Situational Influences on Team Helping Norms: Case Study of a Self-Directed Team

Article excerpt


A case study investigated the behavioral characteristics of a self-directed work team, and properties of the team's task situation that may have influenced team behavior. Results indicate that helping among team members was the most prominent group norm, and also suggest various situational factors may have encouraged helping behavior, including task flexibility, low task interdependence, asynchronous demand variability, and the lack of formal performance measures. Implications for future research and management practice are discussed. The paper contributes toward a better understanding of the behavioral characteristics of effective teams and the influence of task situation on team behavior.


Many studies have investigated the antecedents of work team effectiveness (Cohen & Bailey, 1997; Guzzo & Dickson, 1996; Ilgen, Hollenbeck, Johnson, & Jundt, 2005; Levine & Moreland, 1990), but relatively little is known about the group norms characterizing how the members of effective teams behave and interact with one another while doing their work. Understanding the content of team behavior and norms requires close attention to the context and work situation of teams, but most studies of team effectiveness have used cross-sectional survey methods that define behavior in generic terms and overlook unique properties of team task situations that influence member behavior. This paper describes a case study which used qualitative, inductive methods over a period of six months to investigate the behavioral and situational characteristics of an effective self-managed team in a manufacturing organization. The findings indicate that helping among members was the dominant behavioral norm within the team and suggest that diverse properties of the team's task situation and organizational context contributed to the emergence of helping as a strong team norm. The results contrast views of helping as a discretionary extra-role organizational citizenship behavior (Organ, Podsakoff, & MacKenzie, 2006; Smith, Organ, & Near, 1983), or a type of contextual performance distinct from employee tasks (Borman & Motowidlo, 1993; Motowidlo & Van Scotter, 1994), and raise questions for future research on the role of helping behavior in teams and the influence of task situation on team norm development. The next section of the paper reviews the literature on team behavior and effectiveness. The case study findings will then be presented in detail, followed by a discussion of the results and their implications for research and managerial practice.


Hackman (1987) defined an effective work team as one that produces satisfactory performance output, uses social processes that facilitate continuing member interaction, and satisfies the personal needs of members. Numerous cross-sectional studies have investigated the antecedents of team effectiveness during the last twenty years (Cohen & Bailey, 1997; Guzzo & Dickson, 1996; Ilgen, Hollenbeck, Johnson, & Jundt, 2005; Levine & Moreland, 1990; Sanna & Parks, 1997). Several potential antecedents of team effectiveness have been investigated, including: (a) properties of the organizational environment in which teams operate, such as the provision of training and managerial support (Campion, Medsker, & Higgs, 1993), consistency between how team responsibilities are defined (e.g., individual vs. group) and how managers distribute rewards to members (Wageman, 1995), and leadership style (Wageman, 2001); (b) team design characteristics such as task interdependence (Johnson, 1973; Kiggundu, 1983), job design (Campion, Medsker, & Higgs, 1993; Cohen & Ledford, 1994; Cohen, Ledford, & Spreitzer, 1996), member knowledge and skill diversity (Bunderson & Sutcliffe, 2002; Campion, Medsker, & Higgs, 1993), and team size (Nieva, Fleishman, & Reick, 1985; Steiner, 1972); (c) group processes such as member communication and collaboration (Seers, Petty, & Cashman, 1995; Vinokur-Kaplan, 1995), conflict (Jehn, 1995), and external communication with other teams (Ancona, 1990); and (d) psychosocial factors like cohesiveness, member affect, and member-group identification (Evans & Dion, 1991; Gully, Devine, & Whitney, 1995; Mullen, Anthony, Salas, & Driskell, 1993; Mullen & Copper, 1994). …