The Slice

8 Key Psychological Theories for Team Productivity

August 11, 2023

This post will explore eight psychological theories that can inform your understanding of team productivity. By gaining a deeper grasp of the psychology behind productivity and motivation, you'll likely find some changes you can make in the workplace that will better support team productivity.

High team productivity levels result from a complex brew, including factors like motivation, training, time management, environment, and more. The ability of your team to be productive hinges on each individual's mental energy as well as their internal and external motivation.

Productivity can, unfortunately, be derailed by a seemingly endless number of factors. Mundane distractions, conflict within the team, personal issues, and low morale are only a few examples of the roadblocks that can stand between your team and success.

This post will explore eight psychological theories that can inform your understanding of team productivity. By gaining a deeper grasp of the psychology behind productivity and motivation, you'll likely find some changes you can make in the workplace that will better support team productivity.

1. Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

First introduced by Abraham Maslow in 1943, Maslow's Hierarchy of needs remains one of the most well-known theories of motivation. In brief, this is a theory that states that humans are motivated by both physiological needs and psychological needs. These needs are organized hierarchically, progressing from the most basic needs (food, shelter, etc.) to the most complex needs (self-actualization and transcendence.)

This model has been modified and expanded over the years. The initial hierarchy had five categories, while the final iteration Maslow created had eight. The most commonly referenced model has the following five categories, starting with the most basic needs:

  • Physiological needs (food, water, warmth, rest)

  • Safety needs (security and safety)

  • Love and belongingness needs (friends, intimate relationships)

  • Esteem needs (feeling of accomplishment, prestige)

  • Self-actualization (achieving one's full potential)

Essentially, the idea is that humans can only progress up the pyramid of needs when they have fulfilled a level. An individual won't be motivated to work toward self-actualization when they are struggling to drum up the cash to pay their bills, for example.

Individuals can apply Maslow's hierarchy to their personal and professional lives, but you can also consider the implications of the hierarchy for your team as a whole. Using the hierarchy of needs as inspiration, you can create a team environment that cultivates collaboration, engagement, and motivation.

2. Theory of Flow

The Hungarian-American psychologist Mihaly Robert Csikszentmihalyi is credited for recognizing and naming the psychological idea of "flow," which is a mental state highly conducive to productivity due to its highly focused nature.

The flow state is one that absolutely anyone can achieve– this is a universal concept that has been reported to occur across cultures, ages, genders, and classes. You've likely experienced the flow state yourself at one point or another– you may have described it as feeling like you were "in the zone."

According to Csikszentmihalyi, there are eight key characteristics of the flow state. These are:

1. A clear goal: The individual knows exactly what they want to do at any given moment– they know what they are trying to accomplish.

2. Feedback: The individual is able to clearly tell if they are getting closer to their goal or not.

3. Challenges match skills: When an individual does a task that's too easy for them, it's boring. When the task is too challenging, it's frustrating. There is a perfect balance point in the form of attainable but challenging goals where flow can be achieved.

4. Concentration: The individual is not splitting their attention between different things and instead is completely concentrated on the task at hand and nothing else.

5. Focus: Though this might sound like the same thing as concentration, it's actually a bit different. When the individual is focused, they are able to completely disappear into the activity without being distracted by everyday frustrations. Fully in the present moment, they experience great relief as they fully engage in their work.

6. Control: Individuals in a flow state feel as though they have the ability to be in control of their experience and actions. Of course, they don't feel in complete control because this would mean that their skills exceed the challenges. However, in the flow state, the individual feels as though they are right on the edge of where being in control is a possibility.

7. Loss of self-consciousness: An individual who is experiencing flow is not relentlessly self-monitoring themselves. The process of being so concentrated, involved, and committed to the task leads them to forget themselves entirely.

8. Transformation of time: Individuals in the flow state also often experience time in an unusual way. Time can fly by when absorbed in a particular task, or time can feel much longer than normal.

3. Growth Mindset Theory

Another important psychological theory that can help you boost team productivity has to do with our individual mindsets. Your mindset is a set of beliefs that help shape how you understand yourself and the world. It has an impact on how you feel, think, and behave in any circumstance throughout the day.

The Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck explains that what we want and whether or not we achieve what we want is partly dependent on our beliefs. She states that there are two basic mindsets: fixed mindsets and growth mindsets.

When a person has a fixed mindset, they believe that their abilities can't be changed– aka, they're fixed. On the other hand, people with a growth mindset believe they can develop their abilities over time through persistent effort.

Helping your team adopt a growth mindset can have serious benefits for productivity. People with a growth mindset are more likely to embrace challenges, be more resilient in the face of setbacks, and be more open to receiving constructive feedback. Growth mindsets can also help with team collaboration, as the environment this mindset fosters is supportive of knowledge sharing, teamwork, and learning and development.

