Managing Groups and Teams/Print version

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It is often remarked that groups are everywhere, whether in our social lives, our work lives, or even our families. In each of these situations, sets of individuals decide to work collectively to achieve particular goals.

However, although groups are everywhere and we participate in them constantly, we do not understand them very well. Many of us can tell stories of groups that seemed perfect for a given task, but which failed. And we all have reasons (or excuses) that explain such failures.

But our experiences in groups suffer precisely because we are with them.

The study of groups as a phenomenon that is unique and different from other social phenomena is very active, reflecting both the importance it has and how much we still don't know about groups. S M Rizwsan Clinical Psychologist ANF

About this Book

Hub and Spoke

In this book, we take a challenge-based approach to dealing with groups. Many other books provide conceptual and descriptive treatments of groups and teams. Here we will take a prescriptive perspective, one that focuses on the "how to" of managing a group or a team. This prescriptive perspective, however, will be rooted in social science.

About Wikibooks and Wikimedia

Creating and Maintaining Team Cohesion

Team Cohesion Defined

One definition of cohesion is “a group property with individual manifestations of feelings of belongingness or attraction to the group” (Lieberman et al., 1973: 337). It is generally accepted that group cohesion and performance are associated. “However, the issue of a cause/effect relationship between group cohesion and performance is not completely resolved. Generally, there tend to be more studies supporting a positive relationship between group cohesion and performance.” [1] With that in mind the following article is an effort to enhance group/team cohesion and as a result help improve group/team performance.

The Question

What is team cohesiveness and why does it matter to an organization to have cohesiveness within its teams?

Team Composition

How to promote team cohesion when selecting and identifying diversity within teams

In their journal article Beyond Relational Demography: Time and the Effects of Surface- and Deep-Level Diversity on Work Group Cohesion, David A. Harrison, Kenneth H. Price, and Myrtle P. Bell discuss the composition of teams and its effect on cohesiveness. They describe two different categories of diversity, namely surface level and deeper level.

Surface-Level Diversity:

Surface level attributes are “immutable [and] almost immediately observable.” [2] Such attributes include age, sex, and race/ethnicity. In general, the findings have been fairly inconsistent within and across studies as to how diversity in these areas affect team cohesion.

Deep-Level Diversity:

Deep-level diversity includes differences among members’ attitudes, beliefs, and values. These attributes are less apparent than surface-level differences and are “learned through extended, individualized interaction and information gathering.” [3] They are communicated differences which are shared through both verbal and nonverbal behavior. There has been less research done in this area with regards to teams in workplace settings, though a number of social psychological studies have been conducted. The findings consistently suggest that “attitudinal similarity [is] associated with higher group cohesiveness.” [4] Diversity also improves communication, reduces personal conflict, attracts friendships, and gives more satisfaction to group members.


Overall, the school of thought that is most widely accepted, in regards to team cohesion, is that “surface-level differences are less important and deep-level differences are more important for groups that had interacted more often” [5]. Harrison, Price, and Bell’s study concluded that while homogeneous groups interacted and performed more effectively than heterogeneous groups in the beginning, with time and information, the diverse groups’ performance and processes improved more rapidly and “had grown more effective in identifying problems and generating solutions” [6]. Overall cohesiveness was strengthened in such cases. Hence, for optimum results, teams ought to include deep-level diversity as part of the process for achieving cohesiveness.

Internal Environment Factors Needed in Team Cohesion

Internally there are several factors that must be present for cohesion to exist within a team. First good and appropriate communication is essential to creating and maintaining cohesion. Communication leads to the second factor, unity of purpose. For a team to work as a cohesive team they must share a common goal and to collectively work towards that goal. And finally, the team must have a high level of commitment understanding that what they do together as a team is better than what they do on their own.


In the article “Building Team Cohesion: Becoming “We” Instead of “Me” the authors stress the importance of not losing the “human moment” which they define as “not to lose the powerful impact of face-to-face, immediate interaction in real time and space.” Furthermore, the authors add the following:

“It is communication in the “human moment” that most powerfully creates team synergy – the energy that truly makes “the whole greater than the sum of its parts.” It is communication in the “human moment” that also most powerfully creates team cohesion – a strong sense of loyalty and commitment to the team vision as one’s own.”
“Providing communication opportunities in real time and space for forensics team members is necessary to build team cohesion. Whether a room or lounge where team members can congregate between classes and the end of the day, practice space for formal and informal coaching sessions, travel time in cars and vans, or social time to enjoy pizza and a movie, both quantity and quality of communication are necessary to build a cohesive team climate of openness and trust…According to Bormann(1990), highly cohesive groups interact in an open climate where individuals are free to ask questions and disagree with one another; even the ability to work through inevitable team conflict in such a constructive climate will only serve to strengthen team cohesion.”

In order to build cohesion within any team whether it be a sports team or work team communication is an essential ingredient. Providing opportunities for the team members to interact socially is necessary to help build trust. In addition, a safe environment in which the team can deal with conflict is critical to team cohesion.

Unity of Purpose or a Common Goal

A critical factor that must be present for groups or teams to experience cohesion is to have a common goal. In SELF-MANAGING WORK TEAMS:An Empirical Study of Group Cohesiveness in “Natural Work Groups” at a Harley-Davidson Motor Company Plant, the authors state: “that highly cohesive groups tend to perform better because they have high commitment to attaining group goals (e.g., Stogdill, 1972), and because the members are more sensitive to others in the group, they are more willing to assist each other (e.g., Schachter, Ellertson, McBride,&Gregory, 1951).”

Additional support to the importance of a common goal in building and maintaining a common goal is found in “Building Team Cohesion: Becoming “We” Instead of “Me” where the author relates the following:

“Since cohesion is believed to be one of the distinguishing characteristics of a high-performance team, what is this powerful team quality and how is it cre-ated? According to Bollen and Hoyle (1979), cohesion is the degree of attraction members feel toward one another and the team; "it is a feeling of deep loyalty, of esprit de corps, the degree to which each individual has made the team's goal his or her own, a sense of belonging, and a feeling of morale" (as cited in Beebe & Masterson, 2000, p. 122). Though cohesion is rooted in the feelings team mem-bers have for one another as well as a common goal, creating, shaping, and strengthening those feelings relies on the use of effective communication. Communication scholars have long agreed that group or team cohesion is as much about the relationships created as the task at hand, and success in both fos-ters the development of team cohesion. (Bormann, 1990).

Without a purpose or a common goal a team will eventually splinter into separate individuals working towards their own personal agendas and not together toward a team goal. It is important for team members to see themselves as a part of the group working towards a goal for cohesiveness to exist.


Teams that are not committed to each other or a common goal do not experience cohesion and are much more likely to leave the team or even the organization. In the article "Commitment and the Control of Organizational Behavior and Belief" the author states the following:

"Commitment also derives from the relation of an employee's job to those of other in the organization. Some jobs are rather isolated and can be done independently of other jobs in the organization. It has been found that jobs which are not integrated with the work activities of others tend to be associated with less favorable attitudes. (Sheperd, 1973). Gow, Clarkand dossett (1974), for instance find that telephone operators who quit tend to be those who are not integrated into the work group. Work integration can affect commitment by the fact that integrated jobs are likely to be associated with salient demands from others in the organization. If a person has a job which affects the work of others in the organization, it is likely that those other will communicate their expectations for performance of that job. Such expectations can be committing in that the other people implicitly or explicitly hold the person accountable for what he does. Earlier we mentioned that when individuals did not know what was expected of them they tended to be less committed to the organization. One reason an individual will not know what is expected is because no one is telling him. In general, we would expect that anything which contributes to creating definite expectations for a person's behavior would enhance his felt responsibility, and hence commitment."

We learn from the above author that for commitment to exist we employees need to know what is expected of them and then to know they will be held accountable either by a manager or other co-workers. Once commitment is present team members are more likely to stay and work towards the team goal.

Role of Management in Team Cohesion

The roles that management has in a team that they oversee are extremely important. But it is also important for the management to understand the boundaries of what their roles and responsibilities are and what the roles and responsibilities of the team itself are. The manager is often placed in the management position because of their people and technical skills and experience. A team often benefits from the manager’s abilities, skills, attitudes, insights and ideas. But neither the management nor the team should ever forget that it is the team’s responsibility to perform the actual work. So what role should management play in a team that they oversee? How best can they serve the team to ensure they are successful? A critical role that management can and should have is to facilitate and encourage team cohesion.

Establish the Team Vision/Goal

The first step in creating team cohesion and where management should be involved is in the establishment of the team vision and/or goal. Management must set a clear vision to which the team can jointly work towards together. As Tommy Lasorda, former manager of the LA Dodgers, stated, “My responsibility is to get my 25 guys playing for the name on the front of their shirt and not the one on the back.”[7] Management must “establish a common goal for [the] team – an underlying target that will bind [them] together…”[8] The goal must be as clear as possible for each member of the team. “Goal clarity is critical for team members to have confidence in their direction and to be committed to make it happen.”[9] A clearly defined goal articulated to the team in such a way that they all understand will inspire the team and commit them to the cause.

Once the goal has been clearly defined and clearly articulated, management must keep the vision and goal alive. Obstacles, tension, and crises may arise that can distract or discourage away from the common goal. The management must “continually reinforce and renew the team goal.”[10]

Being that managements “primary responsibility is to ensure that the team reaches its goal,”[11] management must also facilitate a working environment, set clear expectations and responsibilities, and lastly, let the team do their job.

Facilitate a Working Environment

Once the team vision and goal has been established, the most important contribution management can make “is to ensure a climate that enables team members to speak up and address the real issues preventing the goal from being achieved.”[12] Such a climate includes creating an environment of trust, communication and openness with each other. As Frank Lafasto describes in his book, openness and supportiveness are “the ability to raise and resolve the real issues standing the way of a team accomplishing its goal. And to do so in a way that brings out the best thinking and attitude of everyone involved. It’s too hard for team members to contribute, much less explore the possibilities, when it is not safe for them to say what’s on their minds. They must be able to speak honestly. They must be able to deal openly with real obstacles, problems, and opportunities in a way that promotes listening, understanding of differing perspectives, and constructively working towards a solution.”[13] The environment and climate in which the team works and operates must be facilitated by the management to ensure that trust is established, collective collaboration is demanded, and openness is welcome.

Set Clear Expectations and Responsibilities

Management responsibility is also to set clear expectations and responsibilities of the team and individual team members. Patrick Lencioni describes in his book “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” that a team where there is ambiguity about the direction and priorities fails to commit. Whereas when the expectations, direction and priorities are clear the team is more likely to commit to the cause and each other.[14] Management must establish clear expectations so there is no ambiguity or question of what is expected of the team, whether it is the timeline, product, requirements, etc.

Also, management must set clear responsibilities. “There are few behaviors that build confidence as well as personalized expression of belief in an individual. One of the most direct signals of such belief is trusting someone with important and meaningful responsibility.”[15] Clear and meaningful responsibility that allows the team members to stretch enhances their trust and confidence. And, as Jack Welch, the CEO of General Electric, put it, “giving people self-confidence is by far the most important thing I can do. Because then they will act.”[16]

Training and Staffing

According to Chansler, Swamidass, & Cammann to get a task completed, “a work team must have the resources to do the job. Specifically, the team needs trained, competent team members. Training is a planned effort by a firm to help employees learn job-related competencies (Noe, 1999). Training is used by companies to gain a competitive advantage over rivals in their respective industries. A company must provide adequate resources to an empowered team to staff and train its members adequately.” It is the responsibility of Management to provide such training. Chansler, Swamidass, & Cammann also suggest management should provide its workers with both “hard” and “soft” skills. “Hard-skills training helps them do their jobs properly so that the plant can produce a quality product cost-effectively. Soft-skills training, on the other hand, teaches the workers to get along better as part of a functioning team; this type of skills training improves interpersonal dynamics and relationships. To effectively and efficiently manufacture quality product, both types of training are needed.” [17] It is therefore the responsibility of management to make sure that group/ team members have the hard and soft skills to perform tasks and maintain cohesion.

Get Out of Their Way

And lastly, the manager’s role is to get out of the team’s way. Once the team knows what they are working towards, tasks have been clearly defined and delegated, expectations are clearly set and they have the means to build relationships of trust and have open communication, the manager needs to step back and let the team work. The last thing the team needs, not only to reach their goal, but also to build strong cohesion is, as Dr. Travis Bradberry described, a seagull manager; one that swoops in when problems arise “squawking and dumpling advice, only to take off and let others clean up the mess.”[18] Management needs to let the members in the team be smart and informed about key issues and facts related to their tasks and goal. Then management must trust team members by providing sufficient autonomy, which will in turn build confidence.


Ultimately, the goal and role of management should be to add value to the team’s effort. This can be done by defining a clear vision and goal, facilitate a working environment, set clear expectations and responsibilities, and provide the team enough autonomy where they can work and do their jobs with full commitment and confidence.

Examples of Team Cohesion: The Good

A good example of team Cohesion is that of the Harley Davidson Motor Company (HDMC) and its group structure. The well known turnaround of HDMC occurred in the 1980s when it changed from a “command-and-control” culture to that of self-managing work teams (SMWT). This change allowed assembly employees to make important decisions in their work teams [19]. With group work as the foundation of HDMC’s manufacturing cohesion among group members was essential.

At its Kansas City Plant HDMC natural work groups (NWG) were organized to make decisions (and build motorcycles). The plant’s employees are made up of local union members. “This partnership allows the shifting of the decision-making and financial responsibilities for the operation of the plant to the assembly floor employees” [20].

The structure of the plant divides workers into NWGs. Each NWG is either assigned to one of four process operations groups (POG) (the Assembly POG, the Fabrication POG, the Paint POG, or a POG dedicated to future programs) or provides “computer, human resources, materials, and so forth, support for the operations NWGs (denoted as RG or Resource Groups). Each of the NWGs is represented by NWG-elected (on a rotating basis) members. The highest level of the circular organization is the lone plant leadership group (PLG), which is co-chaired by the plant manager and two local union presidents” [21].

Within this group structure HDMC provides for widespread access to information. “All financial and operations information is available to all team members, which allows them to monitor budgets and production quotas” [22]. This access to information facilitates open communication which in turn leads to greater team cohesion. Cohesion is also furthered by the autonomy of workers within the group. “Each NWG is empowered to make decisions with regard to any aspect of the assembly process as long as it does not cross over its boundary and impede another NWG” [23]. With freedom to make any necessary decisions and freedom from continuous managerial intervention NWGs are free to bend and move as needed in response to any given situation.

Interestingly in this structure there are no formal team leaders. “NWGs are collectively led by the members of the group. Traditional leadership duties such as scheduling, safety monitoring, budget balancing, and so forth, are rotated among the NWG members on a regular basis (usually monthly). The NWG controls its own budget, sick pay, overtime, and consumable production materials. Individual performance measures are not maintained. The NWG performance is measured on achievement of plant goals and on the goals that they set for themselves” [24]. This sharing of responsibilities fosters cohesion by aligning the goals of the group, goals each member is included in creating.

Examples of Team Cohesion: The Bad

The 2010 film “The Social Network” is based on the events and circumstances that lead to the creation and founding of the social networking website “Facebook.” Founder Mark Zuckerberg and his friend, co-founder Eduardo Saverin agree to launch the site and split up ownership of the new company equitably. In the process of developing the company, other individuals and interests come into play that are detrimental to the team cohesion developed by Mark and Eduardo eventually leading to multi-million dollar lawsuits and the end of the original founding team.

Several factors that lead to the failure of team cohesion:

  • Team members were unable to work together cooperatively
  • Team goals were not shared by everyone on the team
  • Team members felt that they were not recognized for individual contributions to accomplish team goals
  • Selfish interests were able to infiltrate the team cohesion

The fact that team members were unable to work cooperatively together is likely the single biggest factor in the failure of the original “Facebook” leadership team. In the movie, to help advance the growth of the company, Mark brought in a third partner, Sean Parker, the co-founder of the famous music sharing sight “Napster.” Mark was instantly drawn to Sean’s charismatic personality and vision for “Facebook.” At the same time, Eduardo was highly skeptical of Sean and his business history. Immediately Mark began to lean toward the ideas that Sean had developed for “Facebook” and eventually gave Sean a small ownership stake in the company as well as a management position. Upon learning this, Eduardo was very upset that Mark would go ahead and make the decision to include Sean without consulting him first.

Mark and Eduardo both had visions of keeping this site exclusive for the elite college institutions around the country and gradually introducing it to other colleges. When Sean was brought into the company he presented Mark with a business plan to expand “Facebook” beyond the college scene and introduce it to the general public. At the same time he was trying to convince Mark that he needed to relocate the business to Palo Alto, CA from Boston, MA. Eduardo was never consulted on these propositions that were made to Mark. Eduardo felt like Sean was trying to push him out of the company and influence many of the decisions made by Mark. As the company grew and others were able to influence decision making, the team goals had clearly changed and not everyone shared the same vision.

When “Facebook” was originally started Eduardo was designated as the CFO of the company. In this responsibility he put up the initial seed money to get it off the ground. He was in charge of all finances and bank accounts for the company. While Mark was moving the company headquarters to Palo Alto, Eduardo was spending time in New York working on securing advertising contracts with prominent advertising firms. When Eduardo goes to visit the team in Palo Alto he begins to tell Mark all about the progress he has made with the advertisers but instead he is told all about the work that Sean and Mark had accomplished and is essentially told that his time and work in New York will not be needed. Eduardo felt like his contributions to the company and goals were not being recognized. This drives Eduardo further and further from the team.

Throughout the life of the original leadership team there were many occasions where selfish interests were able to infiltrate team cohesion. Sean was the worst offender of this. Sean was one of the founders of “Napster.” “Napster” was eventually forced to shut down and was facing many lawsuits from the record industry. Sean saw an opportunity to work with Mark and Eduardo on “Facebook.” Sean could see the potential that this venture had and also that he could influence the socially introverted Mark by filling him with visions of big pay days and a life style full of privilege. At times he appeared to try and relive his days of “Napster” and treated “Facebook” like it was his own company and he was trying to accomplish the goals there that weren’t achievable at “Napster.” After a party to celebrate the 1 millionth member of “Facebook,” Sean was arrested with several other “Facebook” interns for possession of cocaine and was eventually dismissed from the company. Through these actions, Sean clearly was acting in his own self interest and did not take into account what the effects would be on the group or company. In many ways the selfish actions of Sean drove a wedge between Mark and Eduardo that eventually lead to lawsuits and the end of the original leadership team. [25]


Ways to Increase Team Cohesion

Each group environment is different and will present different challenges. In order to create a cohesive team unit it is important for team members to be aware of this and work towards it. In Joseph Powell Stokes’s research, he found that “risk taking that occurs in a group, attraction to individual members of the group, and the instrumental value of a group are all related to the cohesion of the group”. He proposes that “increasing risk taking, intermember attraction, and the instrumental value of a personal change group might lead to increased cohesion, which in turn might lead to increase benefits for group participants.” [26]

As such, groups should attempt to foster an “atmosphere of tolerance and acceptance” so they can assure openness and honesty and hence, increase their risk taking and intermember attraction. They can “[reward] members who make risky self-disclosures or give honest feedback to other group members”. They should make sure group members know that they are expected to “like each other” and can help members “differentiate between not liking other members’ behaviors and not liking the other members themselves”. Group leaders ought to act as examples and make sure that the group composition and expectations of the group members are in line with risk-taking and intermember attraction. “Leaders can maximize the instrumental value of a group for its members by having the group focus explicitly on its goals and by helping redirect the group when members’ needs are not being met”. [27]

Potential problems

One possible caveat of cohesion is that when there is too much cohesion, groups are prone to groupthink. “Groupthink is a tendency by groups to engage in a concurrence seeking manner. Groupthink occurs when group members give priority to sustaining concordance and internal harmony above critical examination of the issues under consideration”. [28] It is important for all group members to be conscious of this pitfall and to take precautions to prevent such behavior. See Ways to Prevent Groupthink.


^ Chansler, P. A., Swamidass, P. M., & Cammann, C. (2003). Self-Managing Work Teams : An Empirical Study of Group Cohesiveness in Natural Work Groups at a Harley-Davidson Motor Company Plant. Retrieved November 25, 2010, from Sage Journals Online:

^ Harrison, David A.; Price, Kenneth H.; Bell, Myrtle P. “Beyond Relational Demography: Time and the Effects of Surface- and Deep-Level Diversity on Work Group Cohesion”, The Academy of Management Journal, Vol. 41, No. 1 (Feb., 1998), pp. 96-107

^ Milliken, F. J., & Martins, L. L. 1996. Searching for common threads: Understanding the multiple effects of diversity in organizational groups. Academy of Management Review, 21: 402-433

^ Terborg, J. R., Castore, C., & DeNinno, J. A. 1976. A longitudinal field investigation of the impact of group composition on group performance and cohesion. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 34: 782-790.

^ Friedley, Sheryl A. and Bruce B. Manchester. 2005. Building Team Cohesion: Becoming “We” Instead of “Me”. George Mason University.

^ SELF-MANAGING WORK TEAMS: An Empirical Study of Group Cohesiveness in “Natural Work Groups” at a Harley-Davidson Motor Company Plant. SMALL GROUP RESEARCH, Vol. 34 No. 1, February 2003 101-120

^ Salancik, Gerald R. Organizational Socialization and Commitment: Commitment and the Control of Organizational Behavior and Belief. pp. 284-290

^ LaFasto, F., & Larson, C. (2001). When Teams Work Best. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications

^ Lencioni, P. (2002). The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

^ Bradberry, T. (2008). Squaqk. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.

^ The Social Network. (2010, 11 21). Retrieved 11 21, 2010, from Wikipedia:

^ Stokes, Joseph Powell. Components of Group Cohesion : Intermember Attraction, Instrumental Value, and Risk Taking. Small Group Research 1983 14: 163

^ Managing Groups and Teams/Groupthink. (2010, March 23). Retrieved 11 15, 2010, from Wikibooks:



Communication is something we humans do extraordinarily well. Some cynics say that the primary purpose of language is to allow us to tell lies! Hopefully, this is a misconception - for good communication requires that the 'mental model' being transmitted by the originator and the experience of the person interpreting the received information be sufficiently similar. For example, a brain surgeon explaining a procedure to a patient would use more simple, precise, unequivocal 'mental models' than if she was presenting a paper to a seminar of specialist colleagues who each enjoyed comprehensive and independent checking, cross-checking capabilities. It is important, when communicating, to apply an adequately 'balanced' checking 'protocol.' Failure to do so is at our peril!


On January 3 2006 at approximately 11:50 pm, major news networks reported that 12 of 13 miners trapped in the Sago Mine were alive. Families of the victims celebrated for three hours before mine company officials informed them that the report was wrong and 12 of the 13 miners were dead. The families would later report that a mine foreman, who had overheard the rescue team, had contacted the families with some initial but unverified information and the media picked the story up from the families. Reporters then 'verified' that information with other families and other news sources without realizing those 'cross-check' sources originated from the very same, single unverified source. They failed to 'dig down to the roots' of their story and relied instead on visible superficiality.

Beyond compounding the mental anguish of the families, many professional news media outlets appeared unprofessional and the mine company experienced a far worse public relations problem than if they had communicated clearly and quickly using more formal protocols. Unfortunately formal protocols involve verification, and this slower process can seem rather like censorship or deliberate information management to news gatherers. While most business communication issues don’t result in such dramatic public displays, 'quick and dirty' communications often prevent teams from functioning properly and cost companies uncountable billions of dollars. But so too does the over-cautious, 'need to know' secrecy beloved of military style organizations, who thereby miss many opportunities. The trick is to strike a balance, and that balance will change, depending on the sensitivity, importance and urgency of the message.

Unbalanced messages are likely to cause “communication breakdown” which can engender conflict. Over cautious protocol can prevent important information from reaching decision makers accurately and in time, while listening to messages with no verification protocol - rumors - can easily reduce the morale of team members. By understanding the causes of communication breakdown and effective techniques for group communication, team members can create a more productive working environment for themselves, and increase their effectiveness when dealing with outsiders such as customers or the wider public (or vice versa - as occurred at the Sago Mine 'information leak'). Effective communication techniques maximize team productivity and creativity while minimizing the chance of miscommunication. Just to make things even more complicated, deliberately 'unbalancing' messages to provoke miscommunication can be quite creative! Unbalanced - unverified messages are the essence of formal 'brain-storming' events, and also occurs routinely in gentle banter and ironic satire among colleagues. However, it can not be over-emphasized that these 'wrong protocol' techniques should only be used exceptionally as they require very careful management in a business environment!

Communication Breakdown

Communication breakdown can be the source or the result of conflict, but it is also important to recognize that a lack of conflict can also be a sign of communication breakdown. Inadequate training, apathy, misunderstandings, channel noise, differing backgrounds, or lack of respect can all be causes of communication breakdown. The results of communication issues include withholding information, loss of trust, reduced cooperation, reduced productivity, reduced creativity, reduced risk taking, personal attacks, sabotage, complaints, clique formation and team breakup or individual resignation. The North American Blackout of 2003 is an interesting example. One power plant failed to accurately communicate the status of their section of the power grid, causing more than one hundred power plants to go off line, forty million people to lose power, and an estimated six billion dollars in losses to businesses.It is caused by problems which occur daily which allows people to stop their communication.

A survey of 560 MBA students with work experience from across the USA helps to illustrate some of the problems that communication breakdown can cause. The table labeled "Hard Costs" shows the number of respondents that can recollect certain hard costs that were incurred due to communication breakdown. The table labeled "Soft Costs" shows the soft costs incurred (Gilsdorf 191-192). The soft costs may result in losses as high as or higher than hard costs, but they are difficult to quantify. As you can see, the effects of communication breakdown are far from trivial. The Society for Advancement of Consulting (SAC) has recently released an article stating that poor communication is more of a threat to the failure of a business than competition or the economy ("Communication Errors Undermining Business.").

Hard costs
# of respondents Hard cost
11 < $100
34 $100 - $499
24 $500 - $999
82 $1,000 - $9,999
25 $10,000 - $19,999
35 $20,000 - $49,999
11 $50,000 - $99,999
21 $100,000 - $499,999
3 $500,000 - $999,99
11 $1,000,000 - $10,000,000
Soft costs
# of respondents Soft cost
124 Lost time
111 Lost employee(s)
101 Lowered productivity, efficiency, or quality
82 Bad image, word of mouth, publicity
80 Ill will
79 Grave erosion of individuals' effectiveness
72 Damaged working environment of relationship
57 Lowered morale
56 Stupid risk or liability
51 Lowered team spirit
46 Lowered trust
46 Lost revenue
34 Waste of money
25 Lost customer(s)
18 Lost opportunity

There are many books written with psychological and linguistic perspectives on communication breakdown. “That’s Not What I Meant!” by Deborah Tannen explains how ambiguities in our speech can cause people to misinterpret what we intend to say. She also talks about how the majority of what we say isn’t in the actual words, but in the way they are said. This involves pacing, volume, expression of emotion (pitch, tone). There is a higher incidence of misinterpretation when communicating between cultures, due to differences in the norms of “meta messages” between cultures. Communication breakdown can also be manifested as politeness taken too far. Tannen talks about the “Two-edged Sword of Politeness” where, in the interest of maintaining relations with others, important things are not said. The motive here is to get along, but people often end up getting along worse when this is done. When communicating, we don’t always say what we mean due to what we think others might think of us. This is known as indirectness and is a type of self-defense mechanism. Communicating with others is far more complicated than simply turning an idea into words, saying it, and having it turned back into the same idea. All these complications are places where communication breakdown can occur, frustrating those involved.

Richard J. Mayer has a slightly different perspective on breakdown. He came up with the hypothesis that “Virtually all communication problems and conflicts between people, no matter how serious they appear, are due to an accumulation of un-confronted and unresolved minor issues, each of little or no apparent importance.” (Mayer 3). He studied hundreds of instances where communication breakdown had occurred to come up with this idea. Many of these minor issues are caused by the communication concepts mentioned earlier by Tannen. The new part of this perspective is that major problems are caused by an accumulation of minor issues. He suggests confronting these little issues every time they are encountered. He also proposes the idea that we are more skilled at being competitive than we are at being collaborative, which makes it difficult to work in effective teams.

A certain amount of communication conflict within a team is good. Both too little, as well as too much conflict is a type of communication breakdown. Too little communication conflict most likely means either that nobody cares very much or they are all brainwashed to think alike ('group-think'). Both of these factors mean the team is not being effective (Lemmex 2004). In an article about communication breakdown, Larry Lauer says that communication breakdown is inevitable due to the complex nature of human experience and thus interpretation, so the communications need to be reiterated back and forth until both the transmitter and all those receiving messages have a common and verifiable understanding. He suggests some ways to spot communication breakdown, and suggests we should look for 'activity plateaus' after a goal is met.

These plateaus often cause members to be more focused on their personal matters, and communication begins to slow down. Another sign is productivity falling off. A plateau might be due simply to members of a group who feel that their input isn’t much valued, and start to withdraw from the group activity. Executive isolation is another sign of communication breakdown. This is the process of a manager suffering from 'head in the office syndrome'. Effective communication is difficult. During times of stress, it is tempting to avoid conflict by spending less and less time with others, and not engaging in verifiable communication with them about the critical issues. Finally, either too few or too many comments, queries or complaints is likely be a sign of communication breakdown (Lauer 1994). It is all a matter of balance between 'foot in mouth' and 'paralysis by analysis'!

Communication breakdown is all around us, and is responsible for more problems than anyone takes the time to realize. Through the use of examples, survey results, and various perspectives on the inner workings and diagnosis of communication breakdown, we try to develop a better idea as to why we should want to avoid communication breakdown. The following sections will help you communicate effectively with others so that, together, you can plan and implement effective communication techniques and checking protocols within your group or team.

Effective communication within a team doesn’t happen by accident; instead, it requires planning and organization, and an effective team leader or facilitator. Planning for good communication in a meeting setting takes even more preparation. This section will discuss how leaders and facilitators can plan ahead for good communication.

Planning for Communication

In modern organizations, teams may be entirely virtual and never interact in person. This presents a unique set of communication challenges which are outside the scope of this paper, although certain techniques presented will work well for virtual teams.

Larson and LaFasto (1989, 55-57) consider an effective communication system to be one of the four necessary features of team structure. The communication system must focus on accessible information, utilize information from credible sources, provide opportunities for informal communication and have a way to document decisions in planning for communication. Leaders must take care to structure the team and interactions in such a way that these four elements are a part of the system. For existing teams, the team will probably already have procedures in place, whether or not conscious effort went into developing them. As groups work together, certain norms of behavior develop. Team leaders should be aware of this process and work to develop an effective set of norms from the beginning. Opportunity for informal communication needs to be deliberately coordinated, not left to chance. To enhance the likelihood of informal communication, a team leader will want to allow time at the beginning of the process for group members to get to know one another and interact informally. An offsite retreat or team activity will build personal relationships among members and facilitate communication down the road. The facilitator should continue to build in regular opportunities for informal discussion in ways that work with the team culture.

Another important technique in preparing for communication is to train group members in advance on communication techniques. A leader should train team members about group techniques for meeting facilitation and conflict resolution as well as individual skills such as listening, communicating criticism and mediation. This process facilitation can have positive effects on team accomplishment. (Wheelan 2005) Finally, good communication requires feedback among group members. The facilitator must build in ways for team members to provide one another evaluative information about their behavior. (Wheelan 2005)

Once general systems are in place for good communication, the team leader can focus on specific situations such as a team meeting. For teams working face to face, meetings are one of the most common ways groups communicate, so planning for effective communication at meetings is critical. Part of planning a meeting means having the logistics in place for success. The timing and location must be right and the technologies must be in place for effective communication. Logistics such as the time of day members are likely to be available to meet and at their best, a location that will minimize interruptions and technologies such as PowerPoint that provide visual aids are all important foundations for a successful meeting. (Whetton and Cameron, 1995) Even more importantly, the leader must be clear on the purpose of the meeting and make sure the right participants are involved. Then, he or she must plan the structure. (Whetton and Cameron, 1995)

To be most effective, a facilitator must explicitly determine the most appropriate meeting structure and procedures. Some of the basic procedural options include: “1) an agenda-guided discussion, 2) a problem- or item-list procedure, and 3) simplified parliamentary procedure.” (Stech/Ratliffe, 243) Extensive detail on each of these options can be found in the book, “Effective Group Communication” referenced at the end of the paper. For most meetings, a detailed agenda, distributed in advance, is an effective way to help participants prepare for the meeting. The agenda gives group members time to consider issues to be discussed so the group does not, “waste time discussing ill-conceived suggestions.” (Whetton and Cameron, 460) The group also needs to have a clear decision making format in place. Communication structure options include: ordinary group discussion (the most common default), brainstorming and nominal group technique. The appropriate choice depends on the group task. (Whetton and Cameron, 1995) Effective implementation of these various communication strategies will be discussed in the next section. Beyond determining the structural format, a leader also needs to prepare by making sure the participants fully understand the purpose of the meeting and their role in the process. In many cases, particularly when there is a controversial item on the agenda, pre-meetings with specific participants are important. “…it is advisable to discuss the matter before the meeting with key opinion leaders. This polling of sentiment is useful for gauging how much time should be set aside for discussing an issue and how it should be presented to the group. In addition, if the chairperson can obtain the support of key group members before the meeting, it is less likely that a controversial issue will dominate the group discussion…” (Whetton and Cameron, 461)

Facilitators and leaders must plan for good communication. In general, investment in structure (including informal communication) and member training can set the stage to allow team members to communicate well. For a team meeting, more planning should be done including deciding on the meeting purpose, participants, structure, logistics and decision making process. Agendas and pre-meetings with individuals can help members prepare and ensure the group meeting moves smoothly.

Communication Tools

While planning for effective communication is key in order to achieve specific objectives, it is equally important to utilize tried and tested 'tools' that can facilitate 'live' real time communication between a transmitter and an audience.

First, some communication is what Eric Birne called 'parent to child'- the issuing of clear and unequivocal orders to make sure that tasks are completed quickly in what the authority figure thinks is the best way possible. Other times, we act more like adults, and hold discussions that require awareness, active listening, using names and making “I” statements. Appropriate body language, mirroring and eye contact can all help individuals to understand each other better. The first step in facilitating clear team communication is to be aware of who is in the group. Bringing the group together in a social setting allows team members to learn each other’s personalities, work situation, and personal background. This understanding prevents issues and differences from arising that could inhibit communication between team members. The next technique that can improve communication is the use of active listening skills. Active listening occurs when people really hear what the other person is saying and both paraphrase what was said and identify any nonverbal cues that a person may also be trying to express through body language.

Sometimes this means more than just identifying the concrete comments or suggestions that a person is making, but also addressing any underlying emotional issues that are also affecting what a person is trying to say (Thompson and Gooler, 1996). A simple way to help a person understand that you are actively listening is to use their name a few times during the course of a conversation. This helps a person to realize that you are focusing your attention on what they are saying, and really hearing their full meaning (Connolly and Syer, 1996). When you are the person who feels misunderstood or not heard, make sure to express your feelings through the use of “I” statements. Using “I” statements allows people to express themselves without putting others on the defensive. For example, instead of saying, “You are completely ignoring me,” phrasing that feeling as “I feel like I am not being heard by the group” allows others to realize how you are feeling without starting a conflict (Connolly and Syer, 1996). If a group is having trouble creating and communicating divergent ideas, one way to facilitate this process is through the Nominal Group Technique. This technique preempts conflict by allowing individuals to generate ideas individually and have everyone share their thoughts with the group. “The advantage of the nominal group technique is that it maximizes information gain, ensures a democratic representation of all members’ ideas…and avoids production blocking” (Thompson, 162). Ultimately, some conflict will arise. But through the use of the nominal group technique and the use of “I” statements, conflict may be productive in the generation of new ideas and not lead to permanent rifts between team members.

Though these tools for facilitating verbal communication are essential, the importance of understanding nonverbal cues cannot be underestimated. “The use of space, eye contact, body orientation, head movements and other behaviors are often used to transmit messages without the use of words” (Thompson and Gooler, 407). Regardless of what team members actually say, it is important to be aware of the nonverbal messages communicated through body language. Though a person may verbally agree, it may be clear that they are uncomfortable or dissatisfied with an idea or solution, and that needs to be addressed for good communication to be permanently achieved. In addition to being cognizant of others’ nonverbal cues, it is also important for team members to be aware of how their own nonverbal behavior is perceived. Team members should be very aware of eye contact. Maintaining eye contact with individuals who are communicating their ideas indicates interest (Connolly and Syer, 1996). Staring out the window or around the room is often perceived as boredom or disrespect. Another simple nonverbal technique to facilitate good communication is the act of mirroring. Mirroring involves mimicking others gestures and ideas. This is especially helpful for making outsiders feel comfortable sharing ideas. While mirroring may seem over the top, in fact, it “is a highly effective way of stating the obvious and raising awareness to allow change.” (Connolly and Syer, 210). While these tools can help to address the nonverbal aspects of communication, in the end team members must be aware of how they are expressing themselves both through what they say and what they don’t say.

While these general techniques are effective for most teams, individual team differences often arise with special needs. Though there are too many to enumerate in this paper, we would like to address two of the most common and difficult groupings that people encounter – diverse groups and groups with personality clashes. “There is a delicate balance in teams between appreciating individual differences and requiring unity” (Larson and LaFasto, 79). Finding the balance between creating cohesiveness and respecting differences is difficult, but can ultimately strengthen teams if it is leveraged properly through good communication. In today’s diverse, international work environment, people of differing work and cultural backgrounds are often working together on teams. Finding a way to communicate despite differences is not only necessary, but also needed in order to find the best solutions. “The belief is that diverse teams have a broader range of knowledge, skills, abilities, and experiences that can enhance the group’s ability to critically analyze problems and generate more creative solutions and ideas” (Thompson and Gooler, 397).

