Teamwork has always been a tricky balance game; too little breeds inefficiency and too much leads to personal unhappiness. However, a new study has found that the simple thought of working together with others greatly improves our motivation to complete difficult tasks. In other words, a team environment enhances our drive, even if we are working alone. Published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, the study consisted of five separate experiments, finding that even a subtle notion of being on a team can lead to a dramatic increase in performance.
The researchers based their experiment on the hypothesis that a sense of working together would boost motivation by turning perception of a task from work into play à la Mary Poppins. For each of the studies, the participants met each other in groups of three to five people before heading to separate rooms, being told that the study was on solving puzzles. Once the participants were alone, each participant was told they could take as much time as they liked in solving the puzzle.
Half of the puzzle solvers were given subtle cues suggesting that they were working on the puzzle as part of a group. For instance, they were told that the study was investigating how people work on puzzles together, claiming that they would receive a written tip from one of the participants they had just met after. However, the other participants completed the same task, but without any of the teamwork rhetoric given to the other group. For them, they were simply told by the researchers that they would be solving a puzzle and that after a few minutes they would receive a tip.
“Simply feeling like you’re part of a team of people working on a task makes people more motivated as they take on challenges. Careful attention to the social context as people work and learn can help us unleash motivation. The present research found that cues that evoke this form of social interaction itself inspire intrinsic motivation, causing people to work harder on challenging tasks for their inherent satisfaction,” said Gregory M. Walton, researcher at Stanford University and co-author of the study.
After a few minutes of completing the puzzle, each participant received the same handwritten note (that actually came with a tip for working on the puzzles). After nearly half an hour, the participants were then told that they could stop working, and were asked to fill out a short survey. The results revealed that even though everyone worked on the puzzle alone for the duration of the experiment, those who felt like they were working on it as part of a team managed to keep working on it for almost 50 percent longer than those who thought they were working alone.
Also, the participants in the teamwork group rated the puzzle as being more interesting in general than those in the solo category, suggesting a boost in productivity that is reflective of an increase in “intrinsic motivation,” or finding the puzzle inherently rewarding versus competitive or obligatory.
The downside of teamwork
The researchers did note, however, that their research did not explicitly suggest that group oriented work is always better or necessary as a means of motivation. The results revealed that group work can have some negative effects on productivity. For instance, if people felt obligated to work with others, if they felt that their contributions went unnoticed or if they felt like they lacked ownership over their work, they spent a considerably shorter amount of time attempting to assemble the puzzle.
The researchers believe that the findings have major implications for enhancing motivation in educational and work settings, having applications for increasing or decreasing teamwork, depending on the situation.
Being an addiction treatment center, Sovereign Health has a lot of experience in employing teamwork as a therapeutic tool, offering cutting edge approaches as part of our treatment programs for mental health, addiction and co-occurring conditions. For information regarding our treatment programs or for a list of our current locations, feel free to browse the rest of the site or contact us at 866-754-3385 to speak to a member of our team.
Written by Chase Beckwith, Sovereign Health Group writer