Goal Orientation: Helping Team Performance or My Own Performance?

Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology, (Advanced Online Publication, 2015)
Article: Outperforming Whom? A Multilevel Study of Performance-Prove Goal Orientation, Performance, and the Moderating Role of Shared Team Identification
Reviewed by: Ben Sher


Not all people are motivated by the same things, and goal orientation is one way that psychologists classify what makes people tick. You might think of goal orientation as the basic underlying goal that explains what you do and why you do it. New research (Dietz, van Knippenberg, Hirst, Restubog, 2015) shows how a certain type of goal orientation can only sometimes help performance, depending on the situation.



Researchers have classified several types of goal orientation that are relevant to the workplace. Employees with a learning goal orientation are moved to achieve personal mastery, while those with a performance-avoid goal orientation are motivated by a fear of negative evaluations from other people. This study focused on performance-prove goal orientation, which is when people feel the need to prove themselves to other people via achievement or even one-upmanship. Being that this type of motivation increases competition, it’s not surprising that past research has found an association with individual performance. In this study, the authors wanted to know how this dynamic affects teams.



The authors studied sales professionals and students, and found that having a high performance goal orientation is only sometimes beneficial to performance; it actually depends on the extent to which people on a team see themselves as being “one” with their team. This strong sense of cohesiveness, or “team identification”, changes what happens when employees feel the need to achieve and beat the competition. When team identification is strong, people may see the team as an extension of themselves, and their need to compete inspires them to help their team compete against other teams. If team identification is weak, people who need to compete will see team members as competition, and may compete against them. This can be detrimental to overall team performance.



The authors separately investigated team performance and individual performance of people on those teams. When it came to team performance, a high degree of team identification was associated with better performance when people had a performance goal orientation. In other words, with strong team cohesiveness, people who feel the need to compete will help direct the team to compete against other teams. This improves team performance.

Results were very different when it came to individual level performance. People who had a performance goal orientation performed better when team identification was low. In other words, with low team cohesiveness, people who need to compete will compete against fellow team members. This improves their own personal performance.



This study shows that performance goal orientation (or “need to achieve”) is only sometimes beneficial. People with performance goal orientation need to compete, but the level of team cohesiveness and camaraderie will determine how these people choose to compete. When team cohesiveness is strong, efforts are directed at improving the team; when team cohesiveness is weak, efforts are directed at improving the self.

There are important managerial implications here. In the business world, and specifically in high-competition industries like sales, employees are often selected for their high-achieving inner drive. While this might be good for individual performance, modern organizations are increasingly relying on teams to get work done. In the absence of team cohesiveness, these competitive employees will look out for themselves by competing against other team members. Organizational leaders may have to consider if this is truly what they want, especially if team goals are compromised.

On the other hand, when team cohesiveness is high, competitive employees will use their “inner fire” to bolster team performance in competition with other teams. Clearly, there is an advantage to team cohesiveness. This is something organizational leaders and managers might want to remember when they attempt to improve team performance.

Workforce Diversity: Does Diversity Training Improve Creativity?

Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology, 2015
Article: The Interplay of Diversity Training and Diversity Beliefs on Team Creativity in Nationality Diverse Teams
Reviewed by: Andrew Marcinko


Workforce diversity has become a major organizational issue for most companies in the 21st century, and with good reason; we’ve come a long way from the mono-cultural workplaces that dominated the business world just a few short decades ago. Organizations of all sizes tell us in corporate press releases and social media posts that, within their company, “Diversity drives innovation and creativity!” However, research tells us that’s not necessarily a given.

To benefit from diversity, many companies already employ “active diversity management” techniques such as diversity training to get the most value out of their teams’ diversity. However, even these methods are far from universally effective. A team of researchers from The Netherlands and Germany set out to better understand the conditions in which diversity training will benefit work teams the most.



The root of the conflict is that research has shown that diversity can both help and hurt the creativity and performance of work teams. On one hand, the different thinking styles, beliefs, and ideas that are naturally present in diverse work teams can help to stimulate creativity by providing different perspectives on projects. It’s certainly not hard to imagine how a wider array of differing perspectives could be beneficial to creativity.

