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Karina Nielsen

University of East Anglia

Professor of Work and Organizational Psychology

Read more about Karina Nielsen

Let’s settle this. Is there an “I” in “team”?


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In today’s globally competitive environment, organisations increasingly employ teamwork to ensure employees’ resources and competencies are used to their fullest. A body of research has found that individuals compare themselves to their peers and that this comparison influences their wellbeing.

And when people interact with each other in teamwork settings, they develop a shared understanding of their environment, including how they interpret their leader’s behaviours. This article looks at how these comparisons are made with regard to perceptions of leadership within the team.

Firstly, read up on the definition of transformational leadership, then carry on…

The study

In a study of transformational leadership in accountancy and elderly care, we asked two questions:

  1. When team members agree that they have a transformational leader does this also mean they as a team have a better working environment in terms of fewer role conflicts, more meaningful work, and better social support? Are these group-level working conditions related to better health and well-being?
  2. If team members feel their leader “favours” them and gives them special attention, i.e. that the leaders pays special attention to them and the leader exerts the desired transformational leadership behaviours towards them does this mean they also experience more meaningful work, fewer role conflicts and better social support compared to their peers? Are these perceptions of a good working environment related to employee health and wellbeing?

With regard the first question, we found that yes, group-level transformational leadership was related to social support and fewer role conflicts, however, there was no relation to having meaningful work. Contrary to expectation we found that even if the team as a whole experience few role conflicts and good social support these were not strongly related to individual employees’ health and well-being.

In answer to our second question we found that yes, when employees felt they received special attention from their leader in terms of the leader being transformational, they also reported having more meaningful work, better social support and fewer role conflicts. These good working conditions were in turn related to good health and high wellbeing in most cases.

It would thus appear that there is an “I” in teams. Team members compare themselves against each other and if they perceive they get special attention from their leader, in terms of transformational leadership behaviours, they also report having a good working environment, better health and higher levels of wellbeing.


Nielsen, K. (2014). Leadership and Climate in a Psychologically Healthy Workplace. In: A. Day, E. K. Kelloway, & J. J. Hurrell Jr.. Workplace Well-Being Building Positive & Psychologically Healthy Workplaces. Wiley Publications, pp. 226-244.

Nielsen, K., & Daniels, K. (2012). Does shared and differentiated transformational leadership predict followers’ working conditions and well-being? The Leadership Quarterly, 23, 383-397.

3 Responses

  1. Being in a friendly,
    Being in a friendly, productive team makes it easier for individuals to develop and excel. What’s funny is that people never talk about being in a good team, but will rant for years about bad bosses and teams.

    1. PCPaul wrote:

      Being in a friendly, productive team makes it easier for individuals to develop and excel. What’s funny is that people never talk about being in a good team, but will rant for years about bad bosses and teams.


      Very true. Not only about teams but other parts of the workplace experience. Positive experiences quickly become hygiene factors for a lot of people, I think, hence the need to innovate. What was positive yesterday is normal today, whereas what was bad yesterday still hurts today.

    2. It’s always they way – people
      It’s always they way – people are far more likely to talk about negatives than positives, which is why organisations should try and encourage more feedback and openess among employees, hopefully will lead to more of the positive being talked about (as well as the negatives being addressed before it’s too late)

Author Profile Picture
Karina Nielsen

Professor of Work and Organizational Psychology

Read more from Karina Nielsen