setting and their role (e.g., “Pretend that you have a
rash and that you are checking in to urgent care”). Then,
let the experience play out. One team member observes and
takes notes: How do they respond to the receptionist
explaining the option for the other room? Do they choose it?
How do they react when the animal balloon artist comes in?
For how long are they engaged? At the end of the scenario, an
interviewer probes what the user enjoyed and did not enjoy
about the experience. This feedback can quickly be used to
revise the scenario—they might change the kind of
entertainment available (in-flight screens or a comedian).
They can also test variations, such as the willingness of
patients to pay a surcharge for the upgraded waiting room
experience or whether the patient has children present. They


might even play with different kinds of illnesses or

It is not easy to show a stranger a scrappy prototype or
invite them to participate in a scenario. Prototyping can be
challenging when team members strive for perfection or
getting it right the first time. Establishing and maintaining
a playful, nonjudgmental group climate is vital at this



The prototyping stage focuses on identifying the assumptions
that need to be validated and building prototypes to test
these assumptions. During the testing stage, the team engages
users with the prototypes to solicit feedback. The goal of
this stage is not necessarily to get it right but, rather, to
gain useful and actionable feedback. The following guidelines
help to generate effective user feedback:

1. Assign team members the role of observing and taking
notes during the test. Consider asking permission to
record audio or video of the test.

2. Test prototypes in the contexts and environments in which
they will be used. For example, a team might design a map
to aid in navigating a building. Do not stop people to
show them the map—this is not how people would stumble
upon it in real life. Instead, hang the map in the
building (or maybe test several locations), and watch
people. Are people still wandering around lost? Why are
they not seeing your map? Interview the people who both
walk past the map and those who use it to understand why.

3. Avoid overexplaining how the prototype works or how it
solves a problem. Instead, learn from how users interact
and struggle with using the solution naturally. Do not
correct users if they use the prototype incorrectly.

4. Solicit feedback. This can include users talking through
their experience. It can also involve an interview
afterward that asks about what they liked, what they did
not like, what they were confused about, and what they
would change about the solution.

5. Accept negative feedback, and do not justify the solution
to the user. Your goal is to learn about their experience
with the prototype, not to sell them on the idea.


Experimentation is essential to design thinking, but it can
be uncomfortable because it involves ambiguity and failure
(Micheli et al., 2019). Initial ideas might seem more
feasible on paper than in real life, or solutions may not be
as desirable to users as anticipated. Failure and negative
feedback are to be expected, encouraged, and celebrated.
Adopting a learning-oriented and optimistic mindset is
particularly useful at this stage of the design process.

Based on the feedback, the team may decide to return to any
of the previous stages of design thinking. The results may
reveal the need to reframe the problem or may inspire new
ideas. As teams learn more about the user, the problem, and
the solution, they should move back and forth through the
process to constantly refine their ideas. Over time, a
workable solution may surface that addresses the problem.




The idea journey framework and the design thinking process
provide insights into how innovation teams operate. What
other factors promote team innovation? Research reveals that
team diversity, knowledge integration, team climate, and
organizational context are important predictors of
creativity. While team conflict is sometimes attributed to
sparking innovation, findings are mixed on this factor.


Team Diversity

One of the most often referenced benefits of working in teams
is the synergistic integration of diverse knowledge, skills,
and abilities. Meta-analyses reveal that diversity can
support team innovation (Van Dijk, Van Engen, & Van
Knippenberg, 2012). Specifically, teams with more job-related
diversity—functional background, educational background, and
job knowledge—are associated with greater team innovation.
This relationship is particularly strong with teams that have
norms and structures that promote the open exchange of ideas.
By contrast, a relationship between demographic diversity
(e.g., gender, race, ethnicity, or age) and team innovation
has mixed support (Webber & Donahue, 2001; Hülsheger et al.,
2009; Van Dijk, Van Engen, & Van Knippenberg, 2012). This is
likely due to social-categorization processes and intergroup
biases that impede information sharing, thereby undermining
the benefits of diversity (Van Knippenberg, De Dreu, & Homan,
2004). Chapter 13 explores these issues in greater detail.


Information Integration

Diversity, by itself, does not make a team more creative
(Hoever, Van Knippenberg, Van Ginkel, & Barkema, 2012).
Rather, it is through communication that team members are
exposed to divergent perspectives and approaches that
challenge their thinking and spur novel ideas (Perry-Smith,
2006). Team diversity can also trigger communication with
people outside of the team, which can further expose them to
new information and perspectives (Perry-Smith & Shalley,
2003). A meta-analysis confirms that both internal
communication (i.e., within the team) and external
communication (i.e., outside the team) are related to team
innovation (Hülsheger et al., 2009). Importantly, it is not
simply a matter of more communication: This can actually
undermine innovation (Kratzer, Leenders, & Engelen, 2004).
Rather, team innovation benefits from high-quality
communication through which members integrate their unique
knowledge (Van Knippenberg, 2017). Creative teams
constructively discuss, debate, challenge, and integrate the
different ideas of members.



There is mixed support for the assertion that conflict
benefits creativity. (Conflict is discussed in Chapter 7.)
Individual studies suggest that group conflict can spur
creativity and innovation by encouraging information
integration, particularly on nonroutine tasks like
brainstorming (Jehn, 1995; Puck & Pregernig, 2014). A study
of Chinese information technology teams found that creativity
was impeded by both too little and too much task conflict,
concluding that the most creative teams had moderate levels
of conflict early in the project (Farh et al., 2010).

However, meta-analyses synthesizing dozens of individual
studies do not support a relationship between task conflict
and innovation (Hülsheger et al., 2009; O’Neill et al.,
2013). Subsequent research concluded that task conflict does
not foster information integration (Hoever et al., 2012).
From this, Van Knippenberg (2017) recommends that teams focus
on promoting information integration rather than fostering
task conflict to advance creativity.


Team Climate for Innovation

A team climate encompasses the atmosphere created through the
shared perception of team practices, procedures, and rewards
(Schneider & Reichers, 1983). A climate is produced through
interactions and communication that establish what behaviors
are appropriate and desirable by the team. West (1990)
identified four components that foster a team climate for
innovation. First, support for innovation is created through
the expectation and approval of attempting to introduce novel
practices. Some teams and organizations prefer executing
routine operations and conformity to established practices;
innovation may be actively discouraged or simply not
supported. Second, task orientation encompasses a commitment
to task performance characterized by individual and team
accountability through monitoring, feedback, and critical
appraisals. Third, participative safety built upon trust and
support facilitates an environment where members can safely
express new ideas without fear of judgment. Finally, team
innovation benefits from shared goals that are clear, valued
by members, and feasible. Fostering behaviors and
communication that reinforce these components creates a team
climate that is positively related to team innovation
(Hülsheger et al., 2009).


Organizational Context

Organizations say that creativity is a valuable goal, but
they often reject creative ideas (Mueller, Melwani, &
Goncalo, 2012). This negative bias toward creativity is due
to uncertainty. When people are uncertain, they tend to favor
well-known and practical ideas rather than creative ones.
Uncertainty also interferes with people’s ability to
recognize creative ideas.

Creativity implies risk. Organizations focus on providing
consistency, minimizing error, and reducing risk. This is the
inherent conflict with organizational creativity. The problem
is not that there are no creative individuals and teams in
organizations but, rather, that their creativity is not
rewarded. Work environments can either stimulate or provide
barriers to creativity. Table 12.1 presents a list of
environmental factors that research has shown affects
creativity in the workplace (Amabile, Conti, Coon, Lazenby, &
Herron, 1996).

Table 12.1 Environmental Stimulants and Obstacles to Creativity

Factor Stimulant to Creativity
Obstacle to


Freedom Employees need the
freedom to decide what
tasks to perform and how
to perform them, and
they need control over
their work process.

A lack of
freedom in the
way employees
select projects
and perform


Factor Stimulant to Creativity
Obstacle to


Management Managers need to be good
role models, have good
technical and
communication skills,
and provide clear
directions but use
limited controls and
protect teams from
negative organizational

styles that
include unclear
direction, poor
technical and
skills, and too
much control.

Encouragement New ideas need to be
encouraged. There should
be no threat of

A lack of
support or
apathy toward
new approaches
reduces the
motivation for

Recognition Employees should believe
that creativity will
receive appropriate
feedback, recognition,
and reward from the

unfair, and
evaluations and
the use of
goals limit


Factor Stimulant to Creativity
Obstacle to


Cooperation The organizational
climate should support
cooperation and
acceptance of new ideas,
rewards for innovation,
and the allowance of
risk taking.

and intergroup
within an
organization or
work group
disrupts the

Time Creativity requires time
to explore new ideas and
requires less rigid

Too great a
workload or day-
to-day crises
that redirect
focus away from
projects reduce

Challenge Tasks that are
interesting, important,
and not routine
encourage creativity.

that emphasize
consistency and
do not support
risk taking


Factor Stimulant to Creativity
Obstacle to


Motivation There should be the
desire to do something
important or a sense of
urgency to create and
complete the task
because of competition
from outside the

factors, such as
a bad reward
bureaucracy, and
a lack of regard
for innovation,

Source: Creativity in Context, Teresa M. Amabile, Copyright © 1996 Teresa
M. Amabile and Westview Press. Reproduced by permission of Taylor &
Francis Group.



Virtual teams are potentially more creative than face-to-face
teams or individuals working independently because of less
cognitive interference and fewer social inhibitors. This
inspiration can occur if the leader appropriately captures
the benefits of virtual creativity. There are several
guidelines and techniques a virtual leader can follow to gain
the advantages of virtual creativity.

1. Involve participants from varied knowledge areas and
backgrounds. The geographical distribution of virtual
teams may enable the participation of individuals
representing different experiences. The broader the base
of participants engaging in a shared idea generation
process, the more it should broaden the base of ideas

2. Take multiple parallel approaches to the same problem.
When idea generation occurs in one location, any idea
heard by the rest of the group influences their thinking.
When an initial idea takes the group in a particular
direction, other directions of creative thought may be
completely abandoned. The solution to this is to
introduce many initial ideas simultaneously without
cross-influence and then build on each. Brainwriting is
the most established technique to do this. While
brainwriting can be used face to face, brainwriting is
readily used in a virtual setting. Most commercial group
support systems (GSS) products—and even a wiki or Google
Docs—support brainwriting. Using brainwriting tools, a
leader can break the group into subgroups and have each
subgroup generate ideas separately. When this virtual
approach is used, ideas from one subgroup do not
influence other subgroup discussions.


3. Anonymity is more easily accomplished in a virtual
setting. Anonymity may benefit the creativity process by
removing social inhibitors. Reducing these inhibitors may
foster the contribution of riskier and more novel ideas.
Anonymity also enables the leader to seed risky or
provocative ideas into the discussion in order to
encourage more out-of-the box thinking by other

4. Role-play techniques during idea generation may
contribute to a broader set of ideas and perhaps more
novel ideas. Role-play may be easier to manage in a
virtual setting because of the reduced level of social
inhibitors. A simple role-play technique is to assign a
celebrity identity (historical or popular culture) to
each participant and ask everyone to generate ideas that
the celebrity might produce. Imagine the broad base of
ideas that might be contributed if participants are asked
to imagine themselves as the Dalai Lama, Lady Gaga,
Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, or Batman. Some GSS
and creativity products permit users to contribute ideas
with the signature of a celebrity.



Creativity is generating novel and useful ideas. Innovation
is implementing creative ideas into a new product, service,
or practice. Teams create innovations through a process of
idea generation, idea elaboration, idea championing, and idea
implementation. Innovation is a challenge for teams because
each of these stages requires different, even opposing,
skills in teammates.

Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation
frequently used in education and industry. The nonlinear
process moves teams between empathy, defining problems,
ideation, prototyping, and testing to solve challenging
problems. This process emphasizes focusing on users,
embracing failure, experimentation, curiosity, and

Ideation methods include mind mapping, analogies, and
brainstorming. The primary goal of brainstorming is to
generate lots of ideas, but production blocking, evaluation
apprehension, and social loafing interfere with this in face-
to-face groups. Research shows that face-to-face
brainstorming is often less effective compared to nominal
group techniques and electronic brainstorming. Hybrid
brainstorming techniques, involving both individual and group
brainstorming, can be as effective as nominal group methods.

Creativity in groups is enhanced through job-related
diversity, knowledge integration, and a climate for
innovation. There is mixed support for conflict enhancing
creativity in groups. Although organizational leaders claim
they want to encourage creativity, their actions often do not
match their words. Creativity is required for organizations
to adapt to the changing environment, but organizations tend
to encourage consistency and stability rather than


innovation. Organizations can either encourage or discourage
creativity through factors such as management orientation,
availability of resources, recognition for risk taking, and a
cooperative climate.


Team Leadership Challenge 12

You are the leader of a team of writers and artists at
an animation studio. Typically, the studio develops a
script or movie idea that it purchased externally.
However, the management is inspired by the design
thinking practices used at Pixar to internally create
worlds, characters, and stories. For example,
directors each pitch three ideas to the chief creative
officer to be selected as the next project. Selected
projects enter a long development phase that includes
the design team going out to experience the
environments that will be included in the film,
communicating ideas and characters visually through
storyboards and physical models, and providing
iterative feedback to each other.

You are excited about this new direction. However, the
team of writers and artists is hesitant. Creating the
entire story (as opposed to buying a prospective
script) seems daunting. Moreover, the team feels
uncomfortable providing constructive criticism to each
other, and management has, in the past, discouraged
failure and mistakes.

How will you explain the design thinking process to
the team?

What specifically can you do you foster a
psychologically safe environment that rewards failure
and speaking up?

What resources will you ask of the upper management to
support this transition to design thinking?


Activity: Comparing Different

Creativity Techniques

Objective: Creativity may be improved by using one of
the creativity techniques presented in this chapter.
Teams can try out these techniques to see how well
they work.

Activity: Divide members into three teams, and have
each team use a different creativity technique—group
discussion, brainstorming, or brainwriting. Each of
these is useful for generating alternative solutions.
Spend about 20 minutes using the creativity technique,
then use multiple voting to select the preferred
alternative. For a creative challenge, try developing
a new advertising slogan for your organization, or
write a creative caption for a cartoon in The New
Yorker magazine.

Group Discussion: Have the group discuss creative
solutions to the problem.

Brainstorming: To start a brainstorming session, the
team leader must clearly state the issues to be
discussed and review the guidelines for brainstorming.
During the brainstorming session, all team members
should try to suggest as many ideas as possible. Every
idea is accepted by the team and noted on the
recorder’s sheet. The leader’s job is to keep team
members on track by keeping them focused on the issue.
No one is allowed to criticize ideas. Instead, members
are encouraged to build on the suggestions made by
others. It is up to the leader to make sure no
criticisms occur during the brainstorming session.


Brainwriting: Brainwriting starts with the same
general approach as brainstorming. Teams are brought
together, the leader announces the issue, and team
members are told to be open and build on each other’s
ideas. The difference is that the team’s interaction
is in writing. Have each person write down several
alternative ideas, throw their paper into a central
pool, and pull out someone else’s paper to add to.
Team members are to build on the ideas presented in
the lists they receive. When the team is finished
generating ideas, combine all lists for the team to

Selecting a solution using multiple voting: The team
reviews the alternatives generated by the creativity
session and combines items that seem similar. Each
team member selects two to five alternatives that they
would like to support. After all team members have
completed their selections, tally the votes and
discard items that received zero or one vote. Discuss
the alternatives selected, and look for ways to
combine or synthesize them. Repeat these steps until
only a few options remain for the team to use to
arrive at a consensus.

Analysis: Which technique generated the most creative
solution? What did team members like and dislike about
the creativity technique they used? Would they want to
use the technique in the future?

Discussion: What are the advantages of and problems
with using group discussion and these two creativity
techniques? How can you encourage a team to be more




Diversity in a team stems from differences in demographic, psychological, and organizational
characteristics. Differences can be a resource that provides the team with multiple
perspectives on an issue, but they can also divide the team into competitive subgroups. If
diverse teams can prevent intergroup biases from emerging, they can perform better on
decision making, problem solving, and creativity tasks. Team problems emerging from
diversity are unlikely to go away by themselves, but actions can be taken to promote
inclusive climates that help teams gain the benefits of diversity.


Learning Objectives

1. Explain why diversity is increasingly important for teams and organizations to

2. Distinguish between different kinds of difference and diversity.
3. Understand how individual, cognitive, and social processes contribute to

diversity problems.
4. Explain how stereotypes, prejudice, and biases are interconnected.
5. Understand how and under what conditions different kinds of diversity affect team

6. Explain the importance of information elaboration and how to facilitate it.
7. Understand ways to support diversity and inclusion.



A confluence of factors continues to make diversity of great importance to teams and
organizations (Mor Barak, 2016). Legislation in countries around the world is combating
discrimination against marginalized social groups and bringing them into the workforce.
People are entering the workforce later in life due to advanced education, and they are
working later into life due to improved health and retirement insecurity. The working-age
population of developing countries is surging, while it is declining in more developed
countries. Global economic integration is encouraging the migration of both workers and
employers to balance the needs of labor supply and demand. Social categories are expanding,
producing new and broader conceptions of diversity. As organizations become more global,
their workforce must be able to interact in diverse markets. As these factors coincide with
the increased use of teamwork in organizations, people are increasingly working together
with a multitude of experiences, ages, backgrounds, abilities, identities, cultures, and

Diversity is at the core of teamwork. If people have identical knowledge, skills, or
perspectives, then there is little reason to organize them into teams. Diversity offers a
valuable resource for teams and organizations. But diversity is also a central challenge for
teamwork. Diversity is not always beneficial—it can increase conflict and turnover and
lower performance and cohesion (Mannix & Neale, 2005). This is the paradoxical dilemma of
diversity (Bassett-Jones, 2005)—organizations that avoid diversity lose opportunities for
increased innovation, creativity, and productivity, while organizations that embrace
diversity risk workplace conflict, distrust, and tension. How do you get different people to
work together smoothly and effectively as a team? Navigating this paradox requires
understanding how difference and diversity impact team functioning.



What constitutes a diverse team? This is a challenging question, as the term diversity is
used inconsistently and imprecisely. Diversity refers to the distribution of differences
among members of an organizational unit (e.g., a team) that lead them to view themselves as
similar to or different from one other (Roberson, 2019; Van Knippenberg & Schippers, 2007).
This definition highlights that diversity is a unit-level construct—an individual is not
diverse, but rather, a team is diverse on a specific difference. A team of five male
engineers would not be considered diverse on sex or occupation. A team composed of female,
non-binary, and male engineers would be diverse on gender identity but not on occupation.


Types of Difference

Although people often think of diversity in terms of gender or ethnicity, research
investigates a broad range of differences. Differences are any of the innumerable categories
used to describe or classify people, such as team cohesion, profession, age, personality,
gender expression, status, and knowledge. McGrath, Berdahl, and Arrow (1995) differentiate
between three categories of differences that affect teams in organizations. Demographic
diversity relates to social categories like gender, race, ethnicity, ability, class,
sexuality, and age. Psychological diversity relates to differences in cognitions, behavior,
values, attitudes, personality, skills, and knowledge. People can be conservative or
liberal, religious or not religious, risk-oriented or risk-averse, cohesive or not cohesive.
Organizational diversity relates to a person’s relationship to an organization, such as
rank, occupation, department, and power. This kind of diversity can produce differences in
language or terminology that may lead to miscommunication, while power differences may
disrupt the team’s communication process.

In the United States, demographic distinctions of gender, race, class, sexuality, ability,
and age hold significance in many situations (Allen, 2003), but this is not true in all
societies or eras. For example, religion is a more important demographic variable in the
Middle East than in the United States. Differences among European immigrants were considered
very important in the United States during the early 1900s, but these differences do not
hold the same significance today. This illustrates that many differences are not an
objective way to classify people. Rather, many differences emerge from social, historical,
political, and organizational contexts (McDonald, 2019).

It is sometimes useful to distinguish between how easily differences can be observed
(Harrison, Price, & Bell, 1998; Harrison, Price, Gavin, & Florey, 2002). Surface-level
diversity includes more visible and immutable differences that tend to affect people
immediately (e.g., age, sex, race). Given their visibility, these differences are theorized
to more quickly activate stereotypes, bias, and in-group/out-group dynamics that can
negatively impact team processes and outcomes (Milliken & Martins, 1996). Surface-level
diversity may lead to problems with communication, team cohesion, and conflict but often has
mixed or limited effects on overall team performance.

