Collaboration and teamwork loaded with anxiety and upside
Most businesses today rely on teamwork and collaborative working structures, and while this way of working is proven to deliver strong results, it can also create workplace stress due to conflict, too much inter-dependence and frustrations around credit sharing.
University of Sussex Business School Senior Lecturer Chidiebere Ogbonnaya analysed data from face-to-face interviews with 664 managers and 4,311 workers from different British workplaces, looking at how teamwork operates in practice, the dependency of team workers on each other, the process of decision making, as well as workplace performance – including labour productivity, financial performance and quality of product and/or service.
The research study found that teamwork affects organisational performance and wellbeing differently, dependent on the level of commitment towards the organisation and manager pressure.
- Poor performance, low productivity and high turnover can be caused by the pressure managers put on employees, pushing them too hard to deliver results.
- Employees sharing responsibility for products and services or relying on each other to do their work, increases productivity, provides better quality products and services and/or improves financial performance, and increases employees’ commitment to the organisation.
- Yet, teamwork also increases the level of work demands, which makes employees more anxious about their jobs. The more we feel that teammates rely on us, the more we feel that we have insufficient time to do our work, which is a major source of anxiety. When employees are faced with shared responsibility for specific products and services, they are more likely to feel tense and compelled to put in very long hours at work.
- Higher levels of commitment to where you work improves engagement and helps people cope with the demands of working with teams. In other words, anxiety or stress can be reduced if employees feel a sense of pride in where they work and they share the same values.
- Workplaces that performed better and where employees felt that the company cared and helped them cope with stress, had managers more likely to recognise the benefits of developing the right skills and resources for their team – training, variety in tasks, control over the place of work and input into work responsibility.
- On the other hand, workplaces that did not perform and where employees felt that managers treated them unfairly and were less sincere in keeping promises, had managers that did not provide enough training opportunities or the opportunity to input into work responsibility.
- Teamwork done well results in happier employees and more sustainable benefits.
Teamwork is an important factor in how businesses operate today, particularly in our industry. Hence the increasing value we place on collaboration. But are we getting it right?
We often talk about the impact of misaligned goals and competing interests on our ability to collaborate – whether internally or with external partners – and yet the stress and anxiety that can result from working in teams is rarely discussed and acknowledged.
Our industry can be high pressured and stressful and the importance of being mentally healthy is quite rightly a topic in the spotlight. Have we overlooked the ‘dark side’ of working in teams? The desire to not let our team workers down is admirable, but at what cost?
These are questions that employers must now grapple with – we need to understand the downside of working in teams, to alleviate the pressure that can be caused.
The role managers play in the difference between high performance and low performance when it comes to teamwork is significant. In our industry, you can become a manager in a relatively short space of time. Are we doing enough to equip our managers with the skills and giving them the support they need?
It’s unusual today to find a company that doesn’t have a well-articulated company culture and values proposition. Knowing that there is a direct relationship between employees feeling less stressed and more committed towards their organisation when they feel proud of where they work and when they have shared values, there’s an even more compelling reason to bring your culture and values to life throughout everything that you do.
And as individuals, we all have a role to play in reducing the stress caused by teamwork. We can do that by valuing each other’s contribution, ensuring a safe environment where we can all contribute in a constructive and supportive manner, and being brave enough to call out when this doesn’t happen.