4. Tuckman's Stages of Group Development

Tuckman's Stages of Group Development is a psychological theory that discusses the phases that every group can potentially go through as they work together on projects. The focus of this theory has to do with how people who come from varying backgrounds can come together to form a cohesive, unified team that accomplishes a shared goal.

The four stages of development in Tuckman's model are:

1. Forming: This is the first stage of group development, when individuals come together but aren't yet familiar with one another. At this point, the shared task is understood, but each individual's specific responsibilities and roles haven't been figured out yet.

2. Storming: In the second stage, team members flex their wings to discover how they will work with others and test their roles' boundaries. At this point, conflict can arise between co-workers or in the form of challenging the group leader.

3. Norming: In the third stage, everyone on the team is beginning to trust the project's leadership and their teammates. This is when people start settling into their roles and building a sense of group loyalty.

4. Performing: The fourth stage occurs when the entire team is working together like a well-oiled machine in pursuit of their shared goals. Since the team is working together seamlessly, this is the time when leaders can really start cultivating the talents of individual team members and turn their eyes to the bigger picture.

5. Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI)

Is there anything more destructive to team productivity than conflict? You can use the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument to better understand the different ways people deal with conflict when it arises.

The five methods outlined by Dr. Thomas and Dr. Kilmann are:

1. Competing: When a person is uncooperative and assertive

2. Collaborating: When a person is cooperative and assertive

3. Compromising: When a person responds in the middle ground between uncooperativeness and assertiveness

4. Avoiding: When a person is uncooperative and unassertive

5. Accommodating: When a person is cooperative and unassertive

Simply learning to identify how people are responding to conflicts in this manner can be highly useful in dealing with workplace issues. You can use this model to find healthier conflict resolution modes and determine the best possible communication methods for your team.

6. Goal-Setting Theory

Developed in 1968 by Edwin A. Locke, goal-setting theory is an organizational psychology theory. The basic idea is that individuals are more motivated by specific, clear, and challenging goals than those that are easy or vague. The more motivating a goal is to workers, the more likely they will be successful in their attempt to achieve it.

There are five primary principles of goal-setting theory that you can use to help boost team productivity:

1. Clarity: The more clear and specific a goal is, the less opportunity there is for misunderstanding or miscommunication.

2. Challenge: Individuals are more motivated to achieve goals when attaining the goal presents a challenge.

3. Commitment: Workers need to be committed in order to have the follow-through necessary to succeed.

4. Feedback: Regular feedback is essential for helping employees hit their goals consistently. This means giving them feedback on their strengths, weaknesses, and overall progress.

5. Task Complexity: While goals need to be challenging, goals that are too complex can end up overwhelming workers. Leaders can help increase motivation and productivity by breaking goals down into more manageable tasks.

7. Expectancy Theory

Introduced in 1964 by Victor Vroom, Expectancy Theory argues that there are three expectations that determine the strength of our motivation. These expectations are:

1. The expectation that increasing one's effort will boost their performance

2. The expectation that a reward will result from a high level of performance

3. The expectation that the reward (or outcome) will be appealing and attractive

Though this theory is more than a half-century old, more recent research has found that the expectancy theory remains one of the most comprehensive motivational theories to date.

You can use this theory to help boost productivity among your team by helping them see that there is a link between high effort and high performance, as well as a link between high performance and a positive outcome.

By demonstrating these connections, the third link is created automatically– the realization that putting in as much effort as possible will create the most positive outcome possible.

8. Adam's Equity Theory

Finally, the last psychological theory on our list is Adam's Equity Theory. The idea behind this theory is that a strong and productive relationship within teams, as well as between employees and leadership, can be forged by achieving a fair balance between inputs and outputs.

Inputs, in this theory, refer to what the employees put toward their work. This includes things like skill level, hard work, enthusiasm, and so on. The outputs, on the other hand, are the things they receive in return for their work, such as salary, benefits, and recognition, to name a few.

According to Adam's Theory, employees end up being more motivated, content, and productive when you find an equitable balance between inputs and outputs.

Is It Time to Motivate Your Team Towards Higher Productivity?

When your employees are not motivated to give their all to your team projects, you can bet that productivity will suffer. Focusing on increasing employee motivation can have a positive ripple effect on your team and the organization as a whole. Beyond boosting productivity, you'll find that motivated employees create a stronger company culture, improve your brand image, and reduce turnover.

Motivation impacts productivity in a number of ways, including reducing absenteeism, helping you recruit strong employees, creating a culture of innovation, and more. Beyond that, though, there is a direct correlation between both motivation and productivity. The more motivated your team is, the more effective and productive they will be. On the flip side, the less motivated they are, the less quality work will get done.

Even though this seems like a fairly simple observation, the truth is management is often reluctant to take time away from directly productive work to engage in tasks that increase motivation.

Dedicating time to activities and events that help motivate your team is well worth it at the end of the day. At PizzaTime, we specialize in bringing virtual teams together through fun experiences and delicious food. If you're ready to treat your team to something truly special in order to boost motivation, morale, and productivity, you can start your order today.

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