Do individuals hold ‘romantic’ views of teamwork?. Abstract
Teamwork is now common practise among organisations. Advocates suggest that working in a team boosts performance, as each member of the team brings their own individual knowledge and skill set to the table. However, a paradox exists within the teamwork literature; whilst the belief in the effectiveness of teamwork is high among managers and employees; actual benefits to productivity remain unproven in empirical research. This phenomenon has been dubbed ‘the romance of teams’ (Allen & Hecht, 2004) and may stem from the psychological, rather than instrumental benefits of teamwork. Allen and Hecht point to the wide-scale use of teamwork as evidence for such romanticised views of teamwork. This study focused specifically on teamwork and creativity, and sought to identify whether individuals do actually hold positive perceptions of teamwork. A survey of 40 participants in employment or full-time study solicited respondent’s views of the relationship between teamwork and creativity, and leant support to Allen and Hecht’s concept. What is less clear are the conditions and circumstances surrounding perceptions of teamwork and creativity.
Broadly speaking, teamwork has been defined in the work psychology literature as the actions of individuals brought together for a common goal, which prioritises the needs of the group above the needs of the individual (Cohen & Bailey, 1997; Hackman, 1987, as cited in Paulus 2000).
The popularity of teamwork has risen steadily since its inception in the 1960’s, to the point that collaborative work is now common practise in organisations. It stems from the logical assumption that most tasks require multiple skills and a knowledge base wider than that of any one individual (Paulus, 2000), and is boosted by the finding that many individuals appear to enjoy such work (Cohen & Bailey, 1997). Whilst enjoyment in one’s work has importance both for the individual and the workplace, as enjoyment plays a vital role in factors such as staff turnover, from the perspective of the organisation, it must also be productive.
One particular focus of teamwork research has been in the field of creativity in the workplace. According to Purser and Montuori (1995) (as cited in Paulus, 2000) the current age of information has placed information sharing and innovation generation within groups in high regard. Is it crucial therefore to understand whether groups can indeed generate creative ideas more successfully than individuals. One of the original pieces of research to be written on group creativity was Osborn’s 1957 procedure of brain storming. Osborn (as cited in Paulus, 2000) devised a specific set of rules concerning ideas generation, and proposed that groups following these rules would generate a far higher rate of ideas than individuals. However, in reality this is not the case. Brainstorming not only fails to outperform individual ideas generation, but many studies indicate it produces fewer ideas than individuals working alone (Mullen, Johnson & Salas, 1991).
Paulus (2000) proposed a number of factors which may account for this effect. Firstly he suggested that poor performance may be due to overload of group members’ cognitive processes, pointing to the difficulty of generating one’s own ideas whilst attending to others. Secondly, he suggests social factors may be at play. Group members may feel inhibited by the group, anxious to share their ideas freely due to the potential reactions of others. This sense of comparison versus collaboration is further compounded by a tendency for ideas to converge. Simply put, group processes lead to ideas becoming more similar rather than more innovate. Paulus (2000) also points to the phenomena of ‘social loafing’, a term coined in the late 1890’s by Ringelmann designed to explain people in groups exerted less effort than individuals (cited in Latanne & Wolf, 1981).
Paulus (2000) goes on to suggest that if these factors are carefully counteracted, productivity in brainstorming can be increased, which should be applicable to teamwork. However, such benefits have not been robustly supported by empirical inquiry. Hill (1982) reviewed several studies comparing performance on decision making tasks by individuals and interacting groups, and concluded that most studies demonstrated either no group advantage, or poorer performance than individuals. Similar patterns have been found in experiments involving memory recall (Weldon & Bellinger, 1997).
Despite this, teamwork has retained its prominence in organisations leading some authors to suggest a mismatch exists between perceptions of teamwork and the reality of their productivity. Allen and Hecht (2004) refer to this as the “romance of teams” (p. 440). This study was inspired by Allen and Hecht’s concept, and sought to identify its existence within a population of employed individuals and students. Primarily, it sought to determine if perceptions of the benefit of teamwork to creativity were universally positive among the sample.
In line with Allen and Hecht’s concept of the ‘romance of teams’, individuals will hold highly positive perceptions of the benefits of teamwork to creativity.
The participants were 40 individuals either enrolled on a university course (n=28) or in employment (n=12), of which 24 were male. Participants were selected at random and received no payment for their participation.
The material used in the study was a single questionnaire designed to assess participants’ views on team-working and creativity. The two-page questionnaire was divided into two sections. Section one included basic demographic questions including employment status, gender and age. Section two comprised 10 statements, and required participants to respond to across a 5-point likert scale (ranging from strongly agree to strongly disagree).
Participants were sent copies of the questionnaire and asked to complete them anonymously and return them via the envelopes provided by the research team. An information sheet was also provided to participants which provided details of the research study and provided contact details in the case of any questions. The information sheet also reassured particpants of their confidentiality, and advised particpants that particpation was voluntary.
Table 1: Percentage of survey respondents in agreement and disagreement with the survey items.
