By Amy Rose
The previous blog outlined team cohesion and it’s relation to performance with respect to interactive athletes in an effort to give a general outline of the research and an introduction to team cohesion as a psychological construct. In this blog I’d like to introduce the variables that affect team cohesion and the problem of finding a direct link to performance as there are many dependant and independent environmental, situational and social variables that affect team cohesion. Once these variables are then examined how can we then determine the direction of this cohesion-performance relationship in order to discover if we need to develop strategies to improve cohesion or does cohesion naturally improve with better performance? The ways of measuring cohesion pose a problem as the way of collecting data is mostly through the use of different questionnaires, self-report and in case studies; so when examining team cohesion are these measures reliable and effective in determining cohesion?
Many of the studies that have sought to determine the presence and strength of the performance-cohesion relationship have looked at certain variables to attempt to determine their role in cohesion (Carron, Colman, Wheeler & Stevens 2002). These variables include coactive vs interactive sports, male vs female athletes, elite vs amateur athletes and cultural differences. The problem with this approach is that these variables all seem to interact with each other and cannot be assessed effectively without reference to the others. A meta-analysis of 46 studies performed by Carron and his colleagues (2002) examined a number of these variables to determine their influence on cohesion. The analysis showed that the cohesion-performance relationship is strong in both coactive and interactive sports. Whether the strength was higher in interactive or coactive sports was deemed unimportant. The absolute level of group cohesion in coactive sports was lower than that in interactive; therefore a team of coactive athletes may experience a greater performance increase from a cohesion intervention than an interactive team where many of the strategies for cohesiveness are routinely employed in training. There was no significant difference found in gender or skill level with respect to the cohesion-performance relationship although the absolute level of cohesiveness in female teams was higher. In a study that looked at female athletes with respect to interactive or coactive sports they found that in some cases the competition within coactive teams produced a higher level of social cohesion but this did not necessarily significantly increase performance (Mattheson, Mathes, & Murray 1997). When developing strategies to coach cohesion looking at any of these variables independently to the exclusion of others could possibly lead to less effective outcomes (Carron et al 2002). Possibly the biggest issue when investigating the cohesion-performance relationship is trying to determine the direction of the relationship. Mullen and Cooper (1994) noted that either direction was plausible; this is the assumption guiding most studies that investigate this effect. When investigated by Carron et al (2002) all variables were examined independently and no differences in cohesion as a cause of good performance v cohesion as a result of good performance. Understanding that this is relationship works both ways is important when developing strategies to improve cohesion and performance.
Historically there have been five principle strategies to assess cohesiveness: behavioural measures, self-reported interpersonal attraction, closeness within the group, desire to remain in the group, and self-belonging (Hogg, 1992). These five areas broadly fit into the two most common variables that the widely accepted (Carron et al 2002) questionnaire the Group Environment Questionnaire (GEQ) uses to assess cohesion; task cohesion and social cohesion. The problem with using this questionnaire as a method of data collection, assumes that all measures of cohesion fit into the tested variables and can ignore the impact of other variables that may significantly affect the relationship. A general underlying problem of the research is that the measures used only give us a summary of the relationship without answering the questions why or how has this relationship developed (Patterson, Carron, Loughead 2003). In order to effectively investigate the relationship one could argue that an experimental approach in which variables are manipulated must be taken in order to determine how the variables interact not just that they have a relationship. With this approach researchers must be careful to take into account internal and ecological validity in the methodology of the experiment to ensure they are applicable in application (Patterson et al 2003).
To develop our understanding of the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of team cohesion it is important for researchers to further investigate how other group dynamics influence the cohesion-performance relationship and if manipulating these variables, through sound research methodology, helps us to develop better strategies for improving cohesion in teams.
Hogg, M.A (1992). The social psychology of group cphesiveness: From attraction to social identity. New York: Havester. Wheatsheaf
Carron, A.V., Colman, M., Wheeler, J., & Stevens, D. (2002). Cohesion and performance in sport: a meta-analysis. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology. 24:168-188
Patterson, M.M., Carron, A.V., & Loughead, T.M. (2003). The influence of team norms on the cohesion-self-reported performance relationship: a multi-level analysis. Journal of Psychology Sport and Exercise. 6:479-493
Matheson, H., Mathes, S., & Murray, M. (1997). The effect of winning and losing on female interactive and coactive team cohesion. Journal of Sport Behaviour. 20(3)
Mullen, B., & Copper, C. (1994). The relation between group cohesiveness and performance: An integration. Psychological Bulletin, 115: 210-227.