Common problems that occur in diverse groups include stereotyping, language barriers, and misunderstandings. For example, in the United States a thumbs up means okay, in Japan the same gesture means money, and in Iran it is an obscene gesture. (Henderson, 1994). Also, people from different cultures do not have the same shared history and stories that they can relate to when explaining issues. “When group members do not share common social signals, the development of group cohesiveness may be hindered and the team may have greater difficulty establishing a positive social climate” (Thompson and Gooler, 409). For this reason, it is particularly important that diverse teams have shared social team activities outside of the workplace so that they can not only get to know each other, but also have these shared stories to refer to when trying to communicate particular points. During team meetings, team members must take the time to pause and make sure that everyone is grasping the issues and solutions being discussed (Henderson, 1994). If the team rushes ahead without everyone on board, conflict will probably ensue at a later time. A degree of formality is also helpful in diverse team meetings. Using proper titles (and always pronouncing names correctly, of course) and avoiding slang may help people understand each other and not be inadvertently offended. In diverse teams, keeping an open mind and really hearing what other team members are trying to say must be made a priority in every meeting (Henderson, 1994). In general, in diverse groups it is better to use the Nominal Group Technique than devil’s advocate, which can cause the group to turn on one member, or simply create unproductive conflict that does not lead to the best solution. However, despite the extra effort that must be put into communication in diverse groups, the benefits often make the work worth it when highly effective, innovative solutions to problems are generated.

Another factor that plays a role in team communication is the differing personalities between team members. In fact, Weblin goes so far as to say that “personality may be described as the sum pattern of a person’s way of communicating – the total impression he makes on others” (quoted in Huseman, 1977: p. 417). Because of their varying personalities, members of teams receive, process, and act on information and situations differently. Differences can be helpful by bringing fresh perspectives and skill sets to the team, but can also create conflict if communication styles differ or are misunderstood. If team members understand their own personality tendencies as well as those of their teammates, the communication between members and therefore effectiveness of the team will improve drastically. It will also allow the team to emphasize and appreciate each member’s strengths. As Ruderman hypothesizes, “the level of team personality diversity will be positively and significantly related to team productivity, especially on problem solving teams” (1996, p. 79).

Personality Types

One of the most prevalently used personality assessment tools is the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). This technique can prove to be a powerful tool in learning about your own personality as well as those of your teammates. Unfortunately, it is not especially 'scientific' and some less secure personalities may place too much faith in their 'type' so that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The assessment relies on a long and recursive series of questions, none of which have an 'obviously correct' answer, but all are rather ambiguous in nature.

This MBTI tool is just one of many which seeks to analyze and measure a person’s predisposed preferences about the world and other people. MBTI identifies people as points along four axes. These four dimensions thus produce 16 broad possible personality types and a range of 'shades' within each category. The first dimension refers to how a person prefers to be energized. An extrovert (E) mainly gains energy from interaction with others while an introvert generally (I) prefers being alone. The second dimension deals with how a person prefers to take in information from the external world. A sensing (S) person likes distinct facts and details while an intuitive (N) person prefers to see the big picture. The third dimension relates to how people usually make decisions. A thinking (T) person generally utilizes 'cold' logical thinking for their decisions while a feeling (F) person tends to make judgments based on personal and subjective values. The final dimension deals with an individual’s preference for their relationship with the external world. A perceptive (P) person with the perceives situations in an emotional, flexible and spontaneous way. A more judgmental (J) person prefers to live in planned and organized situations that is susceptible to analysis and synthesis (Bradley 1997: p. 341; Dent 2004: p. 67)

Understanding differing personality types in general can help the group communication and functional process. “The ideal team should be highly diversified in the talents and knowledge each member contributes, while maintaining open, non-threatening communication” (Bradley 1997: p. 338). Extroverts tend to open the lines of between group members, while introverts provide internal reflection of group discussions. Both are important functions of group communication. The sensing-intuition dimension can produce the greatest divisions in teams but both are absolutely necessary” (Lyman 1995: p. 58). Sensing types take in and bring up pertinent, concrete, and precise facts, and recognize the practical realities of the situation. On the other hand, intuitive types take in data as a whole, focusing on associations and relationships and seeing new possibilities and ideas. Thinking types present a logical analysis of the decision-making situation and therefore communicate in this way, while feeling individuals offer insights into how feelings of other group members might affect the situation.

Feelers may view thinkers as insensitive while thinkers might view feelers as touchy feely if each does not appreciate the others perspective. The planned and orderly approach of the judging type will typically help keep the team on schedule, while perceivers help


Utilizing a variety of these tools and techniques to facilitate effective communication is crucial in order to maximize team effectiveness. When communication structures and protocols are not in place, the communication breakdown is more probable than not. Fairly simple misunderstandings, if not detected, can impair, sometimes even devastate the productivity of a team. On the other hand, some misunderstandings can actually lead to creative leaps of the imagination, especially if the checks and balances we call 'protocol' are working properly. Careful planning for meetings with simple tools like the minutes of previous transactions and and not too flexible agendas can help in advance. During the encounter, attention to verbal and non-verbal communication, and understanding different participants’ backgrounds and communication styles can all help teams capture the productivity improvements associated with effective team operation. Ultimately, the increased productivity that results from developing a range of 'communications protocols' for different situations, circumstances and audiences is likely to be well worth the effort. The essence is in finding the right balance between spontaneity and carefully edited messages likely to be appropriate in each foreseeable situation.


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Conflict Defined

Conflict can exist between factions or groups within a team, with a leader or manager, and with other teams or departments within the company. It has been defined in numerously different ways and has come to hold several connotations. The following is an example of a relatively broad dictionary entry, where conflict is defined in the following way(s):


1. To come into collision or disagreement; be contradictory, at variance, or in opposition; clash: The account of one eyewitness conflicted with that of the other. My class conflicts with my going to the concert.

2. To fight or contend; do battle.

3. A fight, battle, or struggle, esp. a prolonged struggle; strife.

4. Controversy; quarrel: conflicts between parties.

5. Discord of action, feeling, or effect; antagonism or opposition, as of interests or principles: a conflict of ideas.

6. A striking together; collision.

7. Incompatibility or interference, as of one idea, desire, event, or activity with another: a conflict in the schedule.

8. Psychiatry. a mental struggle arising from opposing demands or impulses.

Conflict in Groups and Teams

Conflict inevitably arises in one form or another in varying degrees due to the mere group and/or team dynamics of having people with differing backgrounds, ideas, and potential agendas coming together in an effort to accomplish a common goal. Conflict is generally considered to be negative and something to be avoided. Numerous frameworks such as LaFasto and Larson's CONNECT model have been developed to help rid groups of negative conflict. However, conflict isn’t always negative and there are circumstances in which positive conflict is necessary in order to prevent compliance tendencies and the potentially disastrous effects of groupthink.

In the following sections, the positive and negative realms of conflict will be outlined and further detailed in an effort to narrow the scope of conflict while helping to navigate some of the more negative connotations that easily come to mind when thinking about conflict. Use all positive words and actions and you will get the same back, respect others and they will respect you.

Types of Conflict that a Team Can Face

Positive conflict vs Negative conflict

Positive conflict

Positive conflict is the notion that a healthy discourse may exist in the disagreement among group members regarding personality traits, styles, or characteristics or the content of their ideas, decisions or task processes which involves a pathway towards resolution. Any tolerable amount of conflict is vital to group success in order to avoid groupthink and to generate more innovative ideas among potentially and vastly differing members of the group. In addition, positive conflict generates buy-in and offers elements of ownership and a sense of cooperation and enhanced membership to all of the group members. Positive conflict reduces the effects of conformity pressures and groupthink. Groupthink occurs when conformity and compliance pressures are exaggerated, and it generally occurs in the absence of task conflict. One of the most devastating examples of groupthink occurred on the morning of January 28th, 1986 in which the Challenger space shuttle exploded over the Atlantic Ocean after the failure of an O-ring. This failure resulted from the O-ring being unable to withstand extreme temperatures in which the O-ring had never been truly tested. Numerous NASA staff members were aware of the possible failure of the O-ring in extreme temperatures, and they were also aware of the ramifications should the O-ring break. However, the decision making process regarding whether or not the shuttle was safe to launch was riddled with flaws that ultimately created a breeding ground for groupthink. To illustrate, the Challenger launch had been postponed several times before this scheduled date, and there was direct pressure from NASA to approve the launch. There was also media pressure as they were scheduled to film the launch, since it would be the first time a teacher was sent into space. NASA officials feared public ridicule if the launch was delayed again, and as early as six days prior to the launch, NASA put the pressure on. They told the inspectors to stop thinking like inspectors and start thinking like managers, and they rationalized that there was no conclusive evidence to suggest that the O-ring would not work. As a result, the inspectors bowed to conformity pressures and gave the approval to launch. The resulting launch and subsequent death of all 7 crew members aboard the Challenger shook the nation and was not the front page news that NASA had hoped for.

Other disasters that occurred due to conformity pressures include the Bay of Pigs, the Tenerife plane crash disaster, the holocaust, and many others. To test how strong the effects of conformity pressures are on less cohesive groups and among individuals that were only recently introduced, Solomon Asch conducted his famous conformity experiment in which a group of random participants were shown a picture of the following lines, and they were asked which line in the second group of lines is approximately the same height as the first line shown.

Example of the cards shown to the participants of the study

Individuals that were a part of the experiment (confederates to the experiment) selected an obviously inappropriate line such as line “B” as their answer. The results were astounding in which the remaining individual in the group (not a confederate to the experiment) also selected line “B” as their answer due to perceived pressures to conform. Conformity occurs as a result of individuals’ desire to be liked and their need to be right. Therefore, they tend to fall victim to false consensus biases and generally bring their behavior in line with the group’s expectations and beliefs. So how are you to know if your group is falling prey to conformity pressures and groupthink? Here are some common symptoms:

  • Illusions of invulnerability
  • Rationalization & justification
  • Illusion of group morality
  • Stereotyping the out-group as weaker, evil, or stupid
  • Direct or indirect peer or supervisory pressures
  • Self-censorship by team members
  • Illusions of unanimity

First, realizing that you and your group are affected by or susceptible to conformity pressures and groupthink is very important. Next, in order to create a norm of conflict, it is essential that a feeling of psychology safety is present. This can be instated by encouraging objections, criticisms, and altering perspectives. Also, as a leader, one should avoid making clear statements about your preferences, create subgroups, have outside experts come in to observe the decision making process, and re-examine the next best alternatives once a decision has been reached. Finally, limiting the size of the group and assigning roles that make conflict commonplace (such as a “Devil’s Advocate”) will help to discourage and minimize compliance pressures. After the Challenger explosion, NASA took similar steps to avoid future disasters in which they instituted a verbal and video recorded affirmation from several NASA officials that certify flight readiness. Furthermore, NASA's managers instituted a veto policy in which anyone at any level is given the authority to stop the flight process.

In addition to avoiding groupthink and conformity pressures, positive conflict is more likely to generate a sense of membership, involvement, and enthusiasm from all group members and is also more likely to lead to the infusion of more creative and innovative ideas. This results from each team member having the opportunity to voice his or her own perspective on the issues being decided by the group. When individuals feel more involved in the decision making process, they are more likely to state a high satisfaction level with their team and are additionally more likely to want to continue working as a member of that team.

Creating a heterogeneous team is another way to encourage diverse perspectives, opinions, and ideas. Heterogeneous groups also have a broader knowledge base resulting from a variety of experiences, backgrounds, skills, and achievements. Comparable to other investment strategies that are somewhat more risky (in terms of the increased likelihood for ensuing conflict levels), diverse teams stand a greater chance for potential return and favorable results as well.

Negative conflict


In diverse and heterogeneous teams, negative conflict has a tendency to emerge in varying degrees due to the mere dynamics of having diverse individuals with differing backgrounds, ideas, and potential agendas coming together. Negative conflict can arise in several different arenas including the following:

  • Conflict can arise between factions or groups within a team.
  • Subgroups, or factions, can develop within a team. Each group has their own opinions and will stick together and oppose other factions within the team. Organizations can be greatly divided by such factions
  • Conflict can develop between team members and the leader of the team.
  • Team members can disagree with the team leader. This can lead to refusal to follow the direction of the team leader. There may be conflict with management because management has not given clear goals to the team or may not be supporting the team. The organization could have a culture that does not allow teams to work effectively.
  • Conflict can form between the different teams or departments in the organization.

Unlike positive conflict, negative conflict is better if avoided and must be swiftly addressed and resolved when it does present itself. Due to the dangerous nature and destructive effects negative conflict has on productivity and moral, it may potentially lead to Human Resource Management issues or even a lawsuit. In order to set the stage so that interpersonal conflict is avoided or at least minimized, firms can prevent the establishment of in-groups and out-groups, foster open communication and trust, understand the various personality styles that comprise a group, and coach effective communication skills and perspective taking skills to team members.

An example of a firm, where the formation of in-groups and out-groups fostered so much negative conflict, was the Lehman Brothers firm, this in-group and out-group culture lead to the selling of the firm. Within this firm, a strong separation between Traders and Bankers literally divided the corporation and led to its ultimate demise. Differences between the functions were exaggerated and there was a perception that each of the divisions was pursuing its own unique and more valuable objectives. There was not a unified vision within the company and personality conflict was commonplace. The Traders believed that the Bankers were lazy "Ivy League" graduates who were awarded greater benefits simply to uphold the status-quo. The Bankers perceived the Brokers as less intelligent, blue collar workers who deserved less compensation and rewards. Creating in-groups and out-groups in a company leads to an unhealthy competition between the groups. Each faction ends up battling for a greater share of the company’s limited resources and an “us” vs. “them” rational emerges, while energy is wasted on trying to prove which group is better rather than to maintain common goals. As demonstrated by the infamous Robbers Cave Experiment conducted by Muzafer Sherif, working toward a common goal and maintaining common purpose is essential for group unity and contributes to the reduction of personal conflict. In this experiment, 22 boy scouts were assigned to two separate camps and neither group was aware of the other's existence. Each boy formed a strong identification with his own group, and the scouts were even allowed to select a group name. The first contact between the two groups was to play a competitive sport and friction emerged between the groups almost immediately. During the resolution phase of the experiment, a task was developed in which the two groups were forced to cooperate and work together toward achieving a common purpose that neither group could achieve alone. A broken-down truck that needed to be towed back to the camp was staged, and the two groups had to combine their man-power to tow the truck. By the end of the experiment, the in-groups and out-groups had merged, and the entire group even insisted upon riding back home on the same bus together. In addition to forming a super-ornate goal for group members to achieve, pointing out what group members have in common and defusing stereotypes is a way to prevent the formation of an out-group.

Fostering support, trust, and open communication is also essential if relationship conflicts are to be reduced and quickly resolved. Open communication can be established by the following:

  • Establish ground rules.
  • Take turns when talking and do not interrupt. Ensure that each team member has equal time when stating their perspective. Listen for something new and say bring something new to the discussion. Avoid restating the facts and “talking in circles.” Avoid power plays and eliminate status or titles from the discussion
  • Listen compassionately
  • Avoid thinking of a counterargument while the other person is speaking. Listen to the other person’s perspective rather than listening to your own thoughts. Don’t make an effort to remember points.
  • Point out the advantages of resolving the conflict.
  • Maintain a neutral vantage point and be willing to be persuaded.
  • Avoid all-or-none statements such as “always” and “never” and point out exceptions when these statements are used.
  • (IE: What does it look like when Marketing does consult sales before acting?)
  • Create a goal of discovery rather than of winning or persuading.
  • Be alert to common goals and where goals overlap as each party is communicating their perspective.
  • Use clarifying statements to ensure the other party feels understood and listened to such as, “What I heard you say is that you feel unappreciated and that you lack vital feedback to help you perform, is this correct?”
  • Help team members to separate the problem from the person.
  • Use techniques such as role-playing, putting oneself in the competitor’s shoes, or conducting war games. Such techniques create fresh perspectives and engage team members.
  • Team members should recognize each other for having expressed his view and feelings.
  • Thanking one another recognizes the personal risk the individual took in breaking from group think and should be viewed as an expression of trust and commitment toward the team.
  • Help each team member to understand one anothers' perspective, and help them to re-frame the situation.
  • The exact same situation can often be viewed differently by several individuals. To illustrate, what did you see first in the picture below, the young woman or the old woman?
Which do you see?

Once a team has received coaching on how to communicate effectively, address conflict situations immediately as they arise. Letting tense situations fester will only allow time for animosity to polarize and grow. Helping team members to reframe the problem and see it from the other individual’s perspective can also be accomplished directly, via cross-training and job shadowing which allows each team member to draw from a frame of reference by walking in the other team member's shoes. Utilizing the Big 5 personality test descriptions will also add an element of understanding to the group dynamic. To illustrate, if Jimmy is highly extroverted, neurotic, and conscientious, it may help Tim, who is not quite as extroverted as than Jim and who is more agreeable, to understand where Jimmy’s seemingly endless ability to voice his irritation with others is stemming from, and he may not take it as personally. In addition, Jimmy may better understand and get less irritated with Tim’s perceived inability to take initiative and make decisions efficiently.

Finally, understanding common stereotypes and mental shortcuts that are used when passing judgment on others will make team members more aware of how these shortcuts are leading to bias conclusions. The common cognitive biases and a brief description are as follows:

  • Self Fulfilling Prophecy: the tendency to engage in behaviors that elicit results which will (consciously or subconsciously) confirm our beliefs.
  • Halo Effect: the tendency for a person's positive or negative traits to "spill over" from one area of their personality to another in others' perceptions of them
  • Primacy Effect: the tendency to weigh initial events more than subsequent events.
  • Recency Effect: the tendency to weigh recent events more than earlier events
  • Availability Heuristic: a biased prediction, due to the tendency to focus on the most salient and emotionally-charged outcome.
  • Selective Perception: selectively attend to data that supports your conclusion while omitting valid evidence that does not.
  • Actor-Observer Bias: the tendency for explanations for other individual's behaviors to overemphasize the influence of their personality and underemphasize the influence of their situation. This is coupled with the opposite tendency for the self in that one's explanations for their own behaviors overemphasize their situation and underemphasize the influence of their personality.
  • Hindsight Bias: sometimes called the "I-knew-it-all-along" effect, the inclination to see past events as being predictable.
  • Illusory Correlation: beliefs that inaccurately suppose a relationship between a certain type of action and an effect
  • Egocentric Bias: occurs when people claim more responsibility for themselves for the results of a joint action than an outside observer would.
  • False Consensus Bias: the tendency for people to overestimate the degree to which others agree with them.
  • Fundamental Attribution Bias: the tendency for people to over-emphasize personality-based explanations for behaviors observed in others while under-emphasizing the role and power of situational influences on the same behavior
  • Just World Phenomenon: the tendency for people to believe that the world is "just" and therefore people "get what they deserve."
  • Self Serving Bias: the tendency to claim more responsibility for successes than failures. It may also manifest itself as a tendency for people to evaluate ambiguous information in a way beneficial to their interests
  • Illusion of Transparency: people overestimate others' ability to know them, and they also overestimate their ability to know others.
  • Ingroup Bias: the tendency for people to give preferential treatment to others they perceive to be members of their own groups.

“…If you form a picture in your mind of what you would like to be and hold it there long enough, you will soon become exactly as you have been thinking.”William James, Professor of Psychology, Harvard University.

Why is Conflict Resolution Important in a Team Setting?

Whether we embrace it or avoid it, conflict is an inherent part of the human condition. Unlike certain tasks or responsibilities, conflict is not isolated to one or another aspect of life. With conflict looming all about us, why should we even bother trying to resolve it? Or, if conflict is inherent to being human, is it then presumptuous to even attempt its resolution? We propose that, in the vast majority of instances of team conflict, avoidance is a worse solution than engagement with the conflicting situation. Moreover, avoided conflict will lead to less optimal solutions and may even prevent the team from finishing a project. Thus, from a manager’s perspective, it is a simple equation of a cost/benefits analysis in that the cost to the organization is greater when teams avoid conflict than when they engage it. In this chapter we will discuss the symptoms of conflict and recommend solutions for their resolution.

Conflict absorbs team resources that could be better utilized working towards the team’s goals. As discussed, managers should manage conflict in a way that leads the team towards completion of team goals.

What are the Symptoms of Team Conflict?

Almost everyone has endured the experience of being part of a team that was plagued with conflict. Whether in a large group that erupts in anger and can’t finish a meeting, or a small group of two or three individuals that resort to backbiting and gossiping to vent frustration over a conflict, everyone has been a part of a team where conflict has gotten out of control. With this in mind, there are several symptoms of conflict that can be identified in groups which can help groups to recognize and manage conflict before it tears them apart. By identifying the following symptoms related to communication, trust, and opposing agendas, the team leader can identify conflict before it erupts. As you read through these symptoms, think of the teams that you are a part of and look for symptoms that exist in your team.

One common symptom of conflict is a lack of communication or a lack of respectful communication. This is most often seen when teams fail to have meaningful meetings. Most often, non-communicating meetings are characterized by team members sitting and listening to what the boss has to say. Often chatter or silence prevails in teams. A lack of communication can also be noted when team members don’t get along, and so refuse to talk to each other. These feuds create barriers within teams and prevent communication in the team. A lack of communication or disrespectful communication leads to a lack of trust, which is another symptom of team conflict. Teams that fail to produce desired results often lack the trust in one another as team members necessary to succeed. Without trust in a team, verbal or non-verbal conflict becomes the norm of the team. Team members spend more energy protecting their own positions and jobs then they do producing what is required for the team’s success. When trust erodes in a team, the habit of blaming others becomes the norm as individuals try to protect themselves. Team members become enemies that compete against each other rather than allies that build and help one another to achieve a common goal. Teams that lack trust often gossip about other members or have frequent side conversations after meetings to discuss opposing opinions. Such activity sucks strength out of the team and its purpose.

Another symptom of team conflict can be seen when team members have opposing agendas. This is not to be confused with members who have different opinions. Having different opinions in a group can be very healthy if managed correctly because it can create better ideas and ways of getting the job done. However, when team members have opposing agendas, more is at stake than differing opinions; it is two individuals fiercely committed to the exact opposite approach. Opposing agendas can create confusion in team members and can cause them to lose sight of their role in the team and the team’s final goal. Teams must work toward a common goal in order to be successful. Extreme effort must be made to reconcile differences, or such a team can look forward to failure.

What are Appropriate Solutions to Conflict?

As mentioned above, conflict is a natural and necessary element of a healthy team experience. If a team never experiences conflict, it is less likely to be as productive as a team that does experience conflict. This is especially true if the task that a team is attempting to complete is complex in nature or highly detailed. Without having members question specific actions, decisions, or the specifics of the proposed solution, it may appear to the team that there is only one way in which to solve the problem or complete the task.

One way in which a team can avoid being unproductive is by selecting members with different backgrounds. This can be difficult because people often assume that individuals who think similarly and get along with one another will be more productive when working together. But this is not necessarily true. In many cases having groups of people who think alike and are not willing to voice their disagreement can be detrimental, or even dangerous. Popular examples of this group think phenomenon are noted in the Kennedy Administration’s disaster with regards to the Bay of Pigs, or those involved with the Challenger shuttle launch. Differences among team members should however, be task orientated and not personal or relationship oriented. Relationship conflicts are rarely productive. If potential members of a team have a history of conflict due to relationships and not in relation to tasks, one or both should probably not be chosen as a team member. Additionally, peacekeepers should also be avoided, unless the team environment fosters a very safe atmosphere where the peacekeeper will feel comfortable enough to speak out in the team setting. In this case, a difference in opinion could be beneficial, but it might not be presented due to the member’s disproportionate desire to avoid conflict.

Avoiding the potential for group think, relationship conflicts, and peacekeepers in choosing team members will help to promote healthy conflict. But commitment is equally important. If team members are individually or collectively indifferent toward the overall goal, they probably will not perform well. A lack of commitment can also lead to a lack of conflict. If the team is committed to the overall goal and members are well chosen, there can be a healthy dose of conflict in the process to complete the task.

When conflict does occur, it is important to address it immediately. Although developing a solution to the conflict may take time, acknowledging it will help to ensure that it can become productive to the team. “Whatever the problem, effective teams identify, raise, and resolve it. If it’s keeping them from reaching their goal, effective teams try to do something about it. They don’t ignore it and hope it goes away.” By not addressing conflict, the leader risks sending the message that conflict is unmanageable and cause vested members to become complacent or feel their input is not valued. In the worst scenario, a conflict that is not resolved could go from being task orientated to personal.

How Can a Team Prevent Negative Conflict?

Conflict may be inevitable on a team and may even have a positive effect, “the absence of conflict is not harmony, it’s apathy.” However, most of us have had experience with the crippling side of conflict. In this section we offer insight into how other teams have successfully managed conflict and make recommendations for mechanisms to put into place in order to prevent harmful conflict. How do successful teams manage conflict?

Three business professors, who studied teams which had learned how to successfully “fight” in a team without allowing the conflict to become destructive, found some common themes as to how such teams function. First, successful teams worked with more, rather than less information and debated on the basis of facts. Second, teams developed multiple alternatives to enrich the level of debate. Third, productive teams shared commonly agreed upon goals and objectives. Fourth, teams injected humor into the decision-making process. Fifth, teams maintained a balanced power structure. And sixth, teams resolved issues without forcing consensus.

In another study, which surveyed 15,000 team members and their assessments of their team mates, two professors found that the most important behaviors in team relationships are openness and supportiveness, “Regardless of whether it was a working relationship with a peer, a superior, or a direct report, the result was the same. The two factors identified as most important were openness and supportiveness.” Moreover, the authors identify specifically what is meant by these two adjectives within a team context: openness “refers to the ability to surface and deal with issues objectively,” while supportiveness “refers to bringing out the best thinking and attitude in the other person.”

From the above insights into successful teams, we start to see that such teams put a high value on fact-based decisions and are able to set up mechanisms that bring out the best in each team member and facilitate information sharing. Drawing from these insights, then, what specific measures, should a new leader or newly formed team put into place to ensure the team can withstand conflict and even gain the benefits of creativity that comes out of conflict?

How Do Teams Prevent Damaging Conflict?

In order to prevent damaging conflict, the team leader must lay a conflict-friendly foundation for the team. The following approach will help the team leader to set the stage for conflict that is creative and productive:

  1. Set a clear goal for the team.
  2. Make expectations for team members explicit.
  3. Assemble a heterogeneous team, including diverse ages, genders, functional backgrounds, and industry experience.
  4. Meet together as a team regularly and often. Team members that don’t know one another well doesn’t know positions on the issues, impairing their ability to argue effectively. Frequent interaction builds the mutual confidence and familiarity team members require expressing dissent.
  5. Assign roles such as devil’s advocate and sky-gazing visionary and change these roles up from meeting to meeting. This is important to ensure all sides of an issue have been considered.
  6. Use techniques such as role-playing, putting oneself in the competitor’s shoes, or conducting war games. Such techniques create fresh perspectives and engage team members.
  7. Actively manage conflict. Don’t let the team acquiesce too soon or too easily. Identify and treat apathy early, and don’t confuse a lack of conflict with agreement.

Resolving Conflict

Interpersonal conflict should be managed and resolved before it degenerates into verbal assault and irreparable damage to a team. Dealing with interpersonal conflict can be a difficult and uncomfortable process. Usually, as team members, we use carefully worded statements to avoid frictions when confronting conflict.

The first step to resolving interpersonal conflict is in acknowledging the existence of the interpersonal conflict. Recognizing the conflict allows team members to build common ground by putting the conflict within the context of the larger goal of the team and the organization. Moreover, the larger goal can help by giving team members a motive for resolving the conflict.

The Rosetta Stone for dealing with conflict is communication. As team members we all understand the inevitability of interpersonal conflicts. Moreover, as we have established above, open and supportive communication is vital to a high performing team. One way to achieve this is by separating the problem from the person. Problems can be debated without damaging working relationships. When interpersonal conflict occurs, all sides of the issue should be recognized without finger-pointing or blaming. Above all, when team member gets yelled at or blamed for something, it has the effect of silencing the whole team. It gives the signal to everyone that dissent is not allowed, and, as we know, dissent is one of the most fertile resources for new ideas.

When faced with conflict, it is natural for team members to become defensive. However defensiveness usually makes it more difficult to resolve a conflict. A conflict-friendly team environment must encourage effective listening. Effective listening includes listening to one another attentively, without interruption (this includes not having side conversations, doodling, or vacant stares). The fundamentals to resolving team conflict include the following elements:

  1. Prior to stating one’s view, a speaker should seek to understand what others have said. This can be done in a few clarifying sentences,
  2. Seek to make explicit what the opposing sides have in common. This helps to reinforce what is shared between the disputants,
  3. Whether or not an agreement is reached, team members should thank the other for having expressed his view and feelings. Thanking the other recognizes the personal risk the individual took in breaking from group think and should be viewed as an expression of trust and commitment toward the team.

How Can Teams Resolve Conflict Between Factions?

In resolving conflict between factions, the team leader should start by bringing the groups together and acknowledging there is a conflict. The team leader should make sure all group members are clear about the group goal. Not only should each group member understand what the goal is, they each need to be willing to work toward achieving it.

Set ground rules for the group if this has not been done. An important rule to include is to eliminate outside politicking. When disagreements or issues arise, they should be discussed within the group. Factions should not have separate discussions about the problem. If ground rules have already been established, discuss whether all agree with them and are willing to follow them. Discuss the methods and processes that will be used to reach the team goal. Again, it is important to get all team members working together towards the common goal.

The team leader should stay alert to one faction forcing a particular solution. If such an instance arises, those forcing a solution should be asked to articulate the reason behind their thinking. Once the thinking has been articulated, there can be open discussion as to the merits and drawbacks to the proposed solution.

What Should a Team Leader Do To Resolve Conflict and Promote Team Performance?

Team leaders have the responsibility of resolving conflict within their teams. There are things that team leaders can do to make a team where conflict resolution occurs naturally. One thing that team leaders can do in their groups to resolve conflict is to set up team rules from the outset. As discussed earlier, such team rules can guide team members to resolve conflict between themselves, rather than going to the leader to resolve all conflict. Team leaders should foster an environment in their teams that is safe and positive. Such an environment will help foster communication and will help team members to resolve conflicts. Team leaders can also provide retreats and other activities away from the office that will help to build team unity and trust. These factors will also strengthen a team and help to avoid negative conflict before it begins.

Team leaders can also strictly monitor performance issues in their group. Performance issues that go unresolved create relationship conflict and a lack of motivation and morale. Performance issues in individual team members must be addressed immediately in order to avoid issues in the group. This doesn’t mean that team leaders always need to eliminate poor performing team members immediately. Sometimes it is the responsibility of the team leader to provide extra training to team members when they’re struggling, to help them meet expectations. When attitudes need to be changed, awareness can be brought to how a team member’s attitude negatively affects the team and invitations can be given for attitudes to improve.

In this process it is vital for the team leader to remember that accountability must be held with team members. Without accountability in a team, focus on the goal will not occur and teams won’t produce desired outcomes. Accountability promotes achievement and helps team members to reach their potential. A lack of accountability can produce great task conflict and relationship conflict. Full accountability can help produce a feeling of fulfillment and achievement and teams will achieve their optimal performance.

How Can a Team Member Resolve a Conflict with the Team Leader?

If a team member has a conflict with the team leader, the first step is to identify the type of conflict. If the conflict relates to the goal of the team, then it would appear that the goal is not clear. The conflict can also relate to the processes being used by the team. In either situation, the team member can bring up the issue in a group meeting. Ask that the goal be clarified so that all team members understand what it is. If processes were never discussed and decided on by the team, now would be an appropriate time to do so. If the team leader does not want to discuss these issues in a team meeting, the team member should approach the leader separately to discuss. The team member should explain the issue and why the current situation is not working. Again, ask that the team be allowed to discuss these issues.

If the conflict is interpersonal between the team leader and a team member, the issue should be discussed privately between the two. The team member should go to the leader and explain that there appears to be conflict and that he or she would like to resolve it. LaFasto and Larson outline an approach that can be used to resolve conflict called the Connect Model. The steps involved in the model are as follows:

  1. Commit to the relationship.
  2. Optimize safety.
  3. Narrow to one issue.
  4. Neutralize defensiveness.
  5. Explain and echo.
  6. Change one behavior each.
  7. Track it!

These steps provide a great review of what has been discussed throughout this chapter and will help to resolve the issue between a team leader and team member.

In summary, team conflict is an important and integral part of any team that exists. As we have outlined it in this chapter, conflict, if approached effectively and managed appropriately, can exponentially work in the favor of any team. Appropriate management of the relative type of team conflict at hand is critical for teams to be successful. This chapter has discussed several of the aspects of team conflict and how they can be best managed and potentially resolved. These concepts will help teams improve their functionality and dynamic effectiveness in an effort to reach their ultimate goals in reaching to be a high performing team.


  • Greenhalgh, Leonard. "Managing Conflict." Sloan Management Review (Summer 2006): 45-51.
  • Lafasto, Frank, and Carl Larson. "When teams Work Best". Thousand Oaks, CA.: Sage Publications, 2001. ISBN 0-7619-2366-7
  • Siegel, Matt. "The Perils of Culture Conflict." Fortune. November 1998: 257-262.
  • Simons, Tony L., and Randall S. Peterson. "Task Conflict and Relationship Conflict in Top Management Teams: The Pivotal Role of Intragroup Trust". Journal of Applied Psychology. 85.1 (2000): 102-111.
  • Taylor, Susan M. "Manage Conflict Through Negotiation and Mediation." The Blackwell Handbook of Principles of Organizational Behavior, 2003. ISBN 9780631215066.
  • Weingart, Laurie, and Karen A. Jehn. "Manage Intra-Team Conflict Through Collaboration." The Blackwell Handbook of Principles of Organizational Behavior, 2003. ISBN 9780631215066.


What Is Motivation?

In the most general of terms, motivation is the psychological feature that arouses an individual to action toward a desired goal. Motivation can also be the reason for an individual's action or that which gives purpose and direction to behavior. In other words, motivation is an incentive that generates goal-directed behaviors.

Motivational Theory

Motivation comes in many forms and what motivates one individual is not necessarily the same for their team members. Therefore, it is important to understand how motivation differs among individuals and how these differences affect the overall drive and determination of a team toward a goal. To better understand the complexities of motivation researchers over the years have developed a number of theories to try to explain why people behave in the ways that they do and to try to predict what people actually will do, based on these theories. These theories, called motivational theories are often split into two categories –content theories and process theories.

Content theories are centered on finding what makes people tick or appeals to them. These theories suggest that people have certain needs and/or desires which have been internalized as they mature to adulthood. These theories look at what it is about certain people that make them want the things that they do and what things in their environment will make them do or not do certain things. Two popular content theories are Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs Theory and Hertzberg's Two Factor Theory.

Process theories focus on how and by what goals people are motivated. Process theories of motivation look at what people are thinking about when they decide whether or not to put effort into a particular activity. There are of a number of this type of approach to motivation theory one of which is Adam’s Equity Theory.

Industrial psychologists have used these ideas on motivational theory to develop management theories based on what we have learned motivates individuals. Nearly all motivational theory, regardless of the approach outlines significant differences in how individuals are motivated on their own and how they are motivated when being part of a team. Team motivation tends to be much more difficult. There are more possibilities to motivate a team, yet at the same time there are more motivational factors to fulfill for a team in order to gain motivation.

Team Motivation

Motivational factors differ since the goals of the individual and the team are often not on the same level. The individual will always fight to fulfill their higher level needs. These needs are often not consistent with the needs of the team and of the individual. The motivation of the individual is essential for successful motivation of the team. Team members must be able to fulfill their higher level needs to be motivated and team members must be committed to the team. Along with good leadership that enables team members to fulfill their goals all of these qualities will motivate a team. These motivation factors that drive a team can be divided into four categories– task, structure, goals, and members. By realizing other factors besides intrinsic rewards that will motivate individuals, the team will also be motivated. The sharing of knowledge, support, solidarity and communication are all highly effective in motivating a team. All in all, a team that exists within a collaborative, structured and communicative environment will be highly motivated.

Overall, there are consequences when teams lack motivation. By examining the consequences in the areas of task, structure, goals, and members, we are able to recognize how motivation is lost and proactively address any issues in the future.

Lack of Motivation in Teams

Teams that lack motivation will rarely reach their full potential or perform to the best of their ability. In most cases, it is not the entire team that lacks motivation, but individuals on the team that lack motivation.

Motivation and Team Dynamics

Almost all teams have members who are changing or transitioning in and out of the team; and requirements and tasks within the team are constantly modified and becoming more focused on the goal. In fact, teams that never change can become stagnant; this leads to decreased motivation within the team. Therefore, monitoring the motivating factors within the team is vital to team success and increased motivation for the future. The keys to successfully managing these motivating factors in an environment of constant team dynamics require understanding the team members, understanding the team goals, and providing consistent leadership throughout the project or life of the team.