Conversely, humans are naturally prone to subconsciously categorize people. If team members view each other based on their preconceived notions of their nationalities, it can totally negate the benefits of diversity, and potentially even negatively impact creativity.

In response to this, around 70% of companies have already instituted some form of diversity training, in an attempt to ensure that the diversity within their teams adds value. Even with this training, though, it’s sometimes still not enough to ensure a positive result.



The researchers (Homan, Buengeler, Eckhoff, van Ginkel, & Voelpel, 2015) looked to address the issue of when diversity training is actually beneficial to team creativity. Interestingly, they found that diversity training had the most positive impact on the teams that needed it the most; those with high diversity and low preexisting positive beliefs about diversity.

However, the study also found that in teams that were less diverse, creativity was actually reduced when there were low positive diversity beliefs. So, when team members didn’t believe diversity to be beneficial, and there is little diversity present, diversity training had a negative impact on performance.

The researchers also found minimal impact either way from diversity training on teams that already had a positive opinion of the value of diversity.



First and foremost, this research further supports the notion that there is value in an internationally diverse workforce. In high-diversity teams there is potential for increased creativity—or at worst, no significant change—given proper diversity training. In addition, low diversity teams who didn’t believe diversity would benefit them actually showed reduced performance following diversity training.

The research also begins to answer the question of when companies should utilize diversity training. The biggest impact occurs in teams that need it the most; those that are high-diversity, and don’t believe that diversity will benefit them. These conditions are certainly not uncommon to find in modern international work teams, so it’s reassuring for professionals to see research supporting the value of diversity training in these situations.

It’s clear that further research is still needed on how to maximize the value added by diversity within teams. However, this research reinforces the notion that there is value to be added, and that different conditions demand different approaches when it comes to diversity training.

How to Make Meetings Productive: The Role of Employee Participation

Publication: Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research
Article: Participate or Else! The Effect of Participation in Decision Making in Meetings Relates to Employee Engagement
Reviewed by: Madeleine Holtz


We wouldn’t think that the purpose of meetings is to encourage employee participation. After all, meetings are held for a variety of specific work-related reasons. But the results of these meetings can vary incredibly. Productive meetings can include the successful collaboration of ideas, while unproductive meetings can result in decreased morale in employees. How can we do better? New research (Yoerger, Crowe, & Allen, 2015) investigated the relationship between participation in decision-making, or PDM, and employee engagement in the context of meetings.

PDM is defined as the amount of freedom that supervisors allow their employees to have in the process of decision-making. Meetings are an easy place for employees to address change in the workplace, though it does not mean they will take advantage of this opportunity and speak up. Not only is PDM a potential outcome of successful meetings, but this process can lead to a sense of belonging within the organization as well as job satisfaction. All of these factors can lead to increased employee engagement, or the extent that employees feel enthusiastic about their jobs.



So if employee participation is important to make meetings productive, how can supervisors make sure that employees will speak up? Perceived supervisor support (or the extent to which an employee feels like their supervisor supports them in their work) can have an effect on employees’ likelihood of speaking up at meetings. Showing employees that they are supported and that their contributions to the organization are valued will demonstrate to them that their roles carry much importance. Why wouldn’t employees want to feel this way? And why wouldn’t you want your employees to feel this way? Employees who feel supported by their supervisor and their organization will also feel the need to reciprocate.

Another factor that helps employees participate and feel engaged in their work is the frequency of meetings. If meetings are held frequently, employees may not feel that their input will be considered, or they may put off their desire to speak up because they know there will be more opportunities to speak up later. If meetings are more sporadic, then employees may feel that this is one of the few times they will have an opportunity to provide input. In some companies, meetings may be the only times that employees have the chance to interact with supervisors or management, which can also significantly affect the results of these meetings.



So the next time you attend or facilitate a meeting, think about the outcomes that could result from the meeting beyond the content itself. It could have a profound effect on your organization, and all of its employees. By supporting employees on a day-to-day basis and by holding less frequent meetings, employees may be more likely to speak up and participate in meetings, and eventually feel more engaged in their work.