By contrast, deep-level diversity includes psychological or task-oriented differences that
are less observable, take more time to recognize, and are more malleable (e.g., attitude,
values, knowledge, and expertise). These differences are considered more functional and are
thought to improve team decision making, creativity, and performance (Harrison & Humphrey,
2010). While social divisions may eventually emerge from deep-level diversity, surface-level
differences are often most immediately salient. As a result, divisions along surface-level
differences can occur early and shape the dynamics of the team. Over time, however, the
negative impact of surface diversity diminishes while the negative impact of deep diversity
increases (Harrison et al., 2002).



Types of Diversity

There are at least three kinds of diversity that can be present in teams: variety,
separation, and disparity (Harrison & Klein, 2007). Each of these conceptualizes diversity
differently and suggests different consequences.

Variety diversity consists of differences in the kind or source of information among
members, such as education, functional background, and knowledge. Minimal variety (i.e.,
homogeneity) occurs when all members share the same attribute (e.g., a health care team in
which all members are nurses). Maximal variety (i.e., heterogeneity) occurs when all members
differ on the same attribute (e.g., a health care team composed of a nurse, a physician, and
a physical therapist). Variety diversity is theorized to be beneficial to teams,
particularly in complex and nonroutine tasks. Greater variety means greater access to
nonredundant information, which can foster productive task conflict and improve creativity,
innovation, and decision quality.

Separation diversity consists of differences in values, opinions, and attitudes,
particularly about team goals and processes. Minimal separation results when all members
hold the same position on an issue (e.g., the product is ready to launch), while maximal
separation results when the team is equally divided into two opposing subgroups (e.g., half
the team believes the product is ready to launch, while the other half believes that it is
not ready). Greater separation diversity is associated with poorer team outcomes, such as
increased conflict and distrust and decreased cohesion and performance.

Disparity diversity consists of asymmetric differences in socially valued resources among
members, such as status, prestige, power, decision-making authority, or pay. Minimal
disparity means that all members have equal amounts of the resource. Maximal disparity means
that one member has most or all of the resource, while all other members have little or
none. For example, this exists in teams where one member has seniority over other novice
members, or a team supervisor retains all decision-making authority. This kind of diversity
is also associated with negative outcomes, as inequities can promote resistance, defiance,
and competition. It can also stifle participation and voice, which impedes information

Importantly, several kinds of diversity can occur concurrently to amplify or negate
outcomes. For example, while high levels of variety (e.g., knowledge) can improve decision
making, members may fail to share relevant information if the team also has high disparity
(e.g., power imbalances). Likewise, teams with high levels of separation and variety (e.g.,
two nurses have one opinion and two physicians have an opposing opinion) can create even
stronger divides between subgroups, fracture team identity, and foster competitive

Notably, Harrison and Klein’s (2007) framework does not specifically address demographic
differences (e.g., age, gender, sex, race). This is because, depending on the context,
demographic differences may represent separation, variety, and/or disparity. For example,
gender can be associated with access to specialized information (variety), be negatively
related to team cohesion (separation), or be a source of status difference that marginalizes
their role in a team (disparity). This underscores the importance of considering the
context-dependent meaning of diversity in the specific team or organization under

Finally, diversity research typically focuses on a single category of difference independent
from others (e.g., race, or gender, or status). However, diversity can be more deeply
understood by considering intersectionality. People simultaneously embody several types of
difference (e.g., race and gender and status), and it is the combination of these



differences that impact their experiences (Kang & Bodenhausen, 2015). For example,
leadership evaluations of white women and women of color are different because of the
intersection of race, gender, and status (Sanchez-Hucles & Davis, 2010). More sophisticated
conceptualizations of difference using intersectionality offer much promise for
understanding diversity in work teams. This concept is intertwined somewhat with the concept
of demographic fault lines, which is discussed later in this chapter.


Diversity Over Time

Team diversity is not static—it evolves over time as team members interact and as
membership changes. As people work together in a team, they develop a sense of identity with
the team, which becomes stronger as the team becomes more cohesive. Over time, members form
a shared mental model, develop coordination patterns, build emotional bonds, and create a
common language for communicating. This leads to a convergence of attitudes, beliefs, and
values that reduces the significance of background differences among team members (Harrison
et al., 2002). Members identify with a team to the extent that membership is emotionally
important to them and they care about its collective goals (Eckel & Grossman, 2005). One
implication of team formation is that team members shift their social categories and create
a new social identity. Members working together in a team develop the category of teammate.
This category can become more important than the other ways that members previously
categorized the people on the team.

However, team membership also changes over time—members come and go (Mathieu et al., 2014).
This underscores the need to consider the impacts of diversity as team members are added,
substituted, and subtracted (Li, Meyer, Shemla, & Wegge, 2018). For example, teams with
minimal informational-variety diversity may change members over time to eliminate redundant
knowledge types and increase diversity. However, as diversity changes, teams are likely to
experience process and performance losses, as the teams must redirect time and resources to
rebuild transactive memory systems, team identity, and team coordination patterns.



What processes emerge in diverse teams? When team members categorize each other into
different social groups (e.g., demographic, psychological, or organizational differences),
intergroup dynamics can emerge. Categorization can occur immediately upon the team’s
formation—often but not always—based on surface-level differences (e.g., gender). It can
also emerge later in the team’s development based on deep-level differences (e.g., learning
about the political, religious, or occupational background of a member).

The terms in-group and out-group are used to describe the intergroup relationships. These
are relative terms. From the perspective of engineering students, for example, other
students in the College of Engineering might be viewed as an in-group, while students in the
College of Liberal Arts might be viewed as an out-group. From the perspective of the liberal
arts students, however, engineering students might be an out-group. Importantly, social
groups are not mutually exclusive—subgroups are often nested within larger groups. Both
these engineering and liberal arts students are members of the same university; however, the
context may make this superordinate identity more or less salient. During a graduation
ceremony, for example, this superordinate identity may supersede differences in colleges.

Intergroup dynamics, while not inevitable, activate an array of intergroup biases that can
promote competition, conflict, aggression, and rejection. In teams, these biases can
negatively impact team cohesion and performance. Sources of intergroup biases stem from
personality traits, social processes, and cognitive processes.


Personality Traits

Personality traits can foster intergroup conflict in contexts where group-based social
hierarchies are legitimized. For example, cultural values in an organization might afford
higher status and power to those on top of a social hierarchy (e.g., men in a patriarchal
hierarchy). People high on a personality trait called authoritarianism tend to view the
world as a dangerous place. In an effort to protect themselves, they accept established
social hierarchies and favor punishment for people who violate these norms (Altemeyer,
1998). A similar but distinct personality trait is social dominance orientation (SDO). This
describes the tendency to accept (high SDO) or reject (low SDO) group-based social
hierarchies (Sidanius & Pratto, 2001). People high in SDO tend to endorse in-group
superiority and generally prefer group-based inequality (Ho et al., 2015). These beliefs
then justify prejudice and discrimination against out-group members.


Social Processes

Intergroup conflict can also emerge from a social process of competition between groups (see
Chapter 5). Realistic group conflict theory suggests that the desire for limited resources
spurs both cooperation with in-group members and competition with out-group members (Sherif,
1966). Exacerbating this is the discontinuity effect—the tendency for people to act more
competitively in groups than as individuals (Wildschut & Insko, 2007). Within an
organization, competition might be for promotions, office space, jobs, and project
resources. Within a team, scarce resources might include power, influence, respect, status,
and desired roles or tasks. Conflict, prejudice, discrimination, and hostility arise when
the out-group is perceived as a threat to these limited resources.

From this perspective, one way that diversity affects team interaction is by creating power
differentials within the team (McGrath et al., 1995). In teams with unequal power among
members, the level of communication is reduced, and the powerful members control the
communication process. Power differences affect team cohesion because individuals with
similar status are more likely to interact with one another and form friendships (Tolbert,
Andrews, & Simons, 1995). Power differences may also lead diverse teams to have more
internal conflicts because of conflicting goals and increased miscommunication. However,
when competing groups are united by common goals (see Chapter 5) or a superordinate
identity, these prejudices can be reduced.


Cognitive Processes

An alternative view is that people categorize their social world into groups and treat the
members of those groups differently based on their categories (Dovidio & Gaertner, 2010).
This can occur in the absence of competition for resources. These categories can be
relatively arbitrary. For example, we are more likely to categorize people in ways that are
easily observable (e.g., race rather than religion). Once these categories are formed, they
have important implications for how people perceive and interact with others.

The theories of social identification and self-categorization suggest that intergroup bias
is the natural outcome of categorizing someone as an out-group member (Zhong, Phillips,
Leonardelli, & Galinsky, 2008). When we see ourselves as a member of a group, we are
motivated to think and act in ways that increase the positive distinctiveness of our in-
group in relation to out-groups. Our self-esteem is closely tied to the social standing of
our in-group. This is why sports fans experience pride when their team wins and agony when
they lose.

Positive distinctiveness is sustained through intergroup biases that encourage us to view
in-groups positively and out-groups negatively. Through in-group favoritism, we view the
group we belong to (our in-group) more positively, and we like, trust, and act friendlier
toward in-group members. By contrast, through out-group derogation, members are viewed as
less capable or threatening. Additionally, there is a neurological component to intergroup
bias: In-group favoritism is amplified through the effects of the hormone oxytocin, which is
associated with in-group cooperation and defense (De Dreu & Kret, 2016). Contributing to
these tendencies are stereotypes, implicit biases, and attribution errors, which create and
reinforce inaccuracies and misperceptions about in-group and out-group members.

Stereotypes, Prejudice, and Discrimination

A stereotype is a generalization of a social group that oversimplifies their characteristics
(Fiske, 1998). In-groups receive positive stereotypes, while out-groups—particularly
underrepresented out-groups—receive negative stereotypes. Stereotypes inform prejudices,
which are attitudes toward a social group. Out-groups can evoke fear, anger, or contempt
when they are perceived to interfere with the goals, resources, or values of the in-group.
By contrast, in-groups can evoke pride. Prejudices then foster discrimination, in which
people are treated differently based on their social group. Negative attitudes can promote
exclusion or hostility, while positive attitudes can promote helping behaviors.

For example, team members often use gender as an irrelevant cue for expertise (Cohen & Zhou,
1991). Those who are perceived to have expertise generally have more considerable influence
in decision making and are assigned leadership roles in teams. However, team members tend to
value the expertise of a man above that of a woman, regardless of actual expertise
(Ridgeway, 1997). This is particularly salient today in historically male-dominated
contexts, such as science and engineering teams. A recent study identified the male tendency
to evaluate less educated female teammates more favorably when compared to highly educated
female teammates (Joshi, 2014). Additionally, the team’s gender composition impacted how
the expertise of highly educated women was used—teams dominated by men used women’s
expertise less when compared to teams with a higher proportion of women. These results
indicate that gender inequality based on stereotypes and prejudice remains present in teams.

While a stereotype can, in theory, encompass an infinite number of attributes, the reality
is that stereotype content is remarkably consistent across cultures (Cuddy et al., 2009;
Fiske, Cuddy, Glick, & Xu, 2002). Two fundamental dimensions of stereotypes exist which


impact intergroup perceptions: warmth and competence (Kervyn, Fiske, & Yzerbyt, 2015).
Warmth appraises the sociability (e.g., cooperativeness and kindness) and morality (e.g.,
trustworthiness and sincerity) of the group. Competence appraises the status, skills,
capabilities, and intelligence of the group. In-group stereotypes are typically represented
by high warmth and high competence, while out-group stereotypes fall elsewhere.

Where a stereotype falls along the warmth and competence dimensions influences emotional
(i.e., prejudice) and behavioral (i.e., discrimination) tendencies toward members of that
group (Cuddy, Fiske, & Glick, 2007). As shown in the behaviors from intergroup affect and
stereotypes (BIAS) map, these tendencies can be helpful versus harmful and active versus
passive (see Figure 13.1).

The BIAS map reveals that stereotypes can form different kinds of out-groups, each with
different prejudices and discriminatory behaviors. Not all discrimination is hostile and
overt. Rather, much of it is subtle, manifesting in the exclusion from opportunities or the
absence of help. This has important implications for teams. Greenwald and Pettigrew (2014)
assert that in-group helping contributes more to discrimination and inequality than does
out-group derogation. For example, leader–member exchange theory (see Chapter 10) describes
how leaders early on determine whether a follower is an in-group or out-group member. In-
group members receive more resources, mentoring, and assistance; have better performance
evaluations; and are more satisfied with being part of the team than are members of the out-
group. Leaders need to consider how in-group favoritism may create lasting inequalities in
the team (Gelfand et al., 2007).


Figure 13.1 Behaviors From Intergroup Affect and Stereotypes (BIAS)


Source: Adapted from Cuddy, A. J., Fiske, S. T., & Glick, P. (2007). The BIAS map:
Behaviors from intergroup affect and stereotypes. Journal of Personality and Social
Psychology, 92(4), 631–648.

Implicit Bias

Even when people earnestly believe that they hold no bias for or against certain social
groups, they may be influenced by unconscious biases (Greenwald & Banaji, 1995). This is the
concept of implicit bias, which states that a lifetime of experiences and messaging creates
associations between social groups and certain attitudes or beliefs. Implicit negative and
positive associations toward social groups can unintentionally impact people’s decisions,
preferences, and behaviors.

The implicit association test (IAT) measures the strength of these associations (Greenwald,
McGhee, & Schwartz, 1998). It does this through a series of questions asking the person to
sort a concept into one of two categories, such as categorizing math between male or female
(Nosek, Banaji, & Greenwald, 2002). Through various iterations of this procedure, they can
measure the time it takes to respond to various pairings. While people can quickly and
correctly respond to pairings for which they have strong associations (e.g., male/math;
female/language), they respond more slowly to pairings for which they have a weak
association (e.g., female/math; male/language). Implicit association tests have been
developed to study various categories, including race, gender, religion, ethnicity,
sexuality, age, and weight.

Attribution Errors

Attributions about in-groups and out-groups act to form and sustain stereotypes. We quickly
form generalized impressions of an entire out-group after limited contact with a few members
(Quattrone & Jones, 1980). The accompanying out-group homogeneity effect promotes
impressions of the out-group as members being “all the same” and interchangeable, in
contrast to the perceived diversity and complexity of in-group members.

We also attribute different causes to the positive and negative actions of out-group
members. The ultimate attribution error explains how successes and failures can be
attributed to either dispositional (e.g., personality, ability, skills, motivation) or
situational (e.g., luck, circumstances, other people) factors (Pettigrew, 1979). The
ultimate attribution error describes our tendency to differentially attribute the successes
and failure of in-group and out-group members:

In-group member success is attributed to dispositional factors (e.g., “Of course she
completed everything on time—she is a dedicated team member!”).

In-group member failure is attributed to situational factors (e.g., “They did not
finish this task because administration just did not give them enough time.”).

Out-group member success is attributed to situational factors (e.g., “He got lucky by
stumbling on the right answer.”).

Out-group member failure is attributed to dispositional factors (e.g., “She did not
complete her task right because she just is not smart enough.”).


These attributional differences sustain in-group positivity and out-group negativity by
encouraging us to overlook the shortcomings of the in-group while emphasizing the mistakes
of the out-group.

From this perspective, diversity encourages us to misperceive people. We prejudge others on
the basis of their categories rather than on how others actually behave. This causes people
to treat others inappropriately, to have more deficient communication, and to dislike and
distrust others without getting to know them (Mannix & Neale, 2005). People may either
ignore or misinterpret the contributions of out-group or different members. Over time, these
members respond to this by contributing less to team communication. The lack of power these
members experience causes them to have less impact on the team’s decisions and fewer
opportunities to contribute their perspective and knowledge to the team (Tolbert et al.,



Decades of research has examined both specific differences (e.g., gender or race) and
categories of differences (e.g., surface vs. deep or task-related vs. non-task-related) to
determine whether diversity helps or hinders team performance. The answer is a resounding,
“it depends.” Several meta-analyses integrating the findings of over 100 studies provide
mixed and inconsistent conclusions (Mannix & Neale, 2005; Van Knippenberg et al., 2004; Van
Knippenberg & Mell, 2016; Van Knippenberg & Schippers, 2007; Webber & Donahue, 2001;
Williams & O’Reilly, 1998). You can choose nearly any kind of diversity and find studies
that both support and refute its benefit to a team.

These inconsistent findings have shifted research away from investigating whether diversity
helps or hinders team performance and toward determining when diversity helps or hinders
team performance. The answer to this question is more straightforward: Diversity can be
beneficial to team performance when intergroup bias does not impede information elaboration.
This is explained through the categorization–elaboration model (Van Knippenberg et al.,
2004), which integrates the perspectives of information processing and social

An information-processing perspective offers an optimistic view of diversity (Hinsz,
Tindale, & Vollrath, 1997). It states that differences in knowledge, skills, and
perspectives provide a team with a greater pool of cognitive and informational resources.
This, in turn, can lead to improved problem solving, higher quality decisions, and
creativity. These benefits emerge from information elaboration—when task-relevant
information and perspectives are carefully discussed, debated, and integrated by the team.
As a result, the information-processing perspective predicts that diversity will improve
team performance.

Social categorization offers a pessimistic view of diverse teams. Integrating theories of
social identity (Tajfel & Turner, 1986) and self-categorization (Turner et al., 1987),
social categorization predicts that differences among team members lead to in-group/out-
group divisions (e.g., “us vs. them”). The strength of this division is amplified if
subgroups differ along more than one attribute (e.g., subgroups defined by gender and
occupation, such as two female engineers and two male marketing professionals), a concept
referred to as a fault line (Lau & Murnighan, 1998). When faced with tension or conflict,
subgroups more easily fracture and become adversarial along these fault lines. The formation
of subgroups fosters intergroup bias that increases conflict and decreases team member
cohesion, friendships, communication, trust, and cooperation (Jehn & Bezrukova, 2010). As a
result, the social categorization perspective predicts that diversity hinders team


Categorization–Elaboration Model

The categorization–elaboration model reconciles the conflicting predictions of information
processing and social categorization. It does this by integrating and extending these
theories (Van Knippenberg et al., 2004) (see Figure 13.2). Specifically, it emphasizes that
information elaboration and intergroup bias are not inevitable consequences of diversity.
Rather, the effects of diversity are dependent on contextual factors.

Information elaboration does not happen automatically. Indeed, teams often fail to
successfully integrate unshared information (Van Ginkel & van Knippenberg, 2008). It takes
motivation and skill (e.g., negotiation, decision making, etc.) for team members to
effectively share information (Chaiken & Trope, 1999). Also, the need for information
elaboration is dependent on the complexity of the task—routine tasks generally require less
or no extensive information processing compared to more complex tasks (Jehn et al., 1999).
Critically, people tend to disregard information from out-group members and are less willing
to share information with them (Lau & Murnighan, 2005). In doing so, intergroup bias can
disrupt the effective information elaboration needed to benefit from diversity.

Intergroup bias, however, does not always result from a perceived difference. Rather, the
difference must be made salient to the team. Gender diversity may foster intergroup bias if
gender is made a meaningful difference in that context, such as when completing a gender-
based task compared to a gender-neutral task (Pearsall, Ellis, & Evans, 2008). Intergroup
bias is particularly likely to emerge when a difference is perceived as a threat to the
team’s identity, values, status, or resources (Van Leeuwen, Van Knippenberg, & Ellemers,
2003). This means that any kind of difference—surface, deep, demographic, psychological, or
organizational—has the potential to become the basis for intergroup bias.


Figure 13.2 Categorization–Elaboration Model

Source: Adapted from Van Knippenberg, D., De Dreu, C. K., & Homan, A. C. (2004). Work
group diversity and group performance: An integrative model and research agenda. Journal
of Applied Psychology, 89(6), 1008–1022.

The effects of diversity are also dependent on contextual factors (Van Knippenberg & Mell,
2016). For example, intergroup bias is less likely to negatively impact team performance on
a routine task because information elaboration is not required. Teams that work
cooperatively on interdependent tasks generally benefit from diversity, as do teams with a
learning orientation that engage in team reflexivity activities. When people view themselves
as dissimilar from their team, they are less involved in information exchange and decision
making (Hobman, Bordia, & Gallois, 2004) and more likely to withdraw from tasks and leave
the organization (Liao, Chuang, & Joshi, 2008).


Contextual factors external to the team can also impact team outcomes. For example, surface-
level diversity is rarely of consequence to team performance (Jackson & Joshi, 2011).
However, in occupations dominated by male or White employees, gender and ethnic diversity
does have a negative impact on team performance. Similarly, in organizations primarily
staffed by younger people (e.g., high technology), team performance is negatively associated
with age diversity. Here, the organizational and extraorganizational contexts—which reflect
institutional norms and behaviors—of work teams influence whether surface-level diversity
disrupts performance. They conclude that surface-level diversity is more likely to
negatively impact team outcomes “if the work teams are islands of diversity struggling to
succeed in a sea of homogeneity” (Jackson & Joshi, 2011, p. 667).