Understand Team Members

When the team is first formed, the team leader needs to pay careful attention to the type of person that is selected in the team. Selecting two individuals, who may be similar in many aspects yet are motivated by two contradictory methods, may make it impossible to motivate one while not offending the other. Then trying to determine the individual that is less likely to be either unmotivated or un-offended by the motivation techniques employed may cause additional problems, such as perceived favoritism or dislike towards certain team members.

Even if the initial team members are perfectly chosen, taking all motivation requirements into account, new members will probably be added later to either provide additional support or to take the place of a departing team member. Understanding the current team members' motivation requirements and those of potential team members may be even more important at this time because the current team is already progressing and the motivation techniques required to motivate new team members may be detrimental to the current team members’ efforts and goals.

Understanding the team members' motivation needs both at inception of the team and also throughout the ever-changing environment of the team will result in proper motivation techniques and greater success for the team.

Understand Team Goals

Team goals can be short-term task-specific goals, long-term organizational goals or any combination thereof. In addition, these goals may be constantly updated or changed, especially short-term task-specific goals, as the business environment changes or as tasks and goals are accomplished.

Different types of goals may require different types of motivation. For example, a team might be motivated to work hard on a project for an extra couple of weeks if they are rewarded with a three or four-day weekend once it is completed; or maybe if the company has no work-related accidents for the year everyone receives an extra percentage bonus during the holiday season.

An understanding of the team goals, in all varieties, is neither more nor less important as understanding the team members who are trying to accomplish these goals. These two factors are interdependent in determining the motivation tactics that should be employed to maximize success within the team.

Provide Consistent Leadership

Because there is so much change with team members and associated team goals, providing consistent leadership is essential to motivating team members. If possible, keeping the same individual in charge will keep the team members focused on their goal rather than on determining what a new leader expects of them. Team members may be motivated to make their new boss happy rather than being motivated to achieve the team goals.

Additionally, with constantly changing leadership, many team members may assume the team they belong to is undesirable to leaders. Team members may think leaders are "jumping ship" because they know they will not succeed; and in turn, managing a poorly achieving team puts a black mark on own leadership abilities.

No matter how hard individual team leaders try to stay with a team, change is inevitable for team leaders as well. To mitigate the problems mentioned above, two strategies can be employed:

  1. Maintain consistent expectations from the former to the new team leader
  2. Utilize the current motivational techniques that work.

Both of these strategies require as much communication as possible between the former and the new leader. In addition, communication to the team members throughout the transition process provides motivation to the team because they will understand what is expected of them, and they will feel like they are part of the process. This communication between the leaders and to the team members is the responsibility of the team leaders, but team members should try to make sure they are available and receptive to this communication.

An appreciation for the subtleties that exist in human behavior and team dynamics will better enable the understanding of team motivation. Understanding team members, understanding team goals, and providing consistent leadership should help provide the motivation required to achieve success.

Motivating Team Members

Many top managers assume that the key to motivation is the proper use of the available motivational "tools." This is making an enormous assumption that some magical tool actually exists that will motivate an individual. This is one of the common myths regarding motivation. According to Authenticity Consulting LLC advisor Carter McNamara, tools are not what motivate individuals. Motivation is a process, not the end result of a task. Specifically regarding the question posed to our team, motivation is not catered to an individual because of their experience or position. It is catered to an individual because they ARE an individual. This goes for the long-tenured employee as well as the newest member of the team.

Motivational Myths

McNamara discusses three motivational myths that can help us better understand the process of motivation. The first myth is that one person can motivate another. This is simply not true. An employee has to motivate themselves. As a manager you have to establish an environment that will cultivate and bring forth the personal motivational factors of each individual. This can be accomplished through establishing team goals based on the goals of the individuals. If an individual is motivated towards a goal and the goal has no relation to the team goal, they will not continue to motivate themselves because their results will have no real team value. This is why it is important that managers fully and frequently discuss the organizational goals with their employees.

The second myth is that money and fear are good motivators. According to McNamara, money can only help people from being less motivated. It does not typically increase motivation in an individual. Fear, like money, is only useful in the short term. The same repeated criticism or threat from a manager can negatively impact the motivation of the employee.

"I know what motivates me, so I know what motivates my employees," is the third myth. Everyone is different. Motivational factors can vary to every extreme. However, what can be uniform for everyone is the goal they are trying to reach. Managers need to identify and understand what motivates each employee to reach the common organizational goal. This can be done by asking, observing and listening to your employees. They will give tremendous insight into their motivational factors through their daily, menial conversations. Often what motivates an individual is what they show the most enthusiasm for. This needs to be followed up with sincere one-on-one meetings to discuss accomplishments and to modify goals based on evolving motivational factors.

Steps to Employee Motivation

Finally, McNamara recommends some steps that managers can take to better support their employees in motivating themselves. First, managers need to write down what they think motivates each of their employees and ask the employee to do the same. They then compare results with the employee and discuss the differences and misconceptions. Next, the results are used to establish a reward system based on self-stated motivational factors. Finally, managers need to reward and acknowledge positive behaviors. Employees need to know when an organizational goal has been met as a result of their actions. They need to clearly understand their specific action or actions that led to the goal being met. Once this is done it is a time to celebrate. Celebration among the team of a job well done is the first step in accomplishing the next organizational goal.


Team Inclusion

Introduction of Best Members for Team Inclusion

How can teams include the "best" members and what does "best" mean in selecting members? What key attributes, skills, competencies, etc, should be looked for in selecting team members, which ones can be sacrificed?

When selecting team members, it is important to select the “best” team members. “Best” in this circumstance could be defined as the right team members with the necessary skills and abilities to function together as a team. However selecting the best team members can be very difficult. Thus it is important to have a process in place to assist in team selection. The proper selection will lead to better inclusion.

If you are not included in a team that you consider will get a benefit with your inclusion, here is presented some steps that can help you to approach the situation.

What Is the Process of Member Selection?

What process should be followed in order to select team members, or should a formal process exist?

The Process should exist, but be somewhat flexible. Flexibility is important to allow for small change within each organization. The three step process as defined below can be used as a foundation for a process.

Identify goal or team purpose

Defining a clear goal is important so the group understands what it is trying to achieve. Without a clear goal or purpose, the team may not be able to identify when the task has been completed or finished. With a clear goal, the team can unify and focus on the objectives rather than determine what the objectives should be.
It is important to establish a timeline for group selection as well as project finish date (the project finish date may be defined as ongoing or indefinite). While selecting the "best" members of a group, one must not loose track of the date by which the group must be formed.

Identify Group Needs

Identifying experience is important for group confidence. Experience in particular areas can help the group identify with individuals and allow individuals to shine in their appropriate areas.
Identify attributes that are important to your project as this can either help or hurt the group cohesion. Identifying whether potential members are aggressive, passive, compassionate, dedicated, or motivated can directly influence the speed and accuracy of the completion of team objectives. It is important to have a well rounded team so they can effectively challenge and complement one another.
Specialty interest
Identify passions or non-passions. Identifying individual passions or non-passions can help identify an individual's motivation. If a team member does not care about the outcome of the project, their motivation and contribution may be limited. On the other hand, someone with extreme passion may be overbearing and inhibit team success. Finding individuals with the appropriate interest levels must be balanced.
The necessary skill level is important so highly skilled individuals aren’t bored with the project at hand. However it is important to have appropriately skilled individuals to be able to accomplish the task at hand.
Are ideas going to be challenged? This question is important. If you have a group of individuals that behave in the same manner, will the ideas presented in the group environment be challenged sufficiently to be identified as the best possible solution or end product? Allowing individuals to be challenged, or defend particular point of views can allow healthy collaboration. However with personalities that are overbearing and domineering it can lead to a very “unsafe” group environment. This can lead to other problems like group polarization.

Identify Possible Team Members

The third step in the process is to identify individuals who may fit within the team. Identify the “best” team members according to the group needs and the defined goal, so the group has appropriate motivation and does not stagnate.

These three steps are starting points to form the “best” team. Following these three processes can allow a group to be interdependent on each other to complete group tasks. Not only can interdependence help the group work together, it fosters a sense of inclusion, because every group member feels that she is needed. As well, a simple process identifying the “best” individuals can help a group overcome stereotyping, social loafing, group process loss.

Team Relationships

To what extent should interpersonal relationships dictate who is included?

It is very important to understand interpersonal relationships to create the best team. The different relationships in a team can destine it for failure or success, so it is very important to consider each person who is part of a team. Also, depending on the task or goal of a team, there may be better types of relationships for that team. A team's sense of inclusion and interpersonal relationships can be improved with training and experience.

In order to answer the posed question, it is important to understand what is involved in interpersonal relationships. These relationships are as diverse as there are different types of personalities. Every person has a personality that has been shaped by years of experiences. Some are very aggressive and others very relaxed. There are outspoken people and quiet people, analytical and qualitative, and many others. All of these things are important in understanding how team members will handle different situations and problems that they will face in a team. A good team facilitator will quickly pick up on the different team member’s skills and personalities and then use this information to make the team effective.

The qualities of relationships that are the best for teams to be effective include being productive, having mutual understanding, and being willing to be self corrective. These things need to be evaluated in who is picked for a team.

A team needs to be productive, and therefore the relationships within a team need to be productive as well. When all team members are included and involved in the team process, the team becomes very productive. We have all probably been assigned to teams that were too large and where it did not feel like your individual effort mattered. When teams get too large, there is no longer a mutual need for the input of every member. Despite having information or skills that the team needs, individuals may no longer put as much effort into a project when there are too many members, what we call social loafing. Also in large groups, members tend to have a perception of “someone else will go it”, so there is no need to be assertive. There usually are a number of members that will no longer participate and feel like their time is being wasted. Having too large of a team is a common way to lose the inclusion of all members.
Mutual understanding
Maybe you have been part of a team where certain members took over and made it harder for others to be involved. Some members are reluctant to express conflicting ideas depending upon who is involved or in charge of the meeting. Overly aggressive members can really stifle a team’s creativeness and productivity. The mutual understanding and focus on a group task gets demoted by the over aggressiveness or ego of someone who dominates a team. When everyone in a team feels free to contribute, the mutual strength of the team increases. So it is important to pick team members with relationships that will create a collaborative environment.
Self corrective
When selecting members of a team it is good too look at each individual’s skills in communicating with others and their ability to work with others. Depending upon the type of problem to be solved by a group or team, there may be a need for homogeneity, or a need for great diversity. In teams where everyone has very similar backgrounds, values, and personalities, there is very low risk of conflicts. These teams also tend to be more likely to make mistakes and to not explore all of the possibilities in solving problems. They can have a hard time finding their mistakes and correcting them. Teams that have a large difference in personality and background tend to have much more conflict and less cooperation. Despite these challenges, these teams can be very effective in solving challenging issues, even relationship issues. One key to making diverse teams be productive is to create a collaborate environment and keep the team focused on the goal or task of the group. Diverse teams that understand the value of conflict resolution and the value of their diversity, can be self correcting and ease the burden of a team leader or facilitator. Good team skill training and time together with a team can really help diverse teams.

The interpersonal relationships in a team are keys to being successful. So to what extent should they dictate who is included? To a large extent! A good manager will try to understand the different personalities in his organization and be able to include those in teams that can be the most productive in resolving an issue or reaching the team goal.

Being Part of a Team

If you are not included in a team that you think could benefit from you being included, how do you approach the team leader and/or existing team members to be included, or should you at all?

If you are not included in a team that you consider you should be, the best thing to do is to present your concerns to your team leader, your supervisor or manager. From my own experience, you can proceed according with the following steps that have helped me through my last 10 years of work experience:

  1. Request a meeting
  2. Present your concern
  3. Present your point of view
  4. Discuss the answers to questions
  5. Conclude the meeting
  6. Follow up

As part of a team, we need to have an open and honest communication not only with our managers and supervisors, but also with our team leader and co-workers. Communication is the key to success. Communication is more than talking to others or writing e-mails or letters, it also includes the art of “listening”. Also I will explain in detail each of what I call “my golden key to success” in this type of situation:

  1. Request a meeting: Is a good idea to request a meeting, especially with superiors, because usually they are busy and you will want to capture all of his/her attention. When you request a meeting, you can be sure that the other person will pay attention to your concern. Usually this type of meeting doesn’t last very long. Remember that our bosses are busy. A half hour to an hour will be enough.
  2. Present your concern: Don’t be afraid, present your concern. Be open and honest. Ask why you were not considered. The majority of the times you will be surprised that a) there was not a reason behind their decision not to include you on the team, they just didn’t think about you or b) you can realize the reason behind the decision. At this point, you will have the opportunity to clarify the perception or you can ask how you can perform better or in a different way in order to be considered in future projects.
  3. Present your point of view and the reason(s) why you consider yourself to be a great asset to the team: If the reason is they didn’t think about you, sell yourself and present your ideas. Showing them that you have the experience and knowledge, as well as the skills and background that can benefit the team selected. If you are still not considered, at least they will have an idea of who you are and it will be a possibility in the future that they will select you. Remember: be clear, concise and simple.
  4. Discuss the answers to questions: Be prepared to defend your ideas, also to answer questions. Usually the other person just wants to better understand your point of view. Other times they just want to know if you really have the knowledge and the experience that you said you have. Don't be afraid to sell yourself and tell them about your experience and knowledge. An excellent way to do this is telling stories.
  5. Conclude the meeting: Always conclude the meeting on a positive note. Most of the times a diplomatic conversation is more valuable and can open other opportunities.
  6. If necessary, always follow up the conversation: If after the meeting you get a possibility to be included in the team, always follow up the conversation to show that you are interested.

As a lesson: Always confront the conflict, never avoid it. Be a peacemaker and not a peacekeeper. An article called “ Avoiding Conflict at any cost” recommends that we should confront the situations and not be afraid to express our feelings. If you truly believe that you should be included in a team, express your concerns.

Managing Inclusion

How do teams effectively deal with changes in team member inclusion?

Changes to the makeup of an existing team can be very disruptive especially if that team is an effectively functioning group. By changing the group membership of an effective team you can cause them to redirect their focus from the tasks and processes at hand, to having to focus on relationships, which can quickly turn that team into an ineffective unit. When changing the membership of a team, there are certain measures which both the existing team and the new members should consider in order to make for a smooth and successful transition.

Suggestions for Existing Team Members

Anytime someone joins a new group they are coming in as an outsider. Entering into an existing team situation may stifle that person's ability to be effective and to focus on the task at hand. It is the responsibility of the existing team members to socialize with the new member, help them feel that they belong, let them know that they have a valid voice and that they can and should contribute just as much as any other member of the team.
It will also be necessary for the existing team members to educate the new member on the history of the team. This includes helping them to learn about and understand the goals of the team, and to learn about the progress which has been made. This will include learning about the obstacles that have been overcome and the obstacles which now lay before them. This is also a good opportunity to let the new member know what everyone's role is on the team and what the new member's role should be.

Suggestions for New Team Members

Whenever a team is created there will be several key roles which must be filled. These roles can include; Controller, Adviser, Creator, Organizer, Producer and several others. When someone joins an existing team they should determine which roles are already filled, which are vacant, and how their skills can best fit into one of these vacancies.
A new member must be proactive in their education. They will need to be proactive in learning what has been addressed and what has yet to be addressed. They can’t be shy about asking questions. In addition, the new member must realize that they are an asset and important part of the team. They possess a different perspective which is unique from the rest of the team because of their skills and experience which may benefit the entire team. If they don’t speak up, they may be holding up the progress of the team.

How To Lead for Team Inclusion

From leader’s perspective, what are the ways to insure full participation/inclusion/contribution of team members? How does the leader or other team members insure the involvment of a passive and uninterested team member?

Every team consists of different individuals with different personalities, background and values. Some team members are more active than others, some contribute more than others, some are more motivated than others. To ensure a viable and effective team, a team leader must make sure that every team member participates, contributes and feels as part of the team.

Put yourself in his/her shoes
In order to influence the behavior of a team member, a team leader must first understand that team member. In order to do so, one should understand the background and values of each team member. Acknowledging the fact that each team member is different will show respect and consideration. In addition, understanding the values will help to identify what kind of things a certain person would cherish or neglect. Values come in handy when a leader needs to use motivation. Overall, the objective of the leader in this step is to get to know his/her team members, in other words, a leader needs to to think as a team member does.
Motivation is perhaps the most important factor to ensure effective inclusion of team member. The foundation of recognition and motivation is that people need and want acceptance, approval and appreciation. Almost all positive motivation is based on these needs. People want to know that what they do makes a difference. Just recognizing the staff is the most important step one can take. In addition to financial rewards, there are number of other ways that can be effectively utilized. One of them is to reward the team members for their contributions to the team. A gift certificate or a free dinner might go a long way. The recognition given for work that is well done and public praise will also strengthen the sense of importance and belonging to the team.
Build Confidence
Part of the reason that a team member will not fully contribute could be the lack of confidence in self and his/her abilities to perform the job. A leader's duty is to notice and take steps to improve the behavior of the team member. Even though building self-confidence is a personal matter and a leader may have little influence over it, a leader should be able to identify the strengths of team players and build on those. One way to do it is to delegate responsibilities with freedom to think and act. It is also important to remain fair and impartial as slight advantage given to one member over the other may hinder the progress and undermine the efforts of some team members. Accentuating the positives is another tool a leader should continually keep in his or her arsenal.
Ensure collaborative climate
Lastly, the team's ability to effectively collaborate, share data and insight in open and positive climate will affect the degree of participation of its members. Non-judgmental attitude void of team politics is an essential ingredient to building such climate in teams. In addition, a team leader should should be able to establish open and direct relationship with a passive or uninterested team member and encourage other team members to do the same.


What Is Diversity?

Team Diversity is the significant uniqueness of each individual on a team. This should not only include the usual diverse selections such as religion, sex, age, and race, but also additional unique personality characteristics such as introverts and extroverts, liberals and conservatives, etc. All of these differences can affect team interactions and performance. However, not all differences affect team performance. For the purposes of this chapter, differences are considered to affect diversity when they significantly affect team performance.

How Are Diverse Teams Different From Homogeneous Ones?

Aside from the actual differences that create diversity, diverse teams have different challenges, benefits, and pitfalls than homogeneous ones. The main benefit is that a diverse background fosters a creative environment. The main pitfall is that differences between team members can lead to destructive violence.

The differences that are most commonly thought of as separating diverse teams from homogeneous ones are easily observed stereotypes. The following list categorizes the physical and social differences (excluding actual workplace experience) that most frequently create a diverse environment:

Gender communication issues can strongly affect team interactions. Gender communication issues can range from communication styles and perceptions, opportunities and even sexual harassment.
Race is defined as a group of people, often of a common geographic origin, that share genetically transmitted physical characteristics. Racism is the belief that these inherited characteristics affect an individual’s behavior or abilities.
Culture refers to the standards of social interaction, value and beliefs from a given group of people. Cultural issues can affect team interactions through different understandings of communication or family and can appear to be an excuse for preferential treatment.
Age can be a concern along the entire spectrum; is someone too young or too old to do a job? It also creates the potential for communication problems based on different levels of experience, and for prejudicial treatment based on age.
Sexual orientation
With the increasing visibility of gender minorities such as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, there are increasing workplace issues. From simply not understanding gender differences, to being morally opposed to them, sexual orientation can create blocks to productive team interactions.
Differences in ability often create difficulties in communication and emotional interactions. Whether it is a deaf individual not being able to communicate with hearing individuals, or a hearing individual being unsure of how to approach a deaf individual, disabilities present a variety of issues in team organizations.

By definition, diversity means that there will be an increased likelihood for a wider range of views to be present. This includes views that are likely to challenge widely accepted views of the team and its culture. The existence of these diverse views is essential to the process of organizational change. In addition, as teams are becoming increasingly global, diversity can help an organization or team to understand its place in its surroundings.

The differences inherent in a diverse team environment also cause challenges. The benefits of having diverse backgrounds do not occur without having team members that are dedicated to success and a common goal. The preconceived notions about differences in other people, such as racism, sexism, ageism, homophobia, etc, disrupt work processes and can prevent teams from achieving their goals. Simple misunderstandings can arise from basic cultural differences, communication styles or work attitudes, and create challenge.

Diversity in teams has benefits and creates challenges. However, by being aware of these challenges and how to address them, teams and team managers can overcome them and reach success.

Team Relationships

In today’s job market, leaders must be especially aware of diversity, and how to manage it to the best effect. How can leaders do this? First they need to focus on treating every individual fairly and respectfully. In the article "Handling Conflict in a Diverse Work Environment"[1], published in Black Enterprise Magazine, Marcia Pledger suggests the following.

First, leaders need to establish relationships of trust with their employees. If an employee does not trust his leader, they will not be able to discuss issues of real significance. There will always be a wall between the leader and the employee that will result in strained relationships over the long run.

The United States Marine Corps faced this problem in the early 1990’s. In answer to this problem, the Marine Corps instituted a new training program titled “Team Marine” that helped the Marine leadership focus on what their subordinates brought to their teams. They developed a set of expectations as to what belonging to Corps meant:

  • We expect to actively contribute to the team and to be recognized for our contributions.
  • We expect to be judged fairly and to be recognized and rewarded for our performance.
  • We expect the opportunity to develop our abilities.
  • We expect to be treated professionally and respectfully by other members of our team.
  • We expect to be valued as unique individuals.

By following this set of principles the Marine Corps has managed to take what is one of the most diverse workforces in the world and unified them as contributing individuals with a common goal.

Leaders need to seek input from their employees on how they prefer to be managed. In the article "Dealing with the New Diversity"[2], author Michael Maccoby relates the story of an engineering company that was the result of a merger between a German, Swiss and Swedish firm. The management styles differed between each of the original companies based upon their nation of origin. This lead to many problems as engineers from one country were asked to serve under leaders from another. The company was not able to perform at its best until they discussed their differences and were able to determine a common management style for the entire company.

Leaders need to develop a common focus. Most people realize that everyone is different; however, by focusing on the job at hand, leaders can take the focus off the differences that are present. As teams achieve successful results they develop a bond which helps to solidify the team, and overcome differences.

Team Structure

In a diverse team, as with any team, communication needs to be open and safe. It is the team leader's responsibility to set up this safe environment. The team leader should instill confidence in the other members that what they are thinking can be discussed “as long as it is done respectfully.”[3]

Behaviors should be agreed upon before an "open and safe" discussion begins so all members are aware of what is expected of them, and how to remain respectful. This can be done through the use of a Team Contract, an agreed upon document that outlines the rules for communication and the consequences of not living up to the agreement.

Included in this contract there needs to be an agreed upon a way for members to respectfully stop someone who is not living up to their part of the agreement, and redirect the conversation towards the tasks needing to be accomplished. Anyone in the group should feel comfortable in enforcing the rules of the contract, and ensuring the discussion remains respectful.

While working in a diverse team there may be issues that are difficult to discuss, yet relevant to the task at hand. If the group avoids the important questions it is important that the team leader address the issues. He/she may preface their statements by acknowledging that this subject makes you feel a little uncomfortable, but that it needs to be addressed.[4] In doing so the topic will get the coverage needed, while bringing the issue to light in a respectful manner.

Culture and life experiences have a great influence on how individuals react to feedback. If an open environment is maintained these issues can be brought up and examined in order to best address the individual in a respectful manner.[5] The potential consequences of not respecting the cultural norms can lead to a less effective team atmosphere.[6]

In order to best address the issues of diversity it is important that a team sets up a process to allow safe and open communication that can be done in a respectful manner. A team contract is an excellent way to set up the rules for such discussions, especially when dealing with sensitive issues related to diversity. Every individual is responsible for their own adherence to the terms of the contract, as well as all group members present.

Managing Diversity

A team leader must think about diversity as diversity of ideas and experience, not just race and gender. A leader needs to recognize the diversity of each team member and achieve unity of common goals without destroying the uniqueness of any person. The team leader must do this within the scope of the organization’s resources relative to the growth of the team member.

Most problems in the work place are not that people cannot do their jobs. Rather it is that people cannot get along with others. The team leader should make efforts in effectively training soft skills. This includes such subjects as diversity, communication and people skills that allow people to understand each other and develop good team skills. Every team member must not only be able to understand and work with all the other team members, but they must also want to. Embracing diversity is the first step to managing a truly diverse team. In order to facilitate this, team leaders should consider the following:

  • Develop an atmosphere in which it is safe for all employees to ask for help. People should not be viewed as weak if they ask for help. Joining weakness with strengths to get a goal or objective accomplished is one aspect of building great teams. One person’s weakness should be another person’s strength.
  • Actively seek information from people from a variety of backgrounds and cultures in order to develop a broad picture.
  • Include everyone on the problem solving and decision making process.
  • Include people who are different than you in informal gatherings such as lunch, coffee breaks and spur of the moment meetings.
  • Create a team spirit in of which every member feels a part.

A team leader enables the other members to be innovative as well as self-directed within the capacity of individual assignments and allows them to learn from their own, as well as others’ successes, mistakes and failures. It is important to assure that each individual on the team has the opportunity to make the maximum contribution to the success of the team by doing the type of work for which s/he has the greatest opportunity for productivity and achievement.

Leaders have the task of using the other team members’ diverse gifts, abilities, and skills to achieve the common goal without the unintended consequence of conforming to the characteristics the others on the team. This requires active management by the leader to insure that diverse followers show respect and acceptance of the followers that are different in one way or another.

If team members do not accept others for what they are, they will be unable to use the abilities of each team member to fill in their own weak areas. Hence, the team effort develops knowledge and skill gaps that often lead to failure. Their only goal becomes the ones on their personal agendas while ignoring the needs of the team and the organization. Creating an environment that encourages diversity enables team members to accept every individual on the team and helps them realize that it takes a variety of people to become the best. This kind of environment also enforces the need to rely on everyone within the team, no matter how different another person may be. These characteristics and experiences make a worker unique. Diversity occurs when the whole team sees all these unique characteristics, and realizes that workers are more valuable because of their differences.


Stereotypes are beliefs that all members of specific groups share similar traits and are likely to behave in the same way. Stereotypes create categories and then fit individuals into them. In some respects, this is a useful adaptation to the current environment, but in other cases, conclusions can be made that are detrimental to the understanding of people and to the dynamics of a team. Individuals never conform to an exact stereotype, given that individual differences outweigh similarities with others in a group, and subsequently, people on a team may use limited personal experience or perceptions of others to guide their interactions. Stereotypes are based on a variety of qualifications including gender, race, language, finances, religion and sexual preference.

Oftentimes people believe that males in business are good leaders, computer-savvy, unorganized, problem-solvers, etc. Females are often perceived as organized, record-keepers and relationship-oriented. In addition, there are some professions that are more stereotypically male and some that are more stereotypically female. Secretaries are typically thought to be female, as are nurses, flight attendants and often other supportive roles. Managers, doctors and pilots are typically thought to be male jobs. If a female is in a position of authority, her actions are often more heavily critiqued as unreasonable or unkind than her male counterpart behaving in the same way. Managers can avoid this stereotype by providing leadership opportunities to employees of both genders.

Race is another area where stereotyping can easily influence a group dynamic. Some races are considered high achievers, while other races are labeled as unmotivated. People of Asian or Indian descent are often seen as hardworking, intelligent, and technical, while people of Polynesian, American Indian and Hispanic descent are often viewed as lazy, unmotivated, and sometimes of below average intelligence. African American workers are sometimes considered confrontational and aggressive in contrast to their Asian peers. Language barriers can also be a catalyst to stereotyping. In America, a person who does not yet have a full grasp on the English language is often seen as unintelligent or inferior, when in fact they can be highly trained or skilled workers. Managers should monitor progress of all team players and concentrate on individual strengths and weaknesses rather than those perceived of the race they belong to.

Stereotyping associated with class differences can create an unsuccessful team dynamic as well. People in a lower socioeconomic class are often seen as lazy, unintelligent, and unrefined, whereas folks in a higher socioeconomic class are seen as educated, bright, motivated and polite. People may also be grouped and stereotyped by religion. Jews are often seen as frugal and business-minded; Muslims are sometimes labeled as extreme. Catholics may be labeled as traditional, while Evangelicals are seen as progressive. On a team, these differences can lead to dividing lines. This may be avoided by assigning tasks to subgroups that cross barriers, allowing people to form working relationships.

Sexual preference can also lead to harmful group stereotyping. Depending on the industry, gay men or women have more credibility. Gay men are seen as artistic, fashion-conscious and tasteful, while gay women are taken more seriously than straight women in the mechanical or construction industries. This is probably a result of more traditionally feminine/masculine traits being exhibited.

These stereotypes are harmful in groups for several reasons. A person may be misunderstood early in an interaction. Contributions may be limited and specific strengths or talents may be overlooked because they do not seem prominent in the given stereotypical category. On the other hand, poor performance can be overlooked in an individual because they belong to a stereotypically desirable group. Finally, by allowing stereotypes to govern groups we create natural divisions within the group, where ultimately a common goal should be established. Managers can combat this by mixing teams, creating smaller mixed teams for subtasks, monitoring all team members’ progress and allowing individuals to volunteer for roles rather than being cast into their default role as defined by their stereotypical category.


  1. Pledger, Marcia, "Handling Conflict in a Diverse Work Environment", Black Enterprise Magazine, April 2006
  2. Maccoby, Michael, "Dealing with the New Diversity", Research Technology Management, June 2006
  3. LaFasto, When Teams Work Best Pg. 109
  4. LaFasto, When Teams Work Best Pg. 110

Team Personalities

Achieving High Performance Through Diverse Personalities

Introduction and Scope

Diversity in personality is like adding color to an otherwise black-and-white television screen. High-definition, surround-sound, plasma TV is much more enjoyable than grandpa’s fuzzy, black-and-white mono speaker TV. The scope of this chapter is to address the question of diversity in personality and demonstrate that it is not only possible but also recommended to achieve high performance through diversity in personality. We discuss the ways to identify personality, contributor personalities, and inhibitor personalities. We offer considerations and limitations to personality profiling. We also provide links to professional resources and consultant firms specializing in personality diversity. Finally in this chapter we provide references and credible sources for this material. Welcome to our wiki book chapter, enjoy.

Why Personality Diversity Is Important

There can be great energy harnessed from team members’ different personality traits if managed properly. Leaders must possess the skills to build their teams around the right personalities and to manage those personalities. We all see the world from our own unique perspective, our own paradigm. When we’re part of a team, we bring that paradigm to the team environment. Good and bad personality traits within a team can offset one another and build on each other and lead to synergies. Rather than ask each team member to conform to a group norm, leaders must recognize and utilize personality differences to ensure high performance.

Although some argue that personality classification is simply an attempt to "quantify the unquantifiable," studying and recognizing different personality types can help you work more effectively with your peers. Temet Nosce Learning more about your own personality traits can help you understand your own strengths and weaknesses, which can help in selecting team members that will complement you. Learning about others' personalities can help you develop the ability to view situations from their perspectives and improve your own psychological peripheral vision (Butler, 2000), which can be a crucial management skill to help make the team successful.

There are several characteristics of successful teams. One such characteristic is diversity in team members. Diversity in culture, background, age, and ethnicity are important for high performing teams, but so too is personality diversity. All teams are made up of a diverse range of personalities, but it is the high performing teams that leverage their personality differences and mitigate and manage inhibitor personalities, to achieve their common goal. Think about high performing sports teams and there is likely to be a cast of characters with unique personalities. Members of the Chicago Bulls in the 1990s were full of eccentric personalities. Dennis Rodman was the outspoken flamboyant player, Scottie Pippen was the often aloof team member and Michael Jordan was the fierce competitor. Each player was a critical piece to the Bulls' championship team puzzle. Each had his personality strengths and weaknesses. Their coach and leader, Phil Jackson, harnessed their strengths and managed their weaknesses toward a common goal. The Bulls won six championships and Phil Jackson became known more as a Zen master than an NBA coach. He later went on to win three more championships with the Lakers, successfully managing two diverse superstars in Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant. Jackson is widely recognized for his leadership ability and, specifically, his ability to motivate athletes with strong personalities to work as a team.

Achieving High Performance: The Real Reason

Anyone can become angry – that is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way – that is not easy.
—Aristotle, 350BC

Emotional intelligence is the ability to use emotions effectively and many believe EI is the primary that determines high performance. The first academic definition of emotional intelligence was published in 1990 by Peter Salovey and Jack Mayer, of Yale University and University of New Hampshire, respectively (Freedman and Everett).

Emotional intelligence is the ability to perceive emotions, to access and generate emotions so as to assist thought, to understand emotions and emotional knowledge, and to reflectively regulate emotions so as to promote emotional and intellectual growth.
—Mayer & Salovey

Meanwhile and since the publication - researchers and academics, practitioners and consultants, and companies are investigating new ways to use their understanding of emotional intelligence to elevate professional and personal success. Why? Daniel Goleman, author of the best-selling book Working with Emotional Intelligence, estimates that IQ accounts for only 4% to 25% on how well people perform at work and that the other 75% to 96% left unexplained can be, largely, attributed to emotional intelligence.

Goleman states that emotional competence is the more accurate predictor of the most successful people – not IQ. For example, PepsiCo, conducted a pilot project where executives selected for high emotional intelligence competencies outperformed their colleagues, delivering a 10% in productivity, 87% decrease in executive turnover ($4m), $3.75 million added economic value, and over 1000% return on investment (Freedman & Everett). Not surprisingly, Johnson and Johnson came to the same striking conclusion: “Emotional competence differentiates successful leaders.” So what competencies or factors go into the making of the successful leader or individual? Goleman, created the following framework to define emotional competence:

The Emotional Competence Framework
Personal Competence Social Competence
Self-Awareness Empathy
Self-Regulation Social Skills

People with high performance have a strong combination of personal and social competences – in essence, high emotional intelligence. So, teams that are high performing will have leaders and members who are a blend of Goleman’s emotional competencies.

How to Identify Different Personalities

There are many ways to identify different personalities: look, listen, smell, touch, taste, and perceive. Obviously, some of these methods might not be the most appropriate or useful, especially in the workplace.

Many different personalities tests are available to test and identify different personalities. Among these personality tests are the Big 5, Myers-Briggs, and the Color Code system. We choose to focus on the Big 5 since it is highly regarded in business and academic communities.

The Big 5 focuses on five personality factors which help individuals understand themselves and their teammates. The following is a very brief summary:

Need for Stability Factor
Refers to the degree to which a person responds to stress.
Extraversion Factor
Refers to the degree to which a person can tolerate sensory stimulation from people and situations.
Originality Factor
Refers to the degree to which we are open to new experiences/new ways of doing things.
Accommodation Factor
Refers to the degree to which we defer to others.
Consolidation Factor
Refers to the degree to which we push toward goals at work.

Take the Big Five Test

Here are a couple websites that offer the Big 5 personality test free of charge.

Contributor Personalities

While there are many personalities that inhibit a team's performance, there are others that help the team accomplish goals, tasks, and objectives. Some personalities contribute to a team culture that facilitates high performance and accomplishment. Other personalities simply keep things in check and under control. Having this type of diversity in a team's makeup of personalities can play a vital role in the team's success.

Types of Constructive Personalities

There are many personality types that are very constructive and which help in becoming a high-performing team. A few of them are listed here:

Silent Contributor
A person with this personality type is someone who gets the job done without saying much. They silently complete the tasks that are assigned to them, and very rarely create conflict. One must take care to balance this type of team member with someone who is not afraid to speak up, however, so that necessary communications happen for the team to progress.
Devil's Advocate
This type of person is someone who likes to challenge ideas and processes. They act as an internal "check" on what you are doing and the processes you use. Although this person can generate conflict, oftentimes it is healthy conflict that brings ideas to light or helps to challenge biases.
People who like to keep structure to meetings, organize documentation, and make sure things run smoothly are often referred to as "facilitators." These people facilitate the operation of a team by making sure everything goes according to plan, on schedule, and in order. People with this type of personality help to reduce the probability that chaos will ensue from random team members trying to accomplish their distinct agendas simultaneously. This is a "control" member of the team.
Some people are really good a leading a team to success. This type of person is not afraid to take charge, delegate assignments, enforce accountability, encourage others, and facilitate success. Some are natural born leaders, others simply learn by doing.
A dutiful worker. Some people are really good at following directions and assignments, and they work very hard to get their work done on time. This type of person more suited to this type of role because they know how to work hard and are okay with following instructions. Having the bulk of the work taken care of by the "followers" allows the other roles within the team to take care of their functions.

Some Can, Some Can't, Some Won't

The truth is that some people are good at team collaboration, some aren't, and others are unwilling.

Some people just seem to have the "gift" of working with and leading a team and ensuring its success. These are hard-working people with a mind for collaboration and putting the success of the team above their own ego. This type of person will help others achieve their goals by working with them to resolve frustrations, remove impediments, and create an atmosphere of mutual satisfaction. This type of team player encourages the rest of the team to work collaboratively towards the team goals.

Others may not have collaborative personality traits within them. Although their intentions might be good, they may not see eye-to-eye with team members on processes, methods or goals. Oftentimes this type of person will be confrontational and impatient. Even though they would like the team to succeed, sometimes their own work ethic or personality gets in the way. This type of person can learn to work better within a team if they recognize their impact on others and are willing to make changes to their style.

Some people simply won't work with a team. This type of person thinks they can get the job done faster, easier or better than the team could, and therefore simply will not cooperate. This type of person must get past their own ego if they are to work successfully in a team, and this type of change must start from within.

