How To Diagnose Teamwork Quality With Columinity (And Contribute To Science)

Christiaan Verwijs
The Liberators
Published in
7 min readFeb 5, 2024

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Is your team actually a team or just a group? A consistent observation that

and I have made in our work with hundreds of teams over the years is that many teams don’t engage in teamwork. Instead, they are groups of individuals in a physical or virtual space, but there is no collaboration, cohesion, or shared goals or commitment to them. So, while we call them “teams,” they aren’t really.

But what makes people into a team remains elusive. This is particularly relevant to Agile approaches that all assume the presence of teams. Yet, this assumption is often not valid in reality. Consequently, much of the value of high-quality teamwork is lost, and everyone is left frustrated.

So, what makes high-quality teamwork? And how is this influenced by how the team is composed? In recent months, we have initiated a scientific research project with

, to investigate teamwork quality. More importantly, you can already diagnose teamwork quality in your team with our free online survey. You get a ton of actionable feedback and detailed results. And your anonymous, team-level data is helpful for our research. In this post, we give you all the details.

The new model we’re introducing for teamwork quality. It measures soft factors, as well as support structures and outcomes. Note that the model has not yet been scientifically tested and may change as we do so.

Our Teamwork Quality Model (Preliminary)

Teams are “bounded social systems whose members are interdependent for a shared purpose, and who interact as a unit with other individuals and groups in achieving that purpose” (Hackman, in Tindale et. al., 1999). I use this definition because Hackman is one of the most prolific researchers of teamwork and has shaped much of the research in this area to date. However, Gladstein, 1984 and Sundstrom, De Meuse, & Futrell, 1990 offer similar definitions.

These definitions highlight two criteria: team members depend on each other to complete their work and collaborate towards shared goals/tasks. It’s also interesting to note the use of bounded. This means that it is clear to everyone who is on the team and who is not. Finally, Hackman defines teams as social systems.

Teamwork requires high cohesion (task and social), interdependence, and goal commitment.

From this, we developed a preliminary model to capture teamwork quality with several factors that are grounded in existing teamwork research:

1. Task Interdependence

To what extent do team members rely on others to complete their work (Campion, Medsker & Higgs, 1993)? Studies have shown that task interdependence promotes information sharing, collaboration, and mutual support among team members, leading to higher creativity, problem-solving, and overall team effectiveness. Gully et al. (1995) found that social identification encourages cohesion, improving team productivity. Ilgen et al. (2005) found that interdependence facilitated task integration and improved team decision-making processes, ultimately enhancing team performance.

2. Task Cohesion

Where task interdependence captures the factual dependency between, task cohesion captures to what extent members feel that their work depends on each other (Carless & De Paola, 2000). Task cohesion is linked to team performance (Mullen & Copper, 1994; Zaccaro, 1991), team spirit, social support, and workload sharing (Carless & De Paola, 2000). Evidence shows that teams with high social cohesion also exhibit higher task cohesion over time (Zaccaro & Lowe, 1988).

3. Social Cohesion And Social Identification

Social cohesion and individual attraction to the group are conceptually quite similar (Carless & De Paola, 2000). They reflect the social realities of a team. Do they identify with each other? Do they identify as members of that team? Do they like being part of the team? More simply put, it reflects to which extent the team fulfills the social needs of people, such as being recognized by others and being part of something greater. Hackman (1987) considers cohesion as the key variable of effective teamwork (this includes task cohesion).

We treat social cohesion and social identification as separate factors in the model because they are often treated as closely related but not identical in research. Our investigation will show if this distinction makes sense for our purpose.

4. Psychological Safety

Schein (1992) conceptualized psychological safety as a climate where people can focus on shared goals over self-protection. More recently, Edmondson (1999) defined it as “the shared belief that it is safe to take interpersonal risk’’. Examples of this are asking for help. But also to disagree with others or to admit that you don’t know something. Psychological safety has been demonstrated to influence learning behavior, decision quality, and performance (Edmondson & Lei, 2014). This has also been found in Agile teams, specifically (Dreesen et. al., 2021; Duhigg, 2016). Moe, Dingsoyr & Dyba (2010) conclude that without sufficient trust at the group level, “team members will expend time and energy protecting, checking, and inspecting each other as opposed to collaborating to provide value-added ideas’’. The ability to give and receive peer feedback is one of the core components of effective teamwork in Agile teams (Strode, Dingsoyr & Lindsjorn, 2022).

