Effective team working means having a bounded and interdependent team, a clear team purpose, the right team members, a climate of compassion, and taking the time to regularly reflect on how the team is working together. But how should individual team members behave to ensure effective team working?

What constitutes effective team working behaviour on the part of individuals?

All the usual behaviours such as good communication, being co-operative and collaborative, working towards the common goal etc. are typical examples. However, Felps et al (2006) identified three specific high level behavioural expectations that are necessary for effective team working – these are somewhat outside the usual need to listen, question and join in. When a group member persistently violates these three expectations, this can have detrimental effects on teammates and groups (leading to conflict, poor performance, weak motivation, and less cooperation…). That is why the violation of these three behaviours is also referred to by Felps as the three ‘bad apple’ behaviours – a negative team member who ‘spoils the barrel’.

Expectation #1: Contributing adequate effort

Firstly, team members are expected to contribute adequate effort by working towards team goals with the same intensity and persistence as others do. If they don’t do so, issues related to equity and fairness come to the fore. At first, other team members may try to motivate the ‘bad apple’ but if this doesn’t work, they will likely start to feel resentful that they are unfairly carrying the workload and that the team member in question is “withholding effort” – i.e. they are loafing! As a result, other team members may resort to defensive behaviours – revenge, work sabotage and avoidance. For example, Eder and Eisenberger (2008) found that individual employees withdrew from work when their co-workers did.

Expectation #2: Performing emotional labour

Secondly, team members need to perform emotional labour by self-monitoring and regulating their expression of feelings to facilitate comfortable and positive team interactions. This type of behaviour does not mean banishing the occasional criticism, negative comment or expression of frustration or anxiety. A negative individual is a team member who frequently expresses negative feelings, such as pessimism, anxiety, insecurity, irritation etc. which results in others moving away from them or moving against them. Thus, progress is stymied by the individual’s repetitious and inappropriate expression of emotion.

Expectation # 3: Respecting and adhering to interpersonal and team norms

Thirdly, team members are expected to perform contextually by respecting and adhering to the interpersonal and social/team norms. So, for example, if this is a team where people take it in turns to make tea for one another and one team member never offers to do so, then that person is not performing contextually. If a team member persists in swearing or telling off-colour jokes when this team has expressly asked them not to do so they are violating the interpersonal norms in the team and they are, in Felps’s words, an interpersonal deviant! This negative behaviour may be triggered when a team member is compared to a higher-performing colleague, threatening their self-image and identity, or simply when a team member fails to recognise the social expectations. Having a deviant group member can become problematic when this leads to low group or task-cohesion – low shared commitment among team members to achieve a goal (see Wellen & Neale, 2006).

As you can see, there is a lot of scientific evidence that the violation of these behavioural expectations can have detrimental effects on team performance. Interestingly, there is still debate in the literature whether this is also the case for team members who fail to regulate their negative emotions. A few studies (see Tsai et al., 2011, Knippenberg et al., 2010; Jones & Kelly, 2009) report that negative mood can actually improve team performance by facilitating creativity and decision-making: team members with negative mood may concentrate more and spend more time on idea generation, as negative mood is thought to signal that more attention is required for a task. However, scholars are still debating this, so it should not be taken as advice to purposefully irritate your team members!

How do you and your colleagues measure up against these three behavioural expectations? Is there anything you can do to adjust your behaviour to ensure effective team working?

At Edgecumbe, we help leaders collaborate to create agile, resilient teams that lead together. Our tools can help a team assess their collective identity and impact. Armed with these insights, we design and run highly impactful team development and team coaching sessions.