Organizations everywhere are experiencing a “romance of teams” right now. Because teams are perceived to increase performance, creativity, learning, and problem solving, many organizations are adopting team-based structures. However, if you have any experience working on teams- and I bet you do- you probably understand that teams are often not very effective. So then, why do organizations love teams so much? And, more importantly, what do effective teams do that ineffective teams don’t?
A recent study by van Woerkom and Sanders¹ looked at various factors that influence team performance. In this study, they examined three specific factors: cohesion, disagreement, and knowledge sharing. Team cohesiveness refers to the affinity between team members and the degree to which they feel like part of the group. Cohesive teams are more cooperative and willing to help each other. Team disagreement, on the other hand, refers to conflict within a group. Finally, knowledge sharing is the degree to which team members openly ask for and give advice, share opinions and information, give feedback, and provide explanations.
In their research, van Woerkom and Sanders found that cohesive teams were much more likely to share opinions & advice and had high performance among team members. Teams that disagreed on ideas and goals, on the other hand, were less likely to share opinions & advice and had worse individual performance. So, in these findings, what was the key factor that ultimately led to increased performance? If you thought knowledge sharing, you were right. Knowledge sharing was the one factor that was directly related to performance. Why? Because teams that freely share information are more focused on learning, generate more ideas, and solve problems more effectively.
Using these findings as a guide, below are some practical ideas for improving team performance, so give them a try!
- Take action to prevent disagreement and encourage team cohesion. This can be done by taking an active role in resolving conflict. Play the mediator to get members to communicate when they can’t agree on goals or ideas.
- Learn to identify task conflict (centered around how work gets done) from relationship conflict (centered around an individual’s behavior or personality). While task conflict can encourage team performance and innovation, relationship conflict is very damaging to team cohesion. Conflict that turns personal needs to be immediately resolved.
- Encourage team members to ask for and give advice and reward members that share opinions and ideas.
- Practice giving and receiving feedback during team meetings.
- Conduct teambuilding activities, especially those where information sharing is vital. For example, follow this link and try the newspaper bridge game at your next team meeting.
¹Van Woerkom, M., & Sanders, K. (2009). The romance of learning from disagreement. The effect of cohesiveness and disagreement on knowledge sharing behavior and individual performance within teams. Journal of Business and Psychology, 25, 139-149.