OCW047: Factors Influencing Team Performance

The Role of Social Norms in Teams

Social norms are shared beliefs about how people should behave that influence team performance.

Learning Objectives

Examine the way teams develop and integrate norms, both social and performance based, in the evolution of the team dynamic

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Social norms create expectations and standards for acceptable behavior by team members.
  • Norms may develop through explicit conversation among team members or emerge implicitly through the way they interact.
  • Norms are different from rules in that, while rules are imposed and required, norms are agreed upon and reinforced through interpersonal relationships.
  • By creating accountability and reducing uncertainty, norms can help a team perform effectively.

Key Terms

  • socialize: To instruct, usually subconsciously, in the etiquette of a society.
  • dysfunctional: Counterproductive or disruptive to effective performance.
  • role: The expected behavior of an individual in a society.

Social norms are sets of shared beliefs about how people should behave. Teams and other types of groups develop norms to indicate acceptable ways of interacting. Norms create expectations, set standards, and reflect the collective value of the team members. Once formed, norms are not easily changed.

How Norms Emerge

Teams can create norms through discussions among team members. Often, during the forming phase of team development, members will have conversations about standards of behavior for the group. By doing so, teams can identify and develop norms that support their collaboration and productivity.

Both establishing and maintaining norms are indicators of a team’s maturity, made possible only when members have developed working relationships. Effective norms can develop on their own, especially if team members have prior experience working on successful teams. However, without explicit direction dysfunctional norms such as aversion to new ideas or conflict avoidance may take hold.

Norms vs. Rules


Handshaking as a Norm: In some business cultures, it is a norm to shake someone’s hand upon meeting. Here, one businessman shakes another’s hand. In many situations, it would be normative for the businessman to also shake the nearby businesswoman’s hand.

Norms are different from rules. Rules require or prohibit behavior and are typically issued by someone with the authority to direct others to comply and to impose sanctions if they do not. People might agree or disagree with a rule, but they generally are not free to ignore them. In contrast, norms are sets of expectations, not edicts. Team members themselves agree upon and reinforce norms through how they behave with each other. The clearer and more explicit the norms, especially if they are written down, the more effective they are at influencing team members’ behavior.

Benefits of Norms

Through the process of developing shared norms of behavior, team members begin to hold each other accountable for how they contribute to the team. By pointing out when someone violates a norm, the team helps keep its performance on track.

To the extent that team members can rely on norms to shape behavior, the team may experience less uncertainty and more efficiency in how work gets done. For example, a norm about what constitutes timely completion of tasks may help focus individual efforts. Because people act in accordance with norms, their behavior can become predictable and provide stability to the team.

Team Cohesiveness

A group is in a state of cohesion when its members possess bonds linking them to one another and to the group as a whole.

Learning Objectives

Explain how team cohesion contributes to team performance

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Team cohesion is the degree to which individual members want to contribute to the group ‘s ability to continue as a functioning work unit.
  • Cohesiveness develops over time out of interpersonal and group-level attraction, through collaboration, and as a result of a sense of belonging.
  • Cohesive teams communicate more effectively, lead to higher member satisfaction, and can create efficiency in resource allocation.
  • There can also be negative consequences to group cohesion. If the social pressures of the group intensify, it may lead to conformity and resistance to change.

Key Terms

  • cohesion: The state of working together or being united.
  • incentive: Something that motivates, rouses, or encourages.

Team cohesion is the degree to which individual members want to contribute to the group’s ability to continue as a functioning work unit. Members of cohesive teams have emotional and social bonds that link them to one another and to the group as a whole. These ties enable members to sustain their efforts on behalf of the team and make it more likely that the team will achieve its goals.

How Cohesion Develops

Team cohesion develops over time. Social scientists have explained the phenomenon of group cohesiveness in different ways. Some suggest that cohesiveness among group members develops from a heightened sense of belonging, as well as from collaboration and interdependence. Others note that cohesion comes from the interpersonal and group-level attraction common between people who share similar backgrounds and interests. Because teams have clear boundaries regarding membership, barriers to belonging also contribute to cohesion.

Consequences of Cohesion

Team cohesion is related to a range of positive and negative consequences. Cohesion creates a stronger sense of commitment to goals, which motivates higher individual effort and performance. Members of more cohesive groups tend to communicate with one another in a more positive fashion than those of less cohesive groups. As a result, members of cohesive groups often report higher levels of satisfaction and lower levels of anxiety and tension. This can improve decision making and encourage greater participation. Finally, by maintaining membership cohesive teams are able to continue to pursue new goals once they have fulfilled their original purpose. This makes allocation of resources more efficient, since an existing cohesive team can perform well and more quickly than a newly formed one.

