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ASC Proceedings of the 35th Annual Conference
California Polytechnic State University - San Luis Obispo, California
April 7 - 10, 1999          pp 205 - 210

Motivational Strategies for Enhancing Teamwork

Marla I. Hall
University of Cincinnati
College of Applied Science

The paper will discuss key factors involved in motivating teamwork. Components of good teamwork will be identified and recommendations for motivating these teamwork actions will be given. The analyses and recommendations presented follow the behavior analytic perspective and are backed by decades of both basic and applied research. Further, similar strategies have been applied in a wide variety of settings.

Key Words: motivation, teams, work teams, teamwork, cooperation, construction



Teamwork is a significant part of every job in the construction industry. Even when individuals are not a part of a specific team, their roles are not performed in isolation. There is an interdependence of roles that is necessary for job completion. Individuals may work somewhat independently on their particular tasks, but even then, their work must generally be integrated with the work of others. Thus, regardless of whether specific work teams are set up, teamwork is an essential component of a successful construction business. However, even though teamwork, or at least interdependent job performance, is inescapable, good teamwork does not occur spontaneously or accidentally. Good teamwork consists of many skills which can be identified, developed, enhanced and motivated in all individuals, regardless of whether they are members of a specific work team or they work somewhat independently within the company.


Work teams versus Teamwork

Level (1972) defines a team as "a group whose members have complementary skills and are committed to a common purpose or set of performance goals for which they hold themselves mutually accountable." Arguably, by this definition, the entire membership of any company or organization comprises a team. At least management would generally like to think that all of the employees within the company are committed to the purpose of the company and that all employees are held accountable and hold themselves accountable for their actions and accomplishments. The proliferation of company 'Mission Statements' also attests to this idea of companies being structured as, and purportedly functioning as, teams.

Within companies, additional subunits are frequently designated as specific types of teams, for example, top management teams, improvement teams and work teams (Greenberg and Baron, 1995). The purpose and tasks of these specific teams are more narrowly defined, but subsumed by the company's mission and goals. The construction industry, with its array of subcontractor organizations and project teams, clearly incorporates specialized teams, including, but certainly not limited to, 'work teams'. The project management approach, common to the industry, exemplifies the 'work teams' concept. Companies routinely undertake several projects simultaneously and, to a large degree, separate project or work teams are developed for the individual projects. Each of these work teams focuses upon using company resources to produce the desired results (Greenberg and Baron, 1995). Members of the team are to work individually and collectively toward a common goal.

It could be argued that the formation of teams or workteams often assumes that the team members will function as a team. To function as a team, members need to work together, to cooperate, to share both the glory and the blame. Clearly not all workteams function effectively as a team. One need only recall experiences with teams in which some members did not do their share of the work, or competed against one another, or sabotaged other members, or tried to take all of the credit, but none of the blame, to be acutely aware that merely defining and organizing a team, or work team, does not ensure that the members will function as a team, will display 'teamwork'. Further, it should also be clear, that one need not belong to a specific team within a company in order to perform as a team player for the company. We all can identify individuals who we would regard as team players in that they reliably display certain behaviors, teamwork, regardless of the team or group within which they may be working. So, given that the structure of a team does not ensure that the group functions as a team; given that work teams and teamwork are not the same thing; which is of more value to a company: work teams or teamwork?

It appears that by developing work teams, what companies are actually trying to encourage is teamwork (Daniels, 1994). In fact, it could be argued that regardless of the existence or absence of specialized teams (work teams) within a company, the success of a company depends, to some degree, upon teamwork (Daniels, 1994). That is to say that it may or may not be beneficial for a company to establish structured workteams, but it certainly will benefit a company if its employees function as a team, display teamwork.


Teamwork skills

In order to determine which skills are essential to and define teamwork, we need to look closely at those individuals whom we regard as good team players. We need to consider what it is that they do that leads us to distinguish them as exemplars (Gilbert, 1978). Several identifiers are apparent (Allen, 1989; Daniels, 1994; Greenberg and Baron, 1995; Hall, 1996a). First, team players cooperate. They work together with others toward a common goal. Second, they work for the benefit of the team, at times sacrificing individual accomplishment and acclaim. Third, they communicate with other team members. Fourth, they share both the glory for successes and the blame for failures. Fifth, they do their share of the work, or more. Sixth, they assist other team members, and seventh, they motivate other team members.

