To Give Is To Get In Work Teams

Topic: Goals, Performance, Teams
Publication: Human Performance
Article: What you do for your team comesback to you: A cross-level investigation of individual goal specification,team-goal clarity, and individual performance
Authors: S. Sonnentag and J. Volmer
Reviewed By: Benjamin Granger

Much of today’s work is done by workteams. Even if an employee’s work is self-contained, it is often combined with the work of other team members. Cleary then, individual performance is vital for determining the team’s level of overall performance. But how do employees’ inputs into the team impact their own performance?

A study by Sonnentag and Volmer (2010) suggests that the level of involvement employees have in the development and specification of their work team’s goals has important implications for their own individual performance.

Involvement in specifying the work team’s goals can include verbally contributing one’s own ideas, expanding on the ideas of others, or suggesting the prioritization of some goals over others. In their study, Sonnentag and Volmer specifically focused on whether employees were verbal in contributing to the team’s goals during scheduled team meetings.

The authors studied 31 software design teams (groups of 4-6 computer science students working on large projects throughout the course of a semester) whose projects were designed to reflect professional software design projects. According to the authors, employees who actively involve themselves in the specification of their team’s goals, gain a better understanding of those
goals and are better able to focus on their vital aspects. This then allows them to boost their performance and contribution to the team.

While their results suggest that verbal participation in goal specification is beneficial to an individual’s own performance, Sonnentag and Volmer found that this was particularly so when the team’s goals are not well defined. That is, clear team goals are goals that are well defined and team members are able to build a shared understanding of them. When team goals were very clear, even team members who were not actively engaged in developing the team’s goals were able to gain an understanding of the goals and perform at a high level. When team goals were not clear, however, participation in the specification of team goals had big payoffs in terms in individual performance.

This study shows us that team members who are more actively involved in helping to determine the team’s goals and objectives not only help the team, but also reap the rewards of increased individual performance. Managers should train and encourage their employees to actively participate in the development of team goals during team meetings. Sonnentag and Volmer’s findings further suggest that such involvement is particularly important when team goals are not well specified, such as in the early stages of a team project.

Sonnentag, S. & Volmer, J. (2010). What you do for your team comes back to you: A cross-level investigation of individual goal specification, team-goal clarity, and individual performance. Human Performance, 23(2), 116-130.