Time for Teamwork: When Aspects of Collectivism are Most Beneficial

Topic: Goals, Job Performance, Teams
Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology (March, 2011)
Article: The power of “we”: effects of psychological collectivism on team
performance over time
Authors: Erich C. Dierdorff, Suzanne T. Bell, and James A. Belohlav
Reviewed By: Allison B. Siminovsky

Collectivism, in essence, is the orientation of a group’s members toward a similar set of goals and for their mutual wellbeing as a team.  A group composed of collectivistic members should be more cooperative and will likely show a higher degree of citizenship behavior amongst its team members.  However, can certain aspects of collectivism be damaging?  The authors of this study set out to determine the interplay of psychological collectivism and team performance over the course of time.

The authors measured a number of different aspects of collectivism in group members during various points in group formation and attempted to link this information to the group’s performance.  For example, they found that preference, the collectivistic aspect involving interest in aligning with other group members, was beneficial to groups at initial formation.  On the other hand, the aspect of reliance, or assuming that other members will take on as much responsibility as you will, can be damaging to a newly formed group.  Group members need time to get to know one another on the interpersonal level and diving too quickly into responsibility assumptions can damage new relationships.

These findings have definite implications for organizations and particularly for team leaders and / or managers.  Based on the results of this study, one might encourage newly formed groups to get to know one another in initial stages of team formation and focus on becoming specialized in job tasks as the relationship progresses.  According to the research, this could maximize group performance at each stage of the relationship and have the best possible impact on the organization in question.  By pushing new teams to only focus on task performance, one could inadvertently be pushing the team away from their optimal performance levels, since they never get the opportunity to identify with the group.  Overall, while collectivistic team members generally contribute to higher team performance, their orientation toward team at different points in time is what really affects group effectiveness.

Dierdorff, E. C., Bell, S. T., & Belohlav, J. A. (2011). The power of “we”: Effects of psychological collectivism on team performance over time. Journal of Applied Psychology, 96(2), 247-262. doi:10.1037/a0020929.