What does this mean for teams? Diversity is a fact of life for most organizations. The
important question is not whether diverse teams are better or worse than homogeneous teams—
they have the potential to be either. What matters is how to support diverse teams in
operating more effectively. The challenge of diversity is to get the benefits of functional
diversity and differences in perspectives, while managing the communication and conflict
problems created by diverse people working together.



When diversity is not handled effectively, it can increase conflict, create emotional
problems, and reduce team effectiveness. Problems associated with diversity can be managed
by establishing shared goals and preventing fault lines. Diversity training can help to
inhibit bias and misperceptions. It is particularly important to create an inclusive
environment so that members feel valued for their differences. Leadership plays an important
role in all of these practices.


Managing Goals and Identities

Differences are problematic when they cause members to view themselves as dissimilar from
each other and divide the team into subgroups. This can be prevented or combated through
developing shared superordinate identities and goals that minimize attention to subgroup
differences (Van Der Vegt & Bunderson, 2005). Encouraging members to categorize themselves
by a shared identity can unite the team and reduce intergroup bias (Rink & Jehn, 2010). A
team identity is developed by establishing shared norms, values, rewards, and symbols.
Additionally, shared experiences, like challenges or social events, can foster a team
identity. When the team has a strong sense of team identity, members are more willing to
share ideas and pay attention to the ideas of other team members. Team identification helps
members move beyond individual differences and focus on the needs of the team.

Additionally, group divisions are stronger when subgroups differ along more than one
attribute (e.g., gender and task) (Lau & Murnighan, 2005). A technique called crosscutting
can combat this tendency (Rico, Sánchez-Manzanares, Antino, & Lau, 2012). This involves
assigning task roles so that they do not overlap with other differences. For example, avoid
assigning all women to communication roles and men to engineering roles. Rather, assign both
men and women to both roles. Crosscutting makes social categorization more complex and can
weaken the emergence of intergroup bias.


Diversity Training

Diversity training is aimed at fostering positive intergroup interactions by focusing on
increasing awareness of biases about other groups, monitoring behavior, and practicing
appropriate communication (Bezrukova, Spell, Perry, & Jehn, 2016). The goal is to increase
skills and knowledge in order to reduce stereotyping, discrimination, and intergroup bias.
For example, a study of faculty in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM)
programs demonstrates that implicit-bias training improved unconscious but not explicit
attitudes toward women in the field (Jackson, Hillard, & Schneider, 2014).

Training that acknowledges differences among cultures (multiculturalism) has a more positive
impact on social interaction than practices that focus on ignoring group differences and
avoiding inappropriate behavior (color blindness) (Vorauer, Gagnon, & Sasaki, 2009).
Multicultural approaches lead to an outward focus and encourage more interaction with other
team members. In contrast, color blindness encourages a prevention focus where team members
are concerned about not offending others. Anxiety over saying the wrong thing reduces
communication, which can lead to increased misunderstandings among team members.

Although emphasizing similarities among team members may increase group harmony, it
discourages viewing issues from multiple perspectives (Todd, Hanko, Galinsky, & Mussweiler,
2011). Acknowledging differences among team members encourages viewing issues from multiple
perspectives, which improves decision making. Multicultural teams are more likely to be
creative when team members recognize and respect the differences among the team (Crotty &
Brett, 2012). This encourages team members to feel more comfortable with stating ideas from
their unique perspective. Team members acknowledge their cultural differences and try to
combine these different perspectives in unique ways to support the development of creative


Generational Differences: Traits or Stereotypes?

Research identifies many generational differences among people working today.
Successive generations tend to be more neurotic, extroverted, and conscientious and
have higher self-esteem (Lyons & Kuron, 2014). From a work attitude perspective, the
newer generation of workers has less overall job commitment and satisfaction.
Regarding teamwork, there are mixed results, with some studies showing no
generational differences, while other studies find older workers are more comfortable
with working in teams. Overall, there is an increase in individualism and a decrease
in the desire to work in teams.

These generational differences are statistically significant, but how should a team
leader or member use this information? Statistically significant does not mean that
every 20-year-old is less of a team player or more conscientious than every 50-year-
old. Regardless of generational trends, each team member is a person, not a category,
and should be treated as an individual. Be careful about turning information about
group traits into stereotypes that affect how you treat your teammates.


Fostering Inclusion

While a diverse team provides the opportunity for greater performance, these gains are
unlikely to emerge without inclusionary practices (Shore, Cleveland, & Sanchez, 2018).
Inclusion focuses on the experience of an individual within a work group. It refers to the
extent to which an individual feels welcomed as an insider with unique characteristics that
provide value to the group (Shore et al., 2011). Members who feel included are more engaged
in tasks and express their perspectives. Inclusion benefits everyone, but it is particularly
beneficial for members of historically marginalized social groups (Winters, 2014).

Exclusionary behaviors, however, are common in the workplace and are among the most damaging
to well-being, belonging, and work-related attitudes (O’Reilly, Robinson, Berdahl, & Banki,
2015). For example, supervisors are more likely to ignore or avoid employees who express
different goals (Wu et al., 2015). Similarly, people may avoid interacting with people who
are different to escape feelings of anxiety or awkwardness (Shelton & Richeson, 2006).
Finally, people can experience brief and subtle messages, called microaggressions, which
express hostile, derogatory, or negative messages toward their social group (Sue, 2010). A
meta-analysis reveals that both overt and subtle forms of discrimination are at least
equally damaging to individual (e.g., satisfaction, career success, stress, turnover),
organizational (e.g., withdrawal, turnover, performance), physical health (e.g., pain,
substance use, cardiovascular health), and psychological health (e.g., self-esteem,
depression, anxiety, and anger) outcomes (Jones, Peddie, Gilrane, King, & Gray, 2016).

How can an organization foster an inclusive climate? Inclusion is particularly important at
the team level, as this is the primary context for social interaction in organizations.
However, support for diversity inclusion must also exist throughout the organization to be
effective—recall that organizational and extraorganizational contexts influence the
relationship between team diversity and performance. Supporting diversity through inclusion
consists of several practices and processes (Mor Barak et al., 2016; Nishii & Rich, 2014;
Sabharwal, 2014; Shore et al., 2018):

1. Feeling safe—Managers and teammates actively encourage members to express different
opinions. Actions and words should reinforce that it is psychologically and physically
safe to do so without retaliation, rejection, or discrimination. Otherwise, information
elaboration will be inhibited, and the team cannot benefit from diversity (Edmondson &
Lei, 2014).

2. Belongingness—Teammates have frequent positive interactions that produce a stable and
secure relationship (Baumeister & Leary, 1995). Each member feels that they are an
insider and have equal access to information and resources from managers and leaders.

3. Value and respect—Managers and teammates express appreciation for member identity
groups, as opposed to rejecting or ignoring them. Members have opportunities to get to
know each other in more personal ways and share nonwork aspects of their identities. For
example, members can be encouraged to share details about their background and how it
informs their approach to the task.

4. Influence in decision making—Diverse perspectives from all team members are actively
sought and integrated into the decision-making process of the team and organization (Mor
Barak et al., 2016). Managers provide multiple opportunities for upward communication,
seek informal feedback, are open to alternative ideas, and actually incorporate this
information whenever appropriate.

5. Authenticity—Members can comfortably share unique aspects of their identity that differ
from the dominant organizational culture. When people believe they will be negatively
evaluated by deviating from dominant norms, they might hide their true attitudes and
create a false persona to blend into the organization. For example, a lesbian employee
can feel pressure to “pass” as straight in some workplaces, resulting in dodging


conversations about partners and not bringing them to organizational events (Spradlin,

6. Recognizing, honoring, and advancing diversity—Leaders and managers must not simply
espouse support for diversity but follow through with actions. There is not just a focus
on increasing representation of social groups but fair and equal practices across
employees in the organization.

People who work in inclusive environments tend to be more committed, satisfied, and helpful
than those who do not (Nishii & Rich, 2014). Moreover, they can suppress intergroup biases
(Nishii, 2013) and foster information elaboration (Li, Lin, Tien, & Chen, 2017), which is
essential for teams to realize the benefits of diversity. At the end of this chapter is a
survey to evaluate the extent to which you feel included in the team.



Leadership plays an important role across all these practices. From a functional
perspective, team members should monitor and act in response to issues relating to diversity
when they arise. Still, leaders, particularly those with status and power, have an important
role in both exclusion and inclusion. On the one hand, leader in-group favoritism can
promote inequality and exclusion (Gelfand et al., 2007). On the other hand, leaders can
promote inclusion through fostering safe climates and challenging unfair rules (Cottrill,
Denise Lopez, & Hoffman, 2014; Mitchell et al., 2015).

Randel and colleagues (2018) propose five leadership behaviors that advance inclusion
through fostering acceptance and appreciation of members: supporting group members, ensuring
justice and equity, shared decision making, encouraging diverse contributions, and helping
members to fully contribute. These behaviors align with the components of an inclusive
climate and underscore the central role that leaders play in supporting diversity in teams.
These behaviors can enhance work group identification, psychological empowerment, and



Diversity and inclusion continue to be relevant for organizations due to changing workforce
demographics and the adoption of teamwork. Although we often think of diversity in terms of
demographic differences (e.g., gender, ethnicity, age), diversity also includes
psychological (e.g., values, personality, knowledge) and organizational (e.g., tenure,
occupation, status) differences among people. Diversity can differ along dimensions of
variety, separation, and disparity of team members.

Diversity operates through individual personality traits, social processes (competition for
resources), and cognitive processes (intergroup bias). People categorize others and use
stereotypes to explain differences between groups. The categorization process can lead to
cognitive biases that produce prejudice and discrimination that favors in-groups. Team
members and leaders are affected by these biases and may treat team members differently
because of their backgrounds. This reduces members’ ability and willingness to contribute
to the team’s efforts.

The effects of diversity on teams are complex. The performance differences between
homogeneous and heterogeneous teams depend on the contextual factors. Personal or surface-
level diversity may increase conflict in teams, while functional or deep-level diversity can
improve team performance on a variety of tasks. Research supporting the categorization–
elaboration model shows that diversity can improve team performance when intergroup bias
does not impede information elaboration.

Teams and organizations can adopt programs to help teams manage intergroup bias and support
diversity and inclusion. Teams should develop shared goals and identities, while using
crosscutting to prevent fault lines from forming. Diversity training programs can increase
awareness of the differences among types of people and improve a team’s ability to
communicate. Teams and organizations should also develop inclusive climates that foster
belongingness and appreciation for members of different groups. Leadership behaviors play an
essential role in supporting these goals.



Team Leadership Challenge 13

You are the professor in an undergraduate engineering design class. The yearlong
class uses student teams to complete a complex design project. Your goal is to
simulate a real-world professional experience in the class, but you also need to
ensure that it is a safe and productive learning experience for the students.

Like many engineering classes, there are few women students. In the past, you have
not been concerned about gender issues when assigning students to project teams.
However, last year you received several complaints from women students about feeling
bullied and unsupported in their teams. These students were the only women in their
design teams.

How should you (the professor) distribute the few women engineering students among
the project teams?

Are there actions you could take to provide support for the women students in the

How do you handle complaints from women students about team relations?


Survey: Work Group Inclusion

Purpose: Increase your awareness of how included you and members of the team feel.
Inclusion comprises both feelings of belongingness and uniqueness. Belongingness
relates to having positive interactions with a group and feeling accepted by them.
Uniqueness relates to feeling differentiated from the group and that these
differences are valued.

Directions: Using the scale that follows, indicate the amount of agreement with each
of the following statements about yourself in the context of your team.

1   2   3   4   5

Strongly Disagree         Strongly Agree

_____ 1. I am treated as a valued member of my work group.

_____ 2. I belong in my work group.

_____ 3. I am connected to my work group.

_____ 4. I believe that my work group is where I am meant to be.

_____ 5. I feel that people really care about me in my work group.

_____ 6. I can bring aspects of myself to this work group that others in the group
don’t have in common with me.

_____ 7. People in my work group listen to me even when my views are dissimilar.

_____ 8. While at work, I am comfortable expressing opinions that diverge from my

_____ 9. I can share a perspective on work issues that is different from my group

_____ 10. When my group’s perspective becomes too narrow, I am able to bring up a
new point of view.


Add Questions 1–5 to obtain your belongingness score (between 5 and 25). The higher
the score, the more you feel that you belong to your group.

Add Questions 6–10 to obtain your uniqueness score (between 5 and 25). The higher
the score, the more you feel that you are valued for your uniqueness in the group.

Discussion: How included do members of the team feel? What team and organizational
experiences have contributed these feelings of belongingness and uniqueness? What
changes can be made to the team to increase feelings of inclusion?

Source: Chung, B. G., Ehrhart, K. H., Shore, L. M., Randel, A. E., Dean, M. A., & Kedharnath, U.
(2019). Work group inclusion: Test of a scale and model. Group & Organization Management, 45(1),


Activity: Understanding Gender and Status Differences in a


Objective: Diversity can be caused by demographic (e.g., gender), psychological
(e.g., personality), or organizational (e.g., status) differences. The more powerful
a group is, the more likely it is to communicate, speak forcefully, and contradict
others. It is sometimes assumed that women’s communication is more polite and
deferential than men’s communication, but this may have more to do with status than
gender or personality differences. This activity helps explore this question.

Activity: Use the observation form (Activity Worksheet 13.1) to record the
communication in a team meeting that comprises male and female members.
Alternatively, organize a small-group discussion on the Team Leader’s Challenge with
a mixed-gender group. You may also want to create all-male and all-female groups for
comparison purposes.

Analysis: Women and low-status team members use the first two communication styles
more often, while men and high-status team members use the last two communication
styles more often. Compare the various communications of women with those of men in
the group, and compare the communication level and style of high-status members
(e.g., leader) with that of low-status members. Also, note which type does most of
the communicating in the group.

Discussion: How do you explain the differences among communication styles of team
members? Are these differences because of status, personality, or gender differences?
What should a team do to make sure diversity differences do not interfere with full
participation and acceptance in the team?

Team Members

1 2 3 4 5 6

Phrases ideas tentatively and politely

Shows agreement and support for others

Confronts issues using direct and forceful language

Contradicts and disagrees with others

Total number of communications:


Descriptions of Images and Figures
Back to Figure

In the graphical representation, the x-axis is labeled “Competence” and y-axis is labeled
“Warmth.” The left, right, bottom, and top ends of the x- and y-axis are labeled “Low”
and “High,” respectively. Details shown in the graph are listed anticlockwise from 1st
quadrant to 4th quadrant as follows:

Types of fundamental

Emotions Behaviors

High Competence and
High Warmth

and pride

Actively help and protect the group

Typically viewed as the ingroup

Low Competence and
High Warmth

Pity and

Passively cooperate and associate with the group

May also patronize or neglect members

Low Competence and
Low Warmth

Contempt and

Actively harm by removing, attacking, fighting, and
sabotaging the group

High Competence and
Low Warmth

Envy and

Passively harm by excluding, demeaning, hindering,
and scapegoating the group

Back to Figure

Details of the flowchart are listed as follows:

Step 1a: Team diversity

Step 1b: Social Categorization

Intergroup bias

Identity threat


Step 1c: Information Processing




Task complexity

Step 2: Information Elaboration

Sharing, discussing, debating, and integrating task-based knowledge

Step 3: Team performance




Shutterstock/Oshchepkov Dmitry





The shared values, beliefs, and norms of a team,
organization, or nation are known as its culture. A team’s
culture affects how team members communicate and coordinate
work. Organizational and international cultures influence the
degree to which individuality, status, and uncertainty are
accepted and used. Culture affects how teams operate within
organizations. The success of work teams depends on the level
of support they receive from their organization, which, in
turn, depends on the organization’s culture. At the same
time, the use of teams changes an organization’s culture.
International differences in culture impact how teams are
used and operate. Multinational teams are composed of members
from different cultures who are linked by communication
technology. These teams must manage their cultural
differences in order to operate effectively. Cultural
intelligence is a critical predictor in the successful
cultural adaption of multicultural teams.


Learning Objectives

1. Explain what culture is and how it impacts human

2. Understand when a strong team culture improves
teamwork and when it prevents it.

3. Describe organizational culture and how it impacts
people in organizations.

4. Differentiate between the two main types of
organizational cultures.

5. Understand how different dimensions of
international culture affect teamwork.

6. Explain how international culture impacts

7. Understand strategies to manage cultural

8. Describe the components of cultural intelligence.



Culture is a complex and multifaceted concept that pervades
many aspects of life (Erez & Gati, 2004). While culture is
often equated with nationality (Kirkman et al., 2016),
culture forms in any group that has sustained interactions
and a shared history. This includes contexts like social
groups, teams, organizations, and even classrooms.
Understanding that culture and nationality are distinct is
important, as significant variations of culture can exist
within a single nation.

It is easy to focus on the observable elements of culture,
such as behavior, dress, and language. However, hidden from
view are the underlying cultural values, beliefs, attitudes,
and assumptions that inform behavior and shape
interpretations of the world. In this way, culture is like a
group’s personality (Schein, 2017). Personality consists of
underlying values and beliefs that manifest in observable
patterns of behavior. An extraverted person, for example, is
likely to be talkative and sociable. Similarly, culture
includes the underlying values and beliefs shared by a group
that influences its collective behavior. Culture influences
assumptions about concepts like time, relationships, reality,
and participation.

Culture, then, is a shared pattern of assumptions, values,
and beliefs that guides how groups of people behave (Schein,
2017). It defines for a group what is possible or not
possible, appropriate or inappropriate, right or wrong, and
good or bad. In doing so, culture fundamentally encourages
and constrains various behaviors and ways of thinking.
Culture is learned—it is reproduced and revised through
ongoing observations, stories, rules, rewards, and
punishments. Culture is also dynamic—a group creates and


revises its culture in response to internal and external
challenges or changes. This enforces a shared way of
understanding and interacting in the world, which provides a
sense of belonging, identity, predictability, and stability
to members. The degree to which culture shapes our
experiences can be difficult to recognize because it provides
a taken-for-granted and often unconscious way of interpreting
the world. We often become aware of these outcomes through
their absence—finding ourselves in an unfamiliar culture can
produce anxiety because things do not make sense.

Consider your thoughts and feelings on the first day of high
school, college, or a new job. You may have heard people use
unfamiliar phrases, felt uncertain of what you were supposed
to do, discovered rivals that you were supposed to oppose,
felt unsure of whom you were supposed to listen to, and even
questioned what you were doing there. You likely had some
mishaps—misusing a term, dressing the wrong way, addressing
someone improperly, or speaking out of turn. However, people
corrected you, and you learned and adapted. Eventually, you
grow more confident in how things are done, what is expected
of you, and how to interact with others. Things begin to make
sense, and you can focus on your tasks. This is how culture
operates. It provides a common set of behaviors and
perspectives so that the group (e.g., team, organization,
nation) can effectively interact while pursuing its goals. If
every day felt like the first day, it would be difficult for
groups to pursue collective goals.

There are at least two reasons why awareness of culture is
important for teamwork. First, it is important for team
members to understand how they influence and are influenced
by the culture that they weave for themselves. Likewise, it
is also important to consider how the organizational culture
in which they are embedded influences the team. Second, teams
are becoming increasingly multicultural and multinational.
Teams with culturally different members offer the advantage


of diverse perspectives. However, realizing these benefits
requires managing misunderstandings and conflict. Building
awareness of culture and the capacity for cultural adaptation
is important for the success of these teams. Cultural
competencies are essential teamwork skills for navigating
contemporary workplaces (Leung, Ang, & Tan, 2014). To explore
these issues, this chapter discusses culture in the context
of teams, organizations, and nations.



Teams often benefit from a strong culture. This occurs when
members closely share conceptions of the norms, identity,
values, roles, authority, goals, and strategies in the team.
A shared culture makes clear the appropriate behaviors,
communication, and roles for members to engage in. This
reduces uncertainty and misunderstandings, which helps the
team operate as a single unit. Culture also fosters a sense
of belonging. Through ongoing interactions, the team creates
a shared interpretation of events, which further binds the
team together (Morgan & Ogbonna, 2008). Together, these
elements of team culture help to meet the human needs for
stability and identity. This also increases team performance
by facilitating trust and positive affect (Klimoski &
Mohammed, 1994). Developing a strong team identity and
culture is especially important for teams that span
organizational and international boundaries. The team’s
culture provides a way to unite team members who have
different views of teamwork and teamwork practices.

