Social Climate & Teamwork
Updated: Apr 7, 2019
By Marc Rodriguez
Team Work/Group Management Tools
Minnesota School of Business MBA Program
People perform their best work in an informal, relaxed environment (Parker, 2009). Positive enthusiasm encourages a sense of belonging and community within team members (West, 2012). Teams often underestimate the need to build strong inter-personal relationships; teams that develop positive relationships increase their chances of success and decrease the chance for conflict and tension (Scholtes, Joiner, & Streibel, 2012; May & Carter, 2012). Goleman stated that teams stimulate cooperation and collaboration through strong social skills (as cited in May & Carter, 2012). By contrast, negative social climates create a tense, spiritless atmosphere that stifles members’ participation (Parker, 2009). Teams can foster a positive social climate by considering three critical components: identifying an approach; determining how the approach enhances effectiveness; and implementing a plan (West, 2012).
An Approach to Positive Social Climate
Efficient approaches to positive social climate must blend social, emotional, and professional components. Team members who possess strong self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management skills are more likely to meet team demands (May & Carter, 2012). Group projects present a useful way to familiarize members with each other outside of the team. Team collaborations develop emotional intelligence—the combination of intrapersonal and interpersonal skills (Sigmar, Hynes, & Hill, 2012).
Often, “real” teams are more effective than teams in name-only (Buljac, Van Wijngaarden, & Van Woerkom, 2013, 94). In creating a social climate, teams can side-step the futility of a name by collectively deciding on a group name themselves; this exercise helps members explore dimensions of their work and solidifies team unity (Scholtes et al., 2010). A team name doubles as a “brand” for the team when it connotes members’ personalities and goals. Members access higher-level reasoning when working together (Sigmar et al., 2012). Group identification makes the whole more than the sum of its parts (Bry, Vallée, & France, 2011).
Teams should refer to their vision and mission statements when structuring a positive social climate. While formulating a shared vision and mission, the team relies upon group conversation, common denominators, personal experiences, hopes, and concerns (Scholtes et al., 2010). A vision statement outlines the team’s goals and their desired impact (West, 2012). Mission statements specify the team’s key processes (West, 2012). These outlines are appropriate social and ethical pieces to consider when building a positive climate.
Positive Social Climate Effectiveness
The term positive climate refers to a work environment in which positive emotions predominate over negative, substantially affecting performance (Cameron, 2010). Teams play important roles in enabling others to cope with everyday work challenges; they provide social and emotional support that contributes to the quality of members’ lives (West, 2012). Inducing positive emotions (such as joyfulness, love, or appreciation) enlarges cognitive perspectives and allows individuals to absorb more information, make richer interpretations, and experience higher levels of creativity and productivity (Cameron, 2012). Negative emotions narrow one’s thought-action repertoires and diminish their coping abilities (Cameron, 2012). Positive emotions down-regulate negative emotions such as fear, anger, sadness, or anxiety and reverse negative physiological effects. Positive emotions lead to optimal team functioning (Cameron, 2012).
A positive social climate enhances decision making, productivity, social integration, and prosocial behaviors (Cameron, 2010). Team-based growth and development improves communication and shared understanding about needs, goals, value, and strengths (West 2012). When team members feel they are engaged in work that is both personally and collectively important, positive effects are produced (Cameron, 2012). Reductions in stress, depression, turnover, absenteeism, dissatisfaction, and cynicism occur while commitment, effort, engagement, empowerment, happiness, satisfaction and a sense of fulfillment increase (Cameron, 2012). In a positive social climate, teams turn problems into opportunities and assist each other in achieving goals (Cameron, 2012). Members support, rather than receive support—substantially increasing commitment and prosocial behavior to the organization (Brown, Nesse, Vinokur & Smith, 2003). Whether during crisis or routine work, the team strengthens overall well-being by supporting each other (West, 2012).
