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Scared Greedy & Musical, the latest findings on teamwork


The field of psychology has been busy of late, unraveling the mysteries of how teams work.

Given that companies and organisations use teams extensively to get work completed, it is no surprise that much effort is being made to find the magic recipe.


If you’re looking for a few new tips on how to lift your teams’ performance, a few interesting and potentially helpful ideas have emerged from the research.


We can boil them down into things that help teams perform, and things that hinder.


1. Greed – Hinders Teamwork. 

Empirical research carried out by Cartsen de Dreu, a professor from Lieden University in the Netherlands has shown that greed is a basic reason underlying problems with teamwork.


According to research recently published by the professor, people will hold back and invest in self-protection rather than cooperation when they feel that others will benefit more than they will from their contributions. In other words, they are less willing to invest in the team when others will benefit more, especially when those others are investing much less than they are.


2. Fear – Helps and Hinders Teamwork.

Fear creates a paradox within teams. It mainly hinders, but under some conditions it helps teamwork.

Where team members are fearful of taking risks that may make them feel insecure or embarrassed they can hold back and not say what they really think or feel. The inability to be candid is a cancer within teams as Patrick Lencioni writes in his book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.  


Recently published research into teams at Google also found that the absence of Psychological Safety had far and away the biggest negative impact on teams. The term Psychological Safety refers to the condition in which team members can say what they really think without fear of being judged, maligned or excluded from the group.


There is however a circumstance in which fear can help a team. According to Professor de Drue, where competition is intense between teams, fear among rival groups tends to result in people working better together. It would seem that fear of other groups or other external factors can improve teamwork, even without the team discussing the fear or the thing causing it – it just happens automatically.


3. Music – Helps Teamwork (if you choose the right music)

This last finding is rather interesting. The Cornell University Chronicle reported a couple of months ago on some fascinating research into the effect of music on teamwork.


Cornell University researchers explored this question in a pair of lab experiments and found that music can have important effects on the cooperative spirits of those exposed to music.


For each study, participants were grouped into teams of three. Each team member was given multiple opportunities to either contribute to the team’s value using tokens or keep the tokens for personal use.


When happy, upbeat music was played – researchers chose the “Happy Days” theme song, “Brown Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison, “Yellow Submarine” by the Beatles and “Walking on Sunshine” by Katrina and the Waves – team members were more likely to contribute to the group’s value. When music deemed unpleasant was played – in this case, heavy metal songs by less than well-known bands – participants were more likely to keep tokens for themselves.


So if yours is the kind of workplace where music is played regularly and teamwork is valued, I suggest you compose your playlists carefully.