Team Relationships Drive Team Performance

A good friend of mine is the CTO at Cloverpop, a Silicon Valley start-up that has developed a revolutionary online platform for measuring, accelerating, and improving decision making. Recently, Roger and his engineering leadership team were debating how to best evaluate the performance of individual developers and engineers when results were delivered by teams. Regardless of a team’s purpose, whether it’s development, marketing, or manufacturing, this is a question faced by many organizations that have come to rely upon teams to drive key parts of their business.

The Challenge

One of the challenges organizations face as they have come to rely more and more on teams is that most employee-related functions such as recruiting, training, evaluations, and rewards, continue to be biased towards the individual. The roots of this bias run deep. Leadership theory and practice in the second half of the 20th Century was dominated by a focus on formal leaders, and how these individuals were seemingly single-handedly transforming their organizations. Somewhat ironically, it was the restructuring, downsizing, flattening, and reinvention efforts of these leaders that laid the foundation for the rise of teams. The challenge for many organizations today is that the legacy processes and practices of that era have not evolved at the same pace as the adoption of team-based approaches to work. This is particularly true with respect to evaluating individual performance in the context of team effectiveness. That leaves the question of how to best evaluate individual performance in the context of teams.

Teammate Relationships

A powerful, recurring theme in my research on team performance was the impact of individual team member relationships on overall team performance. In one recent meta-analysis of 3,198 teams, the authors demonstrated that teammate relationships based upon shared leadership in pursuing goals have a strong, positive correlation to team performance (D’Innocenzo, Mathieu, & Kukenberger, 2014). Understanding each team member’s expectations of his or her teammate’s contribution to the team goals—versus what they experienced—provides critical insights into individual performance in the context of the team. Those lessons can be applied to any team in any organization by following these three principles of team performance measurement:

  1. In a team setting, it is the individual’s level and manner of contribution to the team’s goals that matter the most in evaluating individual performance.
  2. Focus on understanding the expectations team members have of each other, versus their actual experience, in the context of achieving the team’s goals.
  3. Get that feedback often and use it to create the individual and team conversations that lead to actions that close gaps and improve individual and team performance.

Individual Performance in a World of Teams

Returning to Roger and his team at Cloverpop, they looked at each team’s goals and then asked team leaders to begin measuring and tracking team member experiences versus expectations of their teammate’s contribution to accomplishing the team’s goals. This feedback provided a simple, powerful means of understanding a critical dimension of individual performance in the context of a team and, like early-warning radar, becomes a key predictor of team effectiveness.

D’Innocenzo, L., Mathieu J. E., and Kukenberger, M.R. (2014). A Meta-Analysis of Different Forms of Shared Leadership–Team Performance Relations. Journal of Management. 42, 1964 – 1991. doi:10.1177/0149206314525205


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About the Author

Dr. Jeb Hurley is a leading expert on team dynamics and building high-performance hybrid / remote teams. He guides leaders in understanding and influencing human behavior and creating trust and psychological safety. Jeb’s innovative, behavioral science-based approach to leadership development improves team performance and people’s wellbeing faster and at a lower cost. Learn more about Jeb’s work at Brainware Partners.