Thousands of years ago, our ancestors had to work as one cooperative and cohesive unit, hunting and gathering for the good and survival of the entire group. Things have changed since then. The group mentality is no longer the rule of the land, and society promotes an “every man for himself” attitude. Despite our individualistic culture, there is still a need to cooperate in our every day lives.
There are basic keys every collaboration needs to thrive, such as effective communication, listening, respect and the resources to work together in the first place. But what foundation must every team build in order to perform at an optimal level?
1. First and foremost, put the right leadership in place. Every team needs a leader, but what characteristics are key to successful leadership? Researchers from Harvard, University of Michigan and Duke University found that leaders too focused on their own power and superiority may be detrimental to a group's success because they tend to override contributions from the collective group.
2. Bring in the right team members. Proper and successful recruitment is just as, if not more, important than finding the right leadership. When it comes to bringing in the right team members, there are several things to keep in mind. Recruitment 101: Ensure team members bring in the skill sets and resources to get the job done. Also, consider whether the team members are the right cultural fit. Researchers at Princeton University say team members’ individual motivations, more than incentives or sanctions, will make or break the success of the overall team.
"These internal motivations develop from attitudes and values, such as feelings about the legitimacy of group authorities or about commitment to the group. These attitudes and values provide people with personal reasons for acting cooperatively, as opposed to extrinsic reasons like the possibility of gaining rewards or the risk of being punished."
3. Operate as one unit. Cognitive psychology research has shown that synchronous activity — performing timed tasks or actions as a group — can strengthen social cohesion among team members, leading to better cooperation and performance. Researchers at Stanford University even say these timed tasks or actions don't even have to be joyful experiences! Behavioral psychologist Susan Weinschenk, PhD, offers up some helpful tips on this.
4. Define the goals well. Edwin Locke is renowned for his goal setting theory, which states that individuals perform at a higher level if the task at hand is specific and difficult rather than vague and easy. It’s easier to visualize and achieve "I want to save $500 this month" versus "I want to save money soon." Also, "higher" or more difficult goals lead us to action because we gain a higher sense of satisfaction once the goal has been met. This model, Locke argues, is contingent upon a system of feedback and the assumption that the participator accepts the goal in the first place.
"Feelings of success in the workplace occur to the extent that people see that they are able to grow and meet job challenges by pursuing and attaining goals that are important and meaningful."
5. Plan early and often. According to organizational psychology, individuals tend to underestimate the time and resources necessary to complete a task. Also known as the planning fallacy, individuals are prone to this type of behavior even if they might have experienced similar time and resource miscalculations in the past. We’re all guilty of this — We’re willing to bet you’re scrambling to file your taxes again this year. Researchers peg this type of behavior on optimistic attitudes or wishful thinking.
Behavioral and organizational psychologists are discovering new and critical ideas around team performance, like how cultural factors play into collaboration and performance, all the time. Extensive research in the field of psychology shows the five tenets above will help lay the groundwork to more effective collaboration and team work. We hope the next time you have to work on a team project, whether related to your job, school or social life, you’ll consider their ideas!