Inhibitor Personalities

No matter where a person works, difficult personalities present problems and challenges in the workplace. These inhibitor personalities cause a great deal of stress and are sometimes complex to address. The temptation is to avoid people with personalities that inhibit logical workflow as it takes time, skill and effort to deal with them. Personality conflicts are felt by all managers at all levels, but most avoid dealing directly with them. A study of 250 senior professionals conducted in the United Kingdom in 2005 noted that half of those surveyed encountered difficult people on a daily basis (Berry 2005). Despite this finding, the study noted that only 15% of managers actually confronted the inhibiting behavior. 55% tried to help by discussing the problems and 30% just ignored or put up with the difficult personality. These findings are largely due to the lack of knowledge about how to deal with inhibitor personalities and the inability to confront the stresses involved.

Types of Difficult Personalities

To better understand the types of personalities that can be disruptive in the work environment, it is necessary to explain the types of personalities that inhibit teams in the workplace so that an approach can be applied to deal with each type. There are four basic categories of personalities that can be found in the workplace: aggressive, deceptive, passive and destructive.

People showing these personalities demonstrate hostile and forceful behavior toward others. People exhibiting aggressive behavior charge forward in an attacking and forceful way to display the frustration or anger they feel but cannot resolve. These people need to be heard and have a need to vent while at the same time needing people to listen to them. Aggressive personalities include perfectionists, dictators, hostile-aggressives, attackers, egotists, bullies and criticizers who always say no to any request.
People who engage in deceptive behavior aren’t comfortable with direct confrontation and prefer to attack from a distance from behind some kind of protection. People with this type of personality are still vocal and tend to either complain quite a bit without direct attacks or compensate for their frustration and dissatisfaction by being everything from sneaky to over-agreeable. These types of personalities include snipers who attack from a distance and always seem to have hidden agendas; overtly nice people who agree with everything until they are overwhelmed; “brownnosers” who have an unnatural attachment to those in charge as a way to get ahead; those who seem unresponsive to anything; and those who spread rumors to increase their own self esteem.
People who are meek in the workplace present problems as well. Passive personalities are negative, but portray themselves as victims, always ready to dismiss any solution presented to them. Passive personality types include martyrs, passive-aggressives, moody people, crybabies, self-castigators, worriers, resisters, silent types and those who say “it’s not my job”.
People who exhibit destructive behaviors can be explosive and unpredictable. Failure to understand this personality type can lead to extreme problems in the workplace that can create an unsafe work environment. This type of inhibitor personality includes people who are sociopathic and those who are substance abusers.

Aggressive Personalities

The aggressive personality type is forceful in what they want and demand that their issues be dealt with right away. These aggressive inhibitors include:

Every detail must be perfect or the perfectionist becomes negative. They are never satisfied with their own work and are own worst critic. They have unrealistic standards and even work that is praised by other workers as the highest quality work is not acceptable to the perfectionist. They cannot accept any kind of criticism and will focus on anything not perfect, even if that part is a tiny part of the overall work done. A perfectionist manager tends to be a micromanager.
A person with this personality will make a great deal of demands on everyone and will try to tell them how to do their jobs. They will walk all over the more passive personality types because they will let the dictator roll over them. Dictators are often angry and hostile and have a strong need to control. For the dictator, it is “my way or the highway”.
People exhibiting this personality are pushy and demanding, constantly argumentative and can be hostile and abusive. They have a need to stir things up and thrive on the chaos they cause. (Aldrich 2002). These employees don’t care whether the reaction they get is positive or negative as they gain positive self-recognition regardless of the outcome.
These people demonstrate emotion-based hostility and aggressive that they are unable to control. These attacks are not personal to the person being attacked, the attacker is just looking for someone to vent the frustration and anger for which he or she can’t find an outlet. Attackers are genuinely upset and need someone to listen to their pain.
These are attackers who have a superior attitude and think they know it all. They charge forward with their disapproval of anything that they as experts feel is not going the way it should. Egotists are arrogant and will disagree with most everything that is said because they like to be right. They always find problems, not opportunities. They often criticize others to make themselves feel better.
The bully uses threats and intimidation to undermine others. Bullies attempt to undo another person as part of their plan to retain popularity and power. Bullies have an inflated view of themselves and is threatened by someone who is likeable, well qualified or attractive. (Guy 2001). They will humiliate, destroy, discredit or intimidate another person to make themselves look better.
A criticizer will strike down anything this is new, creative or different. His or her mission is to disagree with anything that is said (Topchik 2006). She will jump on any mistake and disagree with it with negative feedback. A manager who is a criticizer exhibits it by always saying no to all requests.

Deceptive Personalities

The person with a deceptive personality type will not directly confront as in the case of the aggressive type. This personality will instead work behind the scenes or from a distance to disrupt the workplace or gain favor. These deceptive inhibitors include:

They use pointed jabs, humor and verbal sparing to put others down, usually from a distance and behind the scenes. These people take potshots at others, use sarcasm as a weapon, lurk on conference calls to silently gather information, talk behind other people’s backs and go to great lengths to make their behind the scenes efforts untraceable back to them. These people will not discuss their opinions in a public forum.
These are “yes” people who have a powerful desire to be liked and appreciated. They never say no to anything and are far too uncomfortable to voice an opposing opinion. They are often overwhelmed with too many projects since they never say no to anything and are always positive in approach. These people can be problematic in the workplace when they agree with one person’s approach and then also agree with an opposing position from someone else.
Also known as bootlickers, people with this personality type believe that the shortest way to the top is on the coattails of the boss. They will exhibit a complete devotion and dedication to those in charge and will not ever tell the truth about their tactics or any of the boss’ activities. They live in a constant self-reinforcing denial state that is perpetuated by the sense of importance bosses get from them.
These people are very hard to understand and to draw out because they don’t provide enough to work with. They tend to be uncommitted to anything with work as the lowest priority in their lives. They waste time, spent a lot of time on personal matters and try to get by doing as little as possible.
This is one of the more difficult deceptive personalities in that much of their negativity is spread through ideas and statements that are not true, but are hard to trace back to the source. This person feels a great sense of importance when the rumors this person circulates force strong reactions from others. Rumormongers tend to be very specific about what rumors they spread (examples include spreading rumors around senior managers, job cuts, salaries, competition and dating in the workplace), which maximizes the impact and increases their sense of self worth.

Passive Personalities

These are people with meek personalities and are often self-deprecating to a fault. They tend to be moody and sensitive people who worry greatly, resist change, complain and need constant encouragement. This personality type includes the following:

This person is the one who comes in early, stays late, seems to not have a life outside of work and will do anything asked of them. While doing this, they will also complain about workload, other employees, clients, managers and everything else in between. The martyr always feels like her efforts go unappreciated. They usually act defeated and powerless. The martyr’s trademark statement is “I have given up everything for this company and nobody cares” (Topchik 2006).
People with this personality style lack assertiveness and feel out of control. To remedy this, they find satisfaction in controlling another person’s life (Guy 2001). They are very jealous and resentful and have so little belief in themselves that they can’t compete with another person without bringing them down. Anyone that this person feels threatened by is subject to their anger, sabotage, deliberate procrastination and other tricks. They often have good excuses for this type of behavior that clouds manager attempts to correct the issue.
People who behave like children when they don’t get their way. They withdraw, cry or go on a tirade. They then act as if they are powerless in the same way martyrs do and usually believe everything that happens to them is bad (Manning 2004).
This personality shows itself in the form of constant self putdowns. This person finds fault with everything he does, from work performance to salary to appearance to economic status to everything that defines a person’s self concept. Even if the person is performing well on the job, he will not see it that way himself. This person always takes the blame when something goes wrong, further enhancing negative feelings about personal self worth.
These people walk on eggshells and are very sensitive to any negative comment. They usually complain about being too stressed and are expecting the ceiling to fall down on them at any moment. She is unhappy with the way things are and is constantly pessimistic both at work and outside of it.
Any kind of change upsets the resistor no matter how small. This person is only comfortable with the status quo and will resist any attempts to introduce new ideas and reorganizations. If the change is threatening enough, the resisters will try to sabotage it or spread negative rumors about the change.
Silent types
These people keep to themselves and don’t express any feelings or thoughts on any subject. They work completely alone and even when placed on a team, will contribute nothing to the team in the form of active participation.
“It’s not my job”-ers
These are very negative people who will reject any task that is outside of their perceived job responsibilities no matter how small the task may be. They usually do this as retribution for a slight that someone in the organization has put upon them.

Destructive Personalities

These include people who have significant problems outside of work that impact themselves and others at work. They include:

These are people who lead double lives. Their work lives and personal lives couldn’t be more different. These are the people who portray themselves as supportive and charming, but in reality are cold and ruthless. They act on their impulses without regard for the consequences on others. Managers who do not detect that words do not match actions invite severely destructive consequences (Guy 2001)
Substance Abusers
People with alcohol or drug abuse problems who try to mask their abuse at work. They will sometimes work at a very high level and then drop off dramatically. Absenteeism followed by plausible excuses are part of a repeating pattern that is destructive to the person and to co-workers.

Addressing Inhibitor Personalities

In dealing with all inhibitor personalities, the core emotional competency to be developed, first, is self-awareness: recognizing one’s emotions and their effects. This should be common sense; after all, you must be self-aware of the problem before the problem can be addressed. For instance, if people are lacking – social competence - in listening openly and sending convincing messages then they would be inept at leading and facilitating others towards a common goal. If they lack self-confidence - personal competence - then it would be difficult to establish respect with others. When dealing with the various personality inhibitors, the first step in addressing the issue it to identify the root cause of the problem itself.

Adapted from Goleman’s framework, we created the “Emotional Competency Framework” table for leaders on how to address personalities that prohibit teams from reaching their full potential – the inhibitor personalities.

In our table below, we made recommendations on how to address the four inhibitor personality types: aggressive, deceptive, passive, and destructive. For example, to address the aggressive personality type we would encourage the aggressor to develop empathy and social skills; developing an understanding of others and sensing other’s feelings and perspectives would help them empathize and become less aggressive; developing collaboration and cooperation skills would help them work amiably with others towards a shared, clear and elevating without using aggressive, emotionally charged, tactics.

Emotional Competency Framework

Inhibitor Emotional competencies to be developed
Perfectionists Develop emotional awareness, recognize that their emotions and their negative effects of being too aggressive
Dictators Self-Regulation
Hostile-aggressives Develop self-control by keeping disruptive emotions and impulses in check
Attackers Develop innovation and encourage the individual to being comfortable with novel ideas, approaches and new information
Egotists Empathy
Bullies Develop understanding others, sensing other’s feelings and perspectives, and taking an active interest in their concerns
Criticizers Social Skills
Develop collaboration and cooperation, working with others toward shared, clear and elevating goals
Develop influence, wielding effective tactics for persuasion
Develop conflict management, negotiating and resolving disagreements
Snipers Develop emotional awareness, recognize that their emotions and their negative effects of being deceptive
Over-Agreeables Self-Regulation
Brownnosers Develop trustworthiness, maintaining standards of honesty and integrity
Unresponsives Social Skills
Rumormongers Develop building bonds, nurturing instrumental relationships
Develop collaboration and cooperation, working with others toward shared, clear and elevating goals
Martyrs Develop emotional awareness, recognize that their emotions and their negative effects of being passive
Passive-aggressives Develop self-confidence, a strong sense of one’s self-worth and capabilities
Crybabies Self Regulation
Self-castigators Develop conscientiousness, taking responsibility for personal performance
Worriers Motivation
Resisters Develop achievement drive, striving to improve or meet a standard of excellence
Silent Types Develop optimism, persistence in pursuing goals despite obstacles and setbacks
“It’s Not My Job”-ers Social Skills
Develop influence, wielding effective tactics for persuasion
Develop team capabilities, creating group synergy in pursuing collective goals
Sociopaths Develop emotional awareness, recognize that their emotions and their negative effects of being destructive
Substance abusers Develop self-confidence, a strong sense of one’s self-worth and capabilities
Self Regulation
Develop self-control, keeping disruptive impulses in check
Develop conscientiousness, taking responsibility for personal actions
Develop optimism, persistence in pursuing goals despite obstacles and setbacks

Goleman’s “The Emotional Competence Framework” was adapted to this framework

Personality Profiling Considerations

Personality profiling can be a very useful tool in understanding your teammate’s communication styles, motivations and reward preferences. It can help you understand better how to relate to people and work with them. However, psychologists stress that personality type doesn't explain everything about us and that people with the same personality type often behave differently. [29]

Experts also agree that people cannot simply trade one personality type for another — that personality types are like left- or right-handedness — most people are born preferring one hand. Similarly, every person is born with a personality type, which means that people react differently to different stimuli. For example, an introverted person may find relaxation through focusing on memories, thoughts or feelings, while an extroverted personality concentrates on the outer world. No personality type is inherently better than another, although certain personality types work better together and some are more suited to certain roles on the team.

Profiling and Stereotyping

Although personality profiling is popular, it can prove to be a stumbling block if not used carefully because personality profiling makes use of stereotypes, which is often used improperly and limits one’s ability to see things clearly.

Walter Lippmann[[30]], an influential American writer, journalist and political commentator, once said “For the most part we do not first see, and then define; we define first, and then we see.”

Lippman’s candid statement reminds us about how easy it is to assign someone to a certain personality type (defining them) without having all the facts. Stereotypes and personality profiling can make us mentally lazy. As Samuel Ichiye Hayakawa[[31]], an academic and former United States Senator from California, explained that the danger of stereotypes “lies not in their existence, but in the fact that they become for all people some of the time, and for some people all the time, substitutes for observation.”

Drawbacks and Cautions

Personality profiling can be a very useful tool in helping people better understand themselves and the members of their teams. However, it can be detrimental if not used with caution. Following are three areas that could sustain damage: 1.) Oneself; 2.) Other team members; 3.) The organization as a whole.


When people determine that they are a certain personality type (i.e. “I’m a Blue”) it gives them a useful set of tools to better understand themselves. However, it may be limiting as well. They might begin to think that they are not capable or suited to certain tasks because their personality profile says they are not. They may use the personality profile as a crutch which keeps them from growing in new areas or interacting in meaningful ways with others.


In addition, when people immediately use personality profiling to judge the members of their team, they often make false assumptions that they understand their team members, when if fact they do not. While it is true that profiling helps individuals make quick judgments that can be useful in certain circumstances (i.e. the short-lived team with a short-term goal), people often do not go beyond those initial judgments to understand the motivations, work styles and personality temperaments of the co-workers.


Personality profiling is often used in the workplace as a method for screening and making decisions on whom to hire. Some HR professionals embrace the technique, while others do not. Although personality testing may be useful, companies need to be aware of the risks involved in using them to predict future employee behavior on the job. They may be exposing themselves to lawsuits or other legal problems if used improperly.

Deep- and surface-level diversity

By focusing on personality diversity, as opposed to demographic diversity, businesses may begin to study what David A. Harrison terms "deep-level diversity" (Harrison et al, 1998). Deep-level diversity consists of the attitudes, beliefs, values and commitment to the organization that different individuals in a group might have. This is in contrast to the traditional method of expressing diversity through heterogeneity in categories such as race, gender, or age, or what can called "surface-level diversity." For example, the current thinking in deep-level diversity would account for the phenomenon that a male, Indian, engineer from the Punjab might be arguing alongside a younger female marketer from the midwest US to support a similar project approach. While the two are certainly demographically different, they may hold very similar values about work, economy, and share similar commitments to the organization. By exploring current information on deep-level diversity, not just surface-level diversity, organizations may leverage important performance benefits and avoid costly pitfalls.

It remains unclear if deep-level diversity characteristics can be discerned from personality profiling assessments. It is unlikely to match up exactly with the current discussion of personality types. What studies do show, however, is that the effects of surface-level differences diminish over time as the group works together and the importance of the effects from deep-level diversity in the group increases markedly. According to the study, "Beyond Relational Demography: Time and the Effects of Surface- and Deep-level Diversity on Work Group Cohesion," the more work group members "continue to interact with one another, dissimilarity in the typically studied surface level dimensions such as sex and age become less important than deep level attitudinal dissimilarity in, for instance, job satisfaction" (Harrison et al, 1998) The authors state that the reason for this is that time is required for high-quality informational interactions among group members, in which they learn about each other's deep-level characteristics, and subsequently develop more meaningful, richly-functional, relationships. Further, Harrison also conducted a study that found "increasing levels of collaboration . . . can reduce the impact race, gender, or age differences on team performance" and that "as team members continue to work together over time, personality and value differences surface more clearly" (2002).


Harrison's research suggests that groups seek deep-level diversity in knowledge, skills, and abilities but minimize diversity in job-related beliefs, attitudes, and values. This can lead to what he calls "especially effective teams" (2002). However, he cautions that in order to be successful, it is important that such groups are rewarded for collaboration and "that member's individual outcomes depend more on team performance than their own" (2002).

According to FastCompany, this type of deep-level diversity also corresponds to a higher ROI, service diversification, and sales growth, as well as more internal communication and an increase in assets (Davies 2004).

However, two elements of previous surface-level diversity problems seem to carry over even into contexts of deep-level diversity: first, increased diversity on both levels is still associated with an increase in turnover and integration and coordination problems; second, it still appears that in the supervisor/subordinate relationship, subordinates with the same gender as their superiors receive higher performance evaluations (Davies 2004).


Insights into how personality diversity affects the work group have increased as the study of personality types, profiles, emotional IQ, and deep-level attitudes has grown. Instead of thinking of diversity as simply demographic differences, group managers will need to research, experiment, and analyze the ways in which all of these aspects not only affect the group, but how they can be integrated into a cohesive approach that corresponds to group cohesiveness and successful performance.

Professional Resources

The following list includes links to a few consulting firms specializing in personalities:


Brinkman, Rick, Kirschner, Rick. Dealing with People You Can't Stand: How to Bring Out the Best in People at Their Worst, McGraw-Hill, 2002, 1994.

Butler, Timothy, Waldroop, James. The 12 Bad Habits That Hold Good People Back, Currency/Doubleday, 2000.

Davies, David-Michel, In the Heterogeneous Zone, Fastcompany blog, December 2004.

Dillard-Bullock, Avis R. Identifying and influencing difficult people, The Beam – Bolling AFB –, 2006.

Freedman, Joshua and Todd Everett. “EQ at the Heart of Performance.”

Guy, Sandy. Learn From This ... Living & Working with Difficult Personalities, Australian Good Taste Magazine, February 2001.

Goleman, Daniel. Working with Emotional Intelligence, Bantam Books, 1998.

Harrison, et al. Beyond Relational Demography: Time and the Effects of Surface- and Deep-level Diversity on Work Group Cohesion. Academy of Management Journal, 1998.

Harrison, David A. Time, Teams, and Task Performance: Changing Effects of Surface- and Deep-Level Diversity on Group Functioning.

LaFasto, Frank, Larson, Carl. When Teams Work Best: 6,000 team members tell what it takes to succeed, Sage Publications, 2001

Langdon, Jerry. A Variety of Personalities in the Workplace, USA Today, Gannett News Service, 2006.

Manning, Marilyn. Managing Difficult Situations,, 2004.

Manning, Marilyn. Closing the Communication Gap: Managing Conflicts in High Tech Environments,, 2004.

Steele-Pucci, Cynthia. How to deal with difficult personalities,, 2006.

Scott, Gini Graham. A Survival Guide for Working With Humans: Dealing With Whiners, Back-Stabbers, Know-It-Alls, and Other Difficult People, Amacom Books

Topchik, Gary S. 11 Workplace Personalities and How to Handle Them, Managing Workplace Negativity,,,92rh,00.html, 2006.

Social Loafing

Definition of Social Loafing

Social loafing describes the phenomenon that occurs when individuals exert less effort when working as a group than when working independently. Research indicates that there is some degree of social loafing within every group, whether high-functioning or dysfunctional.

In 1913, a French agricultural engineer, Max Ringlemann, identified this social phenomenon. He recognized a collective group performance required less effort by individuals compared to the sum of their individual efforts (Kravitz & Martin, 1986). The effect he noted has been termed the Ringlemann Effect. In this experiment, participants pulled on a rope attached to a strain gauge. Ringlemann noted that two individuals pulling the rope only exerted 93% of their individual efforts. A group of three individuals exerted 85% and groups of eight exerted 49% of their combined individual effort. As more individuals pulled on the rope, each individual exerted themselves less. From these observations, Ringlemann determined that individuals perform below their potential when working in a group (LaFasto & Larson, 2001, p. 77).

Since Ringlemann’s observation, social loafing has been identified in numerous studies. Social loafing has several causes and effects that will be discussed in this document, as well as methods for dealing with social loafing to promote more effective group work.

'Ringleman's brainchild of social loafing has now been used within a diverse variety of studies, ranging from its impact on sports teams to the affects on groups within huge conglomerates.’ (Dr Karen Virendra Patel, 2002; pg 124)

Causes of Social Loafing

Many theories explain why social loafing occurs., below are several explanations of social loafing causes:

Equitable contribution: Team members believe that others are not putting forth as much effort as themselves. Since they feel that the others in the group are slacking, they lessen their efforts too. This causes a downward cycle that ends at the point where only the minimum amount of work is performed.

Submaximal goal setting: Team members may perceive that with a well-defined goal and with several people working towards it, they can work less for it. The task then becomes optimizing rather than maximizing.

Lessened contingency between input and outcome: Team members may feel they can hide in the crowd and avoid the consequences of not contributing. Or, a team member may feel lost in the crowd and unable to gain recognition for their contributions (Latane, 1998). This description is characteristic of people driven by their uniqueness and individuality. In a group, they lose this individuality and the recognition that comes with their contributions. Therefore, these group members lose motivation to offer their full ability since it will not be acknowledged (Charbonnier et al., 1998). Additionally, large group sizes can cause individuals to feel lost in the crowd. With so many individuals contributing, some may feel that their efforts are not needed or will not be recognized (Kerr, 1989).

Lack of evaluation: Loafing begins or is strengthened in the absence of an individual evaluation structure imposed by the environment (Price & Harrison, 2006). This occurs because working in the group environment results in less self-awareness (Mullen, 1983). For example, a member of a sales team will loaf when sales of the group are measured rather than individual sales efforts.

Unequal distribution of compensation: In the workplace, compensation comes in monetary forms and promotions and in academics it is in the form of grades or positive feedback. If an individual believes compensation has not been allotted equally amongst group members, he will withdraw his individual efforts (Piezon & Donaldson, 2005).

Non-cohesive group: A group functions effectively when members have bonded and created high-quality relationships. If the group is not cohesive, members are more prone to social loafing since they are not concerned about letting down their teammates (Piezon & Donaldson, 2005).

Effects of Social Loafing

Social loafing engenders negative consequences that affect both the group as a whole as well as the individual.

Effects on Groups

As explained in the Ringlemann Effect, output decreases with increased group membership, due to social loafing. This effect is demonstrated in another study by Latane, et al. In this experiment subjects were asked to yell or clap as loudly as possible. As in Ringlemann’s study, the overall loudness increased while individual output decreased. People averaged 3.7 dynes/sq cm individually, 2.6 in pairs, 1.8 in a group of four, and 1.5 in a group of six. In this study there was no block effect (indicating tiredness or lack of practice). Due to social loafing, average output for each individual decreases due to the perception that others in the group are not putting forth as much effort as the individual.

In considering this first experiment, some individuals suggested that results might be invalid due to acoustics (i.e. voices canceling each other out or voices not synchronized). To disprove this theory, another experiment was performed. For this study, participants were placed in individual rooms and wore headphones. In repeated trials, these participants were told they were either shouting alone or as part of a group. The results demonstrated the same trend as in the first experiment--individual performance decreased as a group size increased (Latane, 1979).

In reality, there are not many groups with the objective of yelling loud, however the example above illustrates a principle that is common in business, family, education, and in social gatherings that harms the overall integrity and performance of a team by reducing the level of output, one individual at a time. The negative social cues involved with social loafing produce decreased group performance (Schnake, 1991, p. 51). Reasonable consequences of social loafing also include dissatisfaction with group members who fail to contribute equally and the creation of in groups and out groups. Additionally, groups will lack the talents that could be offered by those who choose to not contribute. All of these factors result in less productivity.

Effects on Individuals

The preceding section identifies the effect of social loafing on a group which is arguably the most prominent consequence of the group behavior. However, social loafing also has an impact on the individuals that comprise the group. There are various side effects that individuals may experience.

One potential side effect is the lack of satisfaction that a member of the group might experience, thereby becoming disappointed or depressed at the end of project. When a member of a group becomes a social loafer, the member reduces any opportunity he might have had to grow in his ability and knowledge. Today, many college level classes focus on group projects. The ability for an individual to participate in social loafing increases at the group increases in number. However, if these groups remain small the individual will not have the opportunity to become invisible to the group and their lack of input will be readily evident. The lack of identifiably in a group is a psychological production that has been documented in several studies. (Carron, Burke & Prapavessis, 2004)

Social loafing can also negatively impact individuals in the group who perform the bulk of the work. For example, in schoolwork teams are often comprised of children of varying capacities. Without individual accountability, often only one or a few group members will do most of the work to make up for what the other students lack. Cheri Yecke, Minnesota’s commissioner of education, explains that in these instances group work can be detrimental to the student(s) who feel resentment and frustration from carrying the weight of the work. Yecke recounted an experience of one child who felt she had to “slow down the pace of her learning and that she could not challenge the group, or she would be punished” with a lower grade than desired. Especially in situations where members of the group of differing abilities, social loafing negatively affects group members who carry the weight of the group.

Variation in Social Loafing


Social loafing is more likely to occur in societies where the focus is on the individual rather than the group. This phenomenon was observed in a study comparing American managers (individualistic values) to Chinese managers (collectivistic values). Researchers found that social loafing occurred with the American managers while there was no such occurrence with the Chinese managers. The researchers explained this through a comparison between collectivistic and individualistic orientations.

A collectivistic orientation places group goals and collective action ahead of self-interests. This reinforces the participants' desires to pursue group goals in order to benefit the group. People from this orientation view their individual actions as an important contribution to the group's well-being. They also gain satisfaction and feelings of accomplishment from group outcomes. Further, collectivists anticipate that other group members will contribute to the groups' performance and so they choose to do the same in return. They view their contributions to group accomplishments as important and role-defined (Earley, 1989).

In contrast, an individualist's motive is focused on self-interest. Actions by these individuals emphasize personal gain and rewards based on their particular accomplishments. An individualist anticipates rewards contingent on individual performance. Contribution toward achieving collective goals is inconsistent with the self-interest motive unless differential awards are made by the group. Individuals whose contributions to group output go unnoticed have little incentive to contribute, since they can "loaf" without fear of consequences. As a result, an individualist can maximize personal gain without putting forth as much effort as had he/she done the work individually. The self-interest motive stresses individual outcomes and gain over the collective good (Earley, 1989).


Research indicates that women are more inclined to sustain group cohesion where men are more interested in task achievement. As a result, women, who deem collective tasks more significant than individual tasks, are less likely to engage in social loafing than men. This phenomenon is demonstrated in a study conducted by Naoki Kugihara. To determine the social loafing effect on men versus women, he had 18 Japanese men and 18 Japanese women pull on a rope, similar to the Ringlemann experiment. On the questionnaire, several participants indicated their perception that they pulled with their full strength. However, Kugihara observed the men did decrease their effort once involved in collective rope pulling. Conversely, the women did not show a change in effort once involved collectively.

In the paper reporting the results of this study, Kugihara explains some reasoning behind this different reaction between men and women. In observing Japanese junior high students, Tachibana and Koyasu found that boys engaged more earnestly in the task when they were told that achievement was being measured. When they were told they could relax and enjoy the task, the boys did not put forth as much effort. However, with the girls they did not notice any change in effort between the achievement and relaxation tasks. These results indicate that men are more likely to engage in social loafing in a group setting because they will not be driven by achievement motivation since their efforts will not be as visible. However, women tend to not be affected by achievement motivation and therefore are less likely to engage in social loafing (1999).

Confronting the Social Loafer

No one ever likes to be confronted or told what to do. So in a group setting, what is the best way to make the most out of each individual’s contributions? Especially in groups where there is no designated leader, it is difficult for one group member to confront another. However, Dan Rothwell offers advice for handling these situations.

Private confrontation: The team leader or a selected team member should confront the social loafer individually. This individual should solicit the reasons for the lackluster effort. Additionally, the loafer should be encouraged to participate and understand the importance of his contributions.

Group confrontation: The entire group can address the problem to the dissenting team member and specifically address the problem(s) they have observed. They should attempt to resolve the problem and refrain from deleterious attacks on the slacking individual.

Superior assistance: After trying to address the problem with the individual both privately and as a group, group members should seek the advice of a superior, whether it be a teacher, boss or other authority figure. Where possible, group members should provide documented evidence of the loafing engaged by the individual (De Vita, 2001). The person in authority can directly address the problem with the lackluster team member.

Exclusion: The loafer should only be booted out of the group as a last resort. However, this option may not be feasible in some instances.

Circumvention: If all the above steps have been attempted without result, then the group can reorganize tasks and responsibilities. This should be done in a manner that will result in a desirable outcome whether or not the loafer contributes.

(Rothwell, 2004)

Preventing Social Loafing

In order to prevent or limit the effects of social loafing, there are a number of guidelines a team leader might initiate to manage team members’ efforts toward team goals. Though some do depend upon the nature of the team and the type of team, most of these guidelines can be adapted to provide a positive benefit to all teams.

Develop rules of conduct: Setting rules at the beginning will help all team members achieve the team objectives and performance goals. Establishing ground rules can help to prevent social loafing and free-riding behaviors by providing assurances that free-riding attempts will be dealt with (Cox, 2007).

Create appropriate group sizes: Do not create or allow a team to undertake a two-man job. For example, municipal maintenance crews often have crew members standing around watching one or two individuals work. Does that job really require that many crew members?

Establish individual accountability: This is critical for initial assignments that set the stage for the rest of the task (Team Based). Tasks that require pre-work and input from all group members produce a set of dynamics that largely prevent social loafing from happening in the first place. If this expectation is set early, individuals will avoid the consequences of being held accountable for poor work.

Encourage group loyalty: Not all cultures experience social loafing. In China, social striving, the opposite of social loafing, occurs. In these cases, individual performance is enhanced by being in a group (Davies, 2006). The individuals care more about the success of the group than their own success. They have a clear view of the group’s objective and what leads to its fulfillment. This sense of group loyalty is created by individual awareness of the team’s position in reaching the goal. If production plant employees know the goal, know how far they need to go, and where the competition is, they are more inclined to work towards the goal than if they did not have that knowledge.

Implement peer evaluation: In academic cultures, college instructors use peer evaluations to instill accountability for individual contributions in group products. These evaluations are given early in the term and are more effective in deterring social loafing than peer evaluations given later in the term (Brooks & Ammons, 2003).

Write a team contract: Confusion and miscommunication can cause social loafing. Although it may seem formal, writing a team contract is a good first step in setting group rules and preventing social loafing. This contract should include several important pieces of information such as group expectations, individual responsibilities, forms of group communication, and methods of discipline. If each group member has a measurable responsibility that they alone are accountable for, he is not able to rely on the group for his portion of responsibility.

Choose complementary team members: When possible, carefully choose individuals to join a team. Make sure they have strengths and personalities that will complement other group members rather than deter from reaching the group goal.

Minimize group size: Whenever possible, minimize the number of people within a group. The fewer people available to diffuse responsibility to, the less likely social loafing will occur.

Establish ground rules: Discuss what the team’s goals and objectives are and then develop a process to meet them. Agree to perform by team roles discussed in the initial meeting of a project. Also discuss consequences of not following rules and the process to call an individual on their negative behavior.

Specifically define the task: Clarify the importance of the task to the team and assign members to do particular assignments. Establish expectations through specific measurable and observable outcomes, such as due dates. At the end of each meeting, refresh everyone’s memories as to who is required to do what by when and offer clarification on required duties.

Create personal relationships: Provide opportunities for members to socialize and establish trusting relationships. Dedicated relationships cause people to fulfill their duties more efficiently.

Highlight achievement: Invite members of management to attend team sessions. Allow team accomplishments to shine through to superiors. Close meetings by summarizing their group’s successes. Pat them on the back and remind them of their upcoming duties.

Establish task importance: Allow team members the opportunity to demonstrate their willingness to do their work in a timely fashion.

Evaluate progress: Meet individually with team members to assess their successes and areas of improvement. Discuss ways in which the team leader may provide additional support so the task may be completed. When possible, develop an evaluation based on an individual contribution. This can be accomplished through individual group members’ evaluations of others on team.

Manage discussions: Ensure that all team members have the opportunity to speak. Make every individual feel they have a valuable role on the team and their input is important to group success.

Engage individuals: When intrinsic involvement in the task is high, workers may feel that their efforts are very important for the success of the group and thus may be unlikely to engage in social loafing even if the task visibility is low.


Brooks, C. & Ammons, J. (2003). Free Riding in Group Projects and the Effects of Timing, Frequency and Specificity of Criteria in Peer Assessment. Journal of Education for Business, May-June

Carron, A., Burke, S. & Prapavessis, H. (2004). Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, Vol. 16, 41-58

Charbonnier, E., Huguet, P., Brauer, M., Monteil, J. (1998). Social loafing and self-beliefs: People's collective effort depends on the extent to which they distinguish themselves as better than others. Social Behavior and Personality.

Cox, Pamela L. and Brobrowski, Paula E. The team charter assignment: Improving the effectiveness of classroom teams. Cazenovia College, State University of New York, Journal of Behavioral and Applied Management. 2000, Vol.1(1), Page 92. 9 July 2007. <>.

Davies, Jamie and Holah, Mark. Social Loafing. Learn 2006, Slapes Design & Hosting. 8 July 2007. <>.

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Earley, P.C (1989). Social Loafing and Collectivism: A Comparison of the United States and the People's Republic of China. Administrative Science Quarterly in Business, Vol. 34, 565-581.

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Price, K.H. & Harrison, D.A. (2006). Withholding inputs in team context: Member composition, interaction process, evaluation structure, and social loafing. Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol. 91(6).

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Yecke, C.P. (2004, January 18). Cooperative learning can backfire. The Star Tribune

Leader Credibility

Questions Posed

Once a team is formed, how should the team leader handle questions about his/her ability? For example, in the case where the team has had its first significant meeting and the leader did something to cause others to questions his/her ability to lead the project. Along the same line, are there particular steps a team leader can take to mitigate a blow to the team either from external forces or internal forces (say in the form of personal conflict or someone essential to the project leaving the company)?


The question above is presented as to ask how you can mitigate questions to your credibility as a team leader. This lack of credibility could be from something you did wrong in a meeting or a mistake you made on a project. The question also asks how you, as a team leader, can soften the blow to the team from an internal or external force affecting the team. This last question is very broad and because of this, the chapter will focus that question and the others with respect only to establishing, maintaining and restoring credibility as a team leader.

You can read all the books and follow all the rules about managing and leading, but inevitably, you will find your credibility in question from one, or a number of team members at some point during your career. It may almost seem easier to deal with if you know you did something wrong or inappropriate. The hard part is when you have somehow lost credibility when you’ve done, pretty much, everything right. During this chapter, we will look into a number of reasons for finding yourself lacking credibility with your team members. We will also offer general advice on how to keep or restore your credibility.

While there are many reasons your team may find your credibility lacking, we will focus on a few very common ones. First, we will look at how your credibility may be threatened simply by a stereotype attached to you. Second, we will look at how your personality traits can affect credibility. Then we will look into how leading your former peers can cause credibility problems and how to alleviate them. Following these sections we will offer advice on how to establish credibility in a newly formed team, and finally, how to establish your credibility in general as well as avoid pitfalls.

Overcoming Stereotypes

Establishing leadership credibility in a group or team setting can be difficult enough without having to battle stereotypes along the way. This section will focus briefly on the different stereotypes that exist within the work organization, specifically, the groups and teams within these organizations. This section will also attempt to advise on how to avoid the pitfalls of stereotypes.

First, we will define exactly what a stereotype is and what it is capable of. Stereotypes occur when we assign and generalize certain attributes, characteristics, qualities or shortcomings to a specific group of people. For example: "The elderly drive poorly," "Women are too emotional," "Teenagers are lazy," or "Men are cold and distant." You may think these examples are harmless, but these are only starting points from which stereotypes can become extreme and irrational. Some categories which can be a target of stereotypes are: race, religion, gender, class, age, etc.

Stereotyping is a way our brain tries to processes the endless amount of information it is presented with daily. With so much stimulation to account for, stereotyping is a way the brain cuts through it all in order to make it presentable. This is often done subconsciously and is not always linked to negative outcomes. The danger presents itself when we are unaware of this process going on in our brain and we begin to accept stereotypes as fact or reality. Stereotypes are far reaching and virtually everyone is a potential victim.

Stereotypes are damaging when we assume something about someone, or judge them prematurely, simply because we assign them to a larger group with a predetermined set of characteristics. Stereotyping is often linked closely with prejudice, which occurs when one makes a conscious decision to dislike, distrust, or work against a specific group because of the negative stereotypes associated with that group.

History is laced with stereotyping and prejudices. Modern time takes no exception. A common place stereotyping takes place is within organizations and teams within these organizations. This behavior can destroy any attempts to create a collaborative environment within work teams and can effectively prevent production or progression. So the question presents itself, how do we keep this behavior out of our teams in order to be more successful?

As a leader of a group/team who may be battling a stereotype while trying to obtain credibility, you must first make it your priority to rid yourself of any thought or behavior that endorses or exhibits stereotyping. You must be careful not to get defensive expecting that you are being stereotyped. Give your team the benefit of the doubt initially. Team attitude often reflects leadership. If they see you are relaxed and open they may adopt your attitude. This is one way to battle stereotypes within groups.

