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.
 

HOW NEGATIVE RELATIONSHIPS IMPACT TEAMS

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.

 

REDUCING NEGATIVE RELATIONSHIPS IN TEAMS

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.

 

RESULTS OF THE STUDY

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.

 

IMPLICATIONS FOR ORGANIZATIONS

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.

 

TASK PERFORMANCE AND VICTIMIZATION OF HIGH PERFORMERS

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.

 

THE ROLE OF ENVY

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.

 

HOW WORK GROUP IDENTIFICATION CAN HELP

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.

 

BIG PICTURE TAKEAWAYS

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.

 

TEAM PERSONALITY AND GROUP NORMS

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.

 

THE IMPORTANCE OF EXTROVERSION & AGREEABLENESS

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.

 

THE RESULTS OF THE STUDY

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.

 

BIG PICTURE TAKEAWAYS

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.

Leading Virtual Teams: An Investigation of Leadership and Structural Supports


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

 

Due to increasingly sophisticated technologies, organizational globalization and flexible work structures, virtual teams are steadily growing in popularity.

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.

 

LEADERSHIP THEORIES

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.

 

SHARED LEADERSHIP

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

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.

 

TAKEAWAYS ON LEADING VIRTUAL TEAMS

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.

 

INDIVIDUAL NEEDS AND TEAM 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.

 

SOURCES OF TEAM CONFLICT

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.

 

THE BIG PICTURE ON CREATING SUCCESSFUL WORK TEAMS

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.

How Shared Leadership Impacts Team Effectiveness


Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology (March 2014)
Article: A meta-analysis of shared leadership and team effectiveness.
Reviewed by: Rachel Williamson

Understanding the relationship between leadership and team effectiveness in the workplace has always been important. Recently, a new type of leadership known as Shared Leadership has become more widely used.

WHAT IS SHARED LEADERSHIP?

Shared leadership refers to two or more people who share both their influence and responsibilities, rather than having just one person leading a team.

Although shared leadership is becoming much more common, “A meta-analysis of shared leadership and team effectiveness” is the first in-depth article to examine whether it matters what the leaders are sharing, and if this can impact the overall effectiveness of the team.

Shared leadership is compared in this article to another type of leadership, which is known as vertical leadership. The approaches differ somewhat, in that shared leadership consists only of a downward influence from the leaders, whereas vertical leadership includes influences from upward, downward, or even from other peers.

DIFFERENT LEADERSHIP STYLES

The article analyzed 42 different studies measuring the impact of shared leadership on team effectiveness. The main focus was on examining three different categories of leadership styles: new-genre, traditional, and cumulative.

New-genre leadership can be thought of as a visionary type of leading, where traits such as empowering and charismatic traits are the focus. Traditional leadership is more transactional, focused on supportive leading and an initiating structure. Finally, cumulative leadership is when all the various leadership styles are molded together.

This article found that using new-genre leadership or cumulative leadership generally has a more positive impact on team effectiveness than traditional leadership styles.

THE BIG PICTURE

The big picture takeaway from this article is that the more complex a team’s work is, the stronger the effects of shared leadership will be. In other words, if a team is working on an incredibly difficult task, the shared leadership style will have a more significant impact on their effectiveness in tackling that task.

In short, if a team is working on a complex task, it is ideal to use either a new-genre or a cumulative style of shared leadership, rather than a traditional style.

How Power Distance Agreement Improves Performance in the Workplace


Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology, November 2013
Article: Leader–Team Congruence in Power Distance Values and Team Effectiveness: The Mediating Role of Procedural Justice Climate
Reviewed by: Ben Sher

Research in I-O psychology suggests that, when leaders and their employees share similar attitudes about how work should be done, it creates positive outcomes in the workplace.

A recent study by Cole, Carter, and Zhang (2013) has found that agreement on the appropriate amount of power distance– the disparity in control between employees and their supervisors– can play an especially significant role in workplace harmony, leading to improved performance.

When people expect leaders to assume complete authority and make all decisions, the company’s culture is said to be high on the power distance index. When those leaders are expected to make decisions democratically, using employee input, and employees are assumed to be on equal footing, the culture is said to be low on the power distance index.

As part of the study, researchers examined the extent to which leaders and their employees agreed on power distance expectations. When this agreement was higher, two positive outcomes were usually found: Team performance improved, as did organizational citizen behaviors (when employees go beyond their formal job descriptions to benefit the organization).

But why did this happen? The authors found that, when leaders and employees had similar expectations regarding power distance, there was agreement as to who should be making the decisions. For example, when high power distance was expected, all parties agreed that the leader should be making decisions unilaterally.

This type of agreement leads to a perception of procedural justice, or the feeling that employees are being treated fairly. In our example, the employees do not expect to make decisions, and perceive it as fair when they are not asked to do so. Procedural justice was ultimately associated with higher job performance and organizational citizenship behaviors.

The authors concluded that organizations should find ways to discover the power distance expectations of leaders and their employees. When agreement is low, the organization can then take steps to help correct the mismatch and train leaders to better suit their followers. Ultimately, this knowledge of team members’ preferences can be an important step towards improving overall team performance.

