Anecdotally, great teams and organisations have identities that drive performance, but is this true? Does a strong team identity really lead to better team performance or is it that when teams perform better their identity becomes stronger? We set out to test the direction of effects with a study of 45 teams, with 369 players from 14 different sports, that measured changes over six months. The large sample size and repeated measurements meant we could, for the first time, investigate cause and effect relationships between team identity and team performance.

Research findings have been accepted for publication in the British Journal of Social Psychology – a world leading peer-reviewed journal.

Research findings

The longitudinal research design enabled us to use statistical tests to establish whether team identity came before and caused team performance, or the other way around. Team identity and perceived team performance (i.e. how well the players thought the team was performing in relation to their expectations) were measured with a questionnaire. Actual team performance was evaluated using a combined measure that enabled us to make comparisons across different sports. We found:

  1. Team identity causes a highly significant increase in perceived and actual team performance.
  2. Over time the differences in team identity and team performance polarised such that those teams with strong identities became stronger and performed better, whilst those that started weak became weaker.
  3. After 6 months the 20% of teams with the strongest identities outperformed the 20% with the weakest identities by a massive 53%.

Conclusions

Team identity has a profound impact on both perceived and actual team performance.