Another way to battle stereotypes is to create an atmosphere conducive to open communication. It is through talking to people and forging relationships with others that stereotypes can be shattered and put to rest. This is easier said than done, but achievable if a team leader is determined to have a successful group.

Also, when creating a group, create groups with diversity. This builds off the previous point of communication. We are often afraid of what we don't know. A diverse group can create an environment where learning and understanding can be achieved and stereotypes dispelled.

It may sound simple, but one final way to counter a stereotype when leading a team is to simply work hard and prove you are a good leader first and foremost. If you leave no doubt in your groups’ mind you are there to facilitate their success, you will begin to create an atmosphere where attitudes can change and minds can be enlightened.

Personality Types

When dealing with team environments, the personality of the group and those of individuals are determinants in whether the group will succeed or fail at its goals and endeavors. Within each group, there is the potential for each of the members to have significantly different strengths and weaknesses which are essential for an effective team. Examples of these characteristics are being introverted and extroverted. Introverts are people whose thoughts and interests are directed inward rather than outward toward others. On the other hand extroverts are interested in others or in the environment. Speaking in broad terms, they are a gregarious and unreserved person. With this in mind, to be an effective leader, you need to not only identify these traits in others, but also identify them in yourself in order to establish leadership credibility. Otherwise, ineffective management of your team of different personalities, working motifs, and styles may lead to unnecessary challenges and conflicts that could possibly lead to the demise and failure of the overall project.

In understanding introversion and extroversion, Carl Jung (one of the earliest leaders into the understanding and exploration of this type of personality trait), was able to understand and develop the core principles of extroversion and introversion. He was able to view the behavior of humans as either habits or as personality patterns. He then explained the differences accordingly to those unique, distinguishable, and variable social patterns. He directed and focused his research on the intuition, thinking, sensing, and feeling components which were later published as major players in his psychological traits theory.

During different events in our daily lives, we tend to utilize both aspects of introversion and extroversion. But, generally speaking, most people rely upon one dominant expression, whether it is introversion or extroversion, during the daily events and dramas that induce stressful situations. The preferences that are expressed by these different types of personalities also affect and impact social understanding and learning of perceptions, judgments, different learning styles, as well as sociological preferences each individual resorts to.

When comparing introverts and extroverts, with our perception of what the team and its organization represents, there are still different view points we hold. First, introverts might view and feel the team meeting and discussions as draining, stressful, and (more or less) a waste of time. While extroverts view the team meetings as productive and energizing toward the end goal of the team.

It is essential for you, as the team leader, to not only understand the different aspects of each team member, but also of yourself and what impact you have in leading the group. Being able to assess your ability and draw upon the abilities and strengths of others will provide an easy path to a successful team. By understanding and acknowledging different personality types, strengths and weaknesses, learning styles, perceptions, and judgments of each group member, you have already taken steps in the right direction to becoming an effective leader. Doing this should dismiss most, if not all, skepticism of your leadership ability. When you have been able to identify these aspects of your group, you can effectively direct and coordinate the team towards your goal or directive in the most efficient manner possible.

As the team leader, understanding group meetings is an integral component of the development, planning of the assigned project, and development of team unity. As previously indicated, extroverts view these meetings as a venue for essential thought provoking discussions and a place to surcease any problems that may arise. So to be an effective leader, you must acknowledge and mitigate these circumstances to the contrary of the introverts. These introverts would rather use the time (that most meetings would use up) to research, prepare, and plan for these meetings on a lesser scale. By understanding this, you can handle any skepticism and quandaries about your leadership ability by providing advanced written information about the team members, agenda(s), reports, or possible discussion questions. This forethought and preplanning allows introverts the necessary time to organize and preplan their feelings and thoughts so their involvement within the group will be more substantial and appreciated by the extroverts who, by their very nature, will applaud and welcome their contributions.

In addressing the possible scenario of conflict from within the team itself or from external forces, you need to address and understand the different areas of conflict that may arise. As previously mentioned, the different personalities may be cause for conflict within the team environment. To quell such proprieties and demurrals from the different team members, using the knowledge and understanding of each team member and their strengths and weaknesses is essential as an effective team leader. When such internal conflicts arise, being able to negotiate and mitigate conflicts is essential. In addition, knowledge of the team members' personality and learning styles is important in order to show foresight and understanding of the conflict that has occurred.

So in conclusion, as an effective and forthright leader will need to have perception and knowledge based upon the different personality types of each group member so any possible conflict and prejudice arising can be eliminated.

Effectively Leading Your Former Peers

You have spent the last few years working hard with your team, you’ve seen great success together and you’ve been able to establish some very positive professional relationships. You are comfortable with your team and are satisfied with the work you have done together. Now things are about to change, you have been rewarded for your hard work and have been selected to lead the team you were once a part of.

After the initial euphoria and excitement of your recent promotion wears off, you may realize the relationships with your team members is not the same. Suddenly they look to you for motivation and guidance. Will they buy into your ideas? Will they respect you? Will they still be your friends? Do you want them to be your friends? How will performance evaluations go? As managers continue to climb the corporate ladder many of them have had to (or will) deal with these types of situations at one time or another. This section is dedicated to helping managers effectively manage their relationships with former peers, while at the same time adapting to their new leadership role.

Generally speaking, two behaviors can emerge as managers begin to lead their former peers. One end of the spectrum is trying to remain “one of the guys” (or gals). This type of manager has difficulty making unpopular decisions, performing disciplinary action, performance evaluations, assigning responsibility, and holding people accountable. At the other end of the spectrum, one morphs into an unrecognizable individual that feels he or she must change everything the team has been doing and make it their own. After all, the leader is ultimately responsible for the success and failure of the team. This behavior oftentimes results in rifts between the leaders and the rest of the team. The following are some effective methods in making the transition from team member to leader.

First, don’t try and change everything at once. You will have plenty of time to implement your ideas and plans for success. Now the important part is getting your team on board with you as their leader. Second, get the message out that you will be even handed in dealing with subordinates. There will certainly be some subordinates you were closer with then others. The ones you were close with may expect some preferential treatment while others may expect to see you come down harder on them. Ensuring your team members you will be even handed will help them develop trust and respect for you as their leader. Next, steer clear of situations where favoritism might be perceived. In addition, repair rifts with former colleagues. There will certainly be some hurt feelings and disappointment among your peers. After all, you beat them out for the job. Some peers may also harbor ill feelings from previous conflicts that you may have been engaged in. Take action to repair these rifts and work towards establishing positive relationships. Finally, clearly define your role and what your expectations are. You are the leader act like it. Let your peers know what you expect of them and hold them accountable for their performance.

Stepping into a leadership role involving peers can be a very challenging situation. Difficult situations will certainly arise and tough decisions will have to be made but that’s why you’re the leader. By clearly establishing goals and expectations of every team member and ensuring the entire team that you will not play favorites and everyone will be treated equally you will be able to establish your credibility as an effective leader an ultimately lead a more successful team.

Leading a New Team

You’ve spent the money, done your homework, and earned your degree now you have the job. You are now leading your own team. Now, how do you do it? How do you establish your credibility to team members you have never met? What are their expectations of you? How do you instill confidence in your team about your leadership abilities? How do you handle questions and concerns about your leadership abilities? The following section is dedicated to assisting new leaders in managing their teams and promoting success within their new role.

As the new leader you need to take charge. You may be replacing a great leader who had great success and admiration from his or her team and the shoes you are expected to fill may be great. Or you may be replacing a leader who was despised by his or her team and the team was a disappointment. Either way, there are several challenges leaders face as they step into new environments as team leaders. They may be dealing with high expectations and questions from their team such as, “That’s not how so and so would do it” or “How will this new leader be different from the last”. Despite how the team may have performed in the past it’s your ship now, the success or failure of the team is your responsibility. Your team needs to know that you are committed to being their leader and leading them to success. Communicate your goals and expectations clearly to every team member. Let them know the importance of their role in the team. Be sure to give your team the time and resources to achieve their goals and give them the training to achieve their goals.

Your team needs to trust you and one of the best ways to gain their confidence in your abilities is through your example. You were hired for a reason, obviously your boss has confidence in your abilities. Now is the time to showcase them for the rest of your team. Your attitude and the manner in which you perform your tasks will be infectious. The way you act and interact with your team will ultimately reflect the way you and your team will perform together.

Next, be accountable. Problems will arise and mistakes will be made and at times human nature prompts us to deflect blame or try and spin things in a better way, after all no one wants to be blamed for a major screw up. Effective leaders know how to stand up and be held accountable.

Finally, never underestimate the power of effective listening Take the time to get to know your people. Effective leaders must be willing to see the team from the team’s perspective. As a leader you may have your own vision of what success is, if your team has a different vision than you, the team will never arrive at the same point of success. Talk to each individual team member, find out what is important to them. It is the only way you will know how to effectively motivate them.

Individual interviews with each team member can be very effective in helping to establish positive relationships within your team. Furthermore, you can gain valuable insight into the nature of the team and how you can effectively use the team’s resources to achieve the team’s goals. Be sure to act upon the information you gain from your team through your individual interviews. Involving your team’s insights will help create a culture of trust and unity within your team and their insights may oftentimes be more profound than your own. Build up your people, give them responsibility and hold them accountable. Praise and recognize them when they deserve it. When they perform poorly let them know you expect more from them. They will respect you more as a leader and most often will be inclined to perform at a higher level for the success of the team.

Certainly leading a new team is a challenging role filled with many obstacles. Creating a positive environment is essential in achieving success as a team. After all, the team's performance is indicative of the leadership abilities of its leader. By taking charge, leading by example, listening, and taking action you will be able to instill confidence within your team. You will also establish your credibility and, ultimately, have more success as a team.

Establishing Credibility and Avoiding Pitfalls

Having or establishing credibility from the outset can make leading a team easier and give more leeway in decision making while leading a team (when it is done right). This section is easy when things go right. What about when they don't?

The first thing you should never do, is try and save face by pushing the blame onto someone else. This rarely works in the long run. You would hope the people in your team are smart and, as a consequence, see through this. Members of the team may play dumb at the moment to avoid conflict, but they will not appreciate you for it. This will always be in their mind when dealing with you. "Will they try and pin the next thing that goes bad on me?"

Think about those you respect most in your organization. Not who has the most influence or power, but who you respect. This is the type of person who is honest with themselves and their coworkers (this includes subordinates and higher-ups). When was the last time you were upset with someone for fessing up to an issue they caused before someone else mentioned it? Or graciously accepted criticism for a perceived or a real issue they may have caused? You may have been upset with what happened or the consequences, but think about your respect level for the person. This is most likely a person you would go to bat for in a tight situation, because you know they would have done their best and improved where they could. Taking this type of stance yourself, can go a long way in negating any issues that may happen early on in a group that question your ability to lead a project.

Most problems boil down to communication. Members of the group may have different interactive styles based on backgrounds or individual disciplines. Failure to accommodate different communication styles can lead to misunderstandings and possibly questioning abilities. One way to help members understand you is to give them an instruction manual. Even a cheap $25 tape recorder has instructions, why not you? Let your manual say, amongst other things: "Here's what gets me going," "Here's what annoys me," "Warning! Here's what will get you in trouble." These types of suggestions are probably better suited for a manager, but they could also work for subordinates or peers. Other sections of the manual could include: "Ask me to 'get to the point,' “If a description is not clear, please ask to be more concrete," "Warn me if I am heading down the wrong path," and "I tend to refer to statistics when I am uncomfortable with a topic." This type of instruction manual of yourself can be useful as a daily reminder to yourself on what you need to work on. Others, even timid ones, can call you on one of your issues without fear of offending or overstepping bounds. It will show you are truly looking to do your best and eliminate perceived inabilities caused by communication breakdown. As result, they will know where you are coming from.


During this chapter we have touched on a few items which can affect your credibility as a team leader. The issues we have discussed are common, but there are many more reasons why you may have lost credibility with members of your team. Knowing how to deal with common reasons for losing credibility will help you when other issues arise.

Hopefully the latter part of this chapter has given you some insight into how to, in general, establish, maintain, and restore your credibility as a team leader. You will never be able to please everyone, but you can certainly do your best to be an effective leader and use the information in this chapter to help you credibility as a leader and an example to the rest of you team.


The Wall Street Journal Online, Joann S. Lublin, January 7, 2003, Job Candidates Get a Manual From Boss: 'How to Handle Me' HTTP://,,SB1041881615563021064,00.html

Abrashoff, Michael D. 2002 It's Your Ship

Career Journal Online, Erin White, November 22, 2005 'How Some New Managers Supervise Their Former Peers'

Managing Leadership Transitions


The transition period of replacing a leader within a company is often not a very costly time for not only the company, but all personnel involved. In the 1992 study "Turnover and Evole Models for Family Leave," researchers J. Douglas Phillips and Barbara Reisman estimate that the cost of replacing a top-level manager is about 150 percent of the manager's base salary. These costs can include: accrued annual leave, substantial severance pay, executive recruitment activities, interim management costs and numerous intangible and indirect costs. This chapter examines how to successfully manage the transition from team member to team leader. It is important to have an effective strategy for this transition because it has a direct impact on the future performance of the team and its leader. This transitional phase sets behavioral norms for team members, establishes performance standards, affects members’ motivation, and creates the leader’s and members’ perceptions about their ability to excel as a cohesive unit. Data from Development Dimensions International [32] concerning leadership transitions states that nearly one out of every five "people managers" rank transitioning leadership as the most challenging life event one could experience and at the strategic level, these numbers are even higher, often times placing transitions above divorce, managing teenagers, moving and even becoming a parent.

The managing leadership transitions chapter is divided into multiple sections and is designed to be either read completely or referred to simply as reference. The first section examines the functional and psychological impacts that this phase can have on team members and transitioning leaders. The second section explores the challenges that a newly promoted team leader faces when establishing influence over the team members who were once teammates. The best methods for establishing influence over a team are also assessed. Section three provides practical advice for newly promoted leaders to accelerate the transition process from team member to full fledged team leader, while setting both the leader and the team up for future performance success.

Functional and Psychological Impacts of Transitioning from Team Member to Team Leader

Being promoted to a team leadership role brings many challenges. One of the more difficult obstacles encountered is when promotion occurs from within the team. The new leader finds him in a position of authority over a group of team members he previously worked alongside. This can result in struggle for both the team and the leader as roles are reassigned and individuals adjust to the new relationship. As companies and schools place more emphasis on teamwork, people find themselves facing this conflict of moving from peer to supervisor more often. What may have once been an easy relationship based on shared experiences is now one of shifted dynamics and unease among the team. Despite the increasing occurrence of this event, the transition rarely goes smoothly and often is unsuccessful. In an attempt to better understand why some individuals succeed in making the change to team leader, many studies have been done to help identify root causes and potential solutions. Among those concepts identified are social biases and role conflict. In this section we hope to further explore these concepts and the role they play in the team member to team leader transition.

The newly promoted team leader may find them struggling with role conflict. He/she must learn how to balance the relationships built as a peer and the new responsibility of acting as the boss. Maurice B. Mittelmark’s editorial "Social ties and health promotion: suggestions for population-based research", comments on studies which examine role conflict and its adverse psychological and functional impacts. As applied to transitions from team member to leader, the article supports the proposition that new leaders will be less successful at managing the team and more psychologically stressed if the leader tries to maintain multiple roles, as teammate and team leader. “The Role Conflict situation is that in which multiple roles… are perceived to demand too much time and attention...” The article places “emphasis on multiple roles as the stress factor, not on too low capacity to perform as expected (although P [the team leader] may nevertheless take blame for not being able to manage somehow).” A real world example of the significant impact of leadership transitions occurs at a US Freightways hub in Holland, where they have been able to study the effect of transitioning terminal managers. The US Freightways hub in Holland has 59 terminals and regularly sees a 20% annual turnover in terminal managers, thus nearly 12 transitions per year. Taking the 12 transitions per year and multiplying that by the average effective time of 4 months per transition, US Freightways calculated that at any time, 4 terminals or nearly 7% of their hub were consistently operating ineffectively. The calculations performed by US Freightways follow:

When a team leader proves ineffective at managing the team member and team leader role, the psychological stress of trying to juggle multiple roles and consistently meeting deadlines will ultimately cause the leader to fail. The failure is more often a result of this stress than the increased functional workloads associated with performing the tasks of team leader.

Role conflict can also occur because of commitment and the brain’s strong tendency to want to be consistent with prior actions. For example, employees may lock themselves into certain roles by telling coworkers “they’ll always be there to support them.” However, when those employees are promoted the roles change. The promoted employees may find themselves stuck in certain roles because they want to remain consistent with what was said beforehand. In the example where a supervisor has to layoff a previous coworker and friend, dissonance is created and will interfere with the supervisory role. One of the first steps a new leader must take in order to increase their chances of success is to establish a policy for assessment and accountability. The role of each team member should be assessed along with a focus on accountability for each role. The leader is accountable for his team's results; each team member should know his or her roles and responsibilities. By establishing clear expectations from the team, the leader will be better positioned to lead. Most importantly, with proper planning and training on the part of the new leader, role conflict can be managed more successfully.

While there may be resistance from group members for a variety of reasons, whether it is resentment of being passed over for the promotion or doubt of one's leadership skills, it is probably in the best interest of the new supervisor to deal with those people on a case-by-case basis. Initially both the new leader and former peer may be hesitant to continue a social relationship outside of work; this does not have to be the case. As long as both parties are able to recognize and acknowledge that work stays at the office. In addition, the transition may be helped if the new leader is able to focus on the opportunity of the new position, not just for him, but the team. This will help in 3 ways:

  1. Provide framework to help separate coworkers from the leader
  2. Make the promotion and new leadership more of an uplifting goal
  3. Encourage new associations to be created for the promoted employee and the new set of peers (other leadership members)

Challenges and Methods for Establishing Influence over the Team

Imagine that you have been part of a team that has been working on a project. Having worked closely with each other for some time, each participant has become familiar with the skills and competencies of the other members and the team dynamics have been such that all consider themselves peers, having equal skills and knowledge to bring to the table. Now suppose that management is unhappy with the disappointing results that have come from this team effort and they have asked you to lead the team to the desired outcomes for which it was first established. Would you expect this new appointment to be met with resistance from your peers?

Actually, team members who transition into a managerial or team leader role in the midst of an ongoing project can face a wide array of challenges in asserting their newfound influence. Most likely the new leader is now in charge of his/her peers and it may prove difficult for team members to take direction from someone whom they still consider as an equal. The transition period for a new leader is encumbered with a variety of resistive tendencies that may not only cause delays, but also a significant loss of focus which will lead to even greater problems down the road.

Once the group dynamic changes, already existing social biases can be augmented or new social biases can arise that can further complicate the matter. Underlying social biases like false uniqueness, recency biases, and stereotyping can begin to emerge and become a prevalent part of the team atmosphere. According to Gerardo Okhuysen in his article “Managers and Social Processes” these biases have the definitions described in the table below.

Social Biases Definition
False Uniqueness The false uniqueness effect refers to the tendency we have to underestimate the number of people who do what we do, and like what we like.
Recency Biases As we gather information about others or about situations, we give much more weight to information that is acquired recently, sometimes completely forgetting all the things that happened before.
Stereotyping This is a tendency we have to simplify the world by putting people into a category, and then fitting the individual into the stereotype of that category.

These definitions take on life when put in the context of practical application. Returning to the scenario at the beginning of this section we can show how these social biases are applied to real situations.

Social Biases Situation
False Uniqueness As you begin to lead your group of peers false uniqueness may arise when your team members respond to your leadership by thinking that if they were chosen to lead the group they would have handled it differently, when in reality if given the same circumstances they would have acted exactly as you have.
Recency Biases While leading the group you may react to any negative feedback you are getting from your team by labeling them as inherently difficult or unyielding in spite of how agreeable they may have been in the past. Your bias is a response to their most recent behavior and you have nullified all prior knowledge.
Stereotyping As you take on your new leadership role the team members may now attribute characteristics to you that they feel are possessed by all managers. They may attribute to you characteristics of pride, arrogance, and self interest rather than an interest in the group, whether or not you actually display these characteristics.

While the competitive nature of many companies can certainly increase the likely occurrence of the above issues regardless of the influence the leader has; often these disruptions are signs that the newly assigned team leader’s authority is not properly recognized.

Interestingly, problems stemming from a lack of leadership authority are much more likely to surface when promotion occurs from within a team. An example of this occurred in a small defense company in California. The generation gap between the two main engineering levels was quite vast. As the project moved forward, inconsistencies in the management style of the senior project manager resulted in a prompt changing of the guard. The most qualified individual was of the younger generation and was well liked by his peers for his outgoing and fun personality, but the project manager position was not all fun and games. The six months that followed where riddled with faulty product development, severe lapses in judgment and many test series that were absent from oversight by project management. Being promoted from within caused the new project manager to be put in the difficult position of having to be in charge of the same co-workers he amused just the day before.

In order to lead effectively, a manager’s authority must be well established. In Robert Cialdini’s book, Influence, the Psychology of Persuasion, he determines “authority” to be the most effective method for leaders to influence team performance and describes the various aspects of authority as encompassing perceptual cues, such as titles, positions and appearance, concrete knowledge and expertise.

In general, superficial cues such as formal titles or a list of accolades that may lend to the authoritative image of an unfamiliar manager cannot serve an individual promoted from within a team who is already well known to the group. Managers who are promoted from within an existing team face a unique challenge with respect to establishing their influence primarily as a result of the perceptual components of authority.

The logistical and social components of leadership transitions also provide a unique challenge to any new leader, whether he/she is from inside the company or an external hire. Just as a strong functioning team can be one of the greatest assets to a manager and the entire company, an ill performing entity can rapidly bring a process to a screeching halt.

It is almost certain that the new leader of any team will be different than the previous leader, be it in management style, attitude or vision. These qualities, however good or bad, must be accepted by the entire team in order for them to collectively move forward and maintain a strong status. In retaliation to change, a vault of resistive pressures may be unleashed toward the new leader ranging from severe lack of urgency and distraction to jealousy and animosity towards all management.

Project meetings can quickly become less orderly, employees can lose focus and general chaos ensues. Many social biases including false uniqueness and stereotyping can create a wall between the new leader and his/her subordinates. The reoccurring ideas that "I could have done that better" or "he is a typical suit that does not know what is really going on here" can slowly begin to implode the team environment. Although many of these examples seem extreme, transitions in leadership often do cause logistical delays leading to a temporary rise in social bias among subordinates.

In a recent article by Sotiriou and Wittmer, “Influence Methods of Project Managers: Perceptions of Team Members and Project Managers", the authors present the findings of three separate studies that attempt to measure the importance of various factors relating to managerial influence. “Expertise” was examined as a separate factor in the project management studies but showed almost identical ratings to the “authority” component, suggesting that these components are very closely related. The studies also provided evidence that knowledge, when used as an influential method, is highly correlated to a project manager's overall effectiveness. It is evident that newly promoted managers are therefore best served by leveraging their knowledge and expertise, to help establish authority within their new role. Robert Cialdini however, identifies “liking” as an important factor in enabling people to influence others and he endorses a persuasion technique that leverages “liking” or friendship as a way for leaders to influence team members. In a situation where a colleague is promoted to a leadership role, the new manager might hope to rely on friendship ties with former peers to help motivate the team and encourage them to take direction. Managers choosing to use "liking" as a strategy for empowerment should be aware that often times team members adopt a familiarity with the new manager that is consistent with his or her collegial or “friendship” role and therefore do not properly respond to the new supervisory role.

Once a proper blend of expertise, knowledge and "non-liking" has been established, management becomes further complicated by the familiar “us vs. them” mentality that is quite common in organizations. While it is not always appropriate to rely on friendships to motivate and direct team efforts, it is still necessary to eliminate adversarial relationships between team members and team leaders. Cialdini identifies “contact and cooperation” as valuable methods of unifying groups that may originally perceive themselves to be at odds. “Conjoint efforts toward common goals” can help to overshadow contentious relationships and leaders often benefit from incorporating the inherent team challenges into a strategy focused on the major goals of the project. This approach is echoed by Sotiriou and Wittmer’s project management studies that identify the “work challenge” as the overall most important factor contributing to the positive influence of project managers. These results further support methods of motivation that emphasize creating a meaningful and challenging work environment to help transitioning managers become effective team leaders.

Managing leadership transitions is a very difficult thing to do, but there are excellent strategies that can help ease the burden on everyone involved. A well rounded combination of expertise and knowledge will foster an authoritative position for the new leader. The "liking" factor, often present when an in-group employee is promoted, can be very valuable in establishing strong positive influence. However, one must always be aware of the potential social biases and resistive tendencies of once peer, now subordinate employees. Strong leaders should work toward creating a challenging and satisfying work environment that not only focuses the team on common project goals, but also demonstrates that the leader's influence can and will lead the team to produce effective and positive outcomes. In the transition period for a new leader, the window of opportunity is short and he/she must be willing to make great strides toward establishing a solid influence over their team.

Practical Advice for Accelerating a Leadership Transition

A change in leadership of a project team requires a period of transition for everyone involved, especially the new leader. One of the best resources for practical and applicable advice about how to manage this period of transition is The First 90 Days: Success Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels by Michael Watkins. This book offers a structure and framework to help new leaders manage and accelerate the transition process that comes with their new role.

The book identifies ten key challenges for any new leader. We have adapted these ten challenges which can be applied when a project team member transitions into a team leadership role; later we will discuss the challenges we feel are most important for this particular situation. The ten challenges are as follows:

  1. Promote Yourself: Change your mindset to reflect the realities of your new position. Don’t assume that what has been successful for you in the past will work for you today. Your new position may require you to acquire and develop new skills in order to guarantee success for you and your new team.
  2. Accelerate Your Learning: When transitioning into a leadership role within the same company or team, the learning curve will be less steep, but an open mind is vital to any new leader’s success. As a member of the team, you were probably familiar with the industry, the company, your competitors, and the market, in addition to your own specific functions and responsibilities on the project. However, as the new leader of the team, you may not know the exact details of your teammate's responsibilities, so learning about these from your team members will be essential.
  3. Match Strategy to Situation: You need to understand the current business situation, and identify its unique challenges and opportunities. As a member of the team, you should have a good idea as to what the consequences and implications of transition will be, as well as a good sense for the team dynamics. A clear grasp of the situation will help you to develop a winning strategy in managing and accelerating the transition.
  4. Secure Early Wins: Building credibility will be essential to establishing your new role on the team, and securing early wins is the best way to achieve this. Formal authority over your former peers will only carry you so far before your team members start to think, “I could probably do a better job.” Securing early wins will demonstrate to the team that you can plan and achieve tangible goals for the group, and they will probably be more willing to follow your lead.
  5. Negotiate Success: Perhaps the most important relationship in your new leadership role will be the one between you and your new boss. It will essential that you plan and execute a series of conversations with your new boss regarding his/her expectations; ask what resources will be available to help you develop your team.
  6. Achieve Alignment: Ensure that your goals, your team’s goals, and the organization’s goals are all in alignment.
  7. Build Your Team: Inheriting a team can produce a variety of interpersonal issues. Depending on the nature of your transition, you may or may not be given authority to make personnel decisions immediately or at all. A thorough and careful assessment of the situation will help when making recommendations to your boss, and assist you in your own decisions as how to restructure your team for optimal performance.
  8. Create Coalitions: Your success will greatly depend upon your ability to influence people outside your direct line of control. As the new leader of the team, you are the voice of your team to the organization at large. You should not only build and maintain alliances with the people on your own team, but also with the key individuals within the organization who are necessary to the ultimate success of your team.
  9. Keep Your Balance: Transitions are extremely difficult to manage; it is easy to lose perspective, become isolated, and make bad decisions. To help maintain a balanced perspective, you need to develop a strong advice and counsel network both within your team and within the organization.
  10. Expedite Everyone: You need to not only accelerate your own transition, but the transitions of everyone you work with – direct reports, bosses, and peers.

The most important challenges that pertain to a team member stepping into a management or leadership role relate to those challenges described in numbers 1, 3, 4, and 5 from above. What follows is a detailed description and how the challenges apply to each situation.

Challenge 1: “Promote Yourself,” relates to the psychological transition that a team member must make when promoted to team leader. As discussed in section one, newly promoted leaders must change their perception of themselves and re-frame their roles within the team. While it may seem that the re-framing would be most difficult for the leader’s former peers, in reality it is the new leader whose own behavior must change. For example, team leaders will have to forgo the informal chit-chat and chumminess they may have formerly enjoyed with their peers. Also, managers probably won't be included in all of the after-hours fraternizing or social activities of the team.

Challenge 2: “Matching Strategy to Situation,” is arguably the most important challenge for a team member transitioning to a team leader. Without fully understanding at what stage the project team is in, a new leader will be unable to tailor the correct managerial approach to the team’s current situation; as a result the team will fail to achieve. Watkins recommends using the STaRS model (Start-up, Turn-around, Realignment, and Sustaining Success), as a framework for helping to diagnose the team’s current situation. A transitioning leader must identify the challenges and opportunities facing the team in order to recognize the structural implications underpinning their team’s ability to perform. Those who move from team member to team leader likely do so as a result from an organization's need for realignment. Often in a realignment situation, the leader’s challenge is to revitalize a team project which has deteriorated. In this situation, the leader must challenge engrained norms of behavior, convince team members that change is warranted, as well as restructure and refocus the team. These challenges are offset by potential strengths already inherent in the team; team members’ prior success serves as motivation for wanting to achieve future success.

Watkins’ assertion that transitional leaders must match their strategy to the team’s situation is in line with Hersey and Blanchard’s Developmental Theory of Leadership. This theory matches leadership style to group maturity. Group maturity is a function of time, and leadership style matches relationship-orientation and task-orientation to the group’s stage of development. In the case of transitioning leaders, the group may be mature when the teammate is promoted to team leader, but because the dynamic of the team is now changed, the leader may need to adapt his/her leadership strategy to fit the formative stage of team development. In the formative stage, the new leader should first focus on the team’s tasks. After this initial phase, the leader should then heighten his/her relationship-orientation, while maintaining equal focus on task-orientation.

Challenge 3: “Secure Early Wins,” is essential for establishing credibility as the new leader of the team. These early wins should be “team wins” as opposed to wins for the new leader. This will help build the perception that the new leader is effective not just in managing his or her own work, but more importantly getting the team to work together toward common goals. Watkins asserts that a new leader’s “earliest actions will have a disproportionate influence on how they are perceived” New leaders are perceived as more credible when they display a specific managerial style. This style, according to Watkins, consists of six components. A new leader must be (1) “demanding but able to be satisfied” (motivating members to commit to and achieve realistic goals,) (2) “accessible but not too familiar” (establishing approachability without compromising authority,) (3) “decisive but judicious” (communicating the ability to take charge without making hasty big decisions,) (4) “focused but flexible” (establishing authority but consulting team members and encouraging team input,) (5) “active without causing commotion” (building momentum without overwhelming,) and (6) “willing to make tough but humane calls ” (ensuring decisions are fair and preserve team members’ dignity.)

Challenge 4: “Negotiate Success,” is another challenge that is essential in almost any situation. Ultimately, your boss is the main person who will be evaluating your team and your individual performance, which are directly tied. So establishing criteria and tangible objectives with your new boss is essential. Also, keep in mind that these goals may have been set for you by your predecessor, but as part of Challenge 3, you must evaluate these objectives and determine if they are still realistic given the transition period required for the change in leadership, this and other factors which your predecessor might not have taken into consideration.

Leaders in Transition Additional Time Spent
Communicating 64.7%
Planning 60.8%
Building A Team 60.0%
Strategy 58.2%
Influencing 57.1%

As seen in table to the left from Paese and Wellins - "Leaders In Transition: Step Up or Step Off" of Development Dimensions International [33], communication and planning consume vast amounts of time from transitioning leaders. In a study performed by Evolta [34] , 60 –65 % of all transitioners make their transition without special support from transition-based help firms. Often due to the fact that it takes transitioners 6 - 9 months to become fully effective and efficient in their new positions, a startling 35 - 40% of transitioning leaders fail.

Although the change in leadership of a project team requires a period of transition for everyone involved, the transitioning leader has many tools available to make the journey as pain free as possible. Following proven strategies for smoother transitions and possibly seeking the advice of leadership transition training by companies like Evolta, transitioning leaders can not only reduce the time involved, but also increase their likelihood of success.


This chapter focuses on how to manage the transition from team member to team leader, when working in a team-based organization. With the reality that "internally sourced leaders are failing 33% of the time" and "very few leaders feel that organizations are doing the right things to prepare their future leaders" (Paese and Wellins), the pressure on transitioning leaders seems insurmountable. Although the mountain is high, a key aspect of a successful transition is an effective strategy.

The importance of a successful transition not only lies with the leader, but also with the future performance of the entire team. The psychological impacts of the transitional period may include role conflicts and the animosity and personal doubt of other "passed over" teammates. Stress and impaired functionality are often negative outcomes that commonly arise from role conflict and often the best way to overcome such role conflict is to simply relinquish the prior teammate role and frame the leadership role as a definitive new challenge. Once the new leader has successfully changed his/her perception from team member to leader, the leader must establish influence over the team. Although this may be extremely difficult at times and require the entire team to overcome strong social biases, the results of a meaningful and challenging work environment are well worth the effort. One of the best ways to influence a team is through a combination of leveraging knowledge, expertise and "liking" to focus the team around a common set of goals. This combination of techniques not only establishes the leader’s credibility within the team, but it also primes the group to visualize accomplishing future goals under such leadership. Finally, even with extensive training and a thorough understanding of the social biases that may be present during your transition, it is the actions of the leader that matter most. We discussed topics like how to "promote yourself", "match strategy to situation" and "negotiate success" as excellent ways to accelerate your transition period. By opening your mind and following some of the aforementioned guidelines for leadership transitions, anyone can successfully transition into a coveted leadership role with confidence and finesse.



Briles, J. 2004. Changing from Peer to Boss has its Challenges. The Denver Business Journal

Cialdini, R. Influence, the Psychology of Persuasion

Dickey, M. 2002. Tips for Making a Leadership Transition Run Smoothly. The Chronicle of Philanthopy

J., G. 2004. Training: Helping People and Business Succeed-Sink or Swim. Training Magazine

Mittelmark, M. 1999. Social ties and health promotion: Suggestions for population-based research. Oxford University Press

Monaco, L. 2004. What changes when you're the boss?. Business Training Library

Perets, A. 2002. Who's the boss? Tips for managing friends and former peers. Tech Republic

Sotiriou and Wittmer, Influence Methods of Project Managers: Perceptions of Team Members and Project Managers

Watkins, M. The First 90 Days: Success Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels

Wellins, R. Leaders in Transition: Stepping Up, Not Off" Matt Paese

New Leaders

What are the basic roles that a new team leader needs to know?

Four of the key roles that a new manager must master are that of planning, organizing, directing and controlling. Especially when the new supervisor is being promoted from team member to team leader, the new supervisor will be forced to learn these roles in order to be successful in his new role.


First, it is essential that the new manager become proficient in planning for his team. Failure to effectively plan can create problems that require a great deal more time and effort to correct than would have been required to develop a good plan.

To plan effectively, the new manager must address the following questions:

  1. What is the task?
  2. Who will perform the task?
  3. How should the task be performed?
  4. When must the task be completed?

In considering the above questions, the new manager must take the time to identify and evaluate all of the possible alternatives before making a decision. Involving team members in this part of the planning process can yield a greater variety of possible solutions and factors that need to be considered.

Once the manager has developed the plan by answering the above questions, it is critical that the manager effectively communicate the plan with the team members. No matter how well thought out and perfect the plan, it must be understood by the team.


In order to accomplish the goals and objectives set forth in the planning stages, the new manager must learn to effectively establish the structure of the team and the people that are part of the team.

In organizing the structure of the GROUP, the manager must determine how to best align the resources at his disposal to reach the team’s goals. The manager must make good decisions in creating formal job descriptions and accountabilities for his team members and develop processes that can be improved upon. By giving team members enough structure to help them understand their roles and accountabilities, team members are clear on what is expected of them and understand how to be successful at their jobs.

Secondly, the new team leader must organize the people within his team. Some of the important steps in organizing the people on the team include:

  1. Understanding the factors that make a team member successful in his job
  2. Interviewing to find the right candidate to join the team
  3. Establishing and providing effective training for new team members
  4. Ongoing training and development of team members

By providing sufficient structure to team members, selecting the right members for the team and training team members, the new manager can effectively organize the team and increase the probability of success.


The most difficult and complicated role that a new supervisor must learn is that of directing. Once the manager has planned for his team, set forth structure within the team, and selected and trained team members, he must then develop the skill necessary to direct his team in the work. The main skills that must be mastered are leading, communicating, and motivating.

Although leading is a difficult skill to teach, there are several skills that a manager can develop to become a better leader. Some of the key skills that can be developed are:

  1. Empathy and the ability to listen and understand others point of view
  2. Understand own strengths and weaknesses and how they affect the team
  3. Show team members a willingness to work
  4. Show and spread excitement within team
  5. Show willingness to take on responsibility

Another key skill that a new manager must develop to become proficient at directing his team is communication. Effective communication is centered on the receiver of the communication receiving the same message as was intended by the sender. A new manager must take initiative ensure that the communication within the team is achieving the necessary results.