Climate Uniformity: A New Concept with Important Organizational Outcomes

Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: Climate Uniformity: Its Influence on Team Communication Quality, Task Conflict, and Team Performance
Reviewed by: Ben Sher


When it comes to research on organizational climate, the concept called “climate uniformity” is the new kid on the block. In fact, new research by González-Romá and Hernández (2014) is the first to actually collect data and start to determine what this concept means for organizations. The results are intriguing, as they found that the degree of climate uniformity is related to communication, conflict, and even team performance. So now you might be asking, what in the world is climate uniformity?


First of all, we have to begin with the idea of organizational climate. This term refers to a combination of individual employees’ perceptions about their workplace. For example, if employees typically feel that supervisors and coworkers treat each other justly, you might say they have a climate for organizational justice.

Another way of describing a climate is called “climate strength,” or the extent to which employees agree on what the organization’s climate is like. For example, if each and every employee believed that the organization rated a 5/10 on organizational justice, researchers would say they have a “strong climate.” If a group of employees thought it was 5/10, but many gave higher ratings and many gave lower ratings, the climate would be considered weaker because the individual ratings are more spread out.

This article discusses climate uniformity, which considers a different possibility. Perhaps half of the employees think that the organization should get a very low rating, and the other half think it should get a very high rating. In this case, there are two distinct opinions among employees. The researchers call this non-uniformity.



The researchers collected data from numerous settings and considered those in which they noticed disagreement on how much support their organization provided. Like our example above, they were looking for settings in which a distinct group of employees gave low ratings to the organization, and another distinct group gave high ratings. They found that these “split” groups were associated with worse communication and more conflict about how to conduct work-related tasks. They also found that the poor communication that results fully explained why these “split” teams had worse overall performance.



So what does this all mean? From a general perspective, this article helps us think about the different types of data we can collect about our employees. It’s not always correct to think about an average score or imagine that employees’ perceptions resemble a “bell curve”. Instead, there may be two or more distinct groupings of opinions. This is important to keep in mind no matter what we are measuring, whether it is particular type of organizational climate or simply job satisfaction.

In particular, this study highlights some of the negative effects that occur when there are two distinct opinions about organizational support. If some believe that the organization supports them and some do not share this belief, bad things happen. Specifically, the rift or “us versus them” attitude that occurs can negatively impact communication, team conflict, and ultimately performance. Organizations should be advised to note the harmful impacts of this type of rift, and learn how to identify and halt these tricky situations before they become problematic.

Lack of Supervisor Justice Leads to Team Cohesiveness

Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: Misery Loves Company: Team Dissonance and the Influence of
Reviewed by: Ben Sher


Supervisor justice sounds like a good thing, and it is. This term refers to leaders who treat their employees fairly, and when speaking specifically about interpersonal justice, it means that they treat their employees with dignity and respect. Past research has highlighted the positive outcomes that occur when supervisor justice is at a high level, for example, employees will be more committed to the organization. However, a new study (Stoverink, Umphress, Gardner, & Miner, 2014) found the opposite. When supervisor justice is perceived to be lacking, there could be a positive benefit for employees who work on teams.



I-O psychologists study many kinds of organizational justice, but the current study focused on interpersonal justice that comes from a supervisor. For example, does the supervisor speak respectfully and professionally to employees, or does the supervisor intimidate, scream, and harass? Specifically, the researchers investigated the climate of supervisor interpersonal justice. When researchers talk about a climate, they simply mean that they are evaluating a combination of all the employees’ individual perceptions, and in this case, they are evaluating joint perceptions of whether or not leadership is being fair to them. In this sense, a single workplace can be said to have a high amount of supervisor interpersonal justice, or a low amount.



As you might expect, when a group of employees believe that their leaders are not treating them fairly, negative outcomes typically occur. The unique contribution of this study is that it has discovered an unintended positive outcome. When supervisor justice was perceived to be low (think screaming bosses), the employees have a greater sense of group cohesiveness. In other words, they band together in the face of adversity.



