Team dynamics can be volatile. As new teams form, members are challenged to build cohesion on the fly as they begin work toward a common goal. Past research has shown that more cohesive teams produce better results and higher performing teams tend to be more cohesive, but Drexel LeBow assistant professor of management Lauren D’Innocenzo and co-researchers found that prior methods hadn’t produced a timeline for how cohesion and performance correlate and develop over time. In their paper, the researchers analyze the relationship between team performance and cohesion in a systematic way that yields information about how these reciprocal factors develop.
“Most [previous] studies take a snapshot and say cohesion leads to performance, and some studies will say performance leads to cohesion, but it’s just looking at a small point in time. If you’ve been a part of a team, you know that these things take time to develop,” D’Innocenzo says.
Her team designed a more systematic approach that assessed newly formed teams at multiple points from the beginning of a new task to its completion. The teams, made up of college students, took part in 10 week simulations during which they had to make a variety of managerial decisions for an automobile company. Each week, the teams were given a report of their company’s stock performance relative to other teams in the class.
What the researchers found is that while the relationship between cohesion and performance is reciprocal, with development of one leading to growth in the other, there is a difference of magnitude. “We find that while performance can help to elicit feelings of cohesion, this effect was relatively stable over time. Interestingly, we find that as cohesion develops over time, its relationship with performance grows at a higher rate,” D’Innocenzo says. “This provides managers with multiple avenues to improve performance, either by ensuring early wins to promote feelings of bonding and interconnectedness, or engaging in activities designed to enhance team morale and cohesion.”
Cohesion increased as the teams had more time together, but the researchers found that teams with a shared leadership structure developed stronger bonds. D’Innocenzo suggests that this is the place to start when looking to build a high-performing team. “Creating environments where multiple people feel the opportunity to step up and lead is important. If team members are sharing influence, they’re going to feel more connected.”