The final role that a new team leader must learn to perform is controlling the team. Once the roles of planning, organizing and directing have been fulfilled, the manager must be able to control the work to be completed by the team. The steps that are involved in establishing control over a team are:

  1. Establish a means to measure performance
  2. Measure results against established metrics
  3. Make corrections to performance to meet established performance goals

By following the above steps, the new manager can gain a means of understanding the team’s strengths and opportunities for improvement, as well as identify best practices within the team that can be shared with the other team members. Along with following these steps, it may become necessary to discipline employees who are unable or unwilling to change their behavior in order to meet established requirements.

By learning the roles of planning, organizing, directing, and controlling, a new manager can acquire the skill necessary to quickly become effective at his new and important role.

What are some of the key roles a manager needs to take on to be effective?

Must have authoritive manners but still remain open and slightly passive to gain ideas, opinions to help in decision making

What Are the Best Options for Arranging a Team and Assigning Team Role?

A primary reason for forming and working in teams is that the combined skills and expertise of the full group can be more effective than the contributions of individual members. The team needs to act in tight coordination with each member performing his or her task correctly and at the right time. When it works, it is easy to forget the team leader’s role in making it happen.

Team leaders have many challenges to overcome before the team can fulfill its purpose. Before a team can start work toward reaching its objective, the team leader must identify shared goals and outcomes and align a group of individuals them, identify the resources that the team needs and make arrangement to provide these resources, make assignments that help improve the skills of each individual while still benefiting the team, help the team run smoothly, and ensure that the team accomplishes the task at hand.

It is like the old adage that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. You have to get the right mix of people. To do this you have to understand what each person brings to the group and match those people to the right roles. Once this is accomplished, the leader’s job is to help the assigned individuals function together as a team. It is important not to have too many or too few member. To be effective, there needs to be a balance between the number of member and the number of role and responsibilities assigned by the team leader. Too many members can result in a team that is hard to manage, too few members and there may not be enough resources to complete the task.

Before building a team you must define the capabilities your team will need to be effective. The team leader must be clear on the objectives that need to be met. Start by identifying the type of work the needs to be performed. Define the team’s objectives. Then look at those goals and desired outcomes and list the skills, certifications, expertise, and talents that will be needed to accomplish those goals. Some of these may be very specific while others are of a more abstract nature.

The following five-step analysis, as outlined in the book “Building Effective Teams”, Duke Corporate Education, can be very beneficial when trying to identify the resources available and the roles where individuals may be most effective.

  1. Define your team’s current responsibilities. Make note of what skill sets are utilized to make the team work now.
  2. Define the tasks that the team will be responsible for a year from now. Make note of the skill sets that will be needed.
  3. Take an inventory of the team members and the skills that they have. Make note of any dormant skills that team members have the potential to enhance and bring to the group.
  4. Compare the tasks in step one and step two with the skills that your team has. Are there any gaps? Do you have back-up for each person? Where can cross functional roles help provide redundancy?
  5. Consider readjusting the team. Are there areas that need development? How quickly do they need to be developed? What capabilities should you look for in seeking new members?

When assigning roles you must also look at how the members work together. Personal challenges can have a definite affect on how the team works and how quickly tasks are completed. Make a list of the norms that you want for your team. If you want everyone to finish work at 4:30 the night before a meeting, don’t look to someone who is a last minute type of person. If you want a casual working relationship where ideas are shared easily, don’t look to a person who always wants sole credit for work done. Look for and find people who can fit into your list of norms.

Members of the team need a clear understanding of what is being asked of them. They need to know that if they are unclear they have someone to go to. They need support and direction at every step. It is the leader’s job to find out the goals of each team member. If a team member feels that their personal goals are being met they work harder for the team. There is no “I” in team but there is a “Me.” Team members want to continue to grow and will grow with the team if they feel like their goals are being recognized.

The following is a checklist, again derived from “Building Effective Teams”, to help identify the roles each member may be capable of performing.

  • Make sure you start with a clear understanding of the work to be done.
  • Complete a gap analysis as previously described to identify individual talents and how best to employ them.
  • Learn your team members’ aspirations as well as their current skill sets and align their roles to support these objectives whenever possible.
  • Understand your organizations strategic direction and structure the team so it has the flexibility to make any changes necessary to stay aligned with corporate objectives.
  • Determine your overarching priorities. Make sure the objectives of the individuals are not allowed to interfere with the objectives of the team. Individual roles may have to be adjusted over time to help keep the team priorities at the forefront.
  • Scope the work to match the capabilities of the team members you have to draw from as much as possible. This often involves negotiation to shape the roles to the members and the members to the roles.

Keep in mind that there are a number of roles that can be formally assigned within teams in the interest of helping workflow proceed as effectively and efficiently as possible. It is the team leader’s responsibility to perform an inventory of the resources they have to draw from and align those resources with identified team roles. While there may be some roles that are fundamental to most teams, each objective is different and therefore each team is unique. It is the process of identifying which roles are necessary in a given situation and which individuals are best suited to perform those roles that determines the effectiveness of a team leader.

What Relationship Aspects Can Be Defined in Advance to Assure Success?

When given an opportunity to grow within the company, there are challenges that come with the excitement of moving up the corporate ladder. These challenges are centered in the relationship “baggage” that one can bring with them into their new position. So what aspects of this baggage can be defined early so as to avoid any problems and assure the type of success that brought you into this new position? John C. Maxwell, in his book, The 360 degree Leader, suggests that the aspects fall into two categories. First, there are leadership principles that one must develop while still part of the body of the team before the promotion. These are 1) avoid office politics, 2) let the best idea win and 3) don’t pretend your perfect. (Maxwell, 2005, Thomas Nelson) Second are a group of principles that need to be developed after the upward move is made. These are 1) develop team members as people, 2) place people in their strength zones and 3) model the behavior you desire. (Maxwell, 2005, Thomas Nelson)

Maxwell feels that the development of leadership from inside of a team can be a very difficult challenge. Mostly the relationship baggage the new leader brings is the months or years of established interaction with co-workers. This baggage can be minimized with some concerted effort when interacting as a team member.

First, Maxwell defines playing politics as “changing who you appear to be or what you normally do to gain an advantage with whoever currently has power.” (Maxwell, 2005, Thomas Nelson) Many organizations drive people to feel that they must play these politics to get ahead. The suggestion made by Maxwell is that once a person participates in these politics, their reputation among their peers is one of trying to get ahead without merit. As this person moves into leadership roles, based on performance or not, that reputation among his peers will follow him and his leadership will be largely ineffective.

Second, in competitive corporate environments many middle managers are fighting to have their ideas heard and recognized. Many will do so at the expense of the larger company or at the expense of others around them. As a team member, before promotion, a reputation of fairness and open mindedness needs to be developed so that once the promotion does come that reputation will be useful. This is done by listening to all ideas, don’t take rejection personally, don’t let personality overshadow purpose and finally, protect creative people and the ideas they generate. (Maxwell, 2005, Thomas Nelson)

Finally, while working within a team, one should never put on the air of superiority, even in success. The way to combat this is to be real when dealing with oneself. Be quick to admit faults, ask for advice and worry less about what others think. People who are real draw others to them and are easily trusted.

Once the transition has been made to the leadership role, the relationship baggage is still there and still needs to be dealt with. The person in this role is no longer seen as a team member but an ex-team member. With that said, there are still the relationships that one has brought with them. These relationships can continue to develop on a personal level. First, each team member must feel that the leader is interested and willing to help them continually develop. The leader must understand that each team member is different and needs to be dealt with differently. Additionally, by establishing organizational goals that help each person develop outside of the work environment they will feel that the leader is helping them move toward personal progression. (Maxwell, 2005, Thomas Nelson)

Second, many leaders fail in finding the “sweet spot” of each team member is essential as a team leader. Many people feel under utilized when they are performing tasks that do not challenge them. By spending the time to understand strengths and then allowing team members to maximize those strengths, new leaders can develop successful teams.

Finally, good leaders will always lead by example. Leaders that move up through the corporate ladder by performing at high levels, achieving goals and being real can then expect the same behavior from the teams they now lead. This principle may be the most important. (Maxwell, 2005, Thomas Nelson)


  • Building Effective teams, Duke Corporate Education, Dearborn Trade Publishing.

A balance between management and leadership

In the business world of today, there seems to be a halo afixed to the term Leader, while the term Manager is seen to have something of a stigma. "Leader" brings to mind heroic figures rallying people together to give their all for a cause, while "Manager" brings to mind less-charismatic individuals trying to make people into more effecient cogs in the corporate machine.

When one considers this definition of Management (from Wikipedia) one can see that Leadership is actually a sub-catergory of Management: "Management (from Old French ménagement "the art of conducting, directing", from Latin manu agere "to lead by the hand") characterises the process of leading and directing all or part of an organization, often a business, through the deployment and manipulation of resources (human, financial, material, intellectual or intangible)."

One can manage their time, their budget, their fuel, and yes, their people, but one can only lead people (or to be more inclusive, we should say one can only lead intelligent living things, since shepards and dog-trainers would object to a homo sapiens-centric definition).

Then perhaps the perception of a cog-manipulating manager is rooted in this difference between animate and inanimate objects. It is when we feel used, manipulated, or led against our will by a person in authority over us, we feel as if we are being treated like an inanimate object. We say the person in authority is a lousy manager. But when the person in authority increases our own autonomy, makes us feel at liberty to accept or reject his/her vision, and fills us with a real personal desire to bring this vision to life, we say he/she is a great leader.

When applying these concepts for "manager" and "leader" in the setting of a team, we find interesting results: If there is a team leader that is perceived to be unconcerned with the team members needs, or has a personal agenda more important than the team's goals, then the leader is perceived to be more of a "manager" and becomes estranged from the team members. Conversely, the team leaders most admired and loyally followed are those who show concern for the team members as individuals with real needs, and are those who put "The Cause" of the team above their own persona agenda.

Realistically, most organizations do need leaders who sometimes look at their teams with cold, analytical eyes, evaluating inefficiencies and making unpopular choices. But it would be a mistake to think that one has to be an "estranged, unliked manager" in order to execute these responsibilities. If a team leader's tasks such as efficiency analysis were done hand in hand with sincerely seeking to know team members individual needs, then the team leader would be perceived to have a genuine desire to make the team more successful. Additionally, ineffective leaders may hide an unwillingness to make tough decisions by faking the "touchy-feely" attitudes associated with great leaders with high emotional-intelligence.

It is my opinion that effective leadership is a uniquely human institution, and there isn't a team that couldn't profit through better "leaders" rather than better "managers" –using the titles as metaphors, of course. One can still balance all the practical demands of a "manager" with the beneficial traits of an inspiring "leader."

Effective Team Leadership

There are many elements that create and are essential to be an effective leader that has the power to motivate a team and drive success. There is often a balancing act that the leader must manage between being a leader and a member while ensuring the goal is clear and obtainable. There are six leadership competencies that are the building blocks to becoming an effective leader; focus on the goal, ensure a collaborative climate, build confidence, demonstrate sufficient technical know-how, set priorities, and manage performance as described When Teams Work Best by LaFasto and Larson. Therefore, the question arises, “Does an effective team leader both merge into the group as a member of the team and also maintain a leadership role? And if so, how?”

A leader is the key player in the game that is comprised of challenge and risk. Therefore, an effective team leader must be both a component to the team and also a leader to manage the team’s progress. The leader cannot possibly be competent in every area without being engaged in the team. The leader must know each member and the team as a whole in order to bring them all together and create a process that is open, productive, and promotes confidence. An effective leader uses each member’s contributions and energy to focus on a common goal. Essentially, a leader’s job is to add importance to the team’s effort, which cannot be done without being a member.

It is very common for a team leader to be in the dark about their team and the everyday operations. This is a consequence of a leader’s disengagement and lack of membership with the team. Moreover, the team’s contention usually gives birth at this point and lends itself to decreased productivity and satisfaction. An effective leader needs to be able to pinpoint problems and praise excellence within the group, which cannot be done from the sideline.

The leader is a part of the overall process; therefore, a relationship naturally exists. However, it is up to the leader whether to nurture that relationship or minimize its importance. The team leader must understand the team’s vision and clearly define the goal to guarantee success and member loyalty. One cannot lead a team without knowing the purpose and goal of the team. Furthermore, a team leader must create a collaborative climate to ensure that the best thinking and ideas of the team are represented. Again, a wholesome climate cannot be established without knowing the members and becoming engaged in the team.

The foundation of a highly motivated and successful team is the member’s understanding and relevance of their goal. An effective leader’s trust in the team goal is vital to the member’s commitment. The members become isolated and discouraged when the leader’s investment is minimal. Team members want the opportunity to prove their value and worth to the goal and the leader. The leader must be involved and a member of the team to effectively influence the member’s productivity and function in the grand scheme of things.

There has been a gradual progression and contemporary focus on the leader’s mutual relationship with the members as opposed to the authority position in the modern day. This leader-member relationship breeds trust, confidence, stimulation, responsiveness, and problem solving which are the keys for success and satisfaction. As demonstrated, an effective leader should be a part and merge with the team and simultaneously lead and encourage it’s constituents toward the goal. The leader can bring inspiring growth or demise to a team and company; therefore, it is essential for a leader to be effective and powerful.

Dictatorship vs Leadership

The glory of a leader can be plagued and overshadowed by many concerns that can affect the team’s success. A leader must wear many hats and be able to lead and encourage a team to perform. It is necessary for a leader to become an engaged member of the team, but be able to lead at the same time. It is inevitable that different personalities, industries, and goals will force any leader to adapt and mold to fit the current environment. What is the best way to successfully encourage and lead a team? This is the million dollar question. Although each situation will present various opportunities and needs that a leader must meet, there will be some leadership styles that will impede the group each time.

What is the appropriate balance between being a dictator and being weak or a push over? A leader must be able to relate to the team and earn their respect and loyalty to the goal. This cannot be accomplished by being a dictator and micro managing the team and the members. A leader must manage and master the core competencies as illustrated in When Teams Work Best by LaFasto and Larson to be effective and respected. When a leader is a dictator it violates the concept of the leader being a part of the team. However, when a leader is not active or an integral link in the process then an unqualified leader evolves from the team pool, which creates dysfunction and chaos.

At one extreme of the leadership spectrum is dictatorship. When a leader is a dictator they feel better because they have control and power. Leaders that have a high desire for control will have a significant impact on the team. Team members can identify when a dictator emerges and at that point it is very difficult for the leader to break out of this defined mold. As a result, the members shut down because they feel their contribution and ideas are not valued. This hampers the team’s identity, confidence, openness, and supportiveness. The ideas and actions now become that of the leader rather than a unique collection of the team.

Conversely, the other end of the leadership spectrum involves being a push over or what can be interpreted as being disinterested or possessing little passion. When a designated leader expresses little desire or interest in the team goal then it is quite natural for an informal leader to emerge from the team. Consequently, the road toward the vision and goal becomes blocked with obstacles and the goal is more distant and foggy. Moreover, the members feel abandoned when the leader does not demonstrate a concern or responsibility in the decision. This forces the members to guess the leader’s perspective and ultimately they begin to question their ability to lead, which devalues their trust and confidence in their leader. The ideas and actions of the group become less creative and effective because the members don’t feel important.

Therefore, a leader must discover the appropriate balance and walk the fine line. An effective leader needs to provide direction and share their ideas while building the member’s confidence. It is much easier for a leader to argue and fight for their point of view when they haven’t transformed into a dictator. A leader should manage their control and exhibit their care and passion by sharing the control with the team. When the control and power is balanced and shared between the leader and the team issues such as what gets discussed and possible solutions and actions now become a collective effort. Resultantly, this type of relationship and arrangement leads to a high level of trust and satisfaction. And it is common knowledge that these are fundamental elements for a productive and happy team and group.


So, how much should your team be disciplined? As team leader, are you wholly responsible? Clearly, whatever procedures and policies exist for your organization should be followed, but what if a team member is consistently late for meetings? Or if someone is social loafing? Should you be the one, as team leader, to correct the problem? Maybe not.

Balancing between disciplining your team and building your team can sometimes be difficult and is often viewed as two opposite behaviors. However, by building a stronger team, you can also develop a team that essentially self-disciplines. By building in mutual accountability into your team, the team will become self-disciplining. Team building, to this end, should focus on gaining common goals, purpose, and process.

Following the guidelines for team building can be essential in creating a self-disciplining team. Developing ground rules and assigning the task of ensuring each rule is followed to individual team members can be key. Additionally, spend some team time discussing and planning consequences for discipline. It can also be helpful for the team to create a visible method of logging or recording team measures, which should include:

  • the agreed standards to which the team is working to
  • how frequently each of the measures will normally be repeated
  • who should receive feedback on the results (this would normally be the team, but can include people outside the team if it is appropriate)
  • who is responsible for initiating the re-measurement process

Team fun should be planned around the goals (both short term and long term). For example, team building “ice breakers” are great only if they further the mission and function of the team. Select “ice breakers” based on goals for that particular meeting. Need to increase communication among members? Play a game of “telephone.” Need to work on creativity? Play a “think outside the box” game. Additionally, though, don’t de-value general bonding and getting to know team members. Supporting the team barbecue or coffee break can go a long way toward improving team morale, as well as creating a team that knows and trusts each other better.

In reality, though, teams may not easily become self-disciplining. How do you, as a team leader, then discipline a team in the real world without losing all the fun? If someone on your team is not pulling their weight, it is highly possible they are blissfully unaware of the problem. Find an appropriate way to talk to them about, be it during a team meeting (especially if it’s a concern with more than one member) or one-on-one, using a task-oriented approach rather than a personal one. Perhaps there is another issue that needs to be addressed that you are unaware of. One of the worse things you could do as team leader, though, is to ignore the problem – it will no go away or get better unless you can address it. Remember, too, that you may need to ultimately remove someone from your team, if there is no resolution, no solution, and the team and the team goal are suffering.

Finding that balance between fun and discipline is largely dependent on the goal of the team, and the situation and relationships of the team and you. It’s largely a personal choice – but a great team cannot exist without both. Ask for help from the team and share the responsibility of discipline. Keep track of expectations and progress and share the information with the whole team. Build the team to trust each other and perform for each other. Teamwork is difficult, but with a well lead team results can be fantastic, and yes, even fun.

Poor Leadership


When studying the topic of leadership as a whole, academic thinkers have generally ignored the concept of poor leadership. This was, in fact, a major obstacle to our research. The death of poor leadership research is in stark contrast to the numerous volumes of books that have been written on how to be an outstanding leader. This presents a bit of a paradox—how can we hope to teach good leadership without explaining the pitfalls of bad leadership? To exclude bad leadership from the "conversation and curriculum is misguided, tantamount to a medical school that would claim to teach health while ignoring disease" (Kellerman, 11). Modern leadership literature is biased towards a positive representation of leadership: "[the literature] assumes that people can learn to be leaders and that to be a leader is to be a person of competence and character" (Kellerman, 4). Further, this bias is a recent one. Before the twentieth century, leadership was viewed more as a question of how to control bad leaders than how to create good leaders. For example, Machiavelli did not consider morality in his treatise on leadership. In fact, he stated that “A prince never lacks legitimate reasons to break his promise” (Machiavelli). He assumed that brutality was simply a part of leadership and the world. The U.S. Constitution and the protections built into it were primarily designed to stop bad leadership and protect people from it (Kellerman, 6). Nowadays, however, we tend to look for the good in our leaders rather than dealing with the reality of bad leadership. Leadership studies, therefore, reflect the positive associations that modern American business and cultural thinkers have attached to the term rather than the more neutral view that might also be applied. Almost all contemporary work focuses on this as well. The implicit assumption in most leadership literature is that we can learn to be leaders if we try hard enough.

Well, what happens if your leader has not learned to be a good leader? Our goal in this chapter is to expose readers to the varieties and signs of bad leadership, and in so doing better prepare them for the inevitable time when they have to deal with poor leadership in their own lives. Since there are many, many shades of gray to leadership (both good and bad), we cannot hope to address all possible situations in this paper. What we can do, though, is provide the reader with a sense of what to be aware of and on the lookout for, and how to take preventative measure to curb the spread of bad leadership. Ultimately it is up to each individual how to approach a bad leader or deal with an instance of poor leadership.

What Is a Leader?

For the purposes of our discussion, leaders are people who are making decisions on behalf of a team or group. Followers are everyone else in the affected group that gives at least limited deference to the decision maker. This broad definition can encompass small and well defined groups such as sports teams as well as large groups like major corporations. Regardless of the size of the organization there is almost always a leader somewhere in it. In this context, leadership requires followership. Leaders simply do not happen if others fail to follow them. Further, good leadership can be undone by bad followership and good followership is useless without good leadership. Bad leadership and bad followership often go together although the former is often a catalyst for the latter. To understand the bad leader/follower relationship, first we must define what a bad leader is. According to Kellerman, there are seven different types of poor leadership.

Types of Poor Leadership

“The Leader and at least some followers lack the will or skill (or both) to sustain effective action” (51).
An incompetent leader may, for example, not be comfortable with technology or may not have the foresight to see challenges on the horizon. Whatever the issue, this leader’s lack of ability will have a negative affect on the team. Some followers may take advantage of the leader’s incompetence while others may not perform optimally simply because the leader is incapable of challenging them to do their best. The end result can be a dysfunctional team where few goals are accomplished.
“The leader and at least some followers are stiff and unyielding” (75).
Rigid leaders, unlike incompetent leaders, are capable of doing all that is necessary for the team to succeed. In the case of a rigid leader, the problem lies in the fact that the leader is unwilling to do the things required in order for the team to succeed. “[T]he key to the leader’s evolving role always lies in understanding what the team needs and does not need from the leader in order to perform” (Katzenbach, 133), so leaders that are not willing to adapt and evolve pose a significant threat to their team’s success. An unwillingness to change can be an attractive attribute to some followers and can lead the entire team towards solutions that are unimaginative and even counter productive.
“The leader lacks self-control and is aided and abetted by followers who are unwilling or unable to effectively intervene” (95).
Even the most talented leader can lead a team to foreseeable disaster due to a lack of control. An intemperate leader is like a gifted child who is incapable to controlling his or her basic desires, and thus cannot achieve the higher goals of the team. The leader’s position of power may be used as a tool to satisfy the leader’s personal desires. The end result can be devastating to the group through the loss of time and effort on things unrelated to the end goal.
“The leader and at least some followers are uncaring or unkind” (119).
Compassion and empathy towards fellow team members is what leads to trust. Trust is essential if a team is to “be comfortable being open, even exposed, to one another around their failures, weaknesses, even fears” (Lencioni, 14). Teams must be able to make progress; a good leader must “put team performance first” (Katzenbach, 131). A callous leader will destroy any good will that exists amongst team members leading to a fundamental breakdown of trust. The result is often that nobody will be willing to take risks or put forward new ideas for fear that the leader (or the entire team) will react with contempt or scorn.
“The leader and at least some followers lie, cheat or steal” (147).
Leaders lead by example. The result of corruption is going to be more corruption. Different team members will react to this in different ways. Some may feel alienated, others may take advantage of the situation. The worst case scenario is that other team members will want to resort to similar behavior as the leader.
“The leader and at least some followers minimize or disregard the health and welfare of people outside of the team” (169).
This can result in the team becoming the needless enemy of people who could otherwise make valuable contributions to the work of the team. While the team may have a great working relationship internally, members are always going to feel as though they are “under siege.”
“The leader and at least some followers commit atrocities” (191).
Regrettably some of the most evil people—such as Hitler—have had some of the best leadership skills. Evil leaders present a whole different problem and motivational scheme, and we do not address evil leaders in this paper. If you are working under an evil leader, we suggest you focus on your own welfare and get out immediately, if possible.

Why Is There Bad Leadership?

Bad leadership can be divided into two main categories; leadership skills and character traits. A leader's character traits will often determine his or her skill set. Leadership skills might include things like communication skills, organization, or responsiveness to others. Character traits would include things like intransigence, intelligence, or anything that is integral to the person and cannot be changed through education and reasonable effort. A leader can enroll in a workshop to improve a skill; on the other hand, extensive counseling might be required to change a character trait. This division of skills and traits has many shades of grey, but is useful for analyzing what is going wrong in a team.

Good followers are distinguished by traits such as being self-directed, independent, and reliable. In this sense good followers make up integral parts of the teams they are involved in. Bad followers, by contrast, "are weak and dependent, and they refuse in any significant way to commit or contribute to the group" (Kellerman, 33). How followers act can be analyzed through Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. In essence, every follower is constantly weighing the benefit of following against the benefit of not following. For every person there is a point when the benefit they derive is outweighed by the harm that is caused to them from their current course. At this point followers are likely to try to change their situation.

This reality is encompassed in the behavior of followers. Followers will go along with bad leaders who fulfill their needs. If safety is the primary concern and a greedy tyrant can provide it, then followers are likely to consider that situation an acceptable one. But why would people in less extreme situations fail to act? They might not want to rock the boat. "Getting along by going along" (Kellerman, 23) is the primary goal in these cases. Someone with a steady job—under a terrible leader—who needs the job would have an incentive not to risk his career. Going along with bad leadership sometimes simplifies our lives and makes things easier. This may be the case even when we know something is wrong in the abstract (Kellerman, 24). We might look at the political decisions of many people across the world as an example of this type of thinking, such as those who have chosen in the past to follow leaders such as Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, or Saddam Hussein. Following bad leaders may help to "quell our uncertainty" as Kellerman puts it (24). Leadership can help to eliminate the dissonance that we might otherwise encounter, even if leadership is flawed. Bad leaders may provide benefits to the group as well, such as order, work, or identity (Kellerman, 24). These are in addition to the benefits that the individual receives and in some cases might override them. We as groups are dependent on leaders to organize us. It may therefore be inconvenient to throw them out, and risky to everyone involved (Kellerman, 25). The interdependence we see in teams also occurs more generally between leaders and followers. It is bad followers that allow, and even encourage, bad leaders. If we are to stem the tide of poor leadership, we must exert effort at the follower level as well.

Cost-Benefit and Skill-Trait Analysis

At the core, we as followers make decisions based on a simple analysis of the costs and benefits. Everyone will follow to a certain point beyond which they are unlikely to continue to do so. This point is different for everyone. As followers, therefore, we need to keep in mind how well the team is doing and how it affects us. Almost everyone is engaged in a continual cost-benefit analysis of their actions. We suggest bringing this analytical perspective to the forefront when analyzing groups and teams. When analyzing the leader, it is appropriate to ask whether the problem stems from character traits or leadership skills. Followers should question what their commitment to the team is, what rewards it brings, what potential costs exist, and what the likelihood of success is. Finally, a follower needs to have a good sense of his or her relative power within the organization. Followers are capable of making informed decisions about their own future and their current situation, but only if they are armed with all the relative information about the situation.

Followers must start by figuring out if the offending action on the part of the leader is caused by a character trait or poor leadership skills. Often the direct cause of the problem may be a poor leadership skill while the underlying cause of this poor skill is a character trait. The answer to this question is likely to determine how the problem can be addressed. A character trait is almost certainly beyond the ability of a follower in a group to address. In this case, followers need to simply continue to a basic cost-benefit analysis of the situation to decide what to do. Some problems may be possible to manage or avoid, but others may be so egregious that the follower is compelled to leave the team or organization.

A problem stemming from poor leadership skills may have a more manageable solution, but followers must be realistically aware of what is required to change the skill. As in the case of problems stemming from character traits, there are no clear answers. Followers must simply evaluate the situation to the best of their abilities and continue from there. For example, a follower may be faced with a manager who constantly questions them about their use of time. While this is a direct problem with a specific way of managing people, it is probably caused either by a lack of management training or the manager’s insecurity about his or her position and the work of the other members of the organization. The follower in this case should attempt to ascertain where the problem is originating from.

After figuring out exactly what the problem is, followers can continue with a cost-benefit analysis. Followers in an organization need to ask themselves what benefits they are getting and what they might lose if they choose to change their behavior. When contemplating change, followers should also be willing to look at the new situation and recognize that there is a point where they will no longer participate. These situations vary among people and contexts, but each follower should make a conscious effort to define his or her own limits. For example, a player on a recreational soccer team will probably stop playing if she breaks her leg, but not if she skins her knee. In the case of a broken leg, it is more important to get to a doctor than to finish out the soccer game. The employee in the previous example might decide that the real issue is that the manager has no leadership skills and is insecure about this. In this case the employee would be forced to evaluate the manager’s possible reaction to suggestions that they get more training or change responsibilities. These situations both illustrate the type of analysis that must take place.

Followers may decide that the current situation may be unsatisfactory but they are unwilling to walk away. In this case, the goal changes from effecting change on the part of the leader to simply finding a balance where the situation is acceptable in some sense. This boils down to simply asking if the situation is tolerable—at least for the time being—and managing oneself and others to minimize damage or discomfort. Followers should also be looking to do things that will increase their relative benefits or decrease the costs for other actions. This will increase power relative to other people in the organization.

This is only a framework for analyzing choices. Each situation will be different, but this type of cost-benefit analysis will give team members a good sense of how things really are. Followers, especially good followers, should be continually evaluating other people’s actions and their own place within a situation, group or organization.

What Should You Do if You Encounter Bad Leadership?

Working in a situation dominated by poor leadership can be frustrating and intimidating. If team members are not confident in their leader, what should they do? This is one of the most difficult questions to answer, since there are no easy or clear answers. The best we can hope to do is provide a framework for thinking through these complex issues and devising an approach that is likely to be effective. Hopefully you have already begun to understand what sort of thinking must take place in these complex and delicate situations.

Perhaps the most proactive stance to take is to hold our leaders responsible for their actions and/or misconduct. Followers should “seek to effect institutional changes that will make leaders more responsible and accountable” (Kellerman, 242). This could include implementing a system of checks and balance (restrictions on the leader’s power), and should probably also include—if the team is a corporate one—strengthening the board of directors. In order to ensure that the board exercises sufficient oversight, boards should “consider reforms such as: establishing a governance committee; …dividing the responsibilities of the chair of the board from those of the chief executive officer; and opening regular channels of communication to those on the outside” (Kellerman, 242). Followers can also act as watchdogs themselves, reporting fraud or negligence when they see it. It should be noted here that employees should watch out for themselves in the case of fraud—if an employee is involved in fraud, even at a minute level (such as knowing about it and not reporting it), he or she is likely to be brought down with the major players; this is an added incentive to monitor leaders and report illegal activity immediately (Maher, lecture).

In addition to taking action, followers can help prevent bad leadership simply by being aware and prepared. Followers should be skeptical of what their leaders say and do. Leaders are real people, and subject to the same human downfalls and errors in judgment we all are. Followers must empower themselves, so that if the time comes they will be able to take a stand and halt or deter bad leadership. According to Kellerman, “people who think of themselves as followers don’t usually think of themselves as powerful. But they are or…can be” (239).

A good way to achieve empowerment is to band together; as we all know, there is strength in numbers. Followers should seek information from people other than the leader in order to gather “correct and complete information” (Kellerman, 241). If a follower (or group of followers) does decide to take action, collective action is best. Collective action could come in the form of a meeting to discuss strategies or “getting a small group of people together to talk to the boss” (Kellerman, 241). This is far preferable to speaking with the boss alone (at least regarding the poor quality of his or her leadership), and will help to prevent bullying or coercive groupthink. In some organizations, going over the boss’s head is seen as politicking and inappropriate—we leave it to followers to decide what is appropriate and manageable in their own group or corporation. If nothing else, having a group of people who are in agreement aids in getting complaints heard and in substantiating claims of bad leadership. It also reduces a single employee’s chances of getting hung out to dry, so to speak.

As you may have experienced (or may be experiencing now), it can be extremely difficult to resolve these states of affairs (and improve or oust bad leaders) once the team or situation is already underway. If your organization does not have guidelines or conflict management channels in place, it can be near impossible to even approach your leader regarding his or her behavior—let alone change it. With this in mind, we recommend that every organization employ some sort of ombudsman, employee rights activist, or conflict manager for just such occasions. This position—or positions—would be responsible for handling disputes, especially those involving management. They could provide guidelines for approaching a problematic leader, and could even mediate the discussion. This position would ensure that employees would not be punished for bringing these situations or problems to light. There should also be clear lines of communication, so that followers and leaders know who to talk to regarding any concerns they do have. If we are to eradicate bad leadership, followers must be able to feel safe addressing their concerns. If your organization does not yet have an ombudsman or a similar position, we suggest you strive to implement one—before you need one.

While there cannot be an exact prescription of what to do in any given scenario, we hope that this chapter provides new and comprehensive ways of analyzing and approaching the problem of ineffective or bad leadership. We cannot tell you exactly what to do, because every leader, every follower and every situation is different. The main thing to remember is that “once they’re entrenched, bad leaders seldom change or quit of their own volition. This means it’s up to us to insist either on change—or on an early exit” (Kellerman, 243). While it is of course best to prevent bad leadership from occurring in the first place (if possible), there are a number of ways to slow or stop it. If your efforts to improve poor leadership meet with blank stares—or worse yet, retaliation—it may be time to perform another cost-benefit analysis and decide if this organization is really right for you.


Every person who joins a team makes a decision to be a part of that team and has at least some form of commitment to the team’s goals. Teams frequently have complex dynamics that team members need to be aware of from the beginning. It is useful for people to ask clarifying questions of themselves, of other team members, and of the leader—at the inception of the team and as the team progresses. Some or all of these may seem like common sense, but they need to be asked nonetheless.

  • Is there a clear and elevating goal? Can the team leader express it?
  • To what degree are other team members and I committed to the goals of the team? How has the leader influenced this?
  • Do I get along with other team members? Are poor relationships a result of poor leadership?
  • Have team rules been created, and are they being followed? Is the team leader supporting this?
  • What methods of conflict resolution are in place? Does the leader act as a mediator between team members, does the leader defer to another mediator when there is conflict between a member of the team and the leader?

The answers to these questions should provide clues as to where any dysfunction is occurring. Followers can then choose to act as they see fit for the situation at hand. We advise all team members to analyze their teams and their leaders frequently and, if possible, to institute measures early to control and prevent bad leadership. If frameworks and communication channels are in place early on, it will be much easier to address concerns if and when they do occur. We regret that we are not able to offer conclusive advice for specific situations or types of poor leadership, but there is so much room for interpretation that we would not feel comfortable doing so. We hope to have given the reader an idea of what to expect from a poor leader, and ways to approach the situation and the leader to determine the most appropriate course of action.


  • Katzenbach, Jon R. and Douglas K. Smith. The Wisdom of Teams. McKinsey and Company, Inc., 1993.
  • Kellerman, Barbara. Bad Leadership. Harvard Business School Publishing, 2004
  • Lencioni, Patrick. Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions of a Team. Jossey-Bass, 2005.
  • Machiavelli, Niccolo. The Prince. University of Chicago Press, 1998.
  • Maher, Michael. Lecture, MGT 271, UC Davis Graduate School of Management, Spring 2006.

How Do You Manage Global Virtual Teams?


The rise of the Internet, the creation of a global fiber-optic network, and the rapid development of long distance communication technologies has made it very easy for people all over the world to work together. It created a global platform that has allowed more people to plug and play, collaborate and compete, share knowledge and share work, than anything we have ever seen in the history of the world (Friedman, 2005). The new communication technology gives teams a great advantage by providing many options that didn’t exist before, such as allowing employees to work from their homes locally or by working together in teams across the continents.

The nature of work has begun to shift from a production-based to service related business spawning a new generation of knowledge worker no longer bound to a physical work location. Taken together, these factors suggest that firms are faced with increasing challenges to coordinate tasks across time zones, physical boundaries, cultures, and organizational contexts. The increasing globalization of trade and corporate activity increases the pressure to innovate and provide quality services to worldwide markets. Over time, this has led organizations to choose the most qualified people, a “dream-team,” regardless of their physical location (Kerber, 2004:4). These remotely connected dream teams are known as global virtual teams (GVTs).

Global virtual teams are different from intra-national virtual teams in that they are “not only separated by time and space, but differ in national, cultural, and linguistic attributes (Zakaria, 2004:17).” According to Wheatley and Wilemon (1999), global team members “differ in their functionality, which adds complexity to group dynamics.” Global virtual teams can be formed quickly and are agile by their nature. They can help organizations decrease their response time to changes in today’s hyper-competitive markets by taking advantage of round the clock work by team members dispersed around the world.

A global virtual team possesses some similarities to traditional teams who are co-located. The same fundamental ideas, as stated in Chapter 6.1 of this Wikibook, that are necessary for the success of a traditional team still apply to global virtual team. The approach however, requires modification to focus extra effort to exploit the benefits that global virtual teams bring while minimizing the disadvantages that exist from communication difficulties and a lack of physical contact. This paper investigates the benefits, challenges, and best practices of managing global virtual teams while keeping in mind the fact that global virtual teams are still teams requiring the same ideals to ensure success.

Building Virtual Teams


Because of the unique challenges confronting virtual teams, it is especially important at their formation that they build upon a strong foundation. Some of the ideas in this chapter are expanded and explored in the following chapter. Among others, building blocks for successful virtual teams include the following:

  • Creating a mission, goals, and ground rules
  • Identifying stakeholders and their expectations
  • Complementary roles and responsibilities
  • Building relationships, trust, and rewarding experiences

Creating a mission, goals, and ground rules

An often overlooked exercise in any team situation is the discussion of processes and rules which should govern team meetings and projects. Virtual teams are no exception. In reality, establishing and adhering to goals and ground rules is more complicated in virtual teams than in those where members have the frequent opportunity to meet face-to-face. The inability to have face time with one another makes it difficult for team members to "touch base" and maintain a unified purpose. The need to do this, however, is clear. If the individuals of a team do not have a clear and shared understanding of where they are going, they will never get there. Virtual teams should hold an orientation meeting (face-to-face if possible) where team members acknowledge not only the purpose of the team, but the significance of their team's purpose for the organization in which it operates. Understanding their purpose, members of the team should then set goals and assign tasks toward the fulfilling of that purpose. Each team member should come away from the orientation meeting with a clear understanding of the team's purpose as well as their individual role.