The authors explained that when employees have to deal with a disrespectful supervisor, they experience dissonance. Dissonance refers to an uncomfortable feeling that people get when things don’t go as expected. For example, imagine that you have completed a project adequately and you expect to be praised by your supervisor. If instead the supervisor yells at you and calls you a disrespectful name, the unexpected outcome makes you feel uncomfortable. You then need to spend energy focusing your thoughts on why your supervisor would do something like that. Interestingly, this rationalization process is best done along with other people who are experiencing the same problem. Trying to figure out why your boss yelled at you will lead you to share experiences, thoughts, and feelings with people who have also been yelled at by the same boss. Ultimately, this sharing of experience among team members leads to stronger group cohesion.



The authors note that these findings do not provide carte blanche for leaders to become abusive. Besides for the obvious ethical and humanitarian reasons against doing so, the authors note that mostly bad organizational outcomes will occur in response. However, this article does provide a sort of silver lining for those employees currently exposed to unjust or abusive leadership. The very same mechanism that may make their jobs more difficult may also enhance their experience of being on a team. More cohesive teams may perform better, leading to long-term positive outcomes for employees. As far as advice for employees dealing with adversity, such as an abusive boss, this article discusses how seeking out others who are experiencing the same problem can help.

How to Fix the Negative Relationships that Affect Team Performance

Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: When Do Bad Apples Not Spoil the Barrel? Negative Relationships in Teams, Team Performance, and Buffering Mechanisms
Reviewed by: Amber Davidson

Nearly all companies and organizations use teams to get work done, but can negative relationships be preventing that from happening? As common as teamwork is, the dynamics that make a team actually work are often overlooked. Whether the team is temporarily thrown together or a permanent fixture, how the individuals get along is an essential factor in how well the team performs. Every individual has their differences, and frequently this can lead to disagreements or negative relationships amongst members of a team.


Negative relationships can be characterized by emotional and behavioral actions that induce distress, anger, and withdrawal. These types of harmful relationships amongst team members create a divided team, which in turn leads to an overall poorer team performance. A cohesive team will ultimately be more productive than a team that is separated by negative relationships. Negative relationships can never be completely avoided. However, there may be ways to decrease the undesirable effects of negative relationships on team performance.



The researchers examined three possible methods of negating the effects of negative relationships within a team. The first is called communication density, or how often a team talks with each other and brings to light harmful or damaging behaviors. If a team actively strives for a comfortable atmosphere where people can connect with the other members, negative relationships should be kept to a minimum. In turn, if there is little communication, negative relationships can continue to grow.

The second method is team member exchange, which is where members exchange feedback, support, and assistance when needed. When team members bounce ideas around and go to each other for help, negative relationships will be neutralized.

The third method is task-interdependence, which is when members of the group must work together to accomplish one task instead of each member having individual tasks. When team members must work together in this fashion, they are succeeding or failing together, which allows little room for negative behaviors.



The researchers who explored the three buffering ideas found that how frequently people talked and the overall group atmosphere did not play a significant role in neutralizing negative relationships. However, when team members went to each other for advice and support and when members depended on each other to complete a task, negative relationships were found to have a less damaging effect.



The use of teams in organizations is not going to stop, and it should not, because teams often foster innovative ideas and accomplish tasks that could not be done by a single individual. However, there are drawbacks, such as negative relationships, which will decrease a team’s cohesiveness and ultimately its performance. Companies should recognize the potential problems caused by negative relationships, and while negative relationships can never be completely avoided, they can be kept to a minimum. This study shows that these negative relationships can be mitigated by using two strategies. First, encourage team members to support each other, and second, design work so that employees need each other to complete tasks. These strategies should help reduce the harm caused by negative relationships, and ensure that teams remain successful.

Is It Lonely At the Top? The Victimization of High Performers

Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: Victimization of High Performers: The Roles of Envy and Work Group Identification
Reviewed by: Soner Dumani, M.A.


High Performers are defined as the group of talented employees that increase both team and organizational performance.

Previous research has suggested that individuals high on cognitive ability are more likely to experience workplace victimization, and High Performers might be the target of interpersonal harm.

The current study by Eugune Kim and Theresa Glomb extends this line of research by examining the extent to which High Performers are victimized due to group members’ envy, and whether work group identification can reduce this potential negative consequence of high performance.