Leaders play an important role in establishing team culture.
They model appropriate behaviors and responses, allocate
rewards and punishments, and make decisions based on their
values. Indeed, the birthplace of an organization’s culture
is the small team that founders initially bring together
(Schein, 2017). For example, Jeff Bezos emphasized the value
of cost-cutting early in the founding of Amazon. One
manifestation of this value was making cheap desks by
hammering legs onto doors. Amazon continues to use these
“door desks” in offices around the world as a symbol of its
core value of frugality (Karlinsky & Stead, 2018).

Any number of values can be incorporated into a team’s
culture. For example, a benefit of teamwork is information


sharing among team members to coordinate work activities
(Zarraga & Bonache, 2005). Yet knowledge sharing requires a
collaborative team culture. Team members may be reluctant to
share information, given that information is a valuable
individual commodity in work organizations. A collaborative
team culture includes mutual trust, leniency in judging
others, the courage to state opinions, and willingness to
help. When a collaborative culture exists, the team is better
able to use the resources of its members.

Team culture relates to team support or the availability of
helping behaviors within a team (Drach-Zahavy, 2004). Support
includes both emotional support and help or assistance in
performing the task. Teams that are group-oriented (rather
than individualistic) and are less status-oriented provide
more team support. Studies on high-stress action teams, like
nursing teams, show that supportive team cultures reduce the
negative impacts of work stress (Drach-Zahavy, 2004).

However, there are times when a strong culture can
disadvantage a team. A drawback to reinforcing a shared view
of the world is that it is challenging to think outside that
view (Lorsch, 1986). This can impede efforts by the team to
be creative or to adapt to changing external circumstances.
The story of HP designing a $49 printer offers a salient
example (Watson, 2003).

In the early 2000s, HP was the market leader of high-quality
printers. Their designers had released a remarkably
inexpensive $79 printer, but facing competition from rival
Lexmark (i.e., environmental change), they were mandated with
reengineering an entire line of printers from scratch that
cost $30 less. This was met with resistance from the
experienced designers and engineers. The team was proud of
producing high-quality printers, and they were skeptical
about being able to find ways of further reducing costs. In
response, the manager quietly grabbed an HP printer and


proceeded to stand on top of it. Their printers at the time
were so durable that they could support the weight of a 200-
pound adult. This image allowed the team to see past their
shared assumption of how to construct a printer (e.g., using
a metal case). With a new way of seeing the problem, the team
used plastic parts to create a smaller printer with better
image quality and speed. However, it could no longer be used
as a stepstool.

This illustrates the importance of recognizing the drawbacks
of a strong culture. A culture that encourages members to
stick to the same way of doing things can threaten its
survival in changing environments. New team members with
different perspectives are better able to challenge the
status quo and encourage the team to adapt. Alternatively, a
team’s culture might emphasize continual reflection and
adaption as a core value to overcome inertia. Leaders should
try to establish an appropriate culture early in the team’s
life because it is easier to begin to establish a culture
than it is to change an existing one.



The concept of organizational culture arose during the 1980s
as a way to explain why some organizations were consistently
successful. Peters and Waterman (1982) used the concept of
organizational culture as a way of describing the practices
of the best U.S. companies. Schein (1992) was influential in
arguing that the principles for examining national cultures
could be used to describe organizational cultures.

Organizational culture refers to the shared values, beliefs,
and norms of an organization. Researchers studying
organizational culture emphasize various aspects as key to
understanding how organizations operate. For Deal and Kennedy
(1982), an organization’s customs, rituals, and traditions
help reveal the underlying values that guide organizational
decision making. Davis (1984) focuses on the shared meanings
and beliefs of organizations because they affect an
organization’s strategies and operating procedures. Kilmann
and Saxton (1983) view culture as determining the team norms
and behavioral patterns of employees.

Regardless of which characteristic of organizational culture
is selected, there are features of cultures that are common
to all perspectives (Schein, 2017). All members of an
organization are embedded within its organizational culture.
Culture provides structural stability for the organization
because its influence is pervasive and slow to change. The
varied aspects of culture are integrated and form a
consistent pattern within the organization. Culture reflects
the shared learning by organization members that contains
cognitive, behavioral, and emotional elements. Finally,
organizational culture affects both the internal operations
of the organization and how it relates to its external


Organizations do not necessarily have uniform cultures.
Rather, they often contain networks of groups that develop
their own styles of operating and interacting. These are
organizational subcultures. Such subcultures arise from
mergers and acquisitions, geographic differences in facility
locations, or operating in different departments. An
employee’s profession or occupational community is a
particularly strong source of an organizational subculture.
An occupational community refers to the shared knowledge,
language, and identity formed by those working in a
particular area of specialization (Bloor & Dawson, 1994). For
example, engineers and sales representatives have different
occupational communities and, therefore, occupy different
subcultures within an organization. They use different
professional languages, styles of interacting with others,
and assumptions about the world. This can make working
together on cross-functional teams difficult (Morgan &
Ogbonna, 2008).

Organizations may be characterized by assessing the
integration of their separate subcultures (Van Maanen &
Barley, 1985). When the shared beliefs and assumptions held
by working groups are similar across organizations, the
organizations have strong cultures. For example, in the 1980s
and 1990s, Hewlett-Packard had a strong organizational
culture that defined how managers should treat employees:
encouraging an open-door policy, fostering independence, and
promoting equal status relations. These practices operated
throughout all divisions of the company.

However, teams can also develop a different interpretation of
organizational events and policies. This point is illustrated
by research conducted by communication scholars Kirby and
Krone (2002). They studied the use—or rather disuse—of
parental leave benefits offered by an organization’s formal
policies. Despite having the official right to protected
leave for new parents, overhearing disgruntled discussions


from coworkers about “picking up the slack” from those
using parental leave created a culture that dissuaded team
members from actually using it. In other words, the policy
exists, but the team culture prevents its use.



An organizational culture that encourages employee
involvement and participation is a necessary support for
teamwork. In a supportive organizational culture, managers
are less likely to resist using teams, and there are better
relations between teams and other parts of the organization.
Self-managing teams are much more likely to be successful in
organizations whose culture supports empowerment and
teamwork. Overall, organizational culture is one of the
largest predictors of the successful use of teams by
companies (Levi & Slem, 1995).

Organizational culture defines the norms that regulate
acceptable behaviors in an organization. When these cultural
norms conflict with the use of teams, organizations have a
difficult time using teams successfully. For example, norms
about communication that are part of an organization’s
culture may limit the organization’s ability to use teams
(Minssen, 2006). Many organizations do not support open
communication from workers to managers, across departments,
or from top management to the rest of the organization. This
limits the amount of communication that occurs in a team and
the team’s ability to relate to other parts of the

Walton and Hackman (1986) identify two distinct types of
organizational cultures that affect the use of teams: control
cultures and commitment cultures. Status and power drive the
control strategy. It is hierarchical and tightly controlling.
The relations among people are adversarial and untrusting. It
is difficult to operate teams in this context. The commitment
strategy reduces the number of organizational levels of
authority, focuses on quality, and adopts methods to
encourage open communication and participation. It uses teams


and gives them the authority to operate successfully. This
type of culture empowers both individuals and teams to
increase commitment to their organization’s goals.

Obviously, most organizations fall somewhere between these
two approaches. Although managers may want to shift to a
commitment strategy, if the existing culture is control
oriented, it will be difficult to change. Developing teams is
a struggle when their use is not compatible with existing
cultural practices. Teams operate better in a commitment-
oriented culture because they are given the resources,
training, and power they need to succeed.

It is critical for the organizational culture to support
collaborative work for teams to operate successfully (Dyer et
al., 2007). It is an arduous task for a traditional control-
oriented culture to change enough to promote good teamwork.
Organizations may want to promote teamwork and create
commitment-oriented organizational cultures; however, they
may resist changing the existing system of power, authority,
and rewards. Employees are often cynical of announcements by
management that it will simply create teams when the culture
does not support the use of teams.

The importance of organizational culture as a primary support
for teamwork is both a problem and a benefit (Levi & Slem,
1995). Organizational culture is not easy to change.
Developing an organizational culture that supports teamwork
is a long-term process. It is not something that can be
dictated by top management or announced as a new
organizational program. Changing an organizational culture
requires a consistent effort on the part of management to
show that employee involvement and teamwork will be valued
and rewarded. This must be done through both communication
and action. If what an organization says it believes does not
match its actual behavior, a credibility gap is created, and
trust between the organization and its employees drops.


In organizations without uniform cultures, cultural change
may occur within subcultures (Dyer et al., 2007). However,
even successful subcultures do not necessarily spread to
other parts of an organization. For example, General Motors
(GM) created a new organizational culture at its NUMMI
facility to support teamwork. Although this team-based
approach to manufacturing was successful, the approach was
not adopted by other GM facilities. Although there are many
successful examples of production teams and even self-
managing teams, these approaches reveal the limited impact on
manufacturing companies (Vallas, 2003). Production teams are
often islands of innovation surrounded by traditional work
systems because management has not allowed a culture of
teamwork to spread throughout the organization.

There is a benefit to this relationship between
organizational culture and teamwork. Once an organization
begins to create an organizational culture that supports
teamwork, the culture can support a wide variety of teams.
The organizational culture provides the foundation, and from
that foundation, an organization can experiment with
developing the types of teams that can successfully fulfill
its mission.



Organizational and team cultures are nested within a national
context. It can be difficult to instill norms or practices at
these lower levels that oppose values held at the larger
level. A popular way of considering national culture is
through dimensional values held by a society, such as
individualism-collectivism. This allows national cultures to
be compared across these dimensions.

The two most frequently used frameworks for conceptualizing
dimensions of culture in organizational contexts are those
developed by Hofstede (1980) and House, Hanges, Javidan,
Dorfman, and Gupta (2004). Hofstede’s pioneering work
identified four cultural dimensions from studying IBM
employees in 72 different societies, which was later expanded
to six dimensions (Hofstede, Hofstede, & Minkov, 2010). House
and colleagues (2004) identified nine similar cultural
dimensions from studying 951 organizations across 62
societies during the Global Leadership and Organizational
Behavior Effectiveness Research (GLOBE) project. We will
describe how teamwork may be influenced by three of
Hofstede’s dimensions: individualism, power distance, and
uncertainty avoidance (see Table 14.1). However, an important
caveat must be noted about their application.

Dimensional approaches have been critiqued for overlooking
within-nation variation of culture (Kirkman et al., 2016)—
people do not share uniform cultural values in a nation.
Using these dimensions to teach about culture, then, can be
questioned for incorrectly “projecting national-level
culture characteristics onto individuals or organizations”
(Brewer & Venaik, 2014, p. 1063). In other words, it may be
misleading to apply broad frameworks of national culture onto
an individual, such as assuming that all people from the


United States are highly individualistic. This can promote
cultural ignorance and perpetuate false stereotypes that are
ultimately counterproductive for managers and team members.
Even Hofstede clarifies that his cultural dimensions “are
meant to be a test of national culture, not of individual
personality; they distinguish cultural groups or populations,
not individuals” (Hofstede, 1998, p. 481). Still, these
cultural dimensions remain a popular way to learn about and
study culture in organizations, teams, and individuals. While
they provide a useful framework, they should be thoughtfully


Individualism Versus Collectivism

The individualism-collectivism dimension is a predominant
component of national cultures that has a strong influence on
teamwork. The interactions of individualistic members tend to
embody autonomy, privacy, individual recognition, immediate
family and self-orientation, openness and candor, task-
oriented group activities, and I-language (Hofstede, 2011).
Given these traits, people high in individualism are
associated with greater comfort engaging in conflict, general
resistance to working in teams and/or self-management teams
(Kirkman & Shapiro, 1997), and performing worse in groups
when instructed to “do your best” compared to having
specific group or individual goals (Erez & Somech, 1996).
Still, other research shows that individualistic groups tend
to be more creative then collectivist groups (Goncalo & Staw,
2006). People from the United States, Australia, Great
Britain, Canada, the Netherlands, and New Zealand tend to
score the highest on individualism (Hofstede et al., 2010).

By contrast, collectivism is associated with loyalty to the
group, opposition to other groups, belongingness,
cooperation, we-language, relationship-oriented group
activities, harmony, disapproving of self-promotion, and
following group opinions. People value the ties between
people and are expected to look after one another. Self-
interest is subordinate to the interests of the social group
or team, making conformity expected and discouraging open
conflict. Collectivist members are less likely to resist team
membership and more likely to accept self-management, which
enhances team effectiveness (Kirkman & Shapiro, 1997). Most
of the world is composed of people living in collectivist
cultures; for example, in collectivist countries like
Guatemala, Ecuador, and Panama (Hofstede et al., 2010). Also,
many countries in Asia, such as India, South Korea, Thailand,


and Japan, are comparatively more collectivist than the
United States.

Table 14.1 Dimensions of Organizational Culture

Individualism ↔ Collectivism

Low power distance ↔ High power distance

Weak uncertainty

↔ Strong uncertainty


Power Distance

The power distance dimension of culture is the degree to
which people accept unequal power distribution in
organizations and society (Hofstede et al., 2010). In high-
power cultures, large power and status differences are
acceptable. In such cultures, great respect and deference are
shown to higher status people; as a result, challenging their
authority is uncomfortable, and team members are more willing
to accept the leader’s decisions. A high-power culture can
be a problem for teams because accepting the leader’s view
can reduce team creativity. Participation is not easy for
people in high-power cultures because they believe
communication from above is more important than their own
ideas. In an unequal-status situation, the higher status
person does most of the communicating, and most communication
is directed at the person with the highest status.

In low-power cultures, people are less willing to accept the
authority of others based on the positions they hold in an
organization. Their viewpoint is more egalitarian, and they
prefer to seek consensus. Team members take more initiative
and do not automatically accept management directives.
Members’ more open communication styles can create more
conflicts. Their sense of independence from the
organization’s authority may lead the team into decisions
that are not sensitive to the politics of the organization.
Egalitarian communication in decision making may improve the
quality of the decisions but reduce the team’s ability to
implement them because of the lack of deference to the
concerns of the surrounding organization.


Uncertainty Avoidance

Cultures vary in willingness to accept uncertainty (Hofstede
et al., 2010). Uncertainty is the degree to which people feel
threatened by ambiguous situations or change. Weak
uncertainty avoidance cultures, like Hong Kong, China, India,
and the United States, value change. They tend to be action
oriented and do not plan changes in advance. People in these
cultures are open and willing to try out new ideas. They may
be averse to formal rules. Conflict is more likely to be
viewed as positive because it encourages new ideas and

Strong uncertainty avoidance is associated with a preference
for clear and consistent rules and norms that define
appropriate behavior. This permits people to feel that they
know what is expected of them. People in risk avoidance
cultures try to maintain the security of the status quo, in
part because they fear the potential for failure during
change. They expect authority figures to have all of the
answers, and they are prone to accept universal truths. This
means that open conflict is considered inappropriate—people
avoid controversies or become compliant during controversies.
Finally, they are less tolerant of different people and
ideas. Together, these values can promote social harmony and
stability. Strong uncertainty avoidance is prevalent in
cultures found in Japan, Germany, and Belgium.


Comparing the United States and Japan

The United States and Japan present a valuable comparison of
the effects of culture on teamwork. Applying the dimensions
discussed previously, U.S. organizations tend to display
individualism, low power, and risk taking, whereas Japanese
organizations tend to display collectivism, high power, and
risk avoidance. These differences significantly affect the
use of teams and how teams operate.

The focus of U.S. management practice is on controlling,
motivating, and rewarding individual performance. The
individual remains independent of the organization and is
expected to remain committed to the organization only as long
as it is in their best interest. There is less use of
teamwork in the United States than in other industrialized
countries (Cole, 1989). The focus on competition and
individualism in U.S. culture limits teamwork, especially
among professional and managerial staff.

In the Japanese approach to management, the individual does
not have a job but, rather, is part of the organization
(Ouchi, 1981). Japanese organizations stress the
interdependence of all employees. Their participative style
is marked by mutual respect and common interests (Pascale &
Athos, 1981), and consensus decision making is practiced at
all levels of their organizations.

Teamwork programs, such as quality circles and production
teams, are more common in Japanese companies. Management
creates these teams to serve as mechanisms for employee
participation. The focus of teamwork is on improving the
productivity of the work system. Participation allows
employees to make suggestions, but management retains control
over all decisions (Cole, 1989). Unlike teamwork programs in


the United States, participation does not imply power sharing
with the workers in hierarchical Japanese corporations.

The Japanese have a more cautious view of change because
their culture is more attuned to the value of promoting
social harmony. Japanese companies tend to implement
incremental changes because of their concern for social
relations and job security (Prochaska, 1980). On teams, there
is less conflict and more conformity. Consequently, Japanese
teams are viewed as less creative and less willing to take
risks than U.S. teams.

Japanese teams use consensus decision making. Consensus is
easier to reach in Japanese teams because people are less
independent and try to avoid conflict. They are confident
that compromise solutions can be found, so they do not rush
to decisions. This makes Japanese decision making slower but
the implementation of decisions faster. Once a Japanese team
has made a consensus decision, it knows that everyone
supports the implementation of the decision.

This comparison between U.S. and Japanese cultures
demonstrates several points about organizational culture.
First, cultures affect how teams operate. Second, national
cultures affect organizational cultures. Third, cultures do
not prevent the use of teams, but they do affect the way
teams operate.



International cultural differences have a variety of impacts
on the meaning of teams and how they operate. Globalization
and virtual teamwork have increased the use of teams that
incorporate members from different cultures. Becoming aware
of cultural differences and one’s own cultural biases is
important for effective teamwork.

Cultures have different views about the meaning of teams at
work (Gibson & McDaniel, 2010). The individualism-
collectivism dimension influences the expectations and
understanding of teamwork, resulting in different metaphors
that contribute to various expectations of team roles,
values, scope, membership, and objectives (Gibson & Zellmer-
Bruhn, 2001). Those from individualistic cultures tend to
assess teams and teamwork using metaphors of sports (e.g.,
clear objectives, coach, players, competitions, etc.),
associates (e.g., cliques, clans, crews, etc.), or military
(e.g., engaging in campaigns, battles, survival, etc.), while
those from collectivist cultures observe teams and teamwork
using metaphors of family (e.g., parental roles like father,
mother, brother, etc.) and community (e.g., teammates are
buddies, friends, neighbors, etc.). Psychological safety can
be influenced by the metaphors used by teams—a family
provides a safer climate than the military. This also
suggests that team members from different nations likely have
different expectations for how a team will be managed—for
example, a member of a team expecting a familial teamwork
environment will not have their expectations of guidance and
support met if they are involved with a team managed as

Cultures also have different interpretations of team success
(Gibson & McDaniel, 2010). Mexicans emphasize socioemotional


relations as an important criterion for team success, while
Anglos emphasize primarily task performance. For example,
forging business relationships in Mexico may begin with more
informal interactions during dinner where business topics are
initially avoided in favor of fostering interpersonal
relationships. Trust operates differently in different
cultures. In Japan, trust within a team is based on personal
ties with team members, while trust in U.S. teams is based
more on common team identity and performance. These different
meanings for teamwork imply differences in team norms and in
the importance of building relationships among team members.

Differences among cultures can produce communication errors
(Vignovic & Thompson, 2010). People communicating in a second
language are more likely to make spelling and grammar errors.
In addition, cultures have different communications norms
that can lead to misinterpretation. For example, when
Americans e-mail, they often use a conversational style in
the message. However, Chinese business professionals tend to
write brief, direct e-mail messages that are solely task
oriented. This can lead to the misinterpretation by Americans
that Chinese people lack social skills, are unfriendly, or
are untrustworthy.

Communication problems can also occur because of differences
in the expression of emotions (Adam, Shirako, & Maddux,
2010). When team members are negotiating, expressing anger
may lead to greater concessions from American negotiators but
to fewer concessions from Asian and Asian American
negotiators. The reason for this difference is that
displaying negative emotions is less acceptable in Asian
cultures. Cultural rules for displaying emotions make it
acceptable for Western individualistic cultures to amplify
emotional expressions, while Eastern collectivist cultures
tend to limit or suppress the expression of emotions,
especially negative emotions. However, in other cultures like
Israel, the display of negative emotions is a useful conflict


technique that can help the parties better understand the
nature of the conflict and encourage a quicker resolution.

Team decision-making practices are impacted by culture
(Gibson & McDaniel, 2010). In collectivist, high-power
cultures like Japan, team members are more cooperative, more
likely to support the opinion of the leader, and more likely
to use equal allocation approaches to resolve dilemmas.
However, individualist cultures like the United States may
make higher quality decisions because they are more willing
to tolerate and be influenced by minority opinions during a
group discussion.