Identifying stakeholders and their expectations

The purpose of a virtual team should be very closely tied to the expectations of stakeholders. Therefore, stakeholders or stakeholder representatives should be actively involved in the formation of the virtual team. Clarifying the needs and expectations of stakeholders in the beginning will help the team to avoid unnecessary work, confusion, and conflict. A documentation of stakeholder's expectations should be made for reference throughout the project. Future communication between stakeholders and team representatives will further ensure that the team's purpose is on track and being fulfilled.

Complementary roles and responsibilities

It is important that every member of a virtual team has a full understanding of the capabilities and roles of individual team members. Each must know his or her role, the role of others, and to who they may look for resources and support. Without this knowledge, the team will not achieve its performance potential. If the responsibilities of team members are clearly defined and documented, each team member will be accountable to each other and to the group for the fulfilling of their responsibilities. The ground rules established in the formation of the group should address responsibilities and tasks and likewise identify remedies and protocol when individual and group responsibilities are not fulfilled. In order for team members to "own" their role and responsibilities, they should document their perceptions of their role within the team. Only when team members have fully bought into the team's purpose and their role within it can they be held fully accountable.

Naturally, it is important that the roles and responsibilities of team members compliment one another and represent a unique and useful asset to the team. Selecting individuals to take part in a virtual team requires thoughtful consideration. Depending on the size of the team and scope of its purpose, teams may include a core group which is fully accountable for the results, as well as extended or ancillary members who bring unique knowledge to the team. Flexibility and adaptability are necessary in new virtual teams as their purpose and needs evolve.

Building relationships, trust, and rewarding experiences

The ideal way of building relationships with team members is to spend time together face-to-face. As mentioned earlier, this can be difficult in virtual teams whose members may reside continents away. LaFasto and Larson suggest that it is even more important for virtual teams to connect in person on a regular basis: "For a group of regional managers spread across the country or around the world, ensuring adequate face time might mean meeting together every quarter to calibrate major activities, explore common challenges, and confirm relationships" (181).

When relationships between team members are built and confirmed on an ongoing basis, a culture of trust will exist even when members are working virtually with one another. The way a group behaves and performs affects individual members. When trust is present and group behavior is positive, so too will be team member's evaluation of the experience. An individual's positive evaluation of the team leads to greater trust and ongoing participation. The collaborative participation of team's members translates into group behavior in a cyclical pattern as shown below.


There are many benefits of using global virtual teams due to the increased number of options and resources they provide. Jarvenpaa and Leidner explain that "Virtual teams promise the flexibility, responsiveness, lower costs, and improved resource utilization necessary to meet ever-changing task requirements in highly turbulent and dynamic global business environments (1999:791)." Moreover, the use of global virtual teams provides an opportunity to coordinate complex business tasks across a potentially far-flung confederation of organizations. This allows companies to better communicate and coordinate even though vast distances separate the different team members, making it easier to expand internationally and removing other location and distance-based restrictions.

The required expertise for a given task or project can be dispersed by multiple locations throughout the world. However, a global virtual team may facilitate the pooling of this talent to provide focused attention to a particular problem without having to physically relocate individuals. “Virtual teams allow organizations to bring together critical contributors who might not otherwise be able to work together due to time, travel, and cost restrictions (Kerber, 2004: 4).” This allows workers to be located anywhere and allows companies the opportunity to work virtually with team members in geographic areas that were previously considered too distant to be considered a viable work location
Companies can be more responsive to their customers through diversity. “Virtual teams may allow organizations to unify the varying perspectives of different cultures and business customs to avoid counterproductive ethno-centric biases (Kayworth, 2000:184).” Global virtual teams composed of members with different cultural visions may be less likely to experience “groupthink” and are more likely to develop innovative solutions to problems. In addition, the ability to respond to the specific and varied needs of a global audience can be addressed quickly and effectively with a global virtual team. Members of a global virtual team can immediately respond to specific geographic and cultural requirements previously ignored or missed by collocated teams.
Lower costs
Global virtual teams can help corporations lower their labor and overhead costs. There are pools of inexpensive, highly skilled labor forces in various locations around the world who can’t or do not want to be relocated. Access by communication to these labor forces leads many organizations to offshore certain functions traditionally performed in-house or by contractors. This is an appealing option to many organizations looking to reduce overall project and maintenance costs. By outsourcing the development of an application to India, for example, an organization can reduce the cost of a project. This is because India, in addition to many other countries, has a large population of highly educated people who can be accessed with today’s advanced communications technology. This allows the company to pay someone in India much less to do the same work compared to someone working locally in the U.S. Global virtual teams also reduce travel, accommodations, and other miscellaneous expenses for team members.
Improved resource utilization
Global virtual teams can improve resource utilization by leveraging time to their advantage. Performing work asynchronously helps global organizations effectively bridge different time zones so that teams can be more productive during a work period. “For example, London team members of a global virtual team of software developers at Tandem Services Corporation initially coded the project and transmitted their code each evening to U.S. team members for testing. U.S. members forwarded the code they tested to Tokyo for debugging. London team members started their next day with the code debugged by their Japanese colleagues, and another cycle was initiated. This is only one example of how GVTs can increase team-member productivity and reduce development time (Saunders, 2004:19).”


The pitfalls that virtual teams face in their early stages stem simply from the antitheses of the building blocks described above. As with water, teams tend to follow the "path of least resistance." This is because the pitfalls of virtual team building are due to omissions and inactivity. A common pitfall is setting out without a clear goal or purpose. If team members understand little more than the routine tasks they are to perform day-to-day, a lack of common understanding will lead to misdirected work and wasted time and resources. A related pitfall is misaligning the purpose of the team with the needs and expectations of stakeholders and the organization as a whole. Virtual teams further damage themselves when they neglect to take opportunities for building strong communication and trust in their relationships.


  • Hold an orientation meeting where team members participate in team building activities and document the team's purpose. Each team member should document his or her understanding of the team's purpose and their perceived role. These descriptions should be circulated within the group.
  • Prepare a questionnaire for each stakeholder to complete and return to the group. The questions should illicit a response which helps the team in the formation of goals and confirmation of the team's purpose.
  • Whenever possible, team members should meet face-to-face to confirm relationships and participate in activities which build trust and encourage communication.


Cultural differences add value and diversity to teams, but can cause problems as well. The two main cultural issues that appear in global virtual teams are: false perception of similarity and differing perceptions of teamwork.
  • Diversity: It has been proven through many studies of successful teams that diversity can reduce the occurrence of "groupthink" and allow a team to make better and more creative decisions. Team members from different cultures automatically bring diversity to the group. This diversity should not be ignored or minimized; rather it should be embraced and utilized. Effective ideas from one country or market can be adapted successfully for others.
  • False perception of similarity: There is often a false assumption among immigrants from English-speaking countries that they will have an easier time assimilating than those coming from non-English speaking countries. In actuality, foreign nationals from English-speaking countries experience higher rates of culture shock than those from non-English-speaking countries. This is due to a perception that the cultures will be similar because there is a shared language. This perception also plagues global virtual teams. “Welch, and Marschan-Piekkari (2001:197) and Usunier (1993) show that because of perceived familiarity and similarity across English-speaking countries, individuals can be lured into a false sense of confidence and fail to perceive that they are not culturally close. This can have a negative impact on business communication processes and personal relationships (Henderson, 2005:75).”
  • Differing perceptions of teamwork: The concept of teamwork varies between cultures. “Members from different cultures will, in all probability, describe a team’s objectives, membership criteria, and activities in very different terms (Zakaria, 2004:20).” The value of individual work as opposed to teamwork differs greatly between countries. Individuals born and raised in Great Britain, Canada (excluding Quebec), and the United States tend to be more individualistic. Chinese and Indian individuals, on the other hand, are more focused on collective efforts. As Jarvenpaa & Leidner (1999:793) explain, "Individuals from individualistic cultures tend to be less concerned with self-categorizing, are less influenced by group membership, have greater skills in entering and leaving new groups, and engage in more open and precise communication than individuals from collectivist cultures." Additionally, “individuals from individualistic cultures might be more ready to trust others than individuals from collectivist cultures in computer-mediated communication environments (Jarvenpaa, 1999:794).” These differences make it difficult to determine what the cause of a problem may be with team members because it’s difficult to distinguish between cultural and personal factors. This makes diagnosing and solving problems more difficult than in traditional teams.
  • A good way to approach cultural differences is to learn as much as possible about the culture. This includes background research or meeting with consultants to learn how best to behave before the initial meeting. Any attention spent in this area will go a long way toward team success. Being prepared and making a good first impression will send positive signals to members of the other culture and will signify intentions of commitment. Knowing that Aussie’s can be very direct in their communication will assist an American in not taking it personally when being told to “mind your own business (Sabath, 1999:24).” It is also helpful to know that is it not uncommon for Japanese to “wait 10 to 15 seconds before responding” to a question or comment (Sabath, 1999: 93). This type of cultural information will reduce tension among team members.


Trust in global virtual teams is both important and difficult to build because team members are limited in their physical interaction. In addition to the lack of social context, language barriers and a reliance on stereotypes complicate the building of trust in global virtual team.
In other cultures, relationships and trust are paramount in business. If virtual team members from the United States manage to gain the trust of foreign associates, that trust could very well translate into a lifetime of profitable business interactions.
  • Language: A major challenge for teams composed of speakers of different languages is that the building of trust and relationships is largely language dependent. Based on published research and illustrative empirical data, findings indicate that language diversity has a significant impact on socialization processes and team building, influencing both communication acts and mutual perceptions. Results of investigations into multilingual teams using English to communicate have shown that many obstacles are encountered by native as well as nonnative speakers (Henderson, 2005:79). “Research has shown that language-related issues can impact negatively on interpersonal relations, trust, and the working atmosphere (Henderson, 2005:67).”
  • Reliance on stereotypes: One of the difficulties international teams experience is the tendency to resort to national stereotypes that can lead to misinterpretations of the behavior of team members, leading to tensions and mistrust. “These are expressed in the form of judgments of others who may be labeled as being, for example, ‘reserved,’ ‘silent,’ or ‘direct,’ based on the stereotypical linguistic attributes of the language community to which they belong (Henderson, 2005:74).” It is important to address these hurdles to building trust in global virtual teams because “the inability to develop these relationships within a social context may negatively impact such outcomes as creativity, morale, decision-making quality, and process loss (Kayworth, 2000:189).”
  • One way to promote trust is to have smaller groupings and make their tenure together a longer period of time. This permits the team members to know each other better in comparison to a system in which the teams are constantly shifting. If the team members know that they’ll be around each other for a long time into the future, they will have an incentive to put more effort into building lasting relationships. The prospect of spending more time together in the future discourages negative behavior, such as not returning an email, because sometime in the future this will have negative consequences. In a rapidly shifting team, however, building relationships is not as important because the team won’t be together for much longer. If the team members know they’ll be working together for a long time they’ll have an incentive to work together and trust each other much more than they otherwise would. Having the same team together for a long time opens the possibility that the team will become outdated and obsolete. Therefore the team must be flexible, innovative, explore new technologies, and be capable of learning so that the team continues to be effective during their long tenure together.
  • Stereotype Breakdown: Another way to build trust in global virtual teams is to breakdown these stereotypes and allow people to realize that we are all humans with similar problems, despite the vast cultural differences. Majchrzak (2004, 7) tells of a successful example of this form of trust building: The leader of one team, a retired military officer, started his conference calls by asking each person to spend 30 seconds describing “where the member is at.” During a conference call in 2002, when snipers were terrorizing the Washington, DC, area, a team member living there said she didn’t feel so alone after she heard her fears echoed by another member in the Philippines, where insurgents were shooting people on their way to and from work. By using this simple technique, team leaders can assist their team members in realizing they share many similar experiences as do their co-workers on the other side of the world. This will create closeness and facilitate the building of trust.
  • Structure: Management must also pay strong attention to facilitate the proper balance between the level of structure and trust developed among team members. A strong structure, which translates into clear and shared goals, norms, task and process descriptions, hierarchy, roles, personal interaction and relationship, reduces the ambiguity that typically exists in global virtual teams (Jarvenpaa, 2004:251). Working on a global virtual team makes it more difficult to specifically identify exactly what you should be working on because of its solitary nature. This increases the need for specifying the process because of the lack of social interaction which would normally allow someone to double check their work and direction with other team members.
  • Social Interaction: A kick-off meeting is a good way to promote the social interaction and relationship building necessary in teams. The team’s tasks involve highly complex messages as well as high levels of reciprocity and interdependency, which require a rich communication media and long team duration (Maznevsky, 2000:488). It is therefore recommended that whenever this context of reciprocity and interdependency is present, kick-off meetings should be held face-to-face and with plenty of opportunities for social interaction and relationship building (Anawati, 2006:50) . If a face-to-face kickoff meeting is not feasible, the team can always replicate one virtually. The initial meeting or communication is a critical time because that’s when first impressions are set and when the tone and cadence of the team’s work is determined. If the initial meeting is sloppy and unorganized, it is expected that the team’s success will be a reflection of this. However, if the initial virtual meeting is well organized, structured, and conveys a clear goal, the probability of team success will be higher.
  • Specified Normative Behaviors: Structure can be added to teams by formalizing normative behaviors. Because global virtual teams lack the social interaction which would normally determine the normative behaviors in the group, normative behaviors should be specified. The management of the team should also pay additional attention to the clarity and direction of the team. This is a consequence to the lack of communication and interaction that normally exists in collocated teams. A clear and defining goal will help to align the team member’s efforts so that everyone is working in the same direction.
  • Work Postings: Another way to make sure all members of the global virtual team are working in the right direction is to post the work virtually so that all the members can see what everyone else is doing. While they made regular use of conference calls, team members did not report on the status of assignments during them. Instead, most (83%) relied on virtual work spaces. Here they posted their work in progress electronically and examined their colleagues’ postings, well in advance of teleconferences. They tended to use the conference calls themselves to discuss disagreements, which they said were more effectively handled in conversation than in writing (Majchrazak, 2004: 5. This method of posting work makes the conference calls and other group communication more effective and less frequent because the team members can see each other's work and progress at anytime. Posting the work helped align the team members’ goals and helped them work effectively and reduced the amount of voice communication that would otherwise have been necessary.

Finally, trust evolves with time. It starts mostly based on one’s trustworthiness while there is little knowledge and a weak structure. It then evolves to some combined balance of trust and structure as members acquire more knowledge of each other, the team’s goals, norms, etc. Along this continuum, trust faces a transition point where simple trustworthiness gives way to early stages of trust.

Communication Techniques


New virtual communication techniques are being developed all the time as teams seek for ways to improve information sharing. Virtual Communication is achieved through two main methods: Videoconferencing Systems and Collaborative Software Systems.

Videoconferencing Systems

Videoconferencing is a type of visual collaboration that allows groups or individuals from two or more locations to interact through interactive audio and visual transmissions. Microphones, speakers, cameras and video display are needed along with a system to transfer the data such as the internet or a Local Area Network (LAN).

Opportunities & Pitfalls
  • This is a powerful tool for communicating as few of the facial cues, body language indications or voice intonations and modulations from normal face to face communication are lost as in other technological communication. Teams from distinct locations can come to know one another and develop relationships much more quickly than could be accomplished through more impersonal methods.
  • Developing teams becomes easier when the choice of personnel is not restricted by geographic considerations. Videoconferencing and other virtual communication methods allow teams to choose the most appropriate members regardless of where they are located without the cost of travel to bring teams together.

However there are some challenges inherent in this technique.

  • It can be difficult to schedule meetings with people or teams spread across broad geographic areas. For a team in Australia to communicate with a team in Mountain Standard Time Zone in the U.S., they may find that their usual office hours only overlap when one company is preparing to leave and the other is just arriving. What is more, the greater the number of members of a team, the more difficult it will be to find a time to meet that fits into everyone’s schedule.
  • Another problem that arises is a lack of eye contact. The speakers are talking to a camera and/or faces on a screen. In some ways this is worse than a phone conversation as the technique can provide an incorrect impression of the speaker’s intentions in regards to eye contact.
  • Moreover the camera can cause people to behave unnaturally. Stage fright or self-consciousness at appearing before a camera can influence people’s mannerisms, body language and ability to communicate effectively.
  • Scheduling and planning ahead are essential. It becomes more difficult to schedule videoconferencing meetings the greater the number of people involved. Unless the scheduling is done far in advance, meetings will often interfere with other duties and responsibilities of those involved.
  • Eye contact is important in regular conversation. Team members using videoconferencing should be alerted to the fact that eye contact is difficult when participating in videoconferencing. Different rules apply to this type of communication in that eye contact is often difficult over networks.[1]
  • It is important that team members behave naturally on camera. Many people will feel uncomfortable when put before video equipment. Increased exposure will often cure them of these difficulties. The first time in front of videoconferencing equipment can be unnerving but with time, people often feel less conscious of their appearance and how they will be perceived.

1Vertegaal, "Explaining Effects of Eye Gaze on Mediated Group Conversations: Amount or Synchronization?" ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work, 2002

Collaborative Software
  • Collaborative software is used to allow people to work together towards a common goal without having to meet face to face. The most common techniques are text, email, virtual chatting, calendaring, file sharing, faxes, voice mail, data conferencing, etc.
  • Collaborative software is powerful because people can work together regardless of how the schedules may differ. A team with members in different time zones is able to collaborate at different hours regardless of the lack of overlapping time spent in the office so scheduling does not have to be done so far in advance. These techniques are also easy to implement. The equipment can be inexpensive and easy to acquire for all members of the team.
  • One powerful aspect of collaborative software is Metcalfe’s Law. Wikipedia describes the law as “the value of a telecommunications network is proportional to the square of the number of users of the system (n2).” This means that the greater the number of users, the more valuable a system becomes. This was first used to describe the value of fax machines. One is not that useful, but when everybody has one, they become very effective methods of communication. Collaborative software is often similar. One email account is not that effective, but when each person on the team has an email address, we can communicate with the team very quickly and easily.

Communication can be tricky with collaborative software.

  • Much of the body language and nonverbal communication of regular communication is lost with this technique. Emails that are meant to be funny or sarcastic can be interpreted as just mean or angry.
  • Although scheduling can be easier, it can also be hard to manage. Team members do not need to be together all at the same time, which is nice but, people often forget deadlines when they are not planning for a meeting or seeing each other face to face.
  • A lack of cohesion often results from this technique. More than one person working on a document that is shared on a network or over email often results in a disjointed style or conflicting topics. This is often the case when a team is working together on a specific project that will be presented to a certain audience. For example a team may be preparing a report that will be presented to management. If they are not careful the report may hold conflicting ideas or not flow in an intelligible manner.
  • Team members should be trained on the possible misinterpretations in this type of communication. It is often beneficial to have more than one person review emails that will be sent to a large audience to understand how they may be received. If people are made aware of these possibilities, they will be less likely to commit these errors or to misinterpret what they receive.
  • Team members need to be managed effectively. Deadlines should be enforced with regards to email communications. It may be necessary to impose deadlines on how long people should take to respond to an email or make updates to a shared file.
  • Efforts should be made to analyze the project as a whole. Groups and teams should have designated leaders that ensure unity of purpose and a cohesive finished product.



Cultural differences among team members may lead to various instances of miscommunication since different cultures tend to contain certain biases, assumptions, or views of the world. “Regardless of the source, the fact remains that the ‘cultural factor’ may lead to information distortion and various instances of miscommunication (Kayworth, 2000:191).” “Communication among global virtual teams may be extremely difficult to manage and less effective than more traditional settings (Kayworth, 2000: 184).” “These communication problems may also be magnified by disparity among technology infrastructures, as well as differences in technology proficiency among team members. Finally, when cultural differences are added to this mix of potential issues, the management of global virtual teams may become exceedingly complex (Kayworth, 2000: 184).”

Selecting a Communication Medium

Global virtual teams are dependent on their ability to communicate with each other rapidly, reliably, and over long distances. If the team can’t communicate with each other effectively, they can’t work together effectively. This makes the reliability of the technology very important so that the flow of work can continue without interruptions. The media chosen should also be carefully selected so that the end users, or those who are using the information, as compared to those who are giving the information, are able to communicate effectively.


Establishing a pattern Focusing on and following a strong repeating pattern of communication will set a virtual team up for success. This pattern is determined by the frequency of meetings held through the richest available media, repeating itself as a “heartbeat, rhythmically pumping new life into the group’s processes (Maznevski, 2000:486).” The group may try to establish the frequency of these “rich meetings” according to the interdependence required by the tasks and their level of group relationship (Maznevski, 2000:488). However in global virtual teams it’s important to remember that logistics commonly limit the frequency of these meetings, especially face-to-face meetings. In this case it’s the frequency of the meetings that determines the frequency of the high interdependent and complex decision processes they address, such as generating commitment, building relationships, creating social interaction and comprehensive decision making. (Maznevsky, 2000:483-484).


Misrepresentation “As team members communicate, they tend to filter information through their cultural ‘lenses’, thereby giving rise to a potentially broad range of misinterpretations or distortions (Kayworth, 2000:184).” Communication styles differ wildly among various cultures. Even if someone from another country speaks English, this is not going to be the same English as that spoken elsewhere. This makes non-verbal communication, such as pauses, silence, and expressions which differ between cultures more important in global virtual teams and should be known and understood by other team members.


  • Speak slowly and clearly, use a higher tone of voice, avoid slang and colloquialisms, keep words and sentences short and confirm understanding through repetition and by asking questions.
  • Avoid using slang and jargons, use simple short words and sentences and maintain focus.
  • Use visual aids and send pre-meeting information to enhance participation in meetings.
  • Understand and be aware of cultural differences in praise and criticism.
  • Avoid humor, irony, and metaphors as these usually don’t translate well and may be offensive.
  • Understand that silence, referred to as the most concerning behavior, may not reflect a lack of interest but may simply represent time needed to think or just wait for a formal invitation to participate.
  • Respect for religious beliefs and allowance for differences in time zones were the most easily changed behaviors.

"Netiquette": Utilizing Virtual Communication Technologies Responsibly and Respectfully


Virtual communication technologies constitute some of the most essential tools employed by members of virtual teams. Indeed, effective communication in a virtual team setting can impact every functional component of the team and can largely determine the success or failure of the team. Managing virtual teams requires the establishment of communication ground-rules and expectations. As in any organization, an environment that fosters mutual respect, creativity, positive interpersonal relations, and teamwork, depends largely upon both the quality of information shared among team members, and the efficacy of communication between team members.

Oftentimes, a failure to communicate respectfully and responsibly can hamper the efficacy and functionality of the virtual team. Setting forth network etiquette (or 'netiquette') guidelines is an important component to effective virtual team management. By establishing and implementing netiquette standards, the efficacy and stability of the virtual team will be more easily managed and maintained. Virtual teams represent unlimited global business, learning and networking opportunities. The adherence to netiquette standards will help to maintain and ensure decorum, professionalism, courtesy, and ethical behavior.

By implementing and applying netiquette standards to the virtual team environment, team members will be better equipped to avoid informational nuances and insinuations that are so easily misinterpreted. The "communication gap" that is so prevalent in virtual communication technologies (i.e. absence of body language, voice and tonal qualities, emotion, and personal interplay) may also be lessened. Common barriers to virtual communication may also be identified and overcome through the use of clearly established netiquette standards.

Referring to the need for increased knowledge, familiarity, and implementation of "netiquette, David Krane, Director of Corporate Communications at Google, Inc., once said, "We live in an era where hundreds and millions of professionals are putting down the pen and increasingly relying on e-mail as a primary form of communication. [Proper mastery of netiquette will benefit] both internet newbies and new entrants to the [virtual] workplace who may be making a transition from paper to computer or from instant messaging and e-mail between friends to more formal electronic communications."

Netiquette Standards
  • Respecting the E-mail Addresses of Others:

Do not give out others' e-mail addresses without first obtaining permission to do so. E-mail addresses represent a vital component of one's virtual personal space. As such, giving out e-mail addresses without permission constitutes a breach of trust and an invasion of personal space and privacy.

  • E-mail "spam" or "bulk" List Collection/Distribution:

Recent legislation has, in many states, created barriers and penalties to those who engage or utilize bulk- or mass-mail communications. Common courtesy asks that individuals not collect other people's email addresses for such purposes. If the virtual team in which you operate utilizes bulk-mail as a business process, netiquette standards require the inclusion of a genuine return e-mail address in which recipients may respond and request to be removed from future mailing lists.

  • Proper Personal and Business Identification:

The organizational structure of virtual teams often requires proper identification in instances of cold-contacts, solicitations, research and development, networking, and day-to-day communications. When establishing a contact for the first time, include the following identifiers: your full name and title, company name, address, genuine e-mail address, and occupation or objective. The utilization of e-mail address providers such as hotmail, gmail, or yahoo, is not recommended and can be perceived as "cloaked" or "anonymous" e-mail addresses. The utilization of an email address that originates from your company is preferred.

  • Information Inquiries:

One of the great benefits that has arisen from the virtual expansion of today's global economy is the increase in available information. The increase in available information has also catalyzed an increase in information transfer velocity. The effective management of virtual teams also relies upon the ability to acquire, process, and use information. Though requesting information from others is beneficial to you and your team, it can also represent a significant imposition and inconvenience to those individuals that you query. In the process of information gathering, include the following elements: an explanation of who you are, and explanation of why you need the information, and an expression of gratitude.

  • Expressing Appreciation:

Each response you receive from team members, outside consultants, or individuals contacted for information, deserves a reply of gratitude. Your "thank you" response should contain the following components: reference to the request (e.g. "thank you for responding to my query regarding fossil fuel), your full name and title, company name, address, and URL.

  • A "two-way" Street:

Business is a two-way street: if you give, you will receive (and vice versa). When something of value or substance has been provided you, offer return assistance, or extend an invitation to visit your website.

  • Proprietary Rights and Information:

Respecting proprietary rights and information is not only courteous, it is the law. The expansive selection of information on the web represents countless hours of contributions made by individuals and groups. The work of these individuals and groups is oftentimes downloadable or print-ready. In any case, you must respect the proprietary rights of those who have contributed and/or created the information that has been made available to you. Respecting the authors by using accurate and appropriate citations is essential to the protection and perpetuation of open-access intellectual property. You should also respect copyright.

  • Courteous and Professional Virtual Behavior:

Courteous and professional virtual behavior is rooted in the most basic rules that govern etiquette. When asking for information, use courteous language such as "please," "I would appreciate" and "thank you." Failure to apply these basic rules may give rise to dislike, disrespect, and uncooperative relationships.

  • Doing Your Part First:

The anonymity and potential loss of personal responsibility or obligation that can be pervasive in virtual forums placed the burden of responsibility on the requesting or interested party. If you have not done your part, and contributed to the topic at hand, do not believe that you will be the recipient of free professional work. It is necessary that you demonstrate personal contributions, investment, and effort toward your goal. Seek advice, not cheap labor.

  • Admit and Own your Personal Level of Internet Savvy:

Do not be ashamed to admit that you are a newcomer to the virtual arena. In this computer era, there remain a surprising number of people who lack computer skill and knowledge. Many people in the virtual arena are prone to behave and act like mentors. If you are a newcomer, utilize their offerings and remember to apply the rules of netiquette as you glean information and knowledge from them. Own your respective level of expertise - and you will be respected.

  • Virtual White Boards, Chat Rooms, and Bulletin Boards:

Avoid using jargon and include complete words in conjunction with abbreviations. Make sure that what you say is understandable to any viewer or audience. Monitor yourself - answer questions that others have posed only if your response will add value to the general body on knowledge. Do not respond with "contact me." The virtual community represents a fluid body of knowledge and contributions. As such, it is not a place for foul or inappropriate language. Respect breeds respect. Do not use bulletin boards, chat rooms and white boards for blatant advertising purposes. They are intended for networking and idea exchange. If another person makes a contribution that is noteworthy or of value to you, acknowledge the contribution.

  • Anonymity on the Web:

Virtual forums allow postings and contributions to be made anonymously. In many cases, individuals have valid and legitimate reasons to maintain their anonymity. However, one should never abuse the ability to contribute anonymously. Those who remain anonymous in order to treat others with disrespect and cynicism are not acting as socially responsible virtual community members. One should also remember that virtual forums are an excellent way to network with others. If one were to respond or act anonymously, the ability for others to contact or network with that individual is impossible.

  • Strategy and Opportunity:

Much of the virtual community, especially white boards, chat rooms, and bulletin boards, are regulated by organizers who post guidelines and an explanation of purpose. By respecting and following these guidelines, your contributions will be more meaningful. As a meaningful contributor to the virtual community, you will establish worth in the eyes of the organizers. The establishment of business rapport in the virtual arena can result in business opportunities, services, and negotiations. Let your actions and contributions reflect your personal strategy and opportunities may be opened to you.

  • Maintaining a Professional Attitude:

Do not try to "grab" or pounce upon a business opportunity. If what is required by team members or clients exceeds your level of expertise or is outside the bounds of your working relationship, refer the enquirer to a peer or other source specializing in that area. Treat your peers with the same respect and consideration that you extend to customers. Behave with integrity and honesty. Do not substitute your best interests for those of the customer. Maintain mutually respectful relations with peers and the entire virtual community. Speak well of others. Do not pretend to be what you are not. Remember that virtual communication and relations are almost instant - never respond or act hastily.


Strong business contacts can be established through frequent interaction and steady communication in which netiquette standards are employed. Negotiations and bargaining form an integral part of any business deal. As a manager, you have a responsibility to your virtual group or team to promote netiquette standards. By adhering to netiquette standards, your team will be better positioned and respected in the virtual community. Some things that you can do to ensure the successful implementation of netiquette standards include:

  • Establishing written guidelines for dealing with illegal, improper, or forged traffic.
  • Handle requests in a timely fashion - by the next business day.
  • Respond promptly to people who have concerns about receiving improper or illegal messages. Chain letters should not be allowed.
  • Explain any system or software rules to your team members and ensure adequate training.
  • Make sure that popular information has the bandwidth to support it.
  • Don't allow your team members to point to other sites without asking first.
  • Make sure your posted materials are appropriate for the supporting organization.
  • Maintain a consistent look to your information. Make sure the look and feel remain the same throughout your applications.
  • Be sensitive to the longevity of your information. Be sure that all sensitive materials are time-dated.

Information Sharing


Teams are formed based on the expectation that the teams will produce a better product than an individual. If a single resource works from home or away from actual office you consider that team as Virtual Team. Whether it is Virtual team or Team in the same room, information sharing plays a vital role for team’s increased productivity and success. Information sharing is more problematic when the team is spread out geographically. Virtual teams not only face a challenge with information sharing, but also task sharing. In virtual teams if information is not shared correctly the whole purpose of the virtual team might be in jeopardy. If one or more persons works from different place then sharing of information becomes very complex not only in the distribution of information but also in the information gathering.

Virtual team can be a global team; global team is similar to virtual team where part of the team will be outside the country. Because information sharing plays a vital role in team’s success, to minimize the impact of loss in information sharing whether it is related to the technical or application perspective of the work, one of the best way is to rotate the individuals who work from a different country or who are part of the global team or virtual team.


How transparent you run or manage the team, still most of the times it is hard to see perspective of the target or goal of a team, if part of the team is in a different place, where that’s country’s culture inhibits the resource to think beyond its culture or its system. Team can have a rotational position, where one team member comes to onsite and learn the process or application and could go back to his country and transfer his/her knowledge he/she gained when he/she was at onsite. Meanwhile team leader could bring another resource in place of first team member who visited onsite to learn more about technical, application, culture or process followed at onsite, and the first resource who went back could train or share the information or experiences to rest of the team, so that team could understand better about the depth of process, application, technical things in the project why things are done in such a way. By doing this the productivity of whole team would increase by proper information sharing. Similar productivity can be achieved if team leader wants to bring different resource from offshore team once or twice at different times for a period of 3-6 months. This system would be very cost effective if the ratio of whole team is 1:5, which means, 5 on-site and 25 offshore resources in a team.

Virtual teams can be more diversified geographically; because of this virtual team can bring more variety of information to share among the team to its success. Team with similar background and experience could bring the same information to the team which can be considered as redundant, where you could not see the edge in the team compared to the information sharing with virtual team where chances of team could be from different backgrounds.


Most of the time to share the information within the team, trust is one of the main factors. Unless you know the person with whom you are working it is hard to tell what kind of personality is that resource. Building a trust is easier when resources work together because you could know the person’s feeling when you talk with them directly. If the resource is working from a remote location, it is hard to see the reaction of that resource. In my work experience when I worked with remote employees many times, I ponder to myself whether it is accurate to share this information or not, because I do not know the person’s personality with whom I am working.

Most of the times virtual teams are on different time zones and because of time zones, information might not be received at right time and could see delays.

Establishing Ground Rules and Norms


A team to succeed in its goal, it should have ground rules and norms set for the team. Rules are useful in determining what kind of behavior is acceptable in the team, how team members interact, and when to interact in the team, which usually prevents misunderstandings and disagreement.


It is good to document the rules on common shared folder, so that every body could have access to the network folder. When new member joins the team, it is easier for the person who is giving the orientation to new team member know what the ground rules and norms of the team. Even when experienced resources aren’t around him/her, still s/he could communicate well in the team as well as outside team, if the ground rules and norms are shared with new member.

Need to outset regarding the cultural differences if the virtual team is globally placed and address the styles on how to address if one arises.

Members in the virtual team should learn to trust one another to create an environment where one should feel comfortable stating opinions and not personally attack each other. Should not penalize for any miscommunication and should try to think with different perspectives. All members’ opinions are to be considered equal. Disagreements and differences of opinions should be honored, should be given a fair hearing, and conflicts should be resolved by a defined process.

Pitfalls and Solutions

Virtual team should recognize the problem of resources working in time zones and organizing the team meeting and conference calls flexible to all resources in the team. Updating the status reports to team leaders by timely manner, so that team leader could access the load of the work and assign it different resources accordingly.

Hard on some resources, if the time set for the conference calls do not suit those individual’s time zone.

Tough to be open and honest with one another to create psychologically safe environment in virtual team, but by taking some time to socialize before each meeting on general topics outside the events of the team work. Messages could be taken wrongly, because there are no associated non-verbal messages indicating how to interpret them.

Virtual Team Meetings

With members of a virtual team spanning different time zones, languages, and cultures, it can be complex and difficult to organize, optimize, and manage an effective team meeting. Managers, who are sensitive to these issues and are diligent in their preparation, can get the most out of any virtual team meeting.
  • Cost: One of the greatest advantages of a virtual meeting over a traditional meeting is the low cost. Airfare for corporate executives to attend a traditional meeting can be exorbitantly priced, especially in the aftermath of 9.11. Participants can join a teleconference practically anywhere telephone service is available, reducing unnecessary travel costs. Many corporations have negotiated long-distance charges to an almost negligible amount, allowing employees to call across the world for not much more than an in-state call.
  • Time: Virtual meetings can save valuable work time, even for organizations with closely located facilities. Travel between buildings or locations can eat up precious time that could be spent on other tasks. In large manufacturing companies, it can take 30 minutes to an hour to get from one side of the facility to the other. Some managers waste half a day's work in just commuting between various meetings. Given the price per hour of top-level executives' salaries, even a short traditional meeting can be very costly.
  • Group Size: As with traditional teams, if a virtual team has too many members, this can break down communication and reduce team effectiveness.
  • Conference Call Domination: We have all experienced conference calls where various corporate department representatives huddle around a conference room phone to speak with distant affiliates. The larger group, which is usually in the corporate office, tends to dominate the conversation. In addition, larger groups tend to carry on side conversations that are inaudible to the people on the other end of the call and put them at a disadvantage. One of the authors has also experienced conferenced calls that were "hijacked" by the ranking executive and used for a personal or political agenda.
  • Common Language: Even if all members of a virtual team speak English, they may not speak the same English. Others may not be native speakers. English spoken in the United Kingdom, Australia, the United States, and Malaysia is quite different.
  • Keep group size to no more than 7 members.
  • Again, keep group size small, including conference call groups. If possible have some team members call in on their desk phones, to minimize side conversations. In the case of a hijacking invitee, have a printed agenda with time allotted to each topic. If the meeting gets off track, express your desire to not let the call go longer than expected and use the agenda as an excuse to change the subject.
  • Use common terms that all can understand. Avoid slang and metaphor, e.g. US sports analogies. Speak slowly and clearly and ask for confirmation from all members that the discussion was understood. As in any environment, be sure to ask leading questions verifying that members specifically tasked with something have a complete understanding of the assignment. Many telephone conversations or conference calls have a few-second lag time. Be patient and don't interrupt.

Organizational Development


Traditionally, organizational development occurs in a face-to-face or voice-to-voice mode, utilizing observation, personal interaction, and personal relations to develop or redevelop a coherent and appropriate business model or organizational process. As virtual teams become more common place, the need for organizational development persists. The virtual arena, in many cases, requires a modified managerial approach to organizational development.

The management and development of a virtual entity may require that the execution of needs assessments, focus groups, and interviews, be done electronically via a collaborative software system or group support system. These systems allow users to "hide" or "disable" their personal identities during information gathering sessions and interact with others under the guarantee of anonymity. In some cases, employees and virtual team members may approach the process of organizational development with apprehension. Anonymity, for the purpose of information gathering, may serve to ally such apprehension.