Compared to average workplace performers, High Performers tend to enjoy more financial and social resources, and they receive more attention in their work groups and organizations. As a result, they are often at the risk of being victimized by other organizational members.

The researchers conducted two separate studies– one with staff members at a large university in the United States, and the other with employees from three organizations in South Korea. In both samples, High Performers were found to be victimized more than low performers.



As a result of being constantly compared to High Performers, the study found that other group members’ self-evaluation might suffer.

They also discovered that such feelings of inferiority may motivate group members to victimize high performers, with the intention of reducing their advantages in the workplace.

In short, the researchers found that envy usually explained why high performers were more likely to be victimized.



The researchers also found that work group identification can reduce High Performer victimization in the workplace.

When group members identify themselves with the group and have strong bonds with one another, they don’t tend to develop feelings of envy and/or don’t let their feelings of envy translate into victimization.



The current study highlights the importance of promoting work group identification, such as engaging in team building activities or social gatherings to reduce envy towards high performers.

High performers might also consider downplaying their accomplishments and maintaining a humble outlook to avoid potential victimization in the future.

Teamwork- How Team Personality Influences Individual Behaviors


In most work places, teamwork is a common feature that can have many benefits for organizational productivity and competitiveness.

But not all group dynamics are helpful or add value, so a fair bit of research has been done on the behaviors that produce desired outcomes. Much of it has looked at how someone’s personality affects whether they would be helpful or not. But few researchers have looked at the impact “team personality” has on individual actions.

The team of researchers behind a new study on teamwork and cooperation sought to examine the extent to which group dynamics ultimately influence individual behaviors.



Group norms are the accepted, unofficial standards that members of a group follow, which help to evaluate the behavior of individuals. These norms help individual group members identify which behaviors would be permissible within a certain situation and which would not.

Some groups have norms that promote greater interdependence, and therefore appreciate helping behaviors more that groups which don’t adopt these norms. In general, groups with co-operative norms have higher performance and satisfaction.

This study investigated the influence Team Personality (i.e. those characteristics that define a group) would have on encouraging these norms and its subsequent impact on individual helping behaviors.



Researchers were interested in examining two primary traits at the group level– extroversion and agreeableness.

Agreeableness is essentially about cooperation with others, while extroversion concerns the sociability of the individual. Given the social characteristics of individuals with these traits, teams that are characterized by such individuals tend to show greater cohesion and work-load sharing, but less friction.

The researchers believed that a group with a large number of individuals who ranked high on extroversion and agreeableness would have high levels of cooperative group norms, which is a strong predictor for an increase in individual helping behaviors.



Researchers found that the level of extroversion within a group’s team personality impacted the adoption of cooperative norms, even when there was quiet a difference in extroversion levels amongst individual members.

A high level of extroversion implies a greater degree of assertiveness and influencing of others to accept certain norms. So, even if there are only a few team members who rank high on extroversion, they’re still influential. The norms accepted within this group then influence individual helping behaviors.

Agreeableness was different. Only where there was little difference on agreeableness between team members would it quickly facilitate the adoption of co-operative norms. If there was a lot of difference between team members, then the emergence of co-operative norms was often hampered.



Cooperative norms and high levels of helping behaviors can greatly enhance a team’s output. This study showed that team personality does affect these aspects.

The results have implications for managers wanting to facilitate the change of group norms, as well as those bringing a new individual on to a team.

In short, understanding both the team personality and the individual personality are important for finding a good fit, and also important for influencing helping behavior outcomes.

Successful Leadership for Virtual Teams: Strategies to Increase Performance

Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: Leading Virtual Teams: Hierarchical Leadership, Structural Supports, and Shared Team Leadership
Reviewed by: Andrew Morris


Successful leadership for virtual teams is becoming an increasingly important issue in the workplace. Due to increasingly sophisticated technologies, organizational globalization and flexible work structures, virtual teams are steadily growing in popularity, and more traditional leadership research may have somewhat limited application.

By definition, virtual teams are those that work remotely or, even if in a similar vicinity, communicate via largely electronic means. These teams never, or very rarely, have face-to-face meetings.

