“Working together”: Does it really matter for Team Performance?

Key Points:

  1. Team collaboration is not fixed; embedding it is a great target for organizational improvement.
  2. Teams can be designed for collaboration. Focus on building collaboration into tasks and outcomes the team is pursuing.
  3. Team collaboration can impact how we think, act, and feel about our teammates. In turn, it improves performance.

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Breakdowns between team members are costly! On average, businesses lose a staggering $11,000 per employee every year due to ineffective communications and collaboration (Mitel Networks, 2017). That teams succeed when they are both focused on tasks (or “getting things done”) and on relationships (or “getting along”) is commonly accepted. That’s no surprise. But these features do not show up out of nowhere. On the contrary, it takes deliberate effort from members and leaders; many teams still fail. You may ask, how can I optimize team performance? Collaboration is one way.

According to Stephen Courtright, Gary Thurgood, Greg Stewart, and Abigail Pierotti, team interdependence is one of the most important team features to consider. These authors conducted an extensive meta-analysis with 7,563 work teams, to clarify the meaning and impact of team interdependence. Even though generic claims about the importance of “working together” to solve problems abound, we need clarity: what does that really mean? What does “working together” imply? Does it actually influence team performance? If so, how can we get more interdependence between team members? The authors found team interdependence has a positive impact on the quality of the interaction and cooperation between team members. It also helps team members bond and work towards the collective good, which in turn improves performance.

What is team interdependence?

Interdependence can take two forms in teams: structural interdependence or behavioural interdependence. Structural interdependence refers to the extent to which team systems are designed to promote collaboration between members. For example, does the team have interconnected goals and a unifying team goal? Does the team get joint rewards? And does the team’s work flow between members?  Behavioural interdependence refers to whether or not teammates act interdependently. Structural interdependence has the potential to bring about interdependent team behaviour. Also, the fact that it refers to team features, like workflows or goals implies that it can be targeted for change by team members and leaders through team design.

The question is therefore: how can we do this and what is the impact on team functioning and performance? The answer lies in designing teams for task interdependence and outcome interdependence. Task interdependence is when members depend on each other to effectively get resources and coordinate. Outcome interdependence is when outcomes are assessed, rewarded, and communicated at the group level, instead of individually. When tasks and outcomes are more interdependent, team functioning and performance improves.

How do task and outcome interdependence impact team performance? By enhancing task-related team functioning.

Higher interaction and cooperation within a team is called task-related team functioning. This means teams are coordinating together. Everyone is on the same page and working towards the same goals. In teams where task interdependence is high and interaction must happen, it makes task-related team functioning improve. When team members depend on each other to get work done, they must coordinate and interact more. They get more familiar with each other, leading to more trust and information sharing, coordination, and joint decisions. As a result, they’re more aware of each other’s capabilities and this builds even more trust to complete the task. By solving tasks collaboratively, members get more familiar with their projects and can plan and orchestrate to produce better quality work from multiple perspectives. All this improves performance.

The positive effect of both task interdependence and outcome interdependence on team functioning isn’t the same everywhere in the world. Research shows that these effects are influenced by culture. The effects of task interdependence and outcome interdependence on team functioning seem to be stronger in collectivist cultures and seem to be weaker in individualistic cultures. Teams operating in collectivist countries, or that are more collectivist may benefit most from task and outcome interdependence.

So, how can you create more interdependent teams?

  • Structure work to be more reciprocal and collaborative. Create teams where each member has unique resources and information.
  • Create and communicate goals at the group level.
  • Encourage members to contribute to setting goals and achieving the collective outcome.
  • Develop positive working relationships, instead of focusing exclusively on work.
  • Consider factors like peer ratings to measure social factors like team-member support for performance evaluations.

Takeaways for your practice:

  • Design team features that encourage teammates to interact. Making sure teammates share resources, are each accountable for a section of the workflow, set interdependent goals, and use interdependent reward systems are good methods to consider.
  • Promote higher task interdependence to increase team interaction and enhance coordination. Encourage sharing information and being familiar with each other’s unique task-related information.
  • Enhance team effectiveness even more by combining high task interdependence, using the methods above, with high outcome interdependence (i.e., giving hybrid team and individual rewards).

Trustworthiness score:

The trustworthiness of the study is moderate (80%). This means there is a 20% chance that alternative explanations for the effect found are possible.

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Courtright, S. H., Thurgood, G. R., Stewart, G. L., & Pierotti, A. J. (2015). Structural interdependence in teams: An integrative framework and meta-analysis. Journal of Applied Psychology, 100(6), 1825-1847.

Mitel Networks. (2017, March 23). Businesses lose an average of $11,000 per employee every year due to ineffective communications and collaboration. Globe Newswire News Room. Retrieved November 8, 2022, from https://www.globenewswire.com/news-release/2017/03/23/943480/0/en/Businesses-Lose-an-Average-of-11-000-per-Employee-Every-Year-Due-to-Ineffective-Communications-and-Collaboration.html

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