On a day to day basis, these teamwork skills can be displayed in numerous ways (Allen, 1989; Daniels, 1994). For example, simply attending meetings is a good first step toward cooperating with team members and may indicate one's willingness to work for the benefit of the team while sacrificing time that could have been devoted to furthering personal agendas. Of course, simply attending meetings does not, by itself, connote teamwork. Individuals who express their interest, present ideas, build upon others' ideas, offer potential solutions instead of complaining, discuss the benefits and drawbacks of their own and others' ideas, ask questions, give feedback, and compromise, while at those meetings, more clearly display several, if not all, of the teamwork skills identified above. Outside the meeting setting, teamwork is displayed through such actions as simply doing what was asked, looking for solutions, concentrating efforts on high priority activities, volunteering, initiating work-related conversation, helping others complete their work, complimenting others on their efforts and accomplishments, expressing appreciation to others for their contributions, and presenting team ideas and accomplishments to management.

Numerous other actions could also contribute to the concept of teamwork. These actions are as individual as the companies in which people work and as individual as the persons working within a given company. What is important is to recognize which of these actions the company values, to recognize these actions as skills, and then to recognize that as skills, these actions can be developed and enhanced through basic motivational tactics.


Motivating Teamwork

Although individual employees certainly can do much to motivate themselves and others, it is to the advantage of the manager (or project manager, or team leader) and to the company to implement motivational strategies to enhance employee performance, including teamwork (Allen, 1989; Hall, 1996b). An analysis of 'motivation' reveals that people are motivated to, and in fact, do carry out those activities that 'pay off' for them (Connellan, 1978; Daniels, 1989; Daniels, 1994; Hall, 1996a; Hall, 1996b; Locke, et al., 1980). Everything that a person does, pays off by either allowing the individual to achieve something desirable (e.g. praise, money, promotion, job security) or allowing the person to avoid something undesirable (e.g. reprimands, criticism, ridicule, unemployment).

In a given work place, employees learn very quickly what will pay off for them and what won't (Daniels, 1989; Daniels, 1994; Hall, 1996b). For example, a worker may learn very quickly that asking a lot of questions and pretending not to know how to do something results in someone else will doing the work. If, at the same time, this same worker is able to keep his or her job and maintains the same pay, getting out of having to do something is a great pay off for feigning a lack of competence. If, in contrast, asking a lot of questions means that the worker is seen as incompetent and the worker is assigned to work side-by-side with someone the worker doesn't particularly care for and who looks over the worker’s shoulder, constantly criticizing every move that is made, the worker will learn very quickly to refrain from asking questions. In the first scenario the employee is motivated to ask questions because doing so results in having to do less work. In the second scenario the employee is not motivated to ask questions, and conversely is motivated to refrain from asking questions. By not asking questions, the worker avoids being viewed as incompetent and, thus, being assigned to work with a dis-liked, critical co-worker.

Individuals who are viewed as not being team players, may fall into two broad classes: those who loaf or don't appear to do their share, and those who work primarily for their own personal gains and are highly competitive against their co-workers. Individuals who loaf do so, at least in part, because they can; they get away with it. Co-workers pick up the slack, while the loafer continues to get paid. This situation is more likely to occur when job responsibilities are not clearly delineated and when individuals are not held accountable for their team input (Greenberg and Baron, 1995). Often, what is done in this situation is the employee is "talked to", which amounts to the employee being told again, to do his or her share. Commonly, the loafer still does not contribute. This is not surprising if the pay offs remain the same (i.e. the loafer is still employed, is still paid, and others still pick up the slack). What can turn this situation around is first to prompt effort by clarifying each team member's responsibilities so that each individual knows not only what his or her own role is, but what every other person on the team will be doing (Greenberg and Baron, 1995). Then each individual's contributions to the team effort must be made to pay off for the individuals. If only the team's outcome is acknowledged and everyone on the team is rewarded equally, the loafer will receive the same pay offs for doing less work. If, in contrast, individuals receive some benefits based upon what and how much they contribute to the team, the loafer can only obtain these benefits by contributing to the team (Allen, 1989; Daniels, 1994). If those benefits are desirable to the loafer, he will be motivated to work to achieve them.

Iin many, if not most, companies, individuals gain promotions, recognition, pay raises, and other benefits through being better than other employees, through successfully competing against fellow workers. In these situations, employees learn that it pays off for them to compete instead of to cooperate (Hall, 1996b). If the reality is that by working independently, the employee is able to gain recognition for his or her accomplishments and beat out other employees for promotions and perks, while working together with others means that the individual must share the glory, advance more slowly, not get the perks, then the employee will be motivated to compete, not to cooperate. If, indeed, that is the reality, it will not help to tell the employee to become a team player, nor that teamwork is important to the company. What the worker has learned is that teamwork does not pay off while working independently, competing against co-workers, and beating co-workers does pay off.

