Will Teams Collaborate Better During a Crisis?

Topic(s): teams
Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: Convergence of Collaborative Behavior in Virtual Teams: The Role of External Crises and Implications for Performance
Authors: T. Blay, F. Froese, V. Taras, M. Gunkel
Reviewed by: Katherine Facteau

Teams often start out as a group of individuals who must reach consensus or “get on the same page.” However, with the rise of virtual teams, finding ways to collaborate may be especially difficult. New research (Blay et al., 2023) examines how virtual teams collaborate, especially during times of crisis, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. The researchers specifically considered how two aspects of the pandemic, number of deaths and the degree of social distancing, impacted virtual teams.


The researchers used data from 3,506 students competing in an international business competition during the COVID-19 pandemic. Participants were put in groups of five to seven students with members from various countries. They were tasked with finding solutions to several business problems and creating a final report with recommendations.

The researchers found that across 7 weeks, the virtual teams showed increasingly greater consensus building. However, when there was a greater number of COVID-19 deaths, there was a decline in this collaboration. The researchers also hypothesized that greater social distancing requirements should increase consensus building, as people interact more to fulfill their social needs. However, they surprisingly found that people with higher and lower social distancing showed this improvement in collaborative behavior. Further, teams with higher levels of coordination showed better performance in the competition.


The authors recommend that managers and organizations help promote collaborative behaviors in teams. This is especially important in times of crisis because external threats may decrease this collaboration. Managers should intervene by promoting team building activities, and by facilitating discussions that aim to develop consensus and resolve any disagreements.


Blay, T., Froese, F. J., Taras, V., & Gunkel, M. (2023). Convergence of collaborative behavior in virtual teams: The role of external crises and implications for performance. Journal of Applied Psychology. Advance online publication.

Image credit: istockphoto/Rudzhan Nagiev