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Build Your Career Office Life

Teams Work Better When Employees Care About Each Other

Teams Work Better When Employees Care About Each Other
Credit: BillionPhotos.com/Shutterstock

When employees work in groups, they are best served by focusing more on how they can benefit others, and not just themselves, new research finds.

When team members are motivated more to help others, even at the expense of their own performance, their teams perform better, a study recently published in the Academy of Management Journal found.

This type behavior is defined as prosocial motivation, which highlights the social aspect of work by emphasizing individuals' concerns about how their actions can affect others' well-being. Prosocially motivated individuals are described as givers who are primarily concerned with contributing benefits to others, rather than calculating personal returns, the research said.

"Extending this idea to the work-team context, when team members have a strong belief that they can work together to make a positive influence on the well-being of relevant others, such as their colleagues, clients, customers and community, they are likely to work together effectively over the long term," Jasmine Hu, one of the study's authors and an assistant professor of management at the University of Notre Dame's Mendoza College of Business in Indiana, told Business News Daily

The research was based on a field study of 67 work teams from six companies in both the United States and China, as well as a lab study with 124 student teams at the University of Notre Dame. [The Skill Successful Workplace Teams Need ]

"Findings from both the field study and lab research showed that the greater motivation to benefit others, the higher the levels of cooperation and viability and the higher the subsequent team performance," Hu said in a statement.

The research also revealed that when team members look out for the well-being of others, employees are less likely to voluntarily leave their teams.

Hu said the researchers found that prosocial motivation matters to the effectiveness of a wide range of work teams.

"For example, if building-construction team workers are not genuinely concerned about their customers' safety and comfort, they may engage in opportunistic behaviors that enhance short-term benefits, but have a potentially detrimental impact on the residents in the building," Hu said. "Likewise, a lack of prosocial motivation in a lawyer's team might damage clients' subsequent well-being and also hurt the lawyers own reputations."

The study's authors discovered that the benefits a team gets from prosocial employees depend on how closely team members work with each other. The more closely teams worked together, the greater was the benefit of prosocial motivations, the researchers said.

"The highest level of team effectiveness was achieved when team motivation to benefit others and the interdependence of tasks among team members were both high," Hu said.

The study's authors said the research should encourage employers to build teams with employees who keep others' best interests in mind.

"In line with our results, management attention should be directed toward enhancing motivation to benefit others, as teamwork is a coordinated action and showing concern for others may bring about smoother interactions and more effective cooperation within the team," Hu said.

Based on the research, Hu advises that organizations look at the types of teams they have to best determine how to make them more effective. Some teams don't require employees to work closely with each other and don't consist of employees more concerned about how they can help others than themselves. For these teams, Hu suggests managers increase interaction within the group, add employees who are highly motivated to benefit others and take a more active role in leading by example.

Hu said that teams already filled with employees focused on the well-being of others can improve their team performance by establishing a higher level of interaction and coordination among members.

The study was co-authored by Robert Liden, a professor of management at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Chad  Brooks
Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based freelance writer who has nearly 15 years experience in the media business. A graduate of Indiana University, he spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including, local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Following his years at the newspaper Chad worked in public relations, helping promote small businesses throughout the U.S. Follow him on Twitter.