If a company does value teamwork, the way to motivate workers to cooperate, to work together with others, is, thus, to make it pay off for the worker to do so. What is valuable to the employee (e.g. recognition, promotion to management, pay raises, paid time off, bonuses) must be, in some way, tied to teamwork activities (Hall, 1996a). For example, if a member of a work team has not only done his or her own work, but has put in extra hours helping a co-worker with that person’s part of the job, and if this same team member has taken an active part in meetings by volunteering ideas, coming up with possible ways to cut costs, listening to others and expressing interest in their ideas, this team player might be selected to present the team's proposal to upper management and might be selected to be the team leader or project manager for the next project. In this case, the employee would gain recognition and respect for teamwork; it would pay off to cooperate instead of to compete.

On a smaller scale, teamwork activities can be encouraged, motivated, on a daily basis through social interaction (Allen, 1989). A smile and a thank-you from a co-worker for the help given, will encourage repetition of helping. Listening to one's ideas, re-phrasing those ideas to indicate you heard and understood what was said, encourages one to come up with and offer more ideas. Even though these small, social acknowledgments seem rather trivial, they can have a big impact for several reasons.

A rule of thumb for making seemingly small, insignificant events, such as social acknowledgments have a motivational effect, is to follow the SSIP model (Daniels, 1989). SSIP relates to how to deliver, or give reinforcers and the acronym stands for: Sincere, Specific, Immediate, and Personal. Demonstrating appreciation for teamwork through such minor responses as smiles, head nods, verbal comments, listening, and thanking easily meets the criteria of the SSIP model. For example, if someone offers a suggestion and the person listening to the suggestion responds with eye contact, a head nod, and a verbal comment such as , "Yes, that idea sounds like one worth exploring.", the social acknowledgment appears sincere (it is an act of confirmation), it is specific (the idea is referred to directly), it is immediate (the listeners response promptly follows the suggestion being made), and it is personal (the listener responds directly to the person offering the suggestion).

Even though small social acknowledgments can have a lot of influence in motivating team work efforts, it is still important to have the larger pay offs (e.g. formal recognition, promotion, pay increase or bonus) also contingent upon team work. As stated above, if the reality of the work situation is that competitive actions are what lead to the large pay offs, individuals will be motivated to compete. When given a choice between a large pay off for beating out your co-worker (e.g. immediate recognition for your individual achievement and later promotion) and a small pay-off for helping out your co-worker (e.g. a smile and thanks), it should not be surprising that many, if not most, will compete instead of cooperate.

The way to enhance team work within any company, then, is to use both the small, frequent, immediate, social acknowledgments and the larger benefits such as promotions, and recognition, in combination, to motivate individuals. To function effectively, these pay-offs must be clearly tied to team work efforts and care must be taken to avoid providing large pay offs for any undesirable or less desirable competitive actions.



In most cases, teamwork is a highly desirable component of successful companies. Too often it is assumed that simply creating teams leads to teamwork when, clearly, the team structure does not ensure that individuals function as teams or engage in teamwork. Further, many individuals behave as team players even in the absence of any specified teams.

The conditions in many companies often set the stage for individual employees either to loaf on the job or to behave very competitively, beating out fellow employees for promotions, pay raises and other benefits. Individuals are motivated to do whatever it is that they do by the pay offs that they receive for their actions. In the case of loafers, they are motivated to loaf in that they are able to get away with doing less work while still bringing home a paycheck and maintaining employment. In the case of employees who compete against one another instead of cooperating with one another, those who win, who beat out their co-workers, are motivated to do so because they achieve the recognition, promotions, and other benefits for their individual achievements.

If teamwork is something that is desired within a company, it will most readily occur if management pays attention to making it pay off, or benefit, workers to engage in teamwork. On a daily basis, social acknowledgments in the form of verbal comments, listening, paying attention to what an individual contributes, etc. can promote teamwork, but this also needs to be followed up with larger, more long term benefits. Managers should seek ways to tie teamwork to achievement, formal recognition, promotions, and pay. In the construction industry, as in any industry where good teamwork is essential to the success of the company, it will pay off for the company to make teamwork pay off for the individual workers.



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Gruengerg, M.M. and Wallis, P. (Eds.) Changes in work life. New York: Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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