When trying to resolve conflicts, cultures have different
preferences about approaches (Gibson & McDaniel, 2010). U.S.
teams prefer integrative solutions that maximize mutual
interests, while Germans prefer using existing rules and
practices, and Japanese prefer to defer to higher status
individuals. Americans focus on synthesizing the conflicting
interests of the parties involved in a conflict, while
Chinese try to avoid conflict, focus on the collective
interest, and defer to authority decisions. Chinese prefer a
cooperative approach to conflict because of their increased
concerns about preserving social relations and obedience to
authority figures.

Attitudes toward team empowerment affect how different
cultures use teams at work (Hempel et al., 2012). In high-
power cultures like China, empowerment practices and self-
managing teams are less likely to be used. In Chinese
companies, managers often control the behaviors of team
members. However, in a study of high-technology teams in
China, when teams were given more empowerment, team
performance improved. Although cultures may encourage certain
practices, team members may respond well to alternative
approaches to managing teams.



Multinational teams are composed of individuals from
different cultures working on activities that span national
borders (Snell, Snow, Davison, & Hambrick, 1998). This type
of team is formed in a global company or through alliances
among companies in different geographic areas. Multinational
teams use representatives from two or more countries to
ensure that the perspectives of local organizations,
cultures, and markets are represented in the team. The main
challenge for such teams is to learn how to integrate this
cultural diversity into a functioning unit.

Multinational teams deal with three important concerns for
global companies: local responsiveness, global efficiency,
and organizational learning (Snow, Snell, Davison, &
Hambrick, 1996). Their work serves to customize products and
services to different cultures and coordinate local
activities and markets for global companies. At the same
time, multinational teams help integrate operations across
parts of a multinational organization to improve efficiency.
Multinational teams encourage innovation by bringing together
ideas from various parts of an organization.


Characteristics of Multinational Teams

While the multiple perspectives of multinational teams are an
asset, the diversity within a team can create communication,
trust, and conflict problems that limit team effectiveness
(Burke, Priest, Wooten, DiazGranados, & Salas, 2008). The
ability of members of multicultural teams to understand or
make sense of other team members’ behavior relates to
cultural distance. High cultural distance creates problems
because team members have difficulty interpreting the meaning
of other team members’ behaviors, so the team has difficulty
communicating and interacting.

The importance of people’s cultural identity can vary within
a team (Burke et al., 2008). People have multiple identities;
the identity that is most salient depends on the situation.
People can identify with their national, organizational, or
team culture when interacting within a team. A team leader
can promote a sense of similarity among team members to
encourage a common social identity. This helps improve social
relations among team members. Alternatively, a team leader
can encourage members to view each other as unique
individuals in order to foster personal identities. This may
encourage members to present their unique perspectives during
group decision making.

To be successful, multinational teams must deal with
differences in culture that affect how people work and
communicate in teams (Earley & Gibson, 2002). The two main
cultural dimensions that affect these teams are individualism
and power distance. Teams from Asian, collectivist cultures
are slower to develop team cohesion and performance than
multicultural and individualistic culture teams (Takeuchi,
Kass, Schneider, & VanWormer, 2013). These differences are
difficult to resolve because these teams rely on technology
for their communications.


Many of the difficulties multinational teams experience stem
from communication problems (Earley & Gibson, 2002). Cultures
vary in how they communicate information. For example, in
collectivist cultures like some Asian countries,
communication is often indirect with a positive tone.
Communication frequently uses qualifiers and ambiguous words
to avoid confrontation and preserve group harmony. In
individualist cultures, communication is more direct, even
when it is conveying negative information. Communication is
about facts and is viewed as distinct from the relationship
with the listeners.

Rewarding multinational team members may pose problems
because of cultural ideas about how rewards should be given
(Snell et al., 1998). A focus on individual rewards may be
considered inappropriate for teamwork in collectivist
cultures. Although team rewards are valuable, team members
are often more responsive to the rewards they receive from
their home organization.

Cultures vary in how status oriented they are (Earley &
Gibson, 2002). In high-power cultures, communication is more
formal, with most coming from higher status members. In those
cultures, lower status members tend to be polite and
deferential in their communications. In low-power cultures,
communication is more information oriented, and participation
is more equal.

Miscommunication in multinational teams is made worse by a
teams’ reliance on communications technology. Virtual teams
can be a problem when spanning cultures because of the
difficulty communicating gestures, nonverbal cues, symbolic
content, and contextual information (Gibson & McDaniel,
2010). In addition, individualists have more favorable
attitudes toward virtual teams than collectivists. This makes
it more difficult for multinational teams to develop trust
and mutual understanding in their communications (Earley &


Gibson, 2002). Culture-based communication problems are more
difficult to manage in these virtual teams.

Some of the technological characteristics of virtual teams
help to improve the performance of culturally diverse teams
(Gibson et al., 2014). Communication technologies, such as e-
mail, social media, and videoconferencing, help teams
overcome the constraint of being physically separated.
Decision-aid technologies, such as knowledge databases and
decision support software, help teams overcome problems
created by cultural difference. The ability of today’s
technology to document communications allows team members to
review past communications and encourages individual
accountability. Relying on technologies like e-mail reduces
stereotyping, biases caused by accents, and in-group/out-
group distinctions that can hurt team performance.


Creating Effective Multinational Teams

The main challenges of multinational teams are to understand
the meaning of the behaviors of other team members and to
develop a mental model of how to operate as a team (Burke et
al., 2008). Team members need to learn perspective taking,
which is the ability to see the world from the vantage point
of another. It helps reduce anxiety about interacting with
others, facilitates social coordination, and develops social
bonds in a team. In addition, cultural differences about how
to operate need to be negotiated in order to develop common
understandings. Teams that are good at negotiating
differences of opinion and values are better able to manage
their cultural differences. Strategies to develop effective
multinational teams include spending more time initially
starting the team, training the team, and using strong
leadership. The goal of these actions is to develop a hybrid
team culture that can unify the team.

Multinational teams should schedule face-to-face meetings
early in their existence to develop personal relationships
and a shared understanding among team members (Earley &
Gibson, 2002). Clearly, shared goals, norms, member roles,
and agreement about performance criteria should be
established (Snow et al., 1996). These are part of a formal
team contract that needs to be developed at the onset of
teamwork to reduce any later misunderstandings. Multinational
teams should spend more effort on developing project plans
and other types of project management structures. Face-to-
face meetings need to be scheduled at key points in the plan
to clarify any misunderstandings about the team’s progress.

Training programs that explain the organization’s strategy
and culture encourage a common perspective (Snell et al.,
1998). This type of training is especially useful at the
onset of teamwork. Cross-cultural team building that


increases awareness of cultural differences in work practices
and communication improves team operations. Teamwork skills
that should be the focus of training include conflict
resolution, negotiation skills, project management, and
interpersonal communication. In addition, training in the use
of communications technology can decrease misunderstandings
caused by differences in the use of technology.

Strong leaders are valuable for coordinating actions and
managing conflicts in the team (Katzenbach & Smith, 2015).
Strong team leaders are more acceptable in some cultures like
Japan, so it may be hard to avoid using them. Virtual teams
often need leaders who are more powerful to help coordinate
communications and work assignments. Multicultural teams
perform better when they have strong designated leaders
(Earley & Gibson, 2002). Leaders provide direction, motivate
team members, and ensure the team stays on course. Leaders
help develop the hybrid culture that unites a diverse team.

When multicultural teams encounter internal problems, it is
important for team leaders to try to understand if the root
problem is cultural misunderstandings (Dibble & Gibson,
2013). It is impossible to eliminate cultural differences,
but teams can increase their understanding of the cultural
differences in norms, expectations, and attitudes. Increased
awareness and appreciation of cultural differences encourage
collaboration because team members are better able to
interpret communications and adjust their behavior to allow
better coordination of efforts. Without this awareness, team
members often “retreat” and do not communicate when
encountering culture-based conflicts.

Effective multinational teams often develop a strong hybrid
culture that provides a common sense of identity for team
members and facilitates their interactions. A hybrid culture
is both a set of rules about how to act and a set of
expectations about how the team operates (Earley &


Mosakowski, 2000). It creates a shared understanding that
allows members to better interpret communication from other
team members. This is more likely to occur when team leaders
acknowledge cultural differences rather than trying to ignore
or suppress dissimilarities (Gibson & McDaniel, 2010).
Cultural diversity is a benefit to teams because of the
variety of perspectives their members contribute, but teams
need to develop their own hybrid culture to encourage
collective effort. Because developing a hybrid culture takes
time, team performance in multinational teams typically
improves over time.



While broad dimensions, like individualism-collectivism,
provide an accessible view to culture, they can be limited in
practical utility for teams. Drawing from the concept of
customer segmentation, Venaik and Midgley (2015) suggest that
fewer than 50% of people may embody the values associated
with a national culture. This suggests that mere knowledge
about cultural similarities and differences may not be enough
to promote effective multinational teamwork.

An alternative approach is to understand the attitudes,
traits, and worldviews that help people succeed in
multicultural contexts (Leung et al., 2014). For example, Van
Der Zee and Van Oudenhoven (2000) found that five personality
traits predict multicultural effectiveness: emotional
stability, social initiation, open-mindedness, cultural
empathy, and flexibility. One of the most widely used
frameworks is Earley and Ang’s (2003) concept of cultural
intelligence (CQ). Cultural intelligence consists of four
individual characteristics: metacognition, cognition,
motivation, and behavior. Teams with members who score high
on these traits display greater cultural adaptation and
performance in multicultural contexts (Ang & Van Dyne, 2008).
This can inform both selecting team members and designing
training experiences.

Metacognitive CQ relates to the degree of awareness a person
has before, during, and after intercultural interactions.
Those who score high on this characteristic actively question
their own cultural assumptions, monitor their behavior and
thought process, and constantly update their mental models of
cultural norms. Cognitive CQ consists of knowledge of
cultural similarities and differences in norms, practices,
and conventions. This knowledge can stem from personal


experiences (e.g., traveling or intercultural interactions)
and educational experiences (e.g., Hofstede’s cultural
values framework).

Not everyone is comfortable engaging in cross-cultural
interactions. Motivational CQ includes how much a person
values learning about and functioning in intercultural
situations. People high on this characteristic focus
attention and energy to navigate cross-cultural interactions
and are confident in their ability to succeed. Finally,
behavioral CQ consists of the ability to perform appropriate
verbal and nonverbal actions during interactions. For
example, in China, it can be inappropriate to directly say
“no.” Instead, an indirect and vague statement (e.g.,
“maybe”) or expressing embarrassment may be needed.
Performing appropriate nonverbal behaviors is likewise
important. In many Asian countries, carefully examining and
caring for a business card is critical for successful
business interactions.

These four characteristics of cultural intelligence provide a
framework for the general skills and competencies needed for
successful cultural adaptation. Subsequent research indicates
that CQ mitigates some of the challenges associated with
culturally diverse teams. Higher CQ is associated with the
development of shared values (Adair, Hideg, & Spence, 2013),
increased information sharing and cooperative behaviors (Imai
& Gelfand, 2010), and greater team trust and cohesion
(Moynihan, Peterson, & Earley, 2006). Ultimately, the
performance (Groves & Feyerherm, 2011) and creativity (Crotty
& Brett, 2012) of multicultural teams are correlated to the
team’s average CQ, with the metacognitive and behavioral CQ
being the strongest indicators of task performance (Leung et
al., 2014). In other words, the capacity to reflect upon and
perform culturally relevant behaviors may be more important
for multicultural team performance than knowledge (e.g.,
Hofstede’s cultural dimensions).


Cultural intelligence is also strongly related to leadership.
Cross-cultural leadership effectiveness is associated with
high CQ (Groves & Feyerherm, 2011; Rockstuhl, Seiler, Ang,
Van Dyne, & Annen, 2011), with the motivational component of
CQ being particularly important (Deng & Gibson, 2008). High
leader CQ also promotes team knowledge sharing (Chen & Lin,
2013). Leaders must be sensitive to the norms of the
different national and ethnic cultures of team members. For
example, if a leader asks a team member from India whether
their work will be finished by Friday and he answers “yes”
(which is a likely answer), he may not mean that it will be
finished on Friday. It could be that he heard you and
understood the question. The experienced leader would not ask
a yes/no question but ask instead, “When will your work be
completed?” Similarly, cultures vary by the way they relate
to time, including the daily calendar (some cultures start
early in the morning, some start later; some cultures take
siestas; some cultures have midday prayer), religious and
ethnic holidays, willingness to work during family time, and
the importance of being on time.

The concept of cultural intelligence illustrates that
knowledge of cultural similarities and differences may not be
enough to promote effective teamwork. Rather, developing
metacognitive, motivational, and behavioral competencies is
likewise important in fostering successful intercultural
adaption in teams. Demonstrating appropriate behavioral norms
and language is vital to building trust.



Culture consists of values and beliefs that define
appropriate norms, roles, and values. This enables and
constrains certain behaviors and ways of thinking. Team
culture develops over time and is strongly influenced by its
organizational context. Culture has many influences on how a
team operates because it affects commitment to the team,
styles of communication and collaboration, and the support
members provide for one another. However, a strong team
culture can inhibit success in dynamic environments or when
creativity is required.

Organizational culture relates to the shared values, beliefs,
and norms of an organization. It provides a sense of identity
to its members and defines acceptable behaviors.
Organizations may have unified cultures or may be composed of
networks of subcultures based on occupation or background.

The use of teams in an organization depends on its
organizational culture. Cultural norms can either support
teamwork or limit a team’s ability to operate effectively.
Two distinct types of organizational cultures are those based
on power and control and those based on participation and
commitment. The two types provide very distinct contexts for
teamwork. The importance of organizational culture for
teamwork is both a benefit and a problem. Once an
organizational culture supports teamwork, it is usually able
to support a wide variety of types of teams. However, it is
difficult to change organizational cultures that do not
support teamwork.

International culture may be viewed as varying along
dimensions, such as individualism, power, and uncertainty.
The individualist-collectivist dimension defines the group
orientation and cooperation of people. The power dimension


examines whether people accept power differences or strive
for egalitarian relations. The uncertainty dimension concerns
whether people value rules and stability or are willing to
take risks to change how they operate. United States and
Japanese companies differ on these three dimensions of

Differences in international culture affect the meaning of
teams and many teamwork processes. Multicultural teams are
more likely to have communication problems because of
language differences and differences in communication norms.
Decision-making practices, conflict resolution approaches,
and support for empowerment are impacted by cultural

Multinational teams are composed of members from different
national cultures who deal with problems of global
connectivity and local responsiveness for multinational
companies. These teams must deal with cultural differences
that affect communication and power dynamics while relying on
technology for communication. Successful multinational teams
tend to spend more time initially developing social relations
and team practices in order to create a unifying hybrid team

Cultural intelligence consists of the competencies required
to successfully adapt to a multicultural environment. There
are four facets of cultural intelligence: metacognition,
cognition, motivation, and behaviors. High cultural
intelligence is associated with greater levels of team trust,
cohesion, performance, and creativity.


Team Leadership Challenge 14

You are the manager of the sales staff at a consumer
products store that is part of a national chain. The
company is very hierarchical and operates following
strict, bureaucratic procedures. It is a classic
“command and control” organizational culture.

You are concerned that the strict focus on rules and
procedures is hurting customer service and relations.
Employees seem more concerned about following the
rules than they are about pleasing the customers. You
believe that shifting to teamwork, with you as team
leader rather than manager, would encourage more
customer service orientation among the staff. However,
you are uncertain whether teamwork is compatible with
the organization’s culture.

How can you (the manager) create teamwork in an
organizational culture that is not team oriented?

What kinds of problems do you expect to encounter
using teams in this organizational environment?

How do you handle relations between the team and the
larger organization?


Survey: Individualism– Collectivism

Purpose: Understand your position along this important
cultural dimension. Individualism-collectivism is
considered by many to be the most important dimension
for explaining differences among cultures. It also has
a direct relationship to teamwork, since it concerns
how people view and relate to others. Individualism-
collectivism can be analyzed as a perception of
oneself or as norms about how to relate to others.

Directions: The following is a list of opposing
beliefs. Circle the number that reflects your personal
position along the continuum between these opposing

1. I enjoy being
different from others.

1 2 3 4 5 I enjoy being
similar to

2. I see myself as
independent from

1 2 3 4 5 I see myself as
part of a
social group.

3. I present my
accomplishments when
meeting new people.

1 2 3 4 5 I present my
when meeting
new people.

4. It is important for 1 2 3 4 5 It is important


me to act as an
independent person.

for me to be a
member of a

5. When I have a need,
I rely on myself.

1 2 3 4 5 When I have a
need, I turn to
others for

6. If there is a
conflict between
personal and group
values, I follow my
personal values.

1 2 3 4 5 If there is a
personal and
group values, I
follow the
values of the

7. I do what is
enjoyable to me

1 2 3 4 5 I do what the
people around
me feel is most
enjoyable to

8. I follow my
personal attitudes.

1 2 3 4 5 I follow the
group’s norms
and rules.

9. When making
decisions, I am not
overly sensitive to

1 2 3 4 5 I take the
feelings of
people around
me into account


the feelings of other
people around me.

when making

10. I do not hesitate
to change my
relationships even if
it is not in my best
interest at the moment
to do so.

1 2 3 4 5 I maintain
even if they
are not in my
best interest


Add Questions 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 to obtain your score
for self-perception of collectivism.

Add Questions 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10 to obtain your score
for following collectivist social norms.

Discussion: What are the benefits and problems with
individualists and collectivists on teams? How similar
are members of your team on this dimension? What are
the problems with working on teams with people from a
strongly collectivist culture?

Source: Adapted from Fisher, R., Ferreira, M., Assmar, E.,
Redford, P., & Harb, C. (2009). Individualism-collectivism
as descriptive norms: Development of a subjective norm
approach to culture measurement. Journal of Cross-Cultural
Psychology, 40(2), 187–213.


Activity: Evaluating a Team’s Culture

and Cultural Context

Objective: Teams have cultures that are similar to and
different from the cultures of their organizations and
countries. It is essential to understand these
cultural differences because teams encounter
difficulties when their team cultures are at variance
with the cultural context of their organizations or
countries. Organizational and international cultures
vary on the following four dimensions:

1. In control-oriented cultures, leaders attempt to
monitor and control the behavior of subordinates,
whereas leaders in commitment-oriented cultures
are facilitators who guide and motivate

2. In individualist cultures, people seek individual
achievement and recognition, whereas in
collectivist cultures, people value the ties
between themselves and others, and self-interest
is subordinate to that of the team.

3. In high-power cultures, people show great respect
to higher status people and feel uncomfortable
challenging authority. In low-power cultures,
people take a more egalitarian view and are less
willing to accept authority.

4. In high–uncertainty avoidance cultures, people
value stability and group harmony, whereas people
in low high–uncertainty avoidance cultures value
action and are willing to take risks.

Activity: Discuss with members of an existing team
their team’s culture and the cultural context for the


team. The existing teams can be either work teams or
student teams at a university. Use the rating form
(Activity Worksheet 14.1) to note the team’s culture
and its cultural context on the four dimensions.

Analysis: How similar is the team’s culture to its
cultural context? On which dimensions are there
culture gaps? What problems can occur when there are
differences between the team’s culture and its
cultural context?

Discussion: Why is it important for a team’s culture
to be compatible with its cultural context?


Activity Worksheet 14.1

Evaluating a Team’s Culture and Its Cultural


Rate the team by placing a “T” on the scale below;
rate the cultural context by placing a “C” on the

Commitment Oriented——————————–———Control


Low Power—––——————————————–————
High Power

Risk Taking–———————————————————
Risk Avoidance


Activity: Comparing Teams in the

United States and Japan

Objective: Culture has a major impact on how people
act in teams. Cultures do not prevent the use of
teams, but they do affect how the teams operate. The
impacts of culture create opportunities and problems
for teamwork.

United States and Japanese team members differ on the
major dimension of international culture. The United
States is an individualistic, low–power distance,
risk-taking culture; while Japan is a collectivistic,
high–power distance, risk avoidance culture.

Activity: Form a group, and discuss the benefits and
problems with leading a United States versus Japanese
team. You could also select other international
cultures, such as Mexico or Israel, for comparison.

Analysis: Would you prefer being a team leader of a
United States or Japanese team? Why? In what
situations or tasks are the different cultures’ teams
better? How would your management of these cultural
teams differ?




