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Promoting teamwork

Author: Dr Simon Moss


A variety of practices can be introduced to cultivate team cohesion. For instance, the composition of teams can affect cohesion, with a blend of extraverted and introverted individuals often optimizing collaboration (Neuman, Wagner, & Christiansen, 1999). The unique qualities of each individual should be publicized, but practices that promote a sense of connection, such as photographs of national icons and an awareness of similarities, should also be introduced (Briley & Wyer, 2002). The extent to which individuals develop expertise or introduce innovative strategies, rather than achieve concrete targets or outperform rivals, should be the main focus of evaluation (Porter, 2005).

Composition of teams

Similarities and differences

Step 1. On some attributes, team members should be as similar as possible to one another. They should, for example, share similar values. To illustrate, colleagues tend to work more effectively together if both individuals prefer to show initiative and engage in risky behaviors, partly to achieve lofty goals, or if both individuals prefer to avoid risks and minimize errors or problems. Specifically, employees are more likely to feel motivated when they feel they can demonstrate their inherent inclination to embrace or avoid risks (Hirschfeld, Thomas, & Lankau, 2006).

Step 2. On other attributes, team members should not be similar to one another. Diversity in the extent to which individuals are extraverted and dominant is important. Team members are more likely to feel a sense of conflict with each other if they are all equally dominant and sociable in style (Neuman, Wagner, & Christiansen, 1999).

Team leadership

Step 3. Team leaders should not be recruited from outside the workgroup, as demonstrated by Worchel, Jenner, and Hebl (1998), especially if the original leader remains.When the new leader appears from outside the group but the previous leader remains, an obvious tension arises. Members usually support one individual or the other, and hence the team becomes political and guarded. When the new leader was originally a member of the workgroup and the previous leader remains involved, this disruption is minimized. In this instance, the new leader strives to support the other members rather than disrupt the practices and operations.

Physical environment in which the team is located

Open plan offices

Step 1.Employees should first be assigned to offices with fewer than two other individuals whenever possible. That is, open-plan designs should be utilized sparingly and only when necessary. Employees who work in open-plan offices are less likely to trust their colleagues, and these problems magnify after several months. Specifically, in open-plan designs, employees are often less able to share confidential, sensitive, or private information with other individuals and, hence, cannot develop a strong bond with one another (Brennan, Chugh, & Kline, 2002).

Therefore, if open-plan designs are utilized, other offices should be dedicated to private conservations with colleagues or customers. Indeed, supervisors should ensure that each employee is assigned a project to complete with almost every other colleague in their workgroup. This system encourages employees to converse with one another in private rooms, facilitating a sense of cohesion and trust.

Activities before the team is formed


Step 1. Before these workgroups are formed, individuals should receive a description of every person who will be assigned to this team. They should be informed of the qualities that each individual has developed that cannot be deciphered immediately. For example, they might be informed that one of these individuals tends to be perceptive, another individual tends to be loyal, and so forth. An appreciation of the diversity within a workgroup has been demonstrated to enhance performance and innovation, provided individuals do not disregard some of the unique attributes of individuals (Swann Jr, Kwan, Polzer, & Milton, 2003).

Activities during initial team meetings

Fulfilling unique needs

People experience a strong need to belong as well as to feel distinct. These two motives often conflict with each other. That is, to fulfill their need to belong, individuals tend to comply with the norms and conventions of some team. This compliance impedes their capacity to remain distinct. Fortunately, researchers have demonstrated a series of principles that can be applied to fulfill both of these needs simultaneously, enhancing team commitment and cohesion (for a review, see Hornsey, & Jetten, 2004;; see also Optimal distinctiveness theory).

Step 1. Team leaders should demonstrate how the objectives or roles of this team are unique, even revolutionary. They should highlight how the unique qualities, knowledge, opportunities, and resources that are available enable the team to pursue an inspiring vision--a vision that diverges considerably from the mainstream. When individuals feel their team departs from mainstream practices, their need to feel unique is partly satisfied& they feel more committed to the workgroup.

Step 2. After this unique vision is presented, team leaders should encourage creative, even unusual, behavior. That is, they should encourage members to reflect upon unique practices that can be applied to reach their goals. Unconventional, idiosyncratic behavior should be embraced rather than mocked When individuality is embraced, individuals feel they can demonstrate their unique tendencies, while fulfilling the expectations of their team.