There are varying degrees of virtuality, which can be increased by distance and culture differences. The researchers behind a new study on Leading Virtual Teams wanted to understand how leadership and structural factors lead to better performance as virtuality increases.



There are two prominent leadership theories in this context that have been shown to positively affect performance– Transformational Leadership and Leader Member Exchange. The researchers argued that Supervisor Career Mentoring also related to various positive outcomes. These three constructs comprised the hierarchal leadership model the researchers set out to investigate.

The study found that as virtuality increased, the impact of hierarchal leadership on team performance decreased, because practicing these forms of leadership proved harder in virtual formats. It was at this point that the researchers formulated their opinion that supplementing virtual team leadership with various structural supports could help enhance overall performance.



The researchers were interested in examining how shared leadership and structural supports might affect the overall performance of virtual teams when hierarchical leadership proved difficult.

Shared leadership is the idea that various members of the team engage in leadership-type behaviors. Although not necessarily the same as the supervisor’s actions, these team members promote behaviors that facilitate cohesion and team process, which are critical for high performance.

Shared leadership has been shown to enhance the cognitive, affective and behavioral functioning of teams. So when trust and cohesion are difficult due to the virtual nature of the team, such shared leadership behaviors can enhance positive team dynamics.



Structural supports are more indirect means of influencing a team. They deal with leadership substitutes through organizational and task structures, and can compensate for (or add value to) different leadership styles/models.

Due to the fact that working in virtual teams can be wrought with uncertainty and constant change, the researchers decided to explore the positive effect that structural support could have when hierarchical leadership falls short within a virtual context.

The structural supports of primary interest included proper rewards, communication and information management, each of which was found to help increase performance as virtuality increased.



The study found that, while leading virtual teams brings with it certain unique challenges, these challenges can be overcome by choosing alternative methods to traditional hierarchical leadership.

In short, management and leaders who want to mitigate their loss of positive influence due to the virtual nature of the team can supplement with various structural supports and encourage shared leadership for best results.


How to Create Successful Work Teams

Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: Members’ Needs, Intragroup Conflict, and Group Performance
Reviewed by: Ben Sher

Teamwork plays an essential role in the success of many organizations. But what factors determine whether work teams will succeed or fail?

This question is an important one for I-O psychologists, and research by Chun and Choi (2014) has provided new insights into how managers can form successful work teams by considering the role members’ needs and intragroup conflict play in overall group performance.



Previous research has examined how different personalities interact to influence team success, but this study primarily considered the needs of employees. Needs are defined as the basic things that a person strives for.

The researchers explored three types of needs– the need for achievement (i.e. when employees have a desire to accomplish goals), the need for affiliation (when employees desire quality personal relationships), and the need for power (when employees desire to control people).

The researchers studied how these three types of needs can ultimately lead to team success or failure.



When team members had a high need for achievement, there was more task-related conflict, meaning healthy debate about how to solve work-related problems. These teams ultimately had higher performance. Interestingly, these results were even better when team members had similar amounts of need for achievement.

When team members had a strong need for affiliation, less relationship conflict occurred. When they were also able to communicate effectively, even less relationship conflict occurred. Unlike task conflict, the study deemed relationship conflict (refering to interpersonal squabbles that are not related to solving problems) as bad. In this study, relationship conflict was typically associated with lower team performance.

Finally, when team members had a need for power, more status conflict occurred. The study showed that status conflict is also bad, and happens when people fight for the right to control others. However, this effect was alleviated when group members had varying levels of need for power. In other words, when some people desired power and others didn’t, there was not as much conflict. Also, researchers found that teams that communicated better had less status conflict.



So what do these findings ultimately mean? It means that managers are capable of creating successful teams simply by paying special attention to the types of people they place on a team.

Teams composed of members with a need for achievement are especially well suited to successfully solving problems in a diplomatic way, especially when they have similar levels of this need.

Teams with members who need affiliation and communicate well are better at avoiding the interpersonal issues that sometimes hinder team performance.

And teams that have power hungry members can be expected to compete for control, but this can be mitigated by including some people who do not need as much power, and by helping to improve team communication.