Nearly all teams interact virtually some of the time. Virtuality encompasses the extent to
which team members rely on communication technologies to overcome the distance between team
members. However, the characteristics of technologies enable and constrain the kinds of
interactions that team members can have, making some technologies more or less suited for
different kinds of tasks. Team members need to be aware of how to choose the right
technology. Moreover, geographic dispersion has different impacts as team members are flung
across spatial, temporal, and configurational arrangements. Virtual teams offer both
benefits and challenges. Addressing these challenges is essential for improving the
effectiveness of virtual teams.


Learning Objectives

1. Describe two dimensions of virtuality.
2. Understand how media richness and synchronicity shape the kinds of communication

available to teams.
3. Determine which communication technologies are better suited for different team

4. Understand how spatial, temporal, and configurational dispersion each impact team

5. Understand various techniques for managing virtuality in teams.



In today’s technological landscape, nearly all teams are virtual to a degree. Although
virtual teams often consist of geographically distributed members who rely almost entirely
on technology, many colocated teams use a combination of technology and face-to-face
meetings for team interactions (Gibson et al., 2014). Most large companies use virtual
teams, and many teams use technology to support their activities. International surveys
reveal that 46% of all organizations use virtual teams, and in a subset of that sample, 66%
of multinational organizations use virtual teams in the workplace (Minton-Eversole, 2012).
Another survey revealed that 79% of workers reported always or frequently working in virtual
teams (Ferrazzi, 2014). This makes understanding the impacts of virtuality significant for
both colocated and globally distributed teams.

Virtuality is a multidimensional concept that captures the degree to which team members are
geographically dispersed and the degree to which teams rely on technologies to mediate their
interactions (Raghuram, Hill, Gibbs, & Maruping, 2019). Virtuality exists on a continuum
from face to face to low virtuality to fully virtual teams (Mesmer-Magnus, DeChurch,
Jimenez-Rodriguez, Wildman, & Shuffler, 2011). In many respects, virtual teams are no
different from other kinds of teams. They still have the same basic team processes, are
subject to competition, and require leadership. They still experience issues with power,
difference, and conflict. They still make decisions, solve problems, and innovate. They
still need clear roles, goals, and communication. In other words, many of the teamwork
concepts, theories, and research presented in this text equally apply to virtual teams.

A core difference of virtual teams, however, is that communication technologies mediate team
interactions. This presents advantages while also amplifying some challenges. Virtual
teamwork offers tremendous benefits for individuals and organizations—members can enjoy
flexible work arrangements, team composition can be optimized to include geographically
distributed experts, different time zones can enable continuous 24/7 productivity,
technology can enable knowledge sharing across organizational and geographic boundaries, and
organizations can save on travel and relocation costs (Dulebohn & Hoch, 2017).

However, research also points to the unique challenges of virtual teamwork—virtual teams
are prone to experience higher task conflict and lower communication frequency, knowledge
sharing, performance, cohesion, and satisfaction (Ortiz de Guinea, Webster, & Staples,
2012). Several factors relating to membership, work visibility, and communication contribute
to these adverse outcomes. Membership in virtual teams can be fleeting, with members leaving
after fulfilling a specific task. Members of virtual teams often feel disconnected from each
other and uncertain of their tasks. Work is less visible, making progress more challenging
to monitor and members more difficult to lead. Communication is a critical solution to many
of these issues, but members can also become overwhelmed by the amount of it. Finally,
interactions mediated through technologies are less vivid, making it difficult to pick up on
and respond to social cues. Virtual team members consistently express dislike for virtual
communication (Purvanova, 2014). Miscommunication can run rampant in virtual teams,
particularly when members span cultural and national boundaries.

Realizing the benefits of virtuality requires managing its challenges. This chapter first
describes how two dimensions of virtuality—communication technologies and geographical
dispersion—impact team functioning. Then, recommendations are given for composing, leading,
and developing effective virtual teams.



The first dimension of virtuality is the degree of dependence on technology to mediate team
interactions. Information communication technologies (ICTs) can support geographically
dispersed teamwork in four different ways (McGrath & Hollingshead, 1994; Mittleman & Briggs,
1999). First, technologies can gather and present information for a team, such as
collaborative document management systems and electronic whiteboards. Second, technologies
can help team members communicate both with each other and with people outside of the team.
Third, collaboration technologies like group support systems can help teams process
information by providing systems to structure brainstorming, problem solving, and decision
making. Fourth, collaborative technologies can structure the group process by creating
meeting agendas, assignment charts, and project management tools. Virtual teams use mediated
communication to manage relationships, share information, make routine decisions, and solve
more complex problems. There are various types of technologies that support virtual
teamwork, each of which has different characteristics that enable and constrain these


Characteristics of Communication Technologies

There are two general goals of communication: conveying information and converging on shared
meaning (Dennis, Fuller, & Valacich, 2008). We convey information during tasks like
generating new ideas, reminding teammates of a deadline, or providing a status update. This
information is often unambiguous and straightforward. However, many teamwork tasks involve
converging on a shared understanding or “getting on the same page,” such as managing
conflict (e.g., agreeing on the issue and a resolution), defining a problem to solve, or
convincing the team to change directions. This information is more complex and nuanced,
which requires a sustained discussion.

Characteristics of ICTs enable and contain the kinds of interactions that team members can
have (e.g., Hambley, O’Neill, & Kline, 2007), making some technologies more or less suited
for different kinds of tasks (conveying or converging). It is important to choose
communication technologies with characteristics that align with the team task (Malhotra &
Majchrzak, 2014). While there is no definitive set of criteria for making these decisions,
it is helpful to consider media richness, media synchronicity, and documentation.

Media Richness

Media richness varies from low (i.e., lean) to high (i.e., rich) depending on the amount of
information that can be transferred through the medium (Daft & Lengel, 1986). Face-to-face
interactions provide rich transfer of social cues, gestures, and nonverbal communication,
which ideally suits it to more emotional, complex, and personal conversations (e.g.,
managing conflict). Rich media also enhances the social presence experienced by
participants. Social presence refers to the degree to which using the technology resembles
the experience of communicating with another person face to face (Lowry, Roberts, Romano,
Cheney, & Hightower, 2006). Higher social presence is associated with improved quality,
appropriateness, and accuracy of communication. This makes rich media best suited for tasks
that involve converging upon a shared meaning.

On the other end of the media richness spectrum are lean, text-based technologies like e-
mails and instant messages. Text-based platforms filter out many social cues (Walther, 1995)
and limit opportunities for immediate verbal and nonverbal feedback (Byron, 2008). This
makes communication through lean media more prone to misunderstandings. However, it may also
block the transmission of status cues, which can foster equal participation and decrease
bias against low-status members (Driskell, Radtke, & Salas, 2003).

Lean communication technologies are best used for conveying simple and routine communication
that does not require interaction, such as sending a reminder about a meeting. However, lean
communication is not always devoid of all context: Adams, Miles, Dunbar, and Giles (2018)
claim that people can use nonstandardized textual cues such as emoticons to convey
relational meaning, personality, and emotion when communicating via leaner media. In
addition, people may consider features like spelling mistakes, capitalization, and speed of
response when interpreting a message.

Somewhere in the middle of media richness are video- and audio-conferencing technologies,
which provide more—but not all—of this relevant social information. While well-run
discussions can be productive on these moderately rich technologies, there are other factors
to consider. People often multitask during audio-only interactions. Many people find
videoconferencing to be awkward and prefer not to be on display. However, the visual
component also facilitates opportunities for fun and informal discussion that can strengthen


social bonds. Carefully and proactively managing meetings is an essential component of
successful virtual teams (see Chapter 6).

Media Synchronicity

Media synchronicity is another aspect of ICTs that influences the speed and interactivity of
team communication (Dennis et al., 2008). Synchronous communication (e.g., face-to-face
communication, teleconference, and videoconference) allows for real-time and concurrent
interaction by all team members. Asynchronous communication (e.g., e-mails and text
messages) involves temporal gaps in responses, less immediate feedback, and a lack of
concurrent participation.

Synchronous communication occurs in real time and provides immediate opportunities for
feedback, questions, and interpreting social cues. This makes it useful for collaborative
teamwork tasks that necessitate developing shared understandings, like problem solving,
discussing complex or emotional information, reaching consensus, managing conflict,
negotiation, and status reporting. Moreover, the higher the task interdependence among team
members, the more critical it is to have synchronous communication (Rico & Cohen, 2005).
However, it can be challenging for distributed team members to find a common time in which
they can all interact together.

Asynchronous communication allows team members to interact beyond boundaries of time.
Because it lacks some social context and opportunities for immediate clarification, it is
better suited for conveying simple and ambiguous information like e-mailing the agenda for a
future meeting. Indeed, arranging a teleconference simply to review the agenda for a future
meeting would likely be seen as a waste of time. Interdependent tasks, like reaching
consensus using asynchronous communication, are more challenging (Baltes, Dickson, Sherman,
Bauer, & LaGanke, 2002). However, tasks like brainstorming are improved because members do
not need to take turns contributing ideas (Gallupe, Bastianutti, & Cooper, 1991). Temporal
delays afforded by asynchronous communication can also temper potentially destructive
emotional outbursts and provide more time for non-native speakers of the team’s language to
process and respond to messages.


Many technologies can store records of team interactions. Documenting team interactions
improves virtual team performance (Martinelli, Waddell, & Rahschulte, 2017). It also has
important task and social impacts (Sproull & Kiesler, 1991). Documented team discussions can
be reviewed to verify agreements and understanding team decisions. It helps absent team
members understand what was discussed. It produces a searchable record of discussions. While
this can be helpful, it may also be a deterrent for open communication. For example, the
capability of communication technologies to automatically document a message may inhibit
managers from using them for fear of recording errors. Overall, a meta-analysis reveals that
documentation can improve team effectiveness by reducing perceived risk, increasing
visibility of work, and compensating for low trust (Breuer et al., 2016).


Types of Communication Technologies

The majority of research investigating virtual teams has focused on conventional computer-
mediated communication technologies, such as text-based messaging and team conferencing
tools (Raghuram et al., 2019). However, practice has outpaced scholarly research on other
newer technologies like social media and virtual environments. An analysis of popular
technologies and their uses is summarized in Table 15.1.

Text-Based Messaging Tools

Commonly used text-based messaging tools include e-mail, instant messaging, and electronic
bulletin boards. These can be used for synchronous or asynchronous communication between
individuals or with larger groups. However, they are also lean communication channels that
lack the richness of verbal and nonverbal cues, which make them prone to misunderstandings.
As such, they are best used for communicating straightforward information and having
individual casual conversations.

E-mail remains the most frequently used tool for virtual teamwork (Cardon & Marshall, 2015).
Yet it is often employed in ways that overwhelm or confuse the recipients. Effective team e-
mail messages (Martinelli et al., 2017)

Are carefully sent to only the team members that need to receive them

Include a detailed subject line that captures the ongoing message content and action
requested—update the subject line as needed

Are restricted to one item per e-mail to prevent actions from being overlooked or

Provide clear action items for each receipt of the e-mail that consists of (1) what
needs to be done, (2) by whom, and (3) by when

Should be promptly acknowledged by the recipient

Instant messaging offers a synchronous way of interacting with both individuals and teams.
Creating team connections via instant messaging or chat rooms can help simulate the informal
social interactions of colocated teams (Thompson & Coovert, 2006). When chat room
connections are kept open, teams create a virtual environment that is similar to a physical
work environment where casual conversations can occur at any time. Users of instant
messaging often adopt an informal communication style that is similar to social conversation
in person. It leads to briefer communications that are more informal and that occur more
often, which is similar to the informal communications that occur in “brick and mortar”
work environments. Just as with e-mail, however, complex and difficult conversations should
be moved to richer media.

Finally, electronic bulletin boards and project management applications offer a virtual
space for interactions, making announcements, and monitoring progress. These are effective
places to store and make visible team charters, goals, status updates, and timelines.
Bulletin boards also allow for threaded discussions, which consist of ongoing communication
around particular issues. This creates a useful record of interactions, which can be used
for socializing new team members and reviewing rationales for certain decisions.


Conferencing Tools

Conferencing tools enable team interactions in real time. Audio conferences involve voice-
only interactions over phone or software applications, which can include the entire team or
one-on-one calls. These are often easy to set up technically and generally liked by workers
(Cardon & Marshall, 2015). However, 82% of surveyed workers admitted to multitasking during
teleconferences (Ferrazzi, 2014). This underscores the importance of managing these kinds of
meetings (see Chapter 6 for guidelines on virtual meeting management).

Videoconferencing improves upon teleconferencing by including visual cues like gestures and
facial expressions from team members. This added context makes videoconferencing useful for
more complex and emotional discussions. The visual component can also inhibit multitasking
and social loafing, although being on display can also make participants uncomfortable. Many
platforms allow the team to record and even transcribe videoconferences, making it useful
for documentation. This also allows supervisors and team members who could not attend to
review the meeting. While useful, videoconferences have limitations and challenges. Low
bandwidth can distort the audio and video feed. Technical issues delay the conference. There
are also financial considerations for maintaining a conference room and subscribing to
videoconferencing applications that may be beyond the control of the team.

Webcasting is a variation of videoconferencing that focuses attention on a speaker and
limits interactions between team members. Webcasts operate as a virtual presentation,
involving video of the speaker and corresponding visual aids to provide additional context
(e.g., slideshow and screen sharing). Facilitators can offer various kinds of interactions,
such as a shared digital whiteboard, speaker-to-audience communication, and between-audience
communication. Challenges include maintaining the attention of the audience and ensuring
that the audience accurately understands the message.

Emerging Technologies

The impact of newer technologies like immersive environments, social media, and social-
networking platforms on virtual teams are just beginning to be studied (Gilson et al.,
2015). Montoya, Massey, and Lockwood (2011) propose that 3D virtual environments (3DVEs),
like Second Life, can enhance decision making and teamwork behaviors. For example, Schouten,
van den Hooff, and Feldberg (2016) found that, compared to text-only interaction, groups
making a decision through a 3DVE had better shared understandings and higher levels of
consensus, cohesion, and satisfaction. Additionally, Venkatesh and Windeler (2012) found
that teams using a 3DVE were more cohesive than those using a traditional online
collaboration system.

Similarly, enterprise social-networking and social-media platforms show promise in promoting
effective teamwork through both synchronous and asynchronous communication. These platforms
can display a range of interactive textual, audio, and visual content. They can be used to
share ideas, receive feedback, and post milestones. They can also be used to share personal
experiences, which can develop the social relationships between members. For example,
members can create video tours of their workspace to provide the team with context and
mental imagery that can improve communication (Ferrazzi, 2014).

Such uses of social media can enhance trust, identification, and morale. Indeed, research
shows that social media can enhance feelings of being a group (Askay, Blanchard, & Stewart,
2013), foster spontaneous conversations (Ellison, Gibbs, & Weber, 2015), make virtual work
more visible (Leonardi, 2014), and develop the transactional memory systems (i.e., who knows
what) of distributed team members (Leonardi, 2015). Workers and organizations both


anticipate that social media will transform the nature of virtual work in the coming years
(Cardon & Marshall, 2015).

Table 15.1 Analysis of Team Communication Technologies

Tool Richness Synchronicity




E-mail Low Asynchronous X


Moderate Both X X

Bulletin boards Low to

Both X


Moderate Synchronous X X X X

Videoconference Moderate
to high

Synchronous X X X

Webcast Moderate Synchronous X X

3D immersive

High Synchronous X X

Social media Medium
to high

Both X X



The second dimension of virtuality is geographic dispersion. Virtual teams typically have
members who are physically and/or temporally dispersed from each other. However, not all
kinds of dispersion are equal. O’Leary and Cummings (2007) propose three dimensions of
geographic dispersion that each independently influence team processes: spatial, temporal,
and configurational. The nature of geographical dispersion influences the kinds of
communication technologies available to a virtual team and presents challenges for effective


Spatial Dispersion

Spatial dispersion relates to the average physical distance separating members. Distance has
at least three implications. First, it can enhance the performance of the team by providing
access to otherwise inaccessible expertise and perspectives (Ale Ebrahim, Ahmed, & Taha,
2009). This can also increase the cultural diversity present in the team, which offers both
a resource and a potential source of misunderstanding, language barriers, differences, and
intergroup dynamics (Marlow, Lacerenza, & Salas, 2017).

Second, as distance increases, the possibility for rich face-to-face interactions becomes
more difficult and costly (e.g., time, expense, etc.). Spatial dispersion is associated with
less frequent and less effective communication (Ortiz de Guinea et al., 2012). When members
do communicate, it is often through technologies that offer limited ability to convey
emotions (Peñarroja, Orengo, Zornoza, & Hernández, 2013). As a result, distributed teams are
less able to engage in the spontaneous communication that fosters cohesion and trust,
establishes effective norms, and develops a common understanding of the task (Hinds &
Mortensen, 2005). Team performance can decrease even when teams have members on different
floors of the same building (Siebdrat, Hoegl, & Ernst, 2009).

Third, distance makes one’s work less visible to other team members and managers (Leonardi,
2014). This can erode team trust and undermine performance. Trust is based on directly
observing someone’s behavior (Aubert & Kelsey, 2003) and reinforced through ongoing
interactions (Robert, Denis, & Hung, 2009). Distributed virtual teamwork offers few
opportunities for either. Virtual team members may assume, even in the absence of evidence,
that others are engaged in social loafing (Monzani et al., 2014). This can undermine
performance by fostering suspicions of unfairness in terms of rewards, support, and
recognition. For example, Chrobot-Mason, Ruderman, Weber, and Ernst (2009) found that
employees suspected managers of treating employees differently based on cultural similarity
(e.g., a Chinese manager preferentially promoting workers from China). Maintaining a climate
of team procedural justice—in which decisions are perceived to be made fairly and
transparently—can mitigate some of these negative impacts on team performance (Magni,
Ahuja, & Maruping, 2018).


Temporal Dispersion

Temporal dispersion is the degree to which team members overlap in their work hours (e.g.,
shift work or different time zones). While team members in North and South America have high
spatial dispersion, they experience lower temporal dispersion due to overlapping time zones.
This allows team members to more easily communicate synchronously and engage in some
spontaneous interactions. Spontaneous communication is a core driver of team trust,
cohesion, information sharing, and performance (Mesmer-Magnus et al., 2011).

By contrast, east–west collaborations (e.g., South America and Asia) have both high spatial
and temporal dispersion. As temporal dispersion increases, so does the reliance on
asynchronous communication. This acts as a barrier to spontaneous communication.
Additionally, response delays impede the ability of teams to adapt to change and engage in
real-time problem solving. Temporal dispersion creates challenges with coordinating
schedules and tasks (Espinosa, Cummings, & Pickering, 2011).

Teams can adopt several practices for managing temporal dispersion, but they often create
work–life balance issues. Traveling for frequent face-to-face meetings can produce travel
fatigue while reliance on e-mail can produce e-mail overload (Nurmi, 2011). Alternatively,
teams can schedule synchronous conferences at the “edge” of workdays (e.g., at the
beginning or end) when there is an overlap in work hours (Tang, Zhao, Cao, & Inkpen, 2011).
While this can be workable, employees accustomed to a flexible work culture find that this
approach conflicts with childcare pickup/drop-off, public transit schedules, or commuting
traffic. Members in some locations may agree to alternate having meetings at inconvenient
times (e.g., after work hours). However, some sites may leverage the status of their members
or location to continuously favor their time zone. These examples illustrate that overcoming
the challenges of temporal dispersion is not necessarily as simple as finding time for
videoconferencing—accommodating temporal dispersion may take sacrifices that some team
members are less willing to accept.


Configurational Dispersion

Configurational dispersion consists of the distribution of team members across different
locations. This consists of three different components: (1) the number of geographically
dispersed sites, (2) the extent to which members are unevenly distributed across those
sites, and (3) the number of isolated members working alone at a site. As team members are
unevenly distributed across sites, it provides opportunities for some subgroups to interact
face to face, while others must rely on synchronous or asynchronous communication
technologies (Privman, Hiltz, & Wang, 2013). Some configurations are more likely to activate
in-group/out-group dynamics and team fault lines (Lau & Murnighan, 2005; see Chapter 13).

Two studies illustrate the impact of configurational dispersion. Polzer and colleagues
(2006) studied 45 teams of six graduate students at 10 universities. Teams with one member
across six different locations (i.e., 1-1-1-1-1-1) experienced the lowest levels of conflict
and highest levels of trust. By contrast, teams with three students each at two sites (i.e.,
3-3) formed subgroups and experienced the highest conflict and lowest trust. Another study
shows that minority subgroups on imbalanced teams (i.e., 4-2) produced more conflict and
poor transactional memory systems, team identification, and coordination due to social-
categorization processes (O’Leary & Mortensen, 2010). However, isolated team members (i.e.,
5-1) experienced fewer of these negative outcomes—they are less likely to be treated as a
geographical subgroup. Taking these two studies together suggests that teams composed of
many isolates may do better than those containing subgroups.

