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Three More Ways to Build the Teamwork Strength

written by Shannon Polly 30 December 2014

Shannon Polly, MAPP '09, is a facilitator, speaker and coach in Washington, D.C. and the founder of a boutique consulting firm, Shannon Polly and Associates, where she applies positive psychology to leadership development. She also co-founded Positive Business DC (@positivebizdc) and she has facilitated resilience training for the U.S. Army. Full bio. Shannon's solo articles are here, her articles with Louisa Jewell here, and her articles with Genna Douglass here.

In yesterday’s article, I set the stage with reflections on the teamwork character strength and then explored one way to build this strength. Today I’ll follow up with three more approaches.

Approach Two: Invoke Connections to the Larger Group

Another way to build the strength of teamwork is to remind people that thinking about group membership best serves the whole team. Ford and colleagues describe a study of airline flight attendants based domestically or overseas. They received a manipulation designed to prime either their social identities in terms of being employees of the airline or their personal identities in terms of self evaluations and feelings. Then they read a brief outline of an in-flight event before completing a teamwork questionnaire.

Those who received a social identity prime indicated increased willingness to engage in coordinated team action with other groups compared with those who received a personal identity prime. The status differences between flight attendants and pilots became less salient. Thus priming social identity can enhance attitudes toward teamwork and communication, potentially leading to increased willingness to engage in cooperation between groups.

More research is needed to demonstrate that these findings could be applied to teams other than flight attendants. But for that group, the data are compelling. Each person individually became focused on a larger definition of ‘we,’ enhancing the the strength of teamwork in the group.

Approach Three: Be Open-Minded and Curious

Another way to support other team members is to take on open and curious stance in understanding their point of view. Being curious awakens your mind and initiates a desire to learn more. According to Todd Kashdan, becoming more curious about other people can transform boring conversations into interesting ones, and can make two people perceive they are closer to one another in intimate and small talk conversations. The results he found could not be attributed to physical attraction or positive affect.

Try taking the opposite side rather than just advocating for your own position. One exercise I use in my workshops is called Curiosity. We form triads where two people passionately espouse different sides of an issue such as gun control or gay marriage. One participant asks the other solely open-ended questions. The third person is an observer or coach. What ensues is a lot of silence and stopping and starting. It is difficult for us to even hear the other side of an important question in an open-minded way.

Being curious about the other side of a question levels status in a new way, helping people get over feeling that they are right or better or more enlightened than the people on the other side of an issue. Try this in a meeting with a colleague whose opinion you strongly disagree with. Ask only open-ended questions, and see what happens.

Approach Four: Notice and Express Positive Emotions

As many of our readers know, in Fredrickson’s broaden-and-build model positive emotions help build intellectual, physical, social, and psychological resources. Especially the psychological resources can expand the thoughts about what the actions one is interested in taking. They can also create a buffer that facilitates bouncing back in times of adversity in the future. Positive emotions can demonstrate upward spirals (i.e. positive emotions begets more positive emotion), contagion effects (positive emotion impacts others’ emotions) and it makes groups more creative. Bagozzi and Fredrickson have both found that positivity can expand effects beyond the individual level to the group and organizational levels and make people more likely to take positive action. So by increasing positive emotion, you may increase the behaviors that contribute to teamwork.

I co-facilitated a change management process that leveraged positive emotion, to great effect with 100 front-of-house associates at The Westin Savannah Harbor Golf Resort & Spa. In the session, we spent time focusing on their individual and collective strengths as we moved through the first three phases of an Appreciative Inquiry (AI) change management process. In order to prepare participants, all the front-of- house associates took the VIA Character Strengths Survey before the session. General manager Mark Spadoni reported that just taking the test changed the way associates interacted with each other and thought about the work that they do.

As an example of ‘we’ focus, since they discovered that gratitude was one of their top strengths, a group of employees created a gratitude board. They put it in an employee area of the hotel where associates could post notes for other team members whom they wanted to thank. The positive emotion generated by the AI process gave them the inspiration and the autonomy to initiate this practice.

In my freshman psychology class, I heard Peter Salovey explain that liking comes from three factors: similarity, familiarity, and proximity. In other words, in order to care about others in the group, we need to spend time with them. The spa team had significant outcomes in this regard. The spa manager, Cindi Moreno, found ways for the spa team to spend more time together. Now they tend to recognize the positive in each other, rather than focus on the negative.

Positive emotions initially arose from taking the VIA survey and continued during the change management process. These emotions broadened thought patterns and caused people to brainstorm and build the strength of their group as well as empathy towards one another.

Do You See What I See?

In summary, there is a difference between the individual character strength of teamwork and how to build a good team. The VIA website states: “You identify as a member of a group. You are a loyal and dedicated teammate, you always do your share, and you work hard for the success of the group.” However, there can be shadow sides of that strength. Be wary lest you become the doormat of your group. If you desire building the strength of teamwork, four ways are: focus on the ‘we’, evoke connections to a larger group, be open-minded and curious, and engender positive emotion.

All of these approaches involve forgetting self-interest and thinking about the group as a whole. Put on your director hat, take that 30,000-foot view, and see what happens. The show doesn’t go on unless everyone pitches in.


Bagozzi, R. P. (2003). Positive and negative emotions in organizations. In K. S. Cameron, J. E. Dutton & R. E.Quinn (Eds.), Positive organizational scholarship: Foundations of a new discipline (pp. 176-193). San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

Ford, J., O’Hare, D., Henderson, R. (2013). Putting the “We” Into Teamwork: Effects of Priming Personal or Social Identity on Flight Attendants’ Perceptions of Teamwork and Communication. Human Factors, 55(3): 499-508. Abstract.

Fredrickson, B. L. (2003). Positive emotions and upward spirals in organizations. In In K. S. Cameron, J. E. Dutton & R. E.Quinn (Eds.), Positive organizational scholarship: Foundations of a new discipline (pp.163-175). San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

Kashdan, T. B., McKnight, P. E., Fincham, F. D., & Rose, P. (2011). When curiosity breeds intimacy: Taking advantage of intimacy opportunities and transforming boring conversations. Journal of Personality, 79(6): 1369-1401. DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-6494.2010.00697.x

Kashdan, T.B., Afram, A., Brown, K.W., Birnbeck, M., & Drvoshanov, M. (2011). Curiosity enhances the role of mindfulness in reducing defensive responses to existential threat. Personality and Individual Differences, 50, 1227-1232.

Kashdan, T. (2009). Curious?: Discover the Missing Ingredient to a Fulfilling Life. New York: William Morrow.

VIA Institute on Character

Photo Credit: via Compfight with Creative Commons licenses
Hive member – foraging bee courtesy of PragmaticFix
Airline crew courtesy of Condor.com
Disagreement courtesy of Storefront for Art and Architecture
Spa team courtesy of Lennon Ying-Dah Wong
Nurse bee courtesy of Max xx

Younger bees take care of the larva until they’ve matured enough to be ready to forage, bringing back nectar (carbohydrates), pollen (protein), or both for the hive. Nurse bees transport nutrients brought back by foraging bees to the growing larvae.

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