Smells like team spirit: Opening a paradoxical black box

From Human Relations

The idea of “team spirit” is commonly used and taken to be an ingredient of great teams. But what exactly is this process called “team spirit”? In this paper a group of authors from universities in Portugal, the UK and Australia, followed one amateur Portuguese football team over a period of six months to know more about this intangible team sauce.

Team spirit, the authors conclude, can be viewed as an exercise in contradiction, the ability to maintain a healthy and difficult synthesis between tensions that can easily lose balance. In teams with a spirit, members have to accept some individualism and see it as a stimulus to reach a common, collective goal. They have to face losses as a necessary ingredient for winning: good teams celebrate victories and learn with defeats. In businesses, the role of professional coaches may not differ much from what happens in this amateur team: to find balances between different spheres of a team’s life.


Despite the common usage of the term, researchers and practitioners have not been able properly to explain what team spirit is and what benefits and drawbacks it might bring to teams. Several definitions have been proposed, but not in a consistent manner. Using a qualitative approach, we worked with one football team to shed light on how individuals experience and characterize team spirit. Our results suggest that team spirit is built around four paradoxes: these are a paradox of selfless egoism; a paradox of results; a paradox of conflict, and a paradox of relationships. Essentially, team spirit can be viewed as an inter-subjectively shared facility with which individual members of a team can balance opposing tensions in a consistent way, managing to maintain a healthy synthesis between individual and collective needs and expectations, preventing the team from dominating the individuals, as well as specific individuals from capturing the team. 

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Article details
Tânia Silva, Miguel Pina e Cunha, Stewart R Clegg, Pedro Neves, Arménio Rego, and Ricardo A Rodrigues
Smells like team spirit: Opening a paradoxical black box
Human Relations 0018726713492349, first published on November 4, 2013 doi:10.1177/0018726713492349



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