Alex does the bare minimum required to ensure she doesn’t get into trouble with her boss. If you ask Alex how much she actually ‘works’ during the day she would tell you it’s around 3 hours. The rest of the time is filled with reading news websites or checking social media. Alex also forms part of a workgroup. They only communicate to get things done and, like Alex, are simply going through the motions. There is no conflict – as conflict typically happens when people care – just low-grade apathy, lethargy and indifference.
Are Alex and her colleagues’ rogue employees destined to be fired once their employers find out? Apparently not as Alex is actually modelled on a typical UK employee. In a study of 1,989 UK office workers, they reported that they worked productively, on average, for only two hours and 53 minutes per day and less than 10% of employee’s in western Europe are engaged in their work[i]. Take a moment to digest those two facts. This isn’t a small-scale problem, but an industry-wide epidemic of disengaged, unfulfilled and unproductive employees.
Why? Well, the answer is likely to be multi-layered and complex with no silver bullet or one size fits all solution. But, our research into high performing teams suggests a large part of the puzzle, rests at the level of the team and their leaders. That’s because teams are the primary unit of work in most organisations, where the real action happens, where people form close relationships and where most decisions of consequence are made. Yet, true teams – where people care about each other and the team – are actually very rare (in organisations at least).
Recent research is showing there is a tipping point amongst employees when they undergo a psychological shift from being isolated individuals (like Alex and her colleagues) to internalising a team into their own sense of self. You recognise employees who have undergone this shift from the language they use. They start speaking about ‘we’ and ‘us’ rather than ‘I’ and ‘Me’.
When this shift occurs a number of quite remarkable things happen. Not only does performance increase by up to 53%[ii], but it can also increase engagement and productivity, whilst decreasing stress and turnover intentions. In short, being part of a team that members care about, makes employees happier, healthier and more productive.
This is the big question… And one we take very seriously. In fact, in collaboration with the Centre for Team Excellence and Sussex University, Professor Rupert Brown, Dr Vivian Vignoles and Dr Matt Easterbrook we have spent over 3 years trying to answer it. This research has discovered that there are five fundamental beliefs that are needed in order to turn employees, like Alex, experience of work and being in a team around.
These five fundamental beliefs are:
Continuity: When members believe that the team provides continuity from past, to present and into the future.
Meaning: When members believe that the team is meaningful beyond a pay-cheque.
Distinctiveness: When members believe that the team is distinctive, different and stands out from other teams.
Belonging: When team members believe that the team is cohesive and unified, without cliques or factions.
Efficacy: When members believe that the team is competent and capable of achieving its objectives.
Fortunately, these beliefs are not static. In fact, as humans, we actively seek out groups that satisfy these needs, so we are pre-programmed to want to find them in our current team – we just need a guiding hand.
If, like most leaders we speak with, you want a practical step-by-step framework for developing these beliefs that will transform your team so that they are happier, healthier and more productive, get in touch today. If you’d like to find out more about the science behind high performing teams within business read our white paper.
Dr Will Thomas
Psychologist & Honorary Research Fellow
Centre for Team Excellence & University of Sussex
+44 (0)1903 814 259
[i] Gallup (2017). State of the Global Workplace. Accessed from: http://workplace.gallup.com/215921/employee-engagement.aspx
[ii] Thomas, W. E., Brown, R. J., Easterbrook, M., Vignoles, V. L., D’Angelo, C., Manzi, C., & Holt, J. (2018). Team level identity predicts perceived and actual team performance: A longitudinal multilevel analyses with real teams. Manuscript submitted for publication, University of Sussex.