High-performing teams: An evidence review: Scientific summary
- by Simon Harris
- Jun 9, 2023
- 3 mins
I can’t recall how I came across this paper from the “Center for Evidence-Based Management (CEBMa).”
I found it engrossing, even though it was quite long, especially for something itself described as a summary.
Naturally, there’s a whole lot of nuance and context I haven’t captured, so I highly recommend reading the original:
Most researchers summarise a team’s basic defining characteristics as: a group of employees who are:
- formally established
- assigned (some) autonomy
Most studies included consider team effectiveness as synonymous with team performance. As such, team effectiveness is broadly defined as task performance, contextual performance, and/or adaptive performance (eg learning, creativity, decision-making).
This review identified a large number of high-quality studies that indicate that effective teams are not so much determined by their composition, but rather by the emergence of socio-affective (in particular trust, psychological safety and social cohesion) and cognitive states (in particular cognitive consensus, information-sharing and the transactive memory system).
Some thoroughly unsurprising findings:
- Intra-team trust is positively related to performance.
- Group-level psychological safety has a moderate to large positive impact on team performance.
- Team cohesion has a moderate to large impact on team performance.
- The emergence of intra-team trust and social cohesion is critical for virtual teams.
- Team cohesion is strongly associated with team inclusion.
- Team identification has a positive effect on social cohesion and consequently team performance.
- Turnover has a negative effect on social cohesion and consequently on team performance.
- Team cognition – in particular information-sharing, transactive memory systems and cognitive consensus – has a large positive impact on team performance.
- Team learning does not automatically lead to team performance improvement.
- Team reflexivity moderates the effect of team cognition on team performance.
- Teamwork training has a large positive effect on team performance.
- Debriefing sessions and guided team reflexivity have a moderate to large positive effect on team performance.
- Setting group goals that are challenging (in terms of difficulty) and specific (rather than non-specific ‘do your best’ goals) has a moderate to large positive effect on team performance.
Some moderately surprising findings:
- The link between team effectiveness and team diversity dimensions such as age, gender, ethnicity, religion, functional background, educational background, organisational tenure and experience is small and sometimes negative.
- Of the Big Five personality traits, only agreeableness and conscientiousness are (somewhat) positively related to team performance. Other personality traits, such as emotional stability, extraversion and openness to experience, were not related with team performance.
One hard-to-swallow finding was around team building. I’ve never felt team building exercises were of much value, but the science is against me:
A meta-analysis of longitudinal studies shows that, in general, teambuilding interventions have a moderate positive indirect effect on team performance, and a moderate to large positive direct effect on trust, social cohesion and internal communication.
Turns out, I’ve never really experienced the necessary conditions:
Results indicate that the effect of teambuilding is larger when:
- the initiator is external (rather than internal) to the team
- the rationale is corrective (rather than preventive)
- team members are not involved in the planning
- the focus is on both the team’s goals and interpersonal relations
- team building is planned together with other interventions
- team building is led by both internal and external consultants
- the focus is on the group (rather than on individuals)
- team building is supported by (higher) management