When subgroups form in virtual teams, the results are often negative. For example, subgroups
can lead to in-group favoritism and out-group discrimination in the form of biased
information sharing and conflict between subgroups (Yilmaz & Peña, 2014). Similarly, Hinds,
Neeley, and Cramton (2014) found that power struggles between team members differing by
language, location, and nationality triggered fault lines that divided the team into



The preceding sections reviewed two dimensions of virtuality—communication technologies and
geographic dispersion—and described how they impact team functioning. However, it is
critical to understand that these impacts emerge inconsistently across studies of different
virtual-team types. For example, studies of virtuality have examined student versus
organizational teams, short-term versus long-term teams, and functional versus project-based
teams (Gibbs, Sivunen, & Boyraz, 2017).

Studies of short-term (i.e., a day or less) virtual teams—typically composed of students—
reveal that virtuality is associated with increased task conflict, less frequent
communication, poorer knowledge sharing, lower performance, and more dissatisfaction (Ortiz
de Guinea et al., 2012; Purvanova, 2014). These studies paint a rather bleak view of
virtuality. However, studies examining long-term virtual teams—both with students and
“real” business teams—provide a more optimistic view. While these teams still experienced
decreased knowledge sharing and less frequent communication, they also achieved high
performance and satisfaction. Interestingly, both short- and long-term teams expressed a
general dislike for virtual communication.

An optimistic interpretation of this discrepancy is that virtual teams are not destined for
disappointment. Rather, virtuality introduces various challenges for teams associated with
technology use, geographic dispersion, and cultural differences (Schulze & Krumm, 2017).
Teams that successfully manage these challenges can benefit from virtuality. Guidance for
managing virtual teams is provided next, which should be adapted to fit the specific
circumstances of any particular team.


Determine Team Size and Locations

The size, locations, and membership of a virtual team impact its performance. First, virtual
teams should be kept small. Ferrazzi (2014) found that virtual teams with more than 13
members performed poorly. Larger teams are more prone to social loafing and less likely to
share information and build social relationships with one another.

Miloslavic, Wildman, and Thayer (2015) recommend composing either fully colocated or fully
distributed teams (i.e., a single member in each location). However, if that is not
possible, then equally sized subgroups should be formed at each location. Additionally, the
leader should be physically positioned in a subgroup that is equal to or larger than the
others so that they can maintain power. Finally, the leader should facilitate frequent
communication and cultivate a team identity to inhibit intergroup dynamics from emerging.


Develop Virtual Teams

Membership in virtual teams may be temporary or ongoing (Miloslavic et al., 2015). Temporary
members join a team to complete a specific subtask or because the project itself is
relatively short term. In either case, members anticipate disbanding from the team
relatively quickly at the completion of their task. By contrast, members of ongoing virtual
teams anticipate working together for the long term. This difference in membership lifespan
influences how to best develop the team.

When membership is temporary, people focus more on efficiently and effectively completing
their task (Miloslavic et al., 2015). They are less concerned about team satisfaction and
developing social relationships. Small talk and socialization may be considered a waste of
time. Rather, these members benefit more from initial meetings that provide clear objectives
and detailed plans so that they can monitor their own behavior and more easily coordinate
with others (Dubé & Robey, 2008). They also need norms that regulate communication and
define appropriate behavior. Establishing clear communication norms (e.g., communicate
frequently, no multitasking, and always acknowledge messages) improves both role clarity and
team performance (Henderson, Stackman, & Lindekilde, 2016). These structures, combined with
periodic meetings, enhance coordination and collaboration because most of the work is done

Membership in ongoing teams is different. In addition to initial meetings to clarify goals
and establish norms described previously, it is also essential to develop social
relationships among team members. Often, virtual team meetings are entirely focused on
communicating task-related information. Initial face-to-face meetings can familiarize
teammates with each other’s communication and work styles, personalities, capacities, work
roles, and cultural context (Hinds & Cramton, 2013). Periodic face-to-face meetings can then
develop and maintain these social relationships. In addition, team members can be encouraged
to informally communicate with each other on a regular basis using technology, such as
through social media and text messages. However, the burden of arranging synchronous
communication and travel for face-to-face meetings needs to be considered and monitored
(Tang et al., 2011).


Develop Knowledge of Communication Technologies

Team members need to understand the limitations and uses of communication technologies.
Explaining a complex idea through an instant message or calling a meeting to transfer simple
information are both ineffective ways of communicating. While this may appear self-evident,
inappropriate technology choice is not uncommon in virtual teams (Malhotra & Majchrzak,
2014). In further support of this, Lam (2016) demonstrated that training in media
characteristics (e.g., media synchronicity and convergence vs. conveyance) improved the
quality and quantity of virtual communication in teams.

It is also crucial for team members to understand how to adapt media use to fit the evolving
needs of a team. Team members who use computer-mediated communication for over 90% of their
interactions reported significantly lower levels of effectiveness, commitment, and harmony
(Johnson, Bettenhausen, & Gibbons, 2009). By contrast, using sequentially different
technologies for interactions (e.g., e-mail followed by a phone call) can reduce errors and
perceptions of information overload (Stephens, 2007; Stephens & Rains, 2011). Alternatively,
some communication challenges might be best addressed by using multiple technologies
simultaneously (Lee, Watson-Manheim, & Chudoba, 2014). For example, using a phone call while
reviewing complex information in an e-mail can combine visual and auditory sources of
information to improve comprehension.


Use Skillful Virtual Communication

Virtual teams often have increased conflict because of misunderstandings and reduced
communication (Hertel, Geister, & Konradt, 2005). These communication problems increase the
emotional frustration of people working in virtual teams. This is one reason why the
effectiveness of virtual teams and member satisfaction are positively related to the level
of personal communication among team members. Many of these problems go away as members
develop a shared mental model and learn how to interpret communication from other members.

Virtual teams have difficulty establishing and maintaining mutual knowledge (Driskell et
al., 2003). They lack contextual cues during communication: This leaves members less certain
about the people with whom they are interacting, unsure how the message is being
interpreted, and unclear as to whether the communication is successful. It is more difficult
to know whether fellow members of virtual teams have adequately understood a message. Facial
cues and nonverbal feedback reduce the uncertainty one feels with a communication. Without
this information, inaccuracies and confusion can occur that reduce team performance. People
from high–uncertainty avoidance cultures can find this particularly challenging.

For example, the reduced social cues in e-mail messages may make it difficult to communicate
emotions, but people are often unaware of this problem and believe they are communicating
effectively. E-mail readers often cannot tell whether the writer is attempting to be
sarcastic or funny (Kruger, Epley, Parker, & Ng, 2005). A writer’s overconfidence in their
ability to communicate via e-mail is a cause of miscommunication in virtual teams.

Based on Spitzberg’s (2006) model of computer-mediated communication competences, the
expressiveness and coordination of text-based interactions are important skills to develop
for virtual teams. Expressiveness captures the ability to compensate for the absence of
verbal and nonverbal cues. For example, people can use uppercase letters and emoticons to
express emotions (Kalman & Gergle, 2014). Appropriately using expressions can help in
managing conflict and developing social relationships with team members (Ayoko, Konrad, &
Boyle, 2012). Coordination represents being able to skillfully initiate, respond to, and
conclude a conversation. When an e-mail is met with unexplained silence, as an example, it
can lead to frustration and feelings of rejection (Panteli & Fineman, 2005).


Consider the Intercultural Context

Team members benefit from general knowledge about cultural similarities and differences. It
is particularly important to understand cultural differences in technology use so that
behaviors are not incorrectly attributed to individual characteristics. Preference for e-
mail formality, content, and promptness significantly differs across cultures (Holtbrügge,
Weldon, & Rogers, 2013). For example, Chinese workers are more accepting of mobile phone use
(e.g., instant messaging) during meetings than American counterparts (Cardon & Dai, 2014).
In another study, Chinese employees expressed a greater desire to do business with an e-mail
sender that engaged in facework (e.g., including a short sentence like, “I hope all is

well.”) in the message (Richard & McFadden, 2016). These examples emphasize the importance
of clarifying technology use expectations and preferences early in the team’s development.

Miscommunication through technology can cause people to make faulty assumptions about the
characteristics of the communicator (Vignovic & Thompson, 2010). This misinterpretation can
be especially important when teams communicate across cultures. In a laboratory study, e-
mail messages were sent that either contained technical language errors (spelling or
grammar) or etiquette errors (short messages without conversational tone). Grammar and
spelling errors led recipients to believe that the sender lacked intelligence and
conscientiousness. However, etiquette errors caused the recipients to believe that the
sender lacked extraversion, agreeableness, and trustworthiness. When told that the sender
was from another culture, recipients forgave the technical errors (they assumed the errors
were due to culture and not personality) but did not forgive the etiquette errors.

Multilingualism also impacts virtual team functioning and communication. Members with less
proficiency in the team’s language can be overwhelmed by synchronous communication (Tenzer
& Pudelko, 2016). Other members may experience linguistic ostracism, in which they feel
isolated because they cannot fully understand the content of discussions (Dotan-Eliaz,
Sommer, & Rubin, 2009). This undermines collaboration by fostering anger and rejection. In
multilingual teams, it is helpful to use asynchronous media so that these members have time
to process and rehearse their communication (Shachaf, 2008).

Finally, it is vital to adapt both spoken and written communication in multilingual virtual
contexts. Anawati and Craig (2006) observed that while 80% of team members would adapt their
spoken communication (e.g., slowing down, avoiding slang, and using short sentences), only
60% similarly adapted their written communication. Using precise language and clarifying the
meaning of words can decrease miscommunication (Cagiltay, Bichelmeyer, & Akilli, 2015).
These relatively small adaptations have a significant impact: Adapting one’s behaviors to
different cultures improves trust, communication, and performance in virtual teams (Chang,
Hung, & Hsieh, 2014).


Develop and Sustain Trust

Trust in virtual teams is associated with increased knowledge sharing, team performance,
cohesion, commitment, and satisfaction (Breuer et al., 2016). Communication plays a critical
role in establishing and sustaining trust in teams. Kirkman, Rosen, Gibson, Tesluk, and
McPherson (2002) found that trust forms when team members are reliable, consistent, and
responsive in their interactions with team members. However, this trust is also fragile—it
is lost quickly when virtual-team members deviate from these expectations. Team leaders need
to continuously create opportunities to cultivate, reinforce, and sustain trust.

Another challenge is to accurately place trust in others. People are wary of misplacing
trust in a team member. This influences preferences in communication technology use (Levi &
Rinzel, 1998). When the source of the communication is seen as trustworthy, almost any
communication medium is acceptable to the team; however, when it is not viewed as
trustworthy, then face-to-face or other information-rich communication is required to
evaluate the truthfulness of the message. In further support, Schilke and Huang (2018) found
that even superficial verbal interactions—not necessarily visual or face to face—enhanced
the accuracy of trusting judgments of virtual members.


Adapt Leadership to Virtuality

Leading virtual teams is more challenging than leading face-to-face teams (Huang, Kahai, &
Jestice, 2010). Virtual teams start with lower levels of cohesion and trust among members.
They often do not have a shared set of norms and work procedures. Since they are located in
different places, it is more difficult for team members to view themselves as part of a
team. Technology constraints on communication can create confusion about taskwork and limit
the development of social relations.

The hierarchical approaches to team leadership may not be effective in overcoming these
barriers to team performance (Hoch & Kozlowski, 2014). Leaders do not have the option to
easily monitor and supervise team members. Consequently, virtual teams need to focus on
empowering individual team members to perform. Higher performing virtual teams have members
that display more leadership behaviors, especially behaviors related to keeping track of the
team’s work and performance (Carte, Chidambaram, & Becker, 2006). Leaders of virtual teams
also need to take a more active role in monitoring and developing the social aspects of



Virtuality captures the degree to which team members are geographically dispersed and the
degree to which teams rely on technologies to mediate their interactions. The use of
communication and collaboration technologies has expanded rapidly and is changing how teams
operate. The new technologies increase access to information, support internal and external
communication, and help teams manage their task and group processes. Differences among
communication technologies are related to their richness, synchronicity, and ability to
document interactions.

Teams can use an abundance of communication technologies, including text-based messaging,
audioconferences, videoconferences, and electronic bulletin boards. Organizations are
increasingly adopting social media and 3D virtual environments to enhance teamwork processes
and outcomes. Despite this, e-mail remains the dominant medium for communication in many

Geographic dispersion has different impacts as team members are flung across spatial,
temporal, and configurational arrangements. Spatial dispersion increases cultural diversity
and makes work less visible and face-to-face meetings more costly. Reliance on communication
technologies can impede the development of cohesion and trust. Temporal dispersion increases
reliance on asynchronous communication, which introduces coordination problems. Team members
may make sacrifices to arrange synchronous meetings, but this comes at a cost to work–life
balance. Configurational dispersion can produce intergroup dynamics as members are unevenly
distributed across locations.

The outcomes of team virtuality are mixed. Short-term virtual teams tend to have poor
performance and satisfaction, while long-term teams can achieve high levels of performance
and satisfaction. Teams need to manage the challenges of virtuality to be successful. This
includes considering the team size, location, development, communication skills, use of
technology, intercultural context, trust development, and leadership.


Team Leadership Challenge 15

You are the leader of a virtual team that is coordinating research projects among
your corporation’s five research centers, distributed around the world. Although you
had a coordinators’ meeting several years ago, cost and time constraints make it
impossible to regularly meet in person. The research centers have videoconferencing
equipment, but time differences among the sites make the use of videoconferencing
services difficult. Consequently, most of your team’s communication is done via e-

The virtual team has worked well at exchanging information and keeping everyone up to
date on the progress of research. However, there is a growing conflict between one of
the U.S. research centers and the Asian center; they seem to be unable to coordinate
activities and negotiate project roles. Their e-mails are getting more critical and
disrespectful, and the rest of the team is tired of reading their back-and-forth

How can you (the team leader) deal with this communication problem?

What kind of communication technology should you use to resolve the issue? Why?

What role might intercultural dynamics contribute to this issue?

Could establishing new technology communication norms be used to prevent such
problems in the future?


Activity: Developing Norms for Virtual Teams

Objective: Virtual teams need to develop different norms to regulate team
interactions. Norms for virtual teams are sometimes called netiquette rules.

Activity: Develop a set of norms for a virtual team (Activity Worksheet 15.1). These
norms should cover communication, participation, and decision making. What other
types of norms are needed to help a virtual team operate effectively? You should try
developing norms for the use of e-mail, texting, telephones, and videoconferencing.

Analysis: How do the norms differ for the different types of technology? How are
technology communication norms different from face-to-face meeting norms?

Discussion: What are the advantages and disadvantages of virtual teams? Can the
development of new norms improve how virtual teams operate? What other actions should
be taken to support the use of virtual teams?


Activity Worksheet 15.1: Norms for Virtual Teams

Communication name:

Participation/response norms:

Decision-making/conflict resolution norms:

Other team norms:


Activity: Experiencing Teamwork in a Simulated Virtual Team

Objective: Virtual teams often rely on e-mail for their communication, but performing
team tasks using only written communication may be more difficult than using face-to-
face communication.

Activity: Create three teams. For the first team, divide the members into two
separate rooms, and have them perform a teamwork task by sending written messages or
texting. For the second team, divide the members into two separate rooms, and have
them perform a teamwork task talking on their cell phones. For the third team, have
them meet together face to face to perform a teamwork task. The task could be solving
a problem, making a decision, or planning an event.

Analysis: Compare the experiences of performing tasks using written versus cell phone
versus face-to-face communication. How effective and enjoyable were these approaches?

Discussion: What are the problems created by the reliance on communication technology
for teams? What types of tasks are best suited for different communication





An important way to motivate teams is through performance
evaluation and reward systems. Performance evaluations
communicate to the team how well it is performing. This
information may be used to provide direction, motivate
performance, and distribute rewards. Team members should
participate in the evaluation process, given that they are
most aware of the contributions of individual team members.

The shift to teamwork often requires organizations to change
the way they reward people. The individual reward programs
used in traditional organizations may not reward commitment
and participation in teams. Organizations can use combinations
of individual, team, and organizational rewards to motivate
teams. The best reward program depends on the nature of the
task and the type of team.


Learning Objectives

1. Explain the characteristics of an effective team
performance management system and how it affects

2. Understand how to develop effective individual and
team performance measures.

3. Understand how biases influence the evaluation

4. Plan the delivery of performance feedback to
individuals and teams.

5. Explain how organizations can change their reward
systems to support teamwork.

6. Distinguish between individual, group, and
organizational rewards.

7. Determine the best type of reward based on the type
of team.



Performance management is an ongoing process of identifying,
measuring, and developing individual and team performance and
aligning performance with the strategic goals of the
organization (Aguinis, 2019). This serves many functions, such
as orienting employees to expectations, generating information
for making administrative decisions (e.g., promotion, salary
adjustment, termination), developing worker skills, and
identifying emerging needs of the organization.

Effective performance management systems can improve
motivation, retain talented workers, and further strategic
goals. Many evaluation systems, however, are poorly designed
or implemented. This can reward undesirable behaviors,
introduce bias, damage workplace relationships, decrease
motivation, waste resources, and increase turnover.



Performance consists of a combination of behaviors and results
(Aguinis, 2019). Behaviors are how people do their work, while
results are what they actually produce. While results are an
important aspect of performance, behaviors—such as those
associated with collaboration, leadership, and information
elaboration—are also critical for successful team

Teamwork is not an innate ability but, rather, a constellation
of knowledge, skills, and abilities that need to be developed.
Specifying and evaluating team member behaviors underscores
the importance of developing these skills. Moreover, there may
not be a solution for the types of ill-structured problems to
which teams are often assigned. For example, around 90% of
pharmaceutical research fails to produce a viable drug due to
the complexity and uncertainty of the task. Failure to produce
a result does not necessarily mean that the team failed to
perform (Edmondson, 2011). Effective performance evaluation
must consider such contextual factors.

Team performance evaluation systems often fall victim to three
pitfalls (Aguinis, Gottfredson, & Joo, 2013). First is a poor
balance between measuring individual and team performance
(Barnes, Hollenbeck, Jundt, DeRue, & Harmon, 2011).
Overemphasizing individual performance fosters internal
competition, while overemphasizing team performance can lead
to social loafing. Second, teams may be assigned too much or
too little authority by managers. Assigning too much authority
can lead teams to pursue results undesired by the organization
(Langfred, 2004). Providing too little authority by assigning
goals can diminish responsibility and cohesion because members
were not involved in determining the objectives. Finally,
organizations may fail to provide sufficient resources to


develop and implement a performance management system that
properly aligns individual, team, and organizational goals.

So how should a team performance management system be designed
and implemented to avoid these pitfalls? Aguinis and
colleagues (2013) offer five research-based recommendations:
measure both individual and team performance, measure
processes and outcomes, develop performance measures with
internal and external input, gather performance information
from multiple sources, and foster team learning and growth.


Measure Individual and Team Performance

Team performance should be evaluated by three components
(Aguinis, 2019). The first is individual task performance.
This relates to specific tasks central to a team member’s
job, such as the quality and quantity of code written by a
programmer. The second is individual contextual performance.
This relates to specific behaviors that contribute to team
performance, such as information elaboration, conflict
management, and leadership. Contextual performance is
important because although an individual may be technically
skilled, they can underperform in team contexts. The final
component is overall team performance, which can include
(MacBryde & Mendibil, 2003) the following:

Effectiveness—extent to which stakeholders are satisfied
with the results (e.g., quality, quantity, cost, time,

Efficiency—extent to which team processes support goal
achievement (e.g., leadership, coordination, conflict
management, etc.)

Learning and growth—extent to which the team improved
specific skills (e.g., ideation, communication, decision
making, etc.)

Team member satisfaction—extent to which team
interactions contributed to personal growth and well-being
and members wish to continue being a team

In developing performance evaluation components, two things
need to be considered. First, there should be an alignment
between individual, group, and organizational goals. In other
words, team members should have a clear understanding of how


individual goals contribute to team goals and how team goals
contribute to strategic organizational goals (Aguinis, Joo, &
Gottfredson, 2011). Second, performance measures should be
monitored and refined on an ongoing basis (Scott & Einstein,
2001). This is necessary to correct for unintended negative
consequences of the performance goals.