An Easy Recipe for Improving Team Performance on Creative Tasks


Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology (Nov 2013)
Article: Examining the Asymmetrical Effects of Goal Faultlines in Groups: A Categorization-Elaboration Approach
Reviewed by: Ben Sher

Leaders and I-O Psychologists are always trying to discover new ways to improve team performance. New research by Ellis, Mai, and Chrisitan (2013), has found an interesting new way to do this for creative tasks. When team members have different approaches to achieving goals, team performance may improve.

This research is rooted in goal setting theory (Locke & Latham, 1990), which asserts that people who set specific and challenging goals will outperform people who merely “try their best”. Results of the current study also support this classic I-O Psychology theory, but in this case, the researchers went one step further. They also analyzed teams which had two members who set specific, challenging goals, and two other members who were trying their best.

What happened? When the teams were asked to perform creative tasks, these mixed teams outperformed everybody. When the teams performed routine tasks, the mixed teams were not very effective. The authors explain that creative work is best accomplished when team members are able to build on top of each other’s ideas. When one team member has a novel suggestion, someone else will have to “reframe” the idea and offer a practical way of applying it to the problem at hand. This process is easiest to do when team members are approaching problems differently, which is the case when they are using different approaches to achieve goals. When work is more routine, team members will not benefit from having different approaches.

This research is practically important because it provides an easy recipe for improving team performance on creative tasks. Although creativity is naturally strengthened through diversity, the “diversity of perspective” that is suggested here may work better than “social category diversity”, which the authors note can unfortunately sometimes lead to negative outcomes.

When Powerful Leaders Hinder Team Performance


Publication: Academy of Management Journal (October, 2013)
Article: When Power Makes Others Speechless: The Negative Impact of Leader Power on Team Performance
Reviewed by: Andrea Hetrick

When we think of powerful leaders, we often imagine people who can get others to do what they wish. After all, power and leadership, by definition, involve the capacity to control or influence the behaviors of others. However, this study by Tost and Larrick shows that having more powerful leaders can actually harm team performance.

Consider two reasons this could be the case. First, leaders who overestimate their own power or who depend too much on their personal power may be less understanding of others’ perspectives, being likely to stereotype, less likely to listen, and more likely to objectify others. Alternately, true collaboration, which involves creative problem solving, idea sharing, and blending of team member viewpoints, happens over time and cannot be commanded as a simple exercise of a leader’s power. These reasons provide a potential explanation as to why too powerful a leader can harm team performance.

This study had several key findings. First, formal leaders (those who hold a specific role in a social hierarchy) who perceive themselves as having a high sense of power spend more time talking in team meetings. As a result, their teams communicate less and performance more poorly than teams whose leaders perceive their own power neutrally. Specifically, formal leads who feel powerful talk more, which discourages open team communication and hinders team performance.

Interestingly, these trends only appear among formal leaders who hold positions of authority, and their level of authority affects these relationships. Explicitly, the more authority a leader holds, the more deference they receive from their team members, and the more they tend to talk in group meetings. When leaders monopolize the floor in meetings, open team communication withers. Unfortunately for these powerful leaders and their teams, open team communication directly influences team performance. So, by talking and not listening, these leaders measureably reduce their teams’ effectiveness. Fortunately, there is a way to correct this troubling behavior. The study found that these effects were eliminated when a leader was reminded that their team members could also make important contributions.

To help decrease the problem of powerful leaders hindering team performance, the authors suggest that organizations should:

    1. Encourage flat organizational structures and egalitarian cultures, which lessen leaders’ perceptions of their own power.

 

    1. Train leaders to be open in their authority and to encourage team communication.

 

    1. Promote practices and policies designed to remind leaders of the potential for important contributions from their followers.

 

  1. Urge members to stand up to leaders who take a dominating approach during social interactions.

These steps could help discourage leaders from using their power in ways that are counterproductive, thus resulting in happier, more productive teams.

Step Aside Extroverts! Introverts and Neurotics Comin’ Through


Publication: Academy of Management Journal
Article: The Downfall of Extraverts and Rise of Neurotics: The Dynamic Process of Status Allocation in Task Groups
Reviewed by: Susan Rosengarten

Currently, the I/O community seems to be abuzz dispelling myths and commonly held misperceptions about individual differences as they relate to “the Big Five” personality dimensions. The recent release of Susan Cain’s book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, has now made it cooler than ever to be an introvert, and I/Os are stepping up their efforts to provide emperical proof that introverts indeed “have got it goin’ on.”

The present research by Bendersky & Shah (2013) not only builds on research regarding ‘the dark sides of extraversion,’ but also adds to existing literature on “the bright sides of neuroticism.” Yes. You read that correctly. For all of you highly emotional, anxious people out there, this one’s for you.

As we all know, extroverts crave attention, exude confidence, and love to dominate conversations, which often earns them high status within their workgroups and election to leadership positions. Neurotics on the other hand tend to be anxious, emotionally volatile and withdrawn at times, which earns them lower status within their groups and makes them considerably less likely to emerge as group leaders.

However, Bendersky & Shah (2013) found that in the long term, the qualities that make extroverts, well extroverts, make them poor team players. As a result, they often fail to meet group expectations and ultimately lose some of their hierarchical status. On the other hand, the bar is usually set pretty low for those with a high level of neuroticism, so there’s really nowhere for them to go but up. Neurotics’ anxious tendencies and concerns about how they are perceived by fellow group members make them prepare more for and persist longer at tasks, enabling them to exceed group expectations and earn respect and greater status within the group hierarchy over time.

Turns out being a bit neurotic may not be as bad as we once thought!