Teamwork: Does motivation suffer when working in a team?

There are good reasons for the ever-increasing prevalence of teamwork. Team members often present different perspectives for joint work. These views arise, for example, because of different demographic characteristics (such as age, gender, and origin), because of training and job-related characteristics (such as field of study, professional specialization, professional experience) or because of different past experiences. Presenting these perspectives can lead to better processing of information in scientific teams, to a better understanding of the research question to work on and more creativity when solving necessary problems.

Another benefit of teamwork in science is that team members can cover different experiences needed in research projects. After all, scientific work has become so complex in many areas that people often do not possess all the skills necessary to successfully complete projects. Moreover, team members can learn from each other in the research process (from planning research projects to reviewing scientific manuscripts; so-called group learning), so that scientific teamwork can also be understood as a staff development procedure.

Finally, another advantage of teamwork is mutual social support from colleagues (and superiors). It is especially important in the work process when tense or stressful situations arise. Social support can be an important resource for dealing with work stress, especially for young scientists, who are often under particularly severe mental stress. This social support is more likely and also more common when people work in a team.

risk of losing motivation

In light of these diverse advantages, the evolution toward more teamwork in science is not surprising. However, teamwork has gotten a bad reputation on the one hand: scientific theories to explain team productivity (mainly from economics, but also from psychology) have long assumed that people’s motivation to work inevitably decreases once they become part of a work team. These methods assume that team members must be closely monitored – preferably by the responsible manager – so that productivity is not lost. In addition, they postulate that material incentives play a central, if not necessary, role in preventing the so-called loss of motivation (i.e. less effort in group work than in individual work) in group work.

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The fact that many people consider the risk of losing motivation to be very high is probably due to the fact that they have had different experiences with poorly designed staff (eg in training and work). The fact that people often remember bad experiences better than good ones may reinforce this public perception and expectations.

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