Measure Processes and Outcomes

Individual and team performance should be evaluated by both
process and outcome measures (Meyer, 1994). Process measures
specify observable behaviors that members and teams display
when completing their work. This might include ratings of the
degree to which a team member actively seeks dissenting
opinions, uses supportive communication, and refuses to follow
team ground rules. Assessing observable behaviors is more
accurate and less susceptible to stereotypes and perceptual
biases than simply trying to rate a vague concept like
cooperativeness. Importantly, process measures provide
essential context for understanding the causes of positive or
negative outcomes and for providing feedback to team members.
Outcome measures capture the extent to which goals are
achieved, often through quantifiable characteristics of what
is produced (e.g., cost, time, quantity, and stakeholder

Characteristics of the team inform whether process or outcome
performance measures should be emphasized (Scott & Einstein,
2001). Teams with stable members that complete routine and
repetitive tasks (e.g., assembly line teams) are best measured
through objective outcomes. Short-term project teams composed
of cross-functional members that serve a specific purpose
(e.g., innovation team) benefit from outcome measures as well
as frequent process measures. Information generated by
frequent process evaluations allows the team to monitor and
correct problems before the project concludes. Similarly,
network teams are composed of distributed members whose
membership rapidly changes to meet evolving conditions.
Unstable membership obscures the link between team composition
and particular outcomes, making frequent process measures


Develop Measures With Internal and External


To make the performance evaluation process fair and to
motivate performance, people need to know, in advance, how
their performance will be measured and the acceptable levels
of performance. Without goals and accurate measurement
criteria, team members cannot know how to act to receive
positive evaluations. An ideal way of achieving this is to
collaboratively develop performance measures with input from
managers, team members, and outside stakeholders (Scott &
Einstein, 2001).

The process begins with the manager providing the team with
broad strategic goals and then allowing the team to develop
performance goals and measures. This approach balances
authority in the team: Managers ensure that measures reflect
strategic organizational goals, while empowering the team and
instilling accountability for team performance. Moreover, team
members gain a more nuanced understanding of their job roles
and work context (Morgeson & Dierdorff, 2011), which allows
them to develop more specific and accurate measures of
performance. This process can effectively be incorporated
early in a team’s formation through the development of a team
charter (Aguinis, 2019).

The manager should support the team’s efforts to develop
accurate and reliable measures (Meyer, 1994). It is helpful to
provide exemplars of successful performance measures. For
example, Ohland and colleagues (2012) developed the
Comprehensive Assessment of Team Member Effectiveness (CATME),
which provides behaviorally anchored rating scales (BARS) for
several teamwork processes. BARS provide a description of
observable behaviors and ask a rater to score the strength or
frequency of these behaviors. Managers should also initiate
meetings to foster a shared understanding of performance


measures, ensure that assessment includes both individual and
team performance, and confirm that measurements relate to
factors that the team has the ability to influence (Zigon,

Meanwhile, it is the team’s responsibility to proactively
generate and agree to indicators of individual task,
individual contextual, and team performance. This can include
expectations for team member behaviors and developmental
goals. It can be helpful to seek advice from other teams on
how to generate, propose, and explain performance measures
(Aguinis, 2019). Typically, a team performance measurement
system contains 5 to 15 different measures (Jones & Moffett,
1999; Meyer, 1994). Overly complex systems distract members
with gathering data and monitoring activities, rather than
focusing on managing the project. Using BARS encourages the
rater to focus on the target’s behavior rather than on
personality or inferences. Including team members in the
development of behavioral scales is a good way to improve the
relevance and credibility of the evaluation system. Table 16.1
presents a simple behavioral scale developed by students for
evaluating contributions to team projects (Levi & Cadiz,


Gather Ongoing Performance Information From

Multiple Sources

After measures of team performance are developed, the team can
begin executing its project. As they pursue and complete
tasks, teams must be responsible for consistently seeking out
feedback from team members, managers, and other teams about
their performance. The goal is to provide information and
opportunity for continuous improvement of team performance.

High-performing teams regularly monitor their performance on
goals, strategies, and processes in order to adapt them to
changing conditions (Schippers et al., 2014). Team members
should have frequent check-ins to constructively evaluate each
other’s individual task and contextual performance. This
allows team members to understand how their performance is
being perceived by others and provides opportunities for
improvement. Moreover, peer evaluations can discourage social
loafing and improve workload sharing and cooperation (Erez,
Lepine, & Elms, 2002). Team check-ins also help team leaders
recognize and respond to emergent problems facing the team
(e.g., motivation, cooperation, conflict). Finally, discussing
self-appraisals of performance is particularly useful for
ensuring that team members understand what is expected of

Table 16.1 Behavioral Rating Scale to Evaluate Student Team

Use the following rating scale to evaluate your team
members’ behavior on the class project:

1 = never 2 = sometimes 3 = usually 4 = always

Did the team member you are rating

A. Make commitments to do tasks?


B. Do their fair share of the work?

C. Produce work with acceptable quality?

D. Actively participate in team discussions and decision

Rate each team member:

Team member A B C D Total

1 ___________ _________ + _________ + _________ +
_________ = _________

2 ___________ _________ + _________ + _________ +
_________ = _________

3 ___________ _________ + _________ + _________ +
_________ = _________

4 ___________ _________ + _________ + _________ +
_________ = _________

Although it is valuable to include team member evaluations in
the performance evaluation system, some team members are
uncomfortable evaluating coworkers’ performances, especially
when the evaluations are related to pay increases (Lawler,
Mohrman, & Ledford, 1995). Team members feel more comfortable
evaluating one another when they can use objective performance
standards and the ratings remain confidential.

Meanwhile, managers or team leaders can support the team’s
self-monitoring efforts by providing resources and coaching.
They should also observe and document team performance and the
contributions of team members so that helpful and accurate
feedback can be offered.


Rater Bias

All evaluation systems that use people rather than purely
objective scores may suffer from bias. Contextual factors can
motivate both peers and managers to distorted ratings of
performance (Murphy & Cleveland, 1995; Wang, Wong, & Kwong,
2010). For example, people might inflate ratings in order to
avoid confrontation and conflict or to protect valued
relationships. They can also be used to promote disliked
workers out of the unit. Reciprocity bias occurs when people
feel obligated to give positive ratings after they received
positive ratings from others. Similarly, deflated ratings can
be used to encourage workers to leave and punish, coerce, or
build a record of poor performance against a disliked member.

One type of bias is unique to teams. The team halo effect
describes how team members view the success and failure of
teams (Naquin & Tynan, 2003). When teams are successful, team
members view success as caused by the team; when they are
unsuccessful, they tend to blame individual members for the
failure. This type of scapegoating is likely to affect team
members’ evaluations of one another. When the team is
successful, there is a tendency to rate every team member as a
good performer. When teams fail, members are more likely to
give negative performance evaluations to selected members.

There are many reasons why people may distort performance
ratings. Distorted ratings can lead to incorrect decisions and
contribute to unfairness and inequity. However, they can be
combatted. Having to justify ratings to a supervisor can
increase the accuracy of ratings (Mero, Guidice, & Brownlee,
2007). Additionally, justifying ratings during a face-to-face
meeting, as opposed to in writing, can also increase the
accuracy of ratings.


Use Performance Reviews to Foster Learning and


Performance management systems generate information used for
implementing corrective actions and for fostering learning and
development. Team performance evaluations should not encourage
competition among team members by ranking employees against
one another.

No single person has a holistic view of a team’s performance.
Fully assessing team performance requires a multirater
evaluation that includes information from self-appraisals,
member evaluations, leaders, managers, and stakeholders.
Multirater performance evaluations are more reliable and valid
than manager-only evaluations (Rynes, Gerhart, & Parks, 2005).
Moreover, those being evaluated are more likely to believe
that feedback from multiple sources is more credible and

Performance reviews generally occur through periodic (e.g.,
quarterly, semiannually, annually) appraisal meetings, during
which a manager (or team leader) discusses multirater
performance feedback. Managers should have at least two
meetings (Aguinis, 2019). The first meeting includes all team
members and focuses on team-level performance and results
using information from supervisors, outside stakeholders, and
team evaluations. The second meeting is conducted individually
with each team member to discuss individual task and context
performance using information from self-appraisals, peer
ratings, and supervisor evaluations.

Both of these appraisal meetings can be structured similarly.
The manager should emphasize that the purpose of the meeting
is to review performance information and provide developmental
feedback. The first goal is to establish a shared
understanding of observable and specific performance measures


by discussing self-appraisals and multirater evaluations. Any
discrepancies should be resolved before moving forward. Next,
the consequences of the behaviors (e.g., how it negatively or
positively impacted team functioning or organizational goals)
should be discussed, followed by identifying specific steps
for improving performance. It can be helpful to ask the team
members to summarize the main conclusions in their own words
to ensure a shared understanding is reached. Next, the manager
can assign rewards based on performance (e.g., compensation
changes or awards). Finally, a follow-up meeting should be
scheduled in the near future to review progress toward
implementing steps for improvement. This emphasizes the
importance of following through with the feedback from
performance appraisals.

What if an individual does not make changes based on
performance appraisals? Managers should follow appropriate
organizational guidelines, which may include coaching,
training, or transferring. However, before a formal
disciplinary warning (which may foster resentment or
embarrassment), one approach is to provide once-in-a-career
decision-making leave (Aguinis, 2019; Falcone, 2007). This
provides a paid day off for the individual to contemplate
whether they wish to remain in the organization. They may
decide to resign or stay. If they choose to stay, however,
they must prepare a letter convincing the manager that they
accept responsibility for the performance issues and explain
the specific actions they will take to address these issues.
This process is not punitive, nor does the letter enter their
formal employment file, unless they fail to fulfill their
promised actions. Built upon adult learning theory, decision-
making leave acts to hold people responsible for their actions
rather than punish them.

Giving Feedback


People rarely start off as superstar performers. Achieving
high performance takes resilience, learning, and development.
Critically, it requires feedback, which can build confidence,
develop competence, and enhance engagement (Silverman, Pogson,
& Cober, 2005). Yet a meta-analysis of 131 studies
investigating the relationship between feedback and
performance found that 38% of feedback programs actually
produced a negative effect on performance (Kluger & DeNisi,

This is due, in part, because people are uncomfortable judging
others or fear negative reactions. As a result, they avoid
providing constructive feedback. Meanwhile, the other person
assumes that silence means their performance is adequate. This
creates a feedback gap in which meaningful performance
communication is not being provided or sought (Moss & Sanchez,
2004). Any feedback is likely to be too late to make
corrections and too punitive to foster learning and

For constructive feedback to be effective, it must be
actionable (Cannon & Witherspoon, 2005). This means that it is
provided with time to make corrections, it specifies and
provides examples of undesired behaviors, it clarifies the
undesired consequences, and it identifies behaviors that can
be changed. This allows a person to see the consequences of
their behavior and provides a path to improvement. Criticizing
a person, rather than their behavior, fosters a defensive
communication climate that impedes listening and learning.

Not all feedback needs to focus on deficiencies in order to
improve performance. Feedback based on a strengths-based
approach, as opposed to a weakness-based approach, can also
benefit people (Aguinis, Gottfredson, & Joo, 2012).
Constructive feedback typically involves identifying
weaknesses, providing negative feedback on what was done
incorrectly, and asking the person to overcome these
weaknesses to improve performance. By contrast, a strengths-


based approach identifies a person’s strengths and encourages
the further development of those strengths to improve



An organization’s reward system can influence performance
through both incentive and sorting effects (Nyberg, Maltarich,
Abdulsalam, Essman, & Cragun, 2018). Rewards produce incentive
effects, which influence employee motivation, attitude,
attention, and effort. Rewards also differentially attract and
retain workers through sorting effects—employees who are
dissatisfied with a reward system may leave the organization.
The reward system needs to be effectively communicated to
workers so that they have a clear line of sight between their
effort and their reward. Designing a reward system that
attracts high-performing workers is a critical source of
competitive advantage for organizations (Gerhart, Rynes, &
Fulmer, 2009; Lazear, 1986).

Both relational and tangible rewards can improve performance
(Aguinis, 2019). Relational returns include status, public
recognition, sabbaticals, opportunities for learning, and
opportunities to form personal relationships at work. Tangible
returns can include base pay, bonuses, and stock options. The
largest contributor to compensation is base pay, which is
calculated based on the role that an employee has in an
organizational hierarchy.

Organizations are rapidly adopting contingent pay systems
(sometimes called pay for performance) to supplement base pay,
in which compensation is directly linked to ongoing
individual, team, and/or organizational performance (Gerhart
et al., 2009). Over 70% of companies in the United States
report using contingent pay systems to attract and retain
high-performing workers (PayScale, 2019), and most Fortune
1000 companies use team-based incentives (Merriman, 2009).
However, how individual versus team performance is balanced in
these decisions has significant consequences for teamwork.


Rewarding Individual Team Member Performance

In many organizations, rewards are based on job descriptions
(Lawler, 1999). Specific jobs have salary ranges attached to
them, and employees are paid based on their jobs and periodic
performance evaluations from their managers. Individual reward
systems are useful for motivating high performers but may
discourage cooperation and teamwork. Most U.S. employees
prefer individual incentives rather than team-based rewards.
This is particularly true of employees who have high levels of
achievement motivation (Rynes et al., 2005). Individuals who
are high performers may have negative attitudes toward team
rewards because they perceive them as inequitable (Trank,
Rynes, & Bretz, 2002). However, this is somewhat mitigated if
high performers believe that teamwork is necessary to
accomplish important tasks (Haines & Taggar, 2006).

Individual performance systems can support teamwork by
rewarding employees for developing skills or competencies that
benefit the organization (Lawler, 1999). Skill-based pay
encourages individuals to learn new skills, which makes them
more flexible and increases their understanding of the work
process (Gross, 1995). The primary benefit of this approach is
to improve the flexibility of the team in performing its task.
It is most commonly used when the team member skills are not
too widely divergent and the team’s actions are highly
interdependent. For example, factory workers who are
multiskilled can take over one another’s jobs when
bottlenecks occur or when team members are absent.
Professional teams that provide an integrated service to
customers, such as in the insurance or banking industry, use
multiskilled workers to improve customer service.

The primary advantage of skill-based pay is organizational
flexibility. However, several problems may occur with skill-
based pay programs (Luthans & Fox, 1989). Training costs rise
because of skill-based pay. There can be quality and


productivity problems because employees are working on new
jobs in order to gain new skills. Promotions may be limited
after a few years because employees have learned all the
skills offered by the company. Therefore, skill-based pay is
often used to make the transition into work teams and then
abandoned once most of the workers have completed their skills
training (Gross, 1995).

Knowledge-based pay or career ladders are a type of skill-
based pay for professional workers (Lawler, 2000).
Multiskilled professionals are a benefit to professional
teams. Cross-training will not create the skills, but job
rotation helps an organization nurture the development of
professionals with skills and knowledge that cross traditional
professional boundaries. Knowledge-based pay, which rewards
employees for their depth of knowledge in an area, is a useful
organizational tool for developing and retaining technical


Rewarding Team Performance

Organizations are adopting team rewards because using work
teams makes it difficult to accurately evaluate individual
performance as distinct from that of the team (DeMatteo et
al., 1998). In team reward systems, pay is contingent on
successful team performance (Conroy & Gupta, 2016). A recent
meta-analysis suggests that performance is higher in teams
when rewarding team-based performance compared to individual
performance (Nyberg et al., 2018). Moreover, rewarding team
performance can improve goal setting, knowledge sharing, and
coordination. The effectiveness of team reward programs
depends on the characteristics of the rewards, the
organization, and the team (Gross, 1995; Lawler, 2000).

Team rewards can be split equally among all members or
allocated based on individual contributions to the team. They
can also be cooperative, target based, or piece rate.
Cooperative systems reward teams based on their performance
relative to other teams. Target-based systems reward teams for
reaching specific goals. Finally, collective piece rate
rewards are based on team output (e.g., quantity produced).
Cooperative rewards tend to be most effective for creativity
because they promote cohesion and information elaboration
(Chen, Williamson, & Zhou, 2012). To encourage cooperation,
rewards should be distributed equally among all team members.
They should also be large enough to make a noticeable
difference in the members’ pay.

Effective team rewards require clear team goals, measurable
performance standards, and a task that requires integrated
teamwork—it is essential that tasks require interdependence
(Libby & Thorne, 2009; Pearsall, Christian, & Ellis, 2010).
However, the incentive effect decreases as team size
increases. This is because there is a weaker line of sight—
the perceived link between employee actions and team or
organizational outcomes. Moreover, an emphasis on team rewards


may encourage social loafing, discourage the performance of
good workers, and create inequity problems (DeMatteo et al.,

Special awards and recognition programs can reward successful
team performance. Recognition awards are one-time events that
acknowledge team and individual success (Gross, 1995). Awards
should be given as close as possible to the time of a team
success. Recognition awards may be either cash or noncash.
Noncash awards should be appropriate for the specific
employees and given in a manner that publicly recognizes team


Rewarding Organizational Performance

A potential problem with team incentive programs is that they
may inadvertently create competition among teams within an
organization (Lawler, 2000). When an organization’s work
requires coordination among teams, the use of team rewards may
reduce overall organizational performance. In addition,
measuring the performance of individual teams may be difficult
in some organizations. Profit sharing and gainsharing are
useful approaches for dealing with these problems (Nyberg et
al., 2018).

Profit-sharing programs are based on meeting profitability
targets for the organization. However, the large number of
employees involved and factors outside of employees’ control
affecting profits may limit the motivational effects of these
programs. Gainsharing links rewards to the performance of a
specific facility or production unit. This can make them more
motivating, given that fewer employees are involved. These
typically focus on nonfinancial goals, such as productivity
gains, safety, or customer satisfaction.

Both profit sharing and gainsharing can increase performance,
communication, knowledge transfer and psychological ownership
of workers (Chi & Han, 2008; Nyberg et al., 2018). Goals are
also generally objective, so workers tend to accept them.
However, they may also encourage both the bottom and top
performers to leave the organization (Weiss, 1987).


Combining Reward Programs

Organizations typically use multiple performance reward
programs (Aguinis, 2019), with most using individual salary
systems as their primary methods of compensation. Additional
compensation may be based on skills, individual merit, team
incentives, and organizational incentives. It is not really a
matter of choosing which system is best but, instead, of
selecting the right combination of approaches. Supporting
teamwork requires a careful balance between rewarding
individual, team, and organizational performance. The right
combination depends on the characteristics of the

While a general guideline is to reward both individual and
team performance (Aguinis et al., 2013), there is an important
nuance to this decision (Conroy & Gupta, 2016). Only a few
studies have examined the impact of mixed pay programs on
performance, and the results have been inconsistent. In some
studies, teams that are rewarded for a mix of individual and
team performance perform better than teams rewarded solely for
either individual or team performance (Blazovich, 2013; Fan &
Gruenfeld, 1998; Guthrie & Hollensbe, 2004; Pearsall,
Christian, et al., 2010).

However, other studies report negative effects of mixed pay
programs (Barnes et al., 2011; DeShon et al., 2004; Wageman,
1995). Mixing individual and team rewards can create a social
dilemma for team members. Should they act for the team or
their individual self-interest? Research on social dilemmas
suggests that mixing individual and team rewards may not be
the best approach because team members respond more strongly
to the individual rewards.

The best approach may depend on the type of tasks the team is
performing (Barnes et al., 2011). Individual incentives
encourage team members to put in more effort and work faster


but may decrease accuracy because of reduced support,
cooperation, and coordination of knowledge. Focusing on one’s
own work may reduce cooperation and backup behaviors by team
members. Team rewards are needed when teams have high levels
of interdependence and tasks require coordination and
information sharing. When accuracy, coordination, and backup
behaviors are important to team success, team incentives alone
may be the best approach.

Culture may affect how team members respond to different types
of rewards. Team members from individualistic cultures prefer
individual rewards, while collectivists prefer team rewards
(Duarte & Snyder, 2006). Cultural differences also affect team
members’ beliefs about what constitutes good performance.
Individualists focus on task success, while collectivists
value the working relationships that have been developed.
These differences make it difficult to reward multicultural
and distributed teams.

In a student teamwork experiment, hybrid rewards worked better
than individual or team rewards because they encouraged task-
oriented communication and reduced social loafing (Pearsall,
Christian, et al., 2010). Team rewards motivated social
helping and coordination but reduced individual effort and
accountability. Individual rewards had a more substantial
impact on individual effort and outcomes but did not encourage
helping behavior in a team. Hybrid rewards were effective in
this experiment because they rewarded two different actions,
so team members did not have to make trade-offs. They could
focus on one goal or both goals.

Creating the right mix of individual and team rewards can be
difficult. For example, when evaluating and rewarding student
team projects, what percentage of the grade should be student
ratings of each other’s performance versus the teacher’s
evaluation of the quality of the project? The propor