Survey itemN% N%
Working in groups/teams enhances my creativity3075 410
More ideas are generated by individuals working in a team,3280 25
Group/team work can be counter-productive2870 410
I would rate myself as a team player3485 410
Individuals generate more ideas than a group/team1947.5 717.5
Team/group work yields better outcomes2357.5 37.5
After working in a group, it could improve the creativity of individuals2870 12.5
Working in a group can be useful to exchange knowledge and ideas between members3997.5 00
Team members with different types of expertise often have a different way of thinking3485 00
Ideas generated from groups/teams can be ineffective due to overload of information2460 410
Overall, the results of this study supported the concept of the ‘romance of teams’. Individuals surveyed showed a high level of agreement with the notion that creativity is boosted by teamwork, and this supported the study hypothesis.
Specifically, these findings directly support the first premise of Allen and Hecht’s (2004) theory of the ‘romance of teams’; the misplaced faith that teamwork is more effective than individual work. In addition to supporting their theory, this research also builds upon it; Allen and Hecht did not provide any direct evidence for the presumption that individuals and organisations hold teamwork in high regard, instead pointing to the high incidence of teamwork in modern organisations as the basis of their claim. The second premise, that such faith exists despite a lack of scientific support, was not tested in this research. The results also offer some insight into why people may hold such ’romanticised’ views. Two items described specific group factors that increase creativity, and these items returned the highest degrees of agreement from the survey respondents.
One item did not support the hypothesis fully (‘Ideas generated from groups/teams can be ineffective due to overload of information’). The majority of respondents either agreed or strongly agreed with this item, providing support for Paulus’ (2000) theory that cognitive overload can diminish group creativity.
As mentioned above, this study can not provide any direct evidence for Allen and Hecht’s second premise. It did not include any empirical experiments of teamworking versus individual work on tasks of creativity. It cannot be confidently concluded from the results of this study that a mismatch between the perceived and actual benefits of team work exists. In order to fully support Allen and Hecht’s theory, and provide compelling evidence of such a mismatch, it would be necessary to conduct such empirical experiements with the same sample used in this research.
Additionally, this study cannot rule out the possibility that the results were due to sampling bias. The vast majority of the respondents identified themselves as ‘team players’. This indicated a personal preference amongst most of the sample for team work. This personal preference may have biased the results, as it is reasonable to infer that individuals who like to work in teams will be more likely to romanticise teamwork. This could be overcome by replicating the research with a group of participants who do not enjoy working in teams. If the phenomena of the ‘romance of teams’ truly exisits, personal preference for group work should not matter. Regardless of how an individual feels about teamwork, they should still be expected to infer the benefits to creativity.
Relatedly, the survey used in this research did not seek to identify the level of experience that respondents had with teamwork. As part of the inclusion criteria was to be either in full time employment or study, it was presumed that the particpants would have had some experience of teamwork. Without adequately controlling for actual experience of teamwork, it is difficult to pinpoint whether the ‘romance of teams’ effect is presumed by all (as suggested by Allen & Hecht), or is more prominent in people with less real experience of teamwork.
One particular shortcoming of this study was that it did not provide any statistical comparisons. Typically, the use of Likert scales would point to the use of chi square analysis. It would have been advantageous to use a 1?3 chi square table to statistically conclude that a significantly higher number of respondents agreed or strongly agreed with the items than disagreed or strongly disagreed.
As outlined above, it would be useful to be able to specify some of the necessary conditions for the phenomena. For example, is the effect stronger in those who enjoy teamworkOr could it be stronger in those with less experience of teamwork (and therefore less exposure to the frustrating aspects of teamwork such as a lack of group cohesion, social anxiety or cognitive oveload)Do males hold more positive views of the benefits to creativity from teamwork than femalesDo younger people who may have had more experience in working in groups during their school education regard teamwork as more beneficial than older peopleFuture research could identify some of these conditions. The survey in this research did include items regarding gender and enjoyment of teamwork, but due to the distribution of responses, the sample sizes were insufficient to compute any between-group differences; the analyses would have lacked sufficient statistical power. Surveying a larger sample in the future would overcome this issue.
This research provided evidence for the concept of the ‘romance of teams’. Respondents showed positive perceptions of the benefit of teamwork to creativity, despite showing understanding of how teamwork may inhibit creative processes. In order to formulate a more rounded theory of the ‘romance of teams’ further research is necessary to better understand the processes and conditions involved in this phenomena.
Allen, N.J. & Hecht, T.D. (2004). The ‘romance of teams’: Toward and understanding of its psychological underpinnings and implications. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 77, 439 – 461.
Cohen, S. G., & Bailey, D. E. (1997). What makes teams work: Group effectiveness research from the shop floor to the executive suite. Journal of Management, 23, 239-291.
Hill, G. W. (1982). Group versus individual performance: Are N + 1 heads better than onePsychological Bulletin 91, 517–539.
Latane, B. & Wolf, S. (1981). The social impact of majorities and minorities. Psychological Review 88, (5), 438 – 453.
Mullen, B., Johnson, C., & Salas, E. (1991). Productivity loss in brainstorming groups: A meta-analytic integration. Basic and Applied Social Psychology 12 3–23.
Weldon, M. S., & Bellinger, K. D. (1997). Collective memory: Collaborative and individual processes in remembering. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition 23 1160 – 1175.