A new study in sports psychology finds that quality of leadership on a team has a direct impact on team chemistry and cohesion.
The joint study from the Department of Kinesiology, University of Windsor, and the University of Leuven, the Netherlands, and published in the Journal of Sports Sciences used social network analysis -a technique for studying connections between individuals within a group- to show that a sports team’s group dynamics are affected by team members’ perceptions of leadership, meaning that teams that feel they have strong leadership will more often than not function well together.
Researchers gave questionnaires to members of 35 different sports teams (volleyball, soccer, basketball and handball teams) asking each member to rate the leadership qualities of each of his or her teammates and then the researchers measured the cohesiveness factor of the team by asking questions about how close the members felt to each other and how united they felt in their strategies and goals for the team.
Results showed that the more players felt there to be leadership on the team (often connected to more than one leader) the more united they felt as a group. “Athletes perceived greater unity and closeness regarding the attainment of group goals and maintenance of social interactions when they observed a higher degree of athlete leadership within their teams,” say the study’s authors.
Of the four types of leadership roles postulated by sports psychologists (task, motivational, social and external leadership) it turns out that motivational leadership, or the ability to motivate teammates during competition and to lift their spirits when discouraged, is seen as the most effective predictor of team cohesion.
“Thus, practitioners (e.g., coaches, sport psychology consultants) should inform athletes that team unity is enhanced when athletes provide quality leadership amongst each other.”
The study further isolated the kind of leadership that proved most effective in creating team cohesion. Of the four types of leadership roles postulated by sports psychologists (task, motivational, social and external leadership) it turns out that motivational leadership, or the ability to motivate teammates during competition and to lift their spirits when discouraged, is seen as the most effective predictor of team cohesion, a result that surprised researchers who hypothesized that task leadership (the ability to direct teammates and provide tactical guidance during play) would be felt as most essential to team unity.
According to the researchers, the results show that “if the goal is to enhance perceptions of unity in terms of accomplishing the team’s task objectives, then athlete leaders should focus on guiding teammates’ emotions towards performing optimally.
This result stands in line with current organizational theory which puts an emphasis on building team unity and corporate culture, not just by focusing on the cognitive culture of shared ideas, beliefs and values but by working on a company’s affective culture as well – i.e., the common attitudes and emotional responses that employees have towards the company, its norms and practices.
In a recent article in the Harvard Business Review, professors Sigal Barsade and Olivia A. O’Neill argue that although its non-verbal and subjective nature make it harder to purposefully influence in comparison with cognitive culture, affective culture plays a huge role in determining how well a company functions on a day-to-day basis and ultimately whether it sinks or swims. Barsade and O’Neill write, “Emotional culture is shaped by how all employees —from the highest echelons to the front lines—comport themselves day in and day out. But it’s up to senior leaders to establish which emotions will help the organization thrive, model those emotions, and reward others for doing the same.”