Membership in a cohesive team can also have negative consequences. For example, cohesion can intensify social pressure to conform or limit individual expression. Cohesion can also make adaptation more difficult by making group processes inflexible or resistant to change.

Team Roles

Team roles define how each member of the group relates to the others and contributes to the team’s performance.

Learning Objectives

Identify types of team roles and how they contribute to team performance

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Team roles are sets of responsibilities and behaviors that establish expectations for how each member contributes to the team’s performance.
  • Roles may be assigned formally or assumed by individuals voluntarily.
  • Three types of roles are action-oriented, people-oriented, and idea-oriented.

Key Terms

  • interdependent: Mutually dependent; reliant on one another.

A role is a set of related duties and behaviors that exist independently from the person who acts in that role. Roles are part of a team’s structure, and having a role defines each team member’s position in the group relative to the others. Team roles establish expectations about who will do what to help the team succeed.

Roles may be assigned formally to team members or be assumed by individuals voluntarily. Each role is best suited to a person with the necessary skills and experience, since without them it is difficult to achieve credibility or influence on others. Team roles are not necessarily linked to specific work tasks and may even include responsibilities that do not directly contribute to the team’s output.

Common Team Roles

The consultant Meredith Belbin studied high-performing teams and devised a typology based on how members contributed to the group’s success. In his model there are three types of team roles: action-oriented, people-oriented, and idea-oriented.

  • Action-oriented roles are pragmatic—they focus on getting things done by taking ideas and turning them in practical plans. We think of these as leadership roles, since what they do can stimulate others to achieve goals.
  • People-oriented roles deal with coordinating tasks, supporting communication, and facilitating working relationships. These roles can require negotiation skills, keen perception about human behavior, and good listening abilities.
  • Idea-oriented roles involve generating new approaches, analyzing information, and thinking critically about the team’s work. Often these roles are filled by specialists with deep knowledge in a functional area or another type of subject-matter expertise.

Together these roles address both a team’s tasks and how it accomplishes them. Each type of role brings something valuable to how a team functions. When a role is missing because there is no one available to fill it, team performance can suffer.

Team Communication

Effective communication is often a key to the successful performance of team tasks.

Learning Objectives

Explain the function of effective communication in team performance

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • A significant part of teamwork involves oral and written communication.
  • Teams establish norms for the modes, frequency, and timing of communication between members and among the group.
  • Teams use a mix of centralized and decentralized patterns of communication.
  • Barriers to effective team communication include lack of shared vocabulary, poor speaking and writing skills, time constraints, and insensitivity to individual differences.

Key Terms

  • feedback: Critical assessment of information produced.
  • communication: The exchange of information between entities.

A major part of teamwork is communication. Team members send and exchange information to convey ideas, generate discussion, prompt action, create understanding, and coordinate activities. Effective communication means transmitting a message so that the recipient understands its content and intention. When team members communicate well, they can avoid common pitfalls such as misunderstandings, lack of trust, and conflict that can undermine team performance.

Team members share information in a variety of ways, including face-t0-face meetings and other forms of verbal communication, as well as in writing—through e-mail, texts, and memos. Teams develop practices for how members will communicate with each other and with the group as a whole. Norms typically emerge about preferred modes, frequency, and timing of communication.


Team communication: The basketball team here communicates by forming a huddle.

Patterns of Communication

Communication patterns describe the flow of information within the group and can be described as centralized or decentralized. When centralized, communication tends to flow from one source to all group members. Centralized communication results in consistent, standardized information being conveyed, but often restricts its flow to one direction. In contrast, decentralized communication means team members share and exchange information directly with each other and with the group. This allows information to flow more freely, but often with less consistency in format or distribution. The results can be incomplete, untimely, or poorly distributed messages. Most teams use a mix of the two approaches, choosing centralized communication for messages that are more complex, urgent, or time sensitive, and decentralized communication when discussion and idea generation are needed.

Barriers to Effective Team Communication

There are several barriers to effective communication within teams. These include lack of shared vocabulary or understanding of key task-related concepts, divergent personal styles of expression, and insensitivity to differences in individual characteristics such as age or gender. Good writing and speaking skills are essential to making oneself well understood. Limited time is often another factor in poor communication; understanding requires attention and effort, and it is easy to be distracted from one message by another. Virtual teams, especially those whose members are widely dispersed, can face additional challenges such as differences in language, culture, and time zones.

Source: Management