Want teamwork? Then get pride – with fair treatment and leaders who demonstrate the right values

Topic: Fairness, Leadership, Teams
Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology (NOV 2010)
Article: Cooperating when “you” and “I” are treated fairly: The moderating role of leader prototypicality
Authors:  David De Cremer, Marius van Dijke, and David M. Mayer
Reviewed By: Bobby Bullock

More and more research is examining how teams work together to achieve common goals.  One aspect of teams that is important for successful outcomes is the extent to which team members engage in cooperative behavior (rather than self centered).   A new model presented by De Cremer, Van Duke, and Mayer (2010) indicates that cooperation amongst team members is highest when a) members feel that both they and their fellow members are receiving procedurally fair treatment from their leader, and b) the leader him/herself embodies the team’s values and norms.  While that may seem like a mouthful, listen up: this new research may just provide that extra piece that’s missing from your teamwork puzzle.

It’s definitely a good thing for an employee to feel that he or she is being treated fairly, but sometimes that is not enough.  De Cremer et al. (2010) found that individual cooperation was highest when an employee felt that the team leader treated both her and her coworkers with procedural fairness (i.e., allowing all to express their views, consistent application of procedures).  However, this effect was only significant when the leader herself was perceived as a prototypical leader (i.e., a leader that represents a group’s ideal values and identity).  In comparison, when leaders did not represent group norms, their expression of procedural fairness led to much lower cooperation.

Why is this?  One word was thrown around to explain these effects… pride!  When all employees in a group are treated fairly by a leader that embodies ideal values, pride is arguably at its strongest and so is the degree of cooperation and helping behaviors among team members. 

If organizations wish to use the findings of this research to bolster the degrees of pride, respect, and cooperation among its various work groups, they may wish to follow these steps:

  1. Ensure that the leader upholds and expresses the values and norms of the team
  2. Ensure procedural fairness to all team members (be objective in decision-making, give all members a voice, and be consistent)

Remember- employees respond not only to their own treatment, but to the treatment of their coworkers as well.  If leaders wish to get the most out of their teams, they should pay attention to group norms and be careful to treat each member consistently and with respect. 

De Cremer, D., van Dijke, M., & Mayer, D. M. (2010). Cooperating when “you” and “I” are treated fairly: The moderating role of leader prototypicality. Journal of Applied Psychology, 95(6), 1121-1133.