  • Employee satisfaction can influence the efficacy and longevity of organizational development. There is no consensus in the literature regarding the impact of a virtual team structure on employee satisfaction. However, most studies indicate that participating in a virtual team environment and/or working from home can result in:

- an increase of employee job satisfaction

- reduced likelihood of employee turn-over

- reduction in role stressors

- increased satisfaction with supervisors

- increased commitment to the organization

- decreased satisfaction with peers

- decreased satisfaction regarding opportunities for advancement and promotion

These findings emphasize the importance of measuring and responding to employee outcomes as part of managing in a virtual team environment.

  • Videoconferencing is a useful tool that can be used to facilitate small group interviews and interventions. The use of videoconferencing technologies provides a medium in which all participants can be viewed on each individual screen regardless of geographic location. Some believe that this may be as effective as a face-to-face experience.
  • Research has shown that the medium used for teaching technical skills has no effect on students’ learning outcomes. One can use videotape, CD-ROM, videoconferences, teleconferences, web-based training, or instruction manuals. However, some skills (e.g. communication and some management/leadership skills) are best taught in a face-to-face environment. In these instances, consideration should be given to the use of training centers or external training venues.

Pitfalls and Solutions


The increasing use of global virtual teams demands special attention to differences in culture, communication barriers, and inherent trust existing among the team members. While these teams are not fundamentally different from traditional teams, additional focus and effort in some key areas is necessary to ensure team success. These include knowing the cultural differences that exist in the team and taking steps to educate the other team members and understanding how this affects how they should approach different situations. Because global virtual teams don’t experience the same physical contact that traditional teams do, extra effort is required from all team members to maintain trust and to promote practices that encourage team members to work well together and give reasons to trust each of the other members. It is also important to keep in mind that there is no set recipe for success in any team, especially global virtual teams. Only by understanding the challenges and differences between global virtual teams and traditional teams, management and team members can better prepare themselves and take advantage of their strengths to promote success.

Online Resources/References

Where In The World Is My Team

Working Together When Apart

Managing Virtual Teams (video)

Managing Virtual Teams (pdf)

17 Pointers for Managing Virtual Teams

Virtual Teams

10 Tips for managing global teams

Managing Virtual Teams (HR Magazine)

Best Practices of Managing Virtual Teams

New Work Rules (Stanford Business)

Virtual Teams Over the Internet

6 Ways to Work More Effectively on a Virtual Team (Microsoft)

We researched dozens of tools to find the most useful tools for managing remote workers

How Do You Build High-performing Virtual Teams?


“Virtual teams are groups of geographically and/or temporally dispersed individuals brought together via information and telecommunication technologies.” (Piccoli and Ives, 2003, p365) Virtual teams are increasingly becoming a key feature of projects in modern organizations, while the landscape of communication tools continues to change dramatically. The benefits of virtualization include diversity of perspectives, large member selection pool, extended hours of productivity, and reduced transportation costs.

However, many new challenges arise, such as difficulty in performance monitoring, disappearance of social cues, member isolation and anonymity, and technology issues. In addition, virtual teams must deal with cultural, temporal, and geographic barriers. Using a framework based on Larson and LaFasto’s Teamwork, conventional team strategies have been adapted for the virtual context to help virtual team leaders and members overcome these challenges.

A Clear and Elevating Goal

Larson and LaFasto (1989) stress the importance of a clear and elevating goal in the performance of an effective team. They define goal clarity as “a specific performance objective, phrased in such concrete language that it is possible to tell, unequivocally, whether or not that performance objective has been attained” (p28) and elevating as “personally or collectively” challenging and that it “makes a difference.” (p31) While Larson and LaFasto consider this to possibly be the most important component of an effectively functioning team, it appears to be even more critical for a virtual team.

To stress this point, Kirkman and Rosen, et al. (2002) quote a team member from Sabre, Inc. as saying “virtual teams need to understand much more so than co-located teams what goal they are working towards because you are working in such different areas, and in our case, in different countries. It plays a much stronger role if you know what your ultimate target is going to be. Everyone is working towards the same thing.” Further work on the performance of virtual teams by Kirkman and Rosen, et al. (2004) demonstrates a positive correlation between empowerment and virtual team performance. They define empowerment as having four dimensions, two of which, potency and impact significantly overlap the concepts of goal clarity and elevation.

This research therefore supports and elevates the arguments made by Larson and LaFasto about the importance of a clear and elevating goal for virtual teams. Virtual team managers should make sure to have a clear and elevating goal for the group and should make sure to prominently display the team mission statement on the virtual work space, team web-site, and other electronic communications to the group.

Results-Driven Structure

Team structure is a key factor which differentiates successful teams from unsuccessful ones. Team structure encompasses many aspects such as tools, processes, communications systems, facilities, and organization of the team. However, the best structure depends on the objectives and composition of the team.

Virtual teams tend to be very effective in project development tasks. However, the lack of face to face contact can be a challenge in building consensus. For decision-making teams, having the right team composition can help to overcome this. Collectivistic teams have higher levels of collaborative conflict management than individualistic teams, and are motivated more by outcomes which benefit the entire team. (Paul, et al, 2005)

Research has also shown that highly diverse or heterogeneous teams outperform homogenous teams in many performance measures, though they take longer to reach consensus. Virtuality can be beneficial for highly diverse teams since it obfuscates potentially divisive demographic differences. (Kirkman et al, 2002)

Larson and LaFasto outlined four necessary features of effective team structure, which apply equally to virtual teams, but become more challenging.

First, team members must have clear roles and accountabilities. Lack of visibility may cause virtual team members to feel less accountable for results, therefore explicit facilitation of teamwork takes on heightened importance for virtual teams. Temporal coordination mechanisms such as scheduling deadlines and coordinating the pace of effort are recommended to increase vigilance and accountability. (Massey, Montoya-Weiss, and Hung, 2003)

Second, teams require effective communications systems. This is especially important for virtual teams because geographic and temporal differences may rule out the most common communication channels. “Many in our study found e-mail a poor way for teams as a whole to collaborate.” (Majchzak et al, 2004) Individual email conversations cause others to feel left out, but copying everyone causes email overload. Sharing documents over email often leads to conflicting versions. Many successful teams prefer to use virtual work spaces, online forums, instant messaging, and file repositories. Regardless of the communication system, team norms and rewards structures should support use of the systems.

Third, effective teams should monitor individual performance and provide feedback. Assessment and development of virtual team members is very limited in the virtual environment. Performance management is an enormous challenge when employees are out of sight. Managers should monitor group communication to assess subjective factors such as idea generation, leadership, and problem-solving skills. (Kirkman et al, 2002) Utilizing peer and customer feedback helps assess contributions to team effectiveness. Managers should also consider using "richer" communication media (such as video conferencing) to more effectively deliver evaluation feedback.

Finally, teams must rely on fact-based decision making, for which information and communication tools are vital. Teams can adapt decision-making software to facilitate fact-based problem solving and decision-making. (Kirkman et al, 2002) They might also assign one person to ensure accurate information is clearly communicated (Piccoli and Ives, 2003). Rocketdyne, for example, used collaborative technology to manage knowledge. They allowed all communications to be recorded and all information to be visible to the team, and even prohibited face to face discussions. (Malhotra, Majchzak, Carmen, Lott)


Larson and LaFasto recognize three common features of competent team members: technical skills and abilities, desire to contribute, and capability of collaborating effectively. Virtual teams amplify the importance of using appropriate criteria when selecting people for the team.

A critical element in high-performance teams is creating functional diversity among team members, while productively managing resulting task conflict. Work group studies suggest that “such conflict evidently fosters a deeper understanding of task issues and an exchange of information that facilitates problem solving, decision making, and the generation of ideas.” (Pelled, et al, 1999, p22) A best-practice study of successful virtual teams concludes that diversity among disciplines, working styles, and problem-solving approaches can be exploited to produce “solutions instead of acrimony.” (Majchrzak, et al, 2004, p133) Conflict researchers have found that task conflicts can improve team performance if managed collaboratively. (Weingart and Jehn, 2000)

However, regardless of other qualifications, not everyone can handle the social isolation of a virtual team. Maintaining this challenging environment requires selection of team members with interpersonal skills, self-regulatory skills, a high level of knowledge, and comfort with technology. (Gibson and Cohen, 2003) This critical balance between technical and interpersonal skills must include the ability to work with others to identify, address, and resolve issues.

Managers should consider using behavioral interviewing techniques and simulations to select team members with unique areas of competence that will contribute to a high-quality solution. Ideally some members should have team process backgrounds. Managers should also provide potential team members with a realistic assessment of virtual team challenges, and the choice to opt out.

Unified Commitment

Larson and LaFasto suggest that lack of unified commitment is often the most important feature of ineffective teams. They identify two key elements: dedication to the endeavor (commitment) and dedication to the team (unity).

High-performance teams are distinguished by passionate dedication to goals, identification and emotional bonding among team members, and a balance between unity and respect for individual differences. Virtual teams face the challenge of developing and sustaining unified commitment in the absence of face-to-face contact. In particular, they must identify and deal with the most serious threat, competition between individual and team goals.

Kerber and Buono recommend appointing a strong team leader, willing to maintain frequent contact with team members, take full advantage of collaborative technologies, demonstrate a high level of personal commitment, and deal quickly with self-serving and non-contributing team members. Larson and LaFasto suggest that commitment can be enhanced by involving team members in project planning and in defining team identity, goals, and processes. Virtual team leaders should identify commonalities among members early on, while focusing the team on achieving key performance objectives and providing a clear context for recognizing team success.

Finally, interdependence of goals, tasks, and outcomes among members of virtual teams can overcome motivational challenges, particularly early on. (Hertel, et al, 2004) Virtual team managers can create the experience of connectedness by delegating goal setting, assigning interdependent tasks, and rewarding both personal contributions and team performance.

Collaborative Climate

“Collaboration flourishes in a climate of trust.” (Larson and LaFasto, 1989, p. 87) Trust is based on social characteristics (familiarity, competence), immediate outcomes of interaction processes (reliability, integrity), and institutions (social norms, policies). Studies have shown that while trust has little impact on task performance, it can significantly reduce process losses. (Jarvenpaa, Shaw, Staples, 2004)

Trust affects how we interpret member behavior. “Trust is the lens through which these factors are interpreted.” (Jarvenpaa, Shaw, and Staples, 2004, p253) Therefore trust plays an important role in virtual teams where ambiguity is high. Unfortunately, building trust is an enormous challenge for virtual teams. "In virtual organizations, trust requires constant face-to-face interaction—the very activity the virtual form eliminates." (Kirkman et al, 2002) Structured opportunities for socialization are less satisfying in virtual environments, and slow development of relational ties.

When a team is formed, expectations about workloads, processes, and contributions lead to “psychological contracts” which can damage trust when broken. (Piccoli and Ives, 2003) Reneging and incongruence are heightened for virtual teams due to the limited ability to communicate.

Studies show that in high-trust teams, structured behavior control mechanisms (rules, progress reports, explicit assignments) intensify the negative effects of reneging and incongruence because they increase salience of member behavior. (Piccoli and Ives, 2003) However, in low-trust teams strong structures actually mitigate the negative effects of trust by minimizing the role trust plays in interpreting member behavior.

Trust is not always dependent on social bonds. Instead, it can be founded on performance consistency. Task-based trust (vs. interpersonal trust) may be more achievable for virtual teams, and can be built by developing norms around communication patterns, ensuring reliable and rapid responses, and making team interaction timely and consistent. (Kirkman et al, 2002)

Standards of Excellence and External Support

Virtual teams are held to the same standards of excellence as conventional teams, but there are subtle differences. Virtual team members often function as the point of contact for their immediate physical group. They often have more autonomy than conventional team members as their teams may meet according to varying time zones which may not be understood by their local management. The presence of a true “invisible team” (Larson and LaFasto, 1989, p109) is also a unique component of a virtual team. The “invisible team” is the management team to which each of the members report. The invisible team sets the standards for each member.

Misunderstandings may arise if the “invisible team” does not align itself to the same set of expectations. A virtual team leader must understand the level and kind of support from each contributor. Larson and LaFasto observe that “loss of morale…decreased belief and commitment to the team’s goal” (p110) result when support is not visible to the team. The team leader should consider what expectations are reasonable to ask of members. Virtual teams that span various companies must create some form of “shared understanding” (Symons, 1997, p427) in order for members to develop a set of expectations. Failure to establish understanding may result in standards that are not achievable by all members.

External support frequently determines how resources, such as incentives and capital expenses, are contributed by team members. During the Rocketdyne-Boeing Project, expectations of each member were established at the outset of the project. (Malhotra, Majchzak, Carmen, Lott) Resolving how each member would contribute time, resources, and expertise reduced misunderstandings as the project progressed.

Standards of excellence and external support intersect on many levels. Time and energy is well spent at the outset of a virtual team to evaluate the level of excellence the team will achieve. This is especially true when financial contributions require resources outside of the control of the virtual team. Managers of virtual teams need to understand the feasibility of their requests given the context of their members’ management.


Principled Leadership is the final ingredient identified by Larson and LaFasto (1989) for effective team performance. Pauleen (2004) tells us “leadership challenges are magnified in a virtual environment” and stresses the necessity of face-to-face meetings, stating “it is essential for them (leaders) to build personal relationships with team members before commencing a virtual working relationship. Strong relational links are associated with trust, creativity, motivation, morale, good decisions, and fewer process losses.

However, Majchrzak, et al. (2004) argues that you can lead high-performing virtual teams without face-to-face meetings and provides several examples of successful teams whose members never met in person. This requires intensive communications to build a coherent identity and hold the team together, and their research found that the leaders of successful virtual teams “rarely let a day go by when members did not communicate with one another” and “frequent phone conversations between the team leader and individual members …were not unusual.” Research by Kirkman and Rosen, et al (2004) on the performance of virtual teams may provide a clue for leaders attempting to resolve this dilemma. They suggest that periodic face-to-face be held to focus on process improvement, but if this is not feasible “managers need to make extra efforts to empower virtual teams to deal directly and decisively with process improvement issues” (p. 188).

Gibson and Cohen (2003) suggest virtual team leaders need to engage the group in openly discussing cultural differences and similarities to help develop communication norms. Thompson’s (2000) work suggests the leader of a virtual team must also play a key role in assessing and balancing team performance levels across the four dimensions: team productivity; team satisfaction; individual growth; and organizational gains. Pauleen (2004) states that the leader of a virtual team must: assess team issues, boundaries, organizational policies, resources, and technology; target relationship levels necessary for performance; and develop effective strategies and select and utilize appropriate communication channels.


Virtual teams must deal with problems that befall face-to-face teams, along with some unique challenges. At the same time, they have the potential to realize additional process gains and deliver high-quality solutions by bringing together diverse individuals with complementary knowledge without the limitations of physical, organizational or cultural boundaries.

Our competitive environment places a premium on the quality and speed of solutions, and technology is providing increasingly richer collaboration tools – advancing from the telephone and the fax machine to video conferencing and virtual workspaces in a little over a decade. Organizations that learn to harness the power of virtual teams with these collaborative technologies will gain significant competitive advantage.


Duarte, Deborah L. and Nancy Tennant Snyder. Mastering Virtual Teams. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 2006.

Gibson, Cristina B. and Susan G. Cohen. Virtual Teams That Work: Creating Conditions for Virtual Team Effectiveness. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 2003. Review in HR Magazine. 2003, Vol. 48 Issue 7, p121.

Guido Hertel, Udo Konradt, and Borris Orlikowski. “Managing Distance by Interdependence: Goal Setting, Task Interdependence, and Team-based Rewards in Virtual Teams”. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology. 2004, Vol 13, No. 1, p1-28.

Houghton G. Brown, Marshall Scott Poole, and Thomas L. Rodgers. “Interpersonal Traits, Complementarity, and Trust in Virtual Collaboration”. Journal of Management Information Systems. 2004, Vol. 20, No. 4. p115-137.

Huey, John. “The New Post-Heroic Leadership”. Fortune Magazine. February 21, 1994.

Jarvenpaa, Sirkka L., Thomas R. Shaw, and D. Sandy Staples. “Toward Contextualized Theories of Trust: The Role of Trust in Global Virtual Teams”. Information Systems Research. Informs. 2004.

Kerber, Kenneth W. and Anthony F. Buono. “Leadership Challenges in Global Virtual Teams: Lessons From the Field.” SAM Advanced Management Journal. Autumn 2004, Vol. 69 Issue 4, p4-10.

Kirkman, Bradley L., Benson Rosen, Paul E. Tesluk, and Cristina B. Gibson. “The Impact of Team Empowerment on Virtual Team Performance: The Moderating Role of Face-to-Face Interaction.” Academy of Management Journal. 2004, Vol. 47, No. 2.

Kirkman, Bradley L., Benson Rosen, Paul E. Tesluk, Cristina B. Gibson, and Simon O. McPherson. “Five challenges to virtual team success: Lessons from Sabre, Inc.” Academy of Management Executive. August 2002, Vol.16, No.3, p67-79.

Larson, Carl E. and Frank M. J. LaFasto. Teamwork: What must go right, what can go wrong. Sage, 1989.

Majchrzak, Ann, Arvind Malhotra, Jeffrey Stamps, and Jessica Lipnack. “Can Absence Make a Team Grow Stronger?” Harvard Business Review. May 2004. Vol.82 Issue 5, p131-137.

Malhotra, Arvind, Ann Majchzak, Robert Carmen, and Vern Lott. “Radical innovation without Collocation: A case Study at Boeing Rocketdyne”. MIS Quarterly. Vol.25, No.2 p229-249.

Massey, Anne P., Mitzi M. Montoya-Weiss, and Yu-Ting Hung. “Because Time Matters: Temporal Coordination in Global Virtual Project Teams”. Journal of Management Information Systems. 2003. Vol. 19, No. 4. p129-155.

McMahan, Kevin L. “Manage a Virtual Team”. Effective Communication and Information Sharing in Virtual Teams. Journal of Accountancy. June 2005.

Paul, Souren, Imad M. Samarah, Priya Seetharaman and Peter P. Mykytyn. “An Empirical Investigation of Collaborative Conflict Management Style in Group Support System-Based Global Virtual Teams”. Journal of Management Information Systems. Vol. 21 No. 3, Winter 2005 pp. 185 - 222.

Pauleen, David J. “An Inductively Derived Model of Leader-Initiated Relationship Building with Virtual Team Members.” Journal of Management Information Systems. 2004, Vol. 20, No. 3.

Pelled, Lisa Hope, Kathleen M. Eisenhardt, and Katherine R. Xin. “Exploring the Black Box: An Analysis of Work Group Diversity, Conflict, and Performance.” Administrative Science Quarterly. March 1999, Vol.44 Issue 1, p1-28.

Piccoli, Gabriele and Blake Ives. “Trust and the Unintended Effects of Behavior Control in Virtual Teams.” MIS Quarterly. Vol.27, No.3. September 2003.

Symons, Frank. “Virtual departments, power, and location in different organizational settings.” Economic Geography. Vol. 73, No. 4, p427. October 1997.

Thompson, Leigh. Making the Team: A Guide for Managers. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall. 2000.

Weingart, Laurie and Karen A. Jehn. “Manage Intra-team Conflict through Collaboration.” Blackwell Handbook of Principles of Organizational Behavior. 2000. p226-238.


  1. Action oriented. This is the tendency to act and encourage others to perform. It is a intended effort to make something happen.
  2. Accountability. Accountability is entailed by responsibility. Anyone who is responsible is thereby accountable. To be responsible is to accept judgments, acts and omissions (refusals or failures to act) as one's own burden where appropriate, and in whole or in part. Accountability is a state of responsiveness. The readiness or preparedness to give an explanation or justification to relevant others (stakeholders) for one's judgments, intentions, acts and omissions when appropriately called upon to do so.
  3. Altruism. The satisfaction that comes from knowing that your responsibilities and work have a beneficial affect on others.
  4. Ambivert. One who is not strongly inclined towards the characteristics of an extrovert or introvert. Rather, an ambivert tends to transition between the two personality types depending on the setting at hand. In groups and teams an ambivert may assert himself as a leader or vocal group participant or simply take a more quiet or reserved role.
  5. Autonomy. One who values freedom in the work place and dislikes "micromanagment".
  6. Belligerent. When a person is constantly involved in conflict which they have provoked or voluntarily entered.
  7. Belittle. Use to make someone or something less important.
  8. Collaboration. The willing exchange of diverse and varying ideas, visions, and perspectives with the objective of creating a unique and dynamic idea to better the organization while working together.
  9. Competency Trap. Doing the thing we knew worked once, even though it isn't working now.
  10. Confirmation Trap. A confirmation trap is the tendency to look for additional information that conforms to our understanding of a situation rather than seeking balanced and unbiased evidence that may be disconfirming.
  11. Conformity. is the degree to which members of a group will change their behavior, views and attitudes to fit the views of the group. Sometimes conformity is distinguished by type: compliance, conforming only publicly, but keeping one's own views in private; identification, conforming while a group member, publicly and privately, but not after leaving the group; and internalization, conforming publicly and privately, during and after group membership. Sociologists believe that compliance is conformity that is usually a result of a direct order while internalization is conformity that comes from one's total and utter belief in one's act.
  12. Consensus with qualification. When every member of a team discuss a problem or idea and after certain time can't have an agreedment and the final decision is make by a CEO involved.
  13. Constructive Feedback. Communication which alerts an individual to an area in which his/her performance could improve. Constructive feedback is not criticism; it is descriptive and should always be directed to the action, not the person.
  14. Core Competency. This is working knowledge. It is comprised of our experience to do the job and having the essential problem-solving skills needed to overcome obstacles.
  15. Counterattack. When we feel that we need to be defensive and fight about something that we believe is important to us.
  16. Convergent thinking. Thought process often adopted by groups in which the group brings together similar information focused on finding a single best answer to bring closure to and resulting in feelings of security about a question, discussion or project. Convergent thinking is characterized by the need or intent to find one solution or answer to a problem. In other words, the group "converges" on an answer.
  17. Cross Functional Team. A cross-functional team consists of a group of people working toward a common goal and made of people with different functional expertise. It could include people from finance, marketing, operations, and human resources departments. Typically it also includes employees from all levels of an organization. Members may also come from outside an organization (in particular, from suppliers, key customers, or consultants).
  18. Cross-functional teams. It is the team that has the mission to work on specific problem, issue or task with the goal of improve production.
  19. Culture. Culture refers to the standards of social interaction, values, and beliefs from a given group of people. Cultural issues can affect team interactions through different understandings of communication, family, and can appear to be an excuse for preferential treatment.
  20. Divergent thinking. Divergent thinking is characterized by the production of as many ideas as possible, avoiding repetition or convergence.
  21. Diversity. Team Diversity is the uniqueness of each individual on a team. This should not only include the usual diverse selections such as religion, sex, age, and race, but also additional unique personality characteristics such as introverts and extroverts, liberals and conservatives, etc.
  22. Dud-Person[35]: A person on the team who does not have the skills they claimed to have to get on the team, or that their manager thought they had when they were assigned to the team.
  23. Emotionally Tone-Deaf. Inability to ‘read’ body language signals in others. Inability to understand how other’s emotions affect their actions/behaviors.
  24. Empire Builders. Those to believe that the team that has more members is the one that will win.
  25. Empowered Team It is the team that has the rights to plan and put in place any improvements to their process.
  26. Entrenched. Something well establish. Not for changes.
  27. Extrovert. Extroverts tend to be energetic, enthusiastic, action-oriented, talkative, assertive, gregarious and unreserved. Therefore, an extroverted person is likely to enjoy time spent with people and find less reward in time spent alone. While extraversion is associated with high levels of warmth, and also with enjoyment of thrills and strong sensations, it is common also for people to have divergent levels of extraversion at this micro or "facet" level of the trait - for instance, preferring moderate group-sizes, but relishing excitement. They view team meetings as productive and energizing. A venue for essential thought provoking discussions and a place to surcease any problems that may arise.
  28. Facilitator. A person whose job it is to make sure that meetings run well and achieve the goal they are seeking.
  29. Feedback. Communication to a person or a team of people regarding the effect their behavior is having on another person, the organization, the customer, or the team.
  30. Group. A group is a collection of individuals that are linked by some associational characteristic(s). In organizations, groups can include departments (Accounting, Marketing, etc.) as well as temporary sets of individuals (task forces, cross-department groups, etc.)
  31. Group Contract. A formal written contract established by a group to eliminate confusion and set a standard for the group's expectations, individual responsibilities, forms of communication, and methods of discipline
  32. Group Polarization. A group taking on the ideas of a single group member, i.e., one liberal talking, soon the whole group is liberal.
  33. Group Potency. The spiritual energy of a team. Often referred to the team’s ability to believe in themselves.
  34. Group success. Success in groups is hard to define. The most obvious and commonly used measure of success is performance in the task (e.g., productivity). In addition, however, others (notably Hackman, 1986) have suggested the need to incorporate additional dimensions. Hackman suggests two dimensions that must be accounted for, the ability of group members to work together again (viability) and the growth of individuals participating in the team (learning). The ability of group members to work together again attempts to show that, even if a group performs its task well, it is not successful if the relationships between members are destroyed. Similarly, unless the individual growth objectives of group members are met through their participation in a group, the group cannot be considered a complete success. Although this expansion of notions of group success is valuable, the research literature on groups does not have a uniform or universal understanding of what constitutes group success.
  35. Groupthink. Process where members of a group start thinking alike and there are less individual ideas and creativity.
  36. Guided Experience. Process by which agencies can tap into the knowledge of their employees by using a coach to expedite the process and create a database of shared insights and knowledge.
  37. Halo Effect. The halo effect is our tendency to assume that if one is excellent in some dimensions that will be excel in others even though they are not related in nature.
  38. Heterogeneous Group. The people who join this kind of group usually have differente knowdlege, education, values, etc. This group usually are very competitive.
  39. Homogeneous Group. The people who join this group have similar experience, feelings, values, etc. This group usually are very supportive.
  40. Homosocial reproduction. The tendency of workplaces to promote according to social identification and individuals moving in the "right" social circles. For example, in a male-oriented workplace, corporate executives and managers may provide greater weight to the activities and interests of other men, thereby favoring them (sometimes unconsciously), giving them greater opportunity and greater access to promotions.
  41. Infrastructure. The underlying base or foundation for the group or team. This could take the form of the various roles within the team/group or the policies and procedures that exist for the team.
  42. Integration. The combining efforts of various departments, personnel, and social classes to promote diversity, collaboration and education in a safe and productive environment with the purpose of achieving a higher understanding and knowledge of any particular problem or solution.
  43. Introvert. One who's thoughts and interests are directed inwardly rather than outwardly toward others. In groups and teams introverts may be inclined to take a back seat role rather than assert their opinions or views to the other group members.
  44. Interface. A point where certain groups or teams can interact. This could be in the form of a certain person that acts as a liaison for multiple groups, or it could be a medium, such as teleconference or some other technology.
  45. In-group. (from Wikipedia) In sociology, an ingroup is a social group towards which an individual feels loyalty and respect, usually due to membership in the group. This loyalty often manifests itself as an ingroup bias. Commonly encountered ingroups include family members, people of the same race or religion, and so on. Research demonstrates that people often privilege ingroup members over outgroup members even when the ingroup has no actual social standing; for instance, a group of people with the same last digit in their social security number.
  46. Interdependence. A dynamic of being mutually responsible to and dependent on others. Each unique action is key to overall system success.
  47. Interpersonal Reflex. The social phenomenon in which one person's behavior (smiling, complaining, goofing off) can cause others to unconsciously behave similarly. Also called the "Dyadic Effect," the "Norm of Reciprocity," and the "Lock-in Effect." (Team 8)
  48. Leadership. Skill that somebody has to drive a group or a team. Be the leader mean that other members of the team come to you with questions or because they need somebody to help them when they have a task assigned. Usually is the person with knowdlege and experience, but some people has a innate leadership.
  49. Management. The close and steering direction of a group, often has a more negative connotation than leadership.
  50. Marginalize. to place in a position of marginal importance, influence, or power
  51. Mentoring. Mentoring is a supportive learning relationship between a caring individual who shares his/her knowledge, experience and wisdom with another individual who his willing and ready to benefit from this exchange to enrich his/her professional journey.
  52. Meritocrats. Individuals that feel emotion, but do not believe that emotion should play a part in making decisions. These people have problems functioning because they do not understand the motivations that drive other’s decision making processes.
  53. Mindguarding. Symptom of groupthink in which an individual or individuals in a group appoint themselves to the role of protecting the group from adverse information or disturbing ideas that might threaten group complacency.
  54. Motivate. To provide someone with an incentive to do something; proper incentives should outweigh actions required to achieve incentives, although it is not required.
  55. Newcomer. A newcomer is an individual who has recently joined the group, a newby. A newcomer joins the group for a variety of reasons, including the need of the group for greater work capacity (in volume, skill, or knowledge) and the need of the individual to accomplish his or her own goals.
  56. Openness. Be able to discuss an issue, a problem or situation with a peer, relative or superior and be honest and open about what we think and our feelings.
  57. Organizational design. It is the way a office, group or company is structured and presented to all the employees and public in general. Employees will know to what area they belong and to who they have to report.
  58. Organizational politics. The desire of those within an organization to further their own interests rather than achieving a collective goal.
  59. Out-group (from Wikipedia) In sociology, an outgroup is a social group towards which an individual feels contempt, opposition, or a desire to compete. Members of outgroups may be subject to outgroup homogeneity biases, and generally people tend to privilege ingroup members over outgroup members in many situations.
  60. Passive Conspiracy.A way of avoiding confrontation by dysfunction. It is an evolved group norm and results in an agreement to accept the condition rather than deal with it openly.
  61. Peacekeeper. Person who avoids conflict at all cost, to the point of detrimental behavior.
  62. Peacemaker. Recognize conflict; attempt to resolve rather than avoid.
  63. Personal agendas. A dysfunctional group dynamic that undermines the group objectives. Occur when the natural process of jockeying for a position of status within the group progresses into individual members of the group becoming overly preoccupied with personal concerns and position within the group.
  64. Positive Feedback. Communication which involves telling someone about their good performance. Make this feedback timely, specific, and frequent.
  65. Primacy. Primacy is the tendency to form judgements and images of people based solely on the first impression and interaction.
  66. Process Loss.
  67. Projection. Process where we see our own psychology reflected in others. You assume that others have the same motivations and responses as you do.
  68. Project Team. Are individuals working together who share a common goal that is achieved through the application of various combined skills. Common goals are essential to success, but the team unity should not be taken for granted.
  69. Race.Race is defined as a group of people, often of a common geographic origin, that share genetically transmitted physical characteristics. Racism is the belief that these inherited characteristics affect an individual’s behavior or abilities.
  70. Risky Shift A special case of group polarization, also rooted in groupthink, in which group discussions lead members to adjust their positions to a more cautious or more risky position from the one they held in advance of the discussion. For instance, in a group of individuals that are cautious, a group decision is likely to be even more cautious than the individual positions would suggest once risky shift takes place.
  71. Self-corrective. This is a term used in relationships in which all parties involved commit to making changes that will improve the relationship.
  72. Self-directed teams It is the team that is responsible for supervisory responsibilities.
  73. Self-motivated individual. An person who requires little external motivation from the team leader.
  74. Self-Serving Bias. When people are more likely to claim responsibility for successes than failures. Manifests itself as a tendency for people to evaluate ambiguous information in a way beneficial to their interests. Self-serving bias also results in a statistical bias resulting from people thinking that they perform better than average in areas important to their self esteem.3
  75. Social biases. Social biases are “shortcuts” that we, as individuals, use to make sense of the world. As people, we make systematic mistakes in the way we see the world. Social Psychology and other disciplines have worked to identify those biases and to understand how they can affect our behavior in social situations. Social biases are always related to the way in which we see and/or understand other people and their actions. They are broad, involving everything from how we form and use first impressions of others, to how we construct histories and motivations for the actions of others.
  76. Social Loafing.The tendency of individual group members to reduce their work effort as groups increase in size as displayed by the inclination to "goof off" when performance is needed in a group, miss meetings, show up late, or fail to start or complete individual tasks.
  77. Social processes. A social process is present in any situation where an individual is relating him- or herself to others. Social cognition, for instance, is present when an individual makes decisions on the basis of thinking of social categories or social interactions. Another type of social process is social interaction, where an individual actively interacts with one or more other individuals. Conversations and meetings are both examples of social interactions.
  78. Soft Skills. A set of skills that influence how we interact with each other. It includes such abilities as effective communication, creativity, analytical thinking, diplomacy, flexibility, change-readiness, and problem solving, leadership, team building, and listening skills.
  79. Stagnate. When something stops improving. Also used when a plan is not developing anymore.
  80. Stereotype (from Wikipedia). We build stereotypes to simplify the world by putting people into categories, and then fitting individuals into the stereotype of that category. For example, if doctors are all X, and you are a doctor, then you must also be X. Stereotypes are beliefs that all members of specific groups share similar traits and are likely to behave in the same way. In most cases, the characteristics described by a stereotype tend to be negative (e.g., all engineers are eggheads who can’t relate to people), although occasionally stereotypes involve positive attributes (e.g., accountants are very careful and precise). The problem is that individuals never conform to an exact stereotype, given that individual differences outweigh similarities with others in a group.
  81. Strategy. A plan of action resulting from strategy or intended to accomplish a specific goal. The art or skill of using stratagems in endeavors such as politics and business.
  82. Superordinate Goal. Goal for the team, that takes precedence over each team member’s individual goal.
  83. Supportive. Used specially in teams. Be a good member of the team, help each other and always looking for ways to help other members of the team to succeed.
  84. Synergy.
  85. Tangled. When a situation, problem or issue is confusing or complicated.
  86. Team Contract. A team document that clearly and specifically outlines the expectations for performance, productivity, quality and quantity of work, and efficiency for each team member.
  87. Team (from Wikipedia)
  88. teamwork When two or more people get together to achieve a specific goal. The succeed of the team is responsibility of all members.
  89. Veteran. A veteran in a group is an individual who has longer tenure within the group, who has a history with other members in the group context.
  90. Virtual Team (from Wikipedia). A Virtual Team is a group of individuals who work across time, space, and organizational boundaries with links strengthened by webs of communication technology. Like other teams, they have complementary skills and are committed to a common purpose, have interdependent performance goals, and share an approach to work for which they hold themselves mutually accountable. Geographically dispersed teams allow organizations to hire and retain the best people regardless of location.


  1. ^ Foland, Jeremy. May 4, 2006. MGP-295.1 Managing Teams and Technology. UC Davis, Graduate School of Management.
  2. ^ Okhuysen, G.A., in "A desperate attempt at referencing," Journal of Unmemorable Quotes, 2006.


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Wikibooks: Project+

Wikibooks: Project Management

Wikipedia: project management

Wikipedia: management

Noted Contributors

Eric Dolan, UC Davis MBA program

Brian Gyoerkoe, UC Davis MBA program

Brandon Meredith, UC Davis MBA program

Paul Nasman, UC Davis MBA program

Question Page

This book is organized around questions related to topics on the management of groups and teams. In this page, we want to list questions that would be relevant to the topic, to eventually formulate answers for them and incorporate them into the main body of the book.

Feel free to add questions to this list, and to reorganize them or group them together if you see common threads. As the questions are refined, they will be easier to answer.

For Future Study


  • How can different levels of commitment be avoided during the selection process?
  • Is it necessary for all team members to be equally committed to a project?
  • If large disparities exist, how can these be addressed?
  • How should the team deal with members who are not committed?
  • How should the team deal with members who have taken on more than their share?


  • How can teams change membership composition without disrupting the remaining members?
  • Are some personalities simply unsuited for teamwork?

Effective Use of Time and Resources

  • What should the team and its members do when the tasks seem to be a waste of time?
  • What should the team do when its mission and goals are ambiguous?
  • How can the team choose an effective course of action when there are varying opinions on what to do?
  • What can team members do when meetings are ineffective or confrontational?
  • When should team members be flexible and when should they stick to their guns?
  • How can team members choose effective task orders, assignments, etc.?
  • What are some hallmarks of ineffective plans and how can these be avoided?
  • What makes for effective time management?
  • How can delegation be used effectively?

Team Culture

  • How is team culture established?
  • How can remote and isolated team members become acculturated?
  • Is/should culture be established at the outset? Can culture be changed later on?

Social Graces

  • What are the key social graces all team members should have?
  • What social criteria are important when selecting members?
  • What can teams do when members lack proper social graces?

Knowledge Differences Among Team Members

  • How can teams deal with members who have different technical aptitudes?
  • What are the conflicting dynamics between older members who have experience, but may lack the technical knowledge of younger members?
  • Do varying levels of technical knowledge result in power inequalities?
  • How can members communicate effectively in light of knowledge asymmetries?
  • What can be done to avoid communication breakdowns?


  • What should team members do if the leaders motivations are political and do not have the teams best interest at heart?
  • Should team members ask a leader to step down if they have lost confidence in him or her?
  • What should a leader do if team members are losing confidence in him or her?
  • How can leaders encourage healthy communication?
  • What should people do when their role changes from team member to team leader?
  • How can leaders remain objective? Should leaders always be objective?
  • Do different organizations require different leadership styles—eg. government, military, academia etc.?
  • In a leaderless team, how can one effectively assume the role of the leader?

Diversity in Teams

  • What cultural differences should team members be aware of?
  • How can team members ensure that cultural or political differences to not inhibit performance?