Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Why it's so important that team members believe they're on the same page

One of the most important characteristics of successful teams is that team members believe in their collective potential – also known as team potency. But what can be done to foster this shared belief? A new study suggests that teams feel more potent when their members believe they share a common vision of how to work and what to achieve.

Caroline Aubé and her colleagues surveyed employees at a large Canadian public-sector organisation, including team members and managers. Within 101 teams, members reported their perceptions of whether the team agreed on ways of working – such as how to prioritise, or to respect deadlines – as well as the division of labour and overall team objectives.

Having more "perceived shared understanding" was correlated with the team’s feeling greater potency – members agreed with statements like “This team has confidence in itself” – and with greater team effort (according to managers’ reports). When we feel we’re on the same page, we feel more potent and are more motivated to put in extra effort, likely because it seems more destined to translate into real results. And the more effort produced by shared understanding, the more managers believed their teams were successful in meeting their goals.

Aubé and her co-researchers made a second prediction: that extra effort would have a stronger association with success in teams with predictable, routinised work. This proved to be true, likely because when you can’t work smarter by trying out new approaches, working harder is the only way to contribute more to the team.

The researchers expected this to mean that potency would matter more for teams with predictable work, and therefore that shared understanding would be more important for these teams too. But this didn’t pan out: a sense of shared direction mattered to all kinds of team – even those with adapting, unpredictable work environments became more successful when they believed they were on the same page. This is possibly because, as well as increasing effort, shared belief and potency may have contributed to success by other routes such as increasing helping behaviours, inventiveness, or unknown factors: further research will be needed to tell between the alternatives.

Previous studies on teams’ shared understanding have focused on objective measures of this important characteristic – such as whether team members do truly share the same objectives and values. This study is notable because it looks at team features that tend to co-occur with having a sense of shared vision, specifically how perceptions of unity translate into greater belief in the team and willingness to commit to it. If a team is objectively on the same page, but doesn’t believe it or realise it (perhaps its membership is fractured geographically and the chances to engage are scarce), then it’s possible that the team will operate at a lower potency than it deserves.


Aubé, C., Rousseau, V., & Tremblay, S. (2015). Perceived shared understanding in teams: The motivational effect of being ‘on the same page’ British Journal of Psychology, 106 (3), 468-486 DOI: 10.1111/bjop.12099

Post written by Alex Fradera (@alexfradera) for the BPS Research Digest.

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