Positive Social Climate Effectiveness
In approaching a positive social climate, teams should implement team-building exercises that encourage a spontaneous, adventurous spirit (Scholtes et al., 2010). For example, Group 3 combined the letters of their first names, ELM, assigned meaning, and created a team name—Team ELM. An elm tree grows fast (team progress) and has teeth on its leaves (tenacity). The leaves are rough on one side (ambitious) and smooth on the other (positive social climate) (Fairfax. n.d.). Shared vision is a foundation for innovation; team beliefs and metaphors require a clear intent before translating concepts into practical realizations (Bry et al., 2011).
Team ELM implemented a team questionnaire (Appendix A), comprised of work- and social-based questions. A questionnaire can help members assess aspects of functioning (West, 2012). Using humor opens an avenue for innovation (West, 2012). When members share their interests and feelings, they let go of their roles and become equals (Scholtes et al, 2010). This trust-related questionnaire implements the use of deconstructed sub-elements—personality, likes, and dislikes—in forming a community (Nolan, Brizland, & Macaulay, 2007).
In addition to the questionnaire, Team ELM contributed a biographical paragraph and submitted a photograph in building an “About Us” page (Appendix B). When teams are separated by distance, diversity fault lines are more common (West, 2012). Teams often encounter difficulty surpassing the getting-to-know-you stage if members have not met in person or are not able to meet face-to-face (Kurtzberg, 2014). Virtual teamwork involves greater use of text-based communication, which can weaken decision-making (West, 2012). A unified format, including photographs, helps Team ELM adapt their process to compensate for the absence of fact-to-face interaction (West, 2012).
Cohesion and team performance are bi-directional relationships—positively affecting cooperation (West, 2012; Sosa & Marle, 2013). The questionnaire and “About Us” tools fulfill what West (2012) describes as the three elements of group cohesion: interpersonal cohesion (members know each other as individuals); task cohesiveness (a sense of unity through group exercises); and group pride (a team “brand,” and a formal summary). Regardless of the input or communication channel, social and emotional support contributes to the quality of work (West, 2012). Teamwork requires a consistent pattern of positive associations (West, 2012).
Despite the asynchronous challenge of virtual communication, teams can still build a positive social climate (West, 2012). Members who can speak causally and with humor suffer fewer team-related problems (West, 2012). Teams bond when they listen sympathetically, provide empathy, demonstrate care, and inspire trust (Bulijac et al., 2013). When teams work in a positive social climate, they build their own community, unity, and identity. Members share the same fight (Bry, Vallée, & France, 2011). If given the opportunity, people at any level can play major roles in designing their own work systems (Nolan et al., 2007).
Brown, S. L., Nesse, R. M., Vinokur, A. D., & Smith, D. M. (2003). Providing social support may be better than receiving it: Results from a prospective study. Psychological Science, 14, 320– 327. doi:10.1111/1467-9280.14461
Bry, N., Vallée, O., & France, C. (2011). Social innovation? Let’s start living innovation as a collective adventure. International Journal of Organizational Innovation, 4(2), 5-14. Retrieved from Business Source Complete database.
Buljac, M., Van Wijngaarden, J., & Van Woerkom, M. (2013). Are real teams healthy teams? Journal of Healthcare Management, 58(2), 92-107. Retrieved from Business Source Complete database.
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Fairfax County Public Schools. (n.d.). Retrieved May 31 from Fairfax County Public Schools: http://www.fcps.edu/islandcreekes/ecology/american_elm.htm
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Kurtzberg, T.R. (2014). Virtual teams: Mastering communication and collaboration in the digital age. [Praeger eBook]. Santa Barbara: Praeger.
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Nolan, T., Brizland, R., Macaulay, L. (2007) Individual trust and development of online business communities. Information Technology & People, 20(1), 53–71. doi:10.1108/09593840710730554
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Sigmar, L., Hynes, G., & Hill, K. (2012, September). Strategies for teaching social and emotional intelligence in business communication. Business Communication Quarterly, 75(3), 301-317. doi: 10.1177/1080569912450312
Sosa, M., & Marle, F. (2013). Assembling creative teams in new product development using creative team familiarity. INSEAD Working Papers Collection, 32, 2-33. Retrieved from Business Source Complete database.
West, M. A. (2012). Effect teamwork: Practical lessons from organizational research (3rd ed.) [VitalSource eBook]. Chichester, West Sussex: BPS Blackwell.