5. Team Goal Commitment

To what extent do the members of a team feel committed to their goals as a team? Without such commitment, members will feel less engaged to engage in teamwork. In its simplest form, goal commitment is defined as “one’s determination to reach a goal” (Locke & Latham, 1990). Locke & Latham (2002) report that “specific difficult goals have been shown to increase performance on well over 100 different tasks involving more than 40.000 participants in at least eight countries, working in a laboratory, simulation, and field settings”.

6. (Low) Relational Conflict

Although conflict is a natural part of working with others, research by DeDreu & Weingart (2003) shows that even low to moderate conflict in teams decreases productivity. This means that teams must learn how to navigate conflict effectively and prevent upward escalation.

Outcomes Of High-Quality Teamwork

We expect that high-quality teamwork results in measurably higher outcomes. We measure the following three variables as part of our model: the satisfaction of stakeholders (directly by stakeholders or self-reported by teams), team morale, and team performance.

Predictors Of High-Quality Teamwork

Finally, we also measure several factors that contribute to high-quality teamwork or can impede it. This includes supporting leadership, cross-functionality, team autonomy, and support structures for (dynamic) teaming.

Participate Now To Get Evidence-Based Feedback

Go to our free online survey to diagnose your team on teamwork quality. The questionnaire works for any team, Agile or non-Agile. You can participate with full anonymity, and your results remain private. You can invite your entire team, its stakeholders, and even management. We combine the results to create a team report for your team. It contains detailed results. We also offer extensive evidence-based feedback to improve social cohesion, task cohesion, psychological safety, etc. This includes tips, concrete strategies, and quick actions to improve tomorrow.

You can also participate with more teams and aggregate their results in our Teams Dashboard. However, a subscription is required as we need some revenue to cover the hosting costs and our research.

An overview of the teamwork quality diagnostic process, from questionnaire to results to feedback

Why We Need Your Help

Our scientific investigation benefits you, your team, and your organization because we aim to develop practical recommendations and strategies to increase teamwork quality based on empirical evidence. We also want to investigate how (dynamic) teaming practices influence the quality of teamwork and what can be done to improve it.

To perform our investigation, we need data from at least 1.000 teams. We will also perform qualitative interviews at several organizations to understand how they approach teamwork quality and how it is impacted by, e.g., teaming practices. We expect data collection to take at least a year. Our analyses and conclusions will be submitted for academic peer review and (hopefully) published in a high-impact journal. This will probably take another two years (science is slow). We already published one peer-reviewed study based to develop a model for Scrum/Agile team effectiveness. A second paper about diversity and how it impacts teams is in peer review. A third academic paper about scaling approaches and how they impact team effectiveness is in the final stages of writing.

Closing Words

One of the founding fathers of modern-day team research, Richard Hackman, wrote an article called “Why Teams Don’t Work”. In the article, he concludes from research that teams generally perform lower compared to groups of individuals. This is a surprising conclusion for someone with his background. However, he writes about how organizations, particularly management, misunderstand “teamwork” and fail to support it properly. This matches the observations of

and me, too. We, too, observe that few “teams” actually engage in teamwork, which is unfortunate when we consider that all Agile approaches rely on teamwork to work.

We hope to bring a new perspective on teamwork and more urgency in organizations to support it properly. Both with the scientific studies we are performing and the tool we are freely making available, you can already begin improving teamwork in your team. Enjoy!

You can already support us with $1/month. Find out more on patreon.com/liberators

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Christiaan Verwijs
The Liberators

I liberate teams & organizations from de-humanizing, ineffective ways of organizing work. Developer, organizational psychologist, scientist, and Scrum Master.