Step 3. Team leaders should ensure that each person is assigned a unique role. Hence, individuals feel they contribute to the team, but are granted unique responsibilities.

Expression of strengths

Step 4. Some of the subtle qualities of the individuals--the strengths that are not always recognized--should be communicated to everyone in the team. Perhaps, each member should be encouraged to express some of the strengths, skills, insights, or qualities they have developed they feel are seldom recognized or appreciated. For instance, they could be asked "Can you think of times in which your attributes or contributions were not recognized?" or "What are some of your strengths you feel that colleagues often do not appreciate". Individuals are more inclined to focus their attention on some of the unique insights that colleagues offer--insights they otherwise tend to disregard--when they feel their attributes and characteristics are understood and respected (Swann Jr, Kwan, Polzer, & Milton, 2003).

Concession of limitations

Step 5.

In addition, individuals should be encouraged to concede some of their limitations or problems, issues that constrain their performance or wellbeing, such as difficulties with accounting or public speaking. After individuals express their limitations, they feel less motivated to suppress these concerns, ultimately enhancing their self esteem and resilience (Borton, Markovitz, & Dieterich, 2005;; see Ironic rebound).

Recognition of similarities

Step 6. Furthermore, employees should be encouraged to identify the similarities between themselves and their colleagues. They could, for example, be asked to identify a topic in which everyone in the team needs further training. Alternatively, employees could be instructed to identify the values they share with everyone else in their workgroup, ultimately to formulate or refine the strategy of each workgroup.

After individuals reflect upon these similarities, they construe themselves as a member of this team, and this conceptualization promotes cooperation (Holland, Roeder, Van Baaren, Brandt,& Hannover, 2004;; see Self construal). Nevertheless, managers should ensure that one of the core values or similarities that pervade the team is a respect for diversity and originality, to ensure the sense of connection does not stifle individuality.

Evaluation of teams

Step 1. Managers should evaluate the extent to which employees have acquired additional skills, undertaken roles they have never assumed before, demonstrated effort and enthusiasm, suggested tactics that could be applied to increase efficiency, and implemented these tactics. These evaluations should significantly influence decisions that affect pay, bonuses, and promotions. This focus on developing skills and implementing effective practices rather than achieving targets and demonstrating competence enhances cooperation (Porter, 2005;; see Goal orientation).

Related objectives

See also articles on:


Borton, J. L. S., Markovitz, L. J., & Dieterich, J. (2005). Effects of suppressing negative self-referent thoughts on mood and self-esteem. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 24, 172-180.

Brennan, A., Chugh, J. S., & Kline, T. (2002). Traditional versus open office design: A longitudinal field study. Environment and Behavior, 34, 279-299.

Briley, D. A. & Wyer, R. S Jr. (2002). The effect of group membership salience on the avoidance of negative outcomes: Implications for social and consumer decisions. Journal of Consumer Research, 29, 400-415.

Hirschfeld, R. R., Thomas, C. H., Lankau, M. J. (2006). Achievement and avoidance motivational orientations in the domain of mentoring. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 68, 524-537.

Holland, R. W., Roeder, U., Van Baaren, R. B., Brandt, A. C., & Hannover, B. (2004). Don't stand so close to me: The effects of self-construal on interpersonal closeness. Psychological Science, 15, 237-242.

Hornsey, M. J., & Jetten, J. (2004). The individual within the group: Balancing the need to belong with the need to be different. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 8, 248-264.

Neuman, G. A., Wagner, S. H., & Christiansen, N. D. (1999). The relationship between work-team personality composition and the job performance of teams. Group & Organization Management, 24, 28-45.

Porter, C. O. L. H. (2005). Goal orientation: Effects on backing up behavior, perfomance, efficacy, and commitment in teams. Journal of Applied Psychology, 90, 811-818.

Swann Jr, W. B., Kwan, V. S. Y., Polzer, J. T., & Milton, L. P. (2003). Fostering group identification and creativity in diverse groups: The role of individuation and self verification. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 29, 1396-1406.

Worchel, S., Jenner, S. M., & Hebl, M. R. (1998). Changing the guard: How origin of new leader and disposition of ex-leader affect group performance and perceptions. Small Group Research, 29, 436-451.

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Last Update: 5/7/2016