Is Your Executive Team’s Performance Hindered by Overly Affiliative Ways? Hay Research Brief: Love Will Bring Us Together... Or Not

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New Hay Group study shows that affiliation is critical for effective executive teamwork, but overdoing it can negatively impact group performance.

New study shows that affiliation is important for effective executive teamwork. But too much, especially on the part of the leader, may ultimately damage the group’s performance.

Ever been on one of those teams where there was little real teamwork? A team where there was no small talk, few pleasantries? A team where there was little sharing, but lots of suspicion and protection of self-interests? Ever wish you were on a team where everyone was friendly, caring, and supportive? A team where harmony was the rule of the day?

Be careful what you wish for. A new study of 20 executive leadership teams from Fortune 500 companies shows that valuing affiliation (believing that people and relationships are important) is critical for effective teamwork. At the same time, however, too much emphasis on affiliation, especially coming from the leader, can have a negative impact.

The new research, part of an ongoing study by The McClelland Center and two leading experts on teams, Harvard’s Richard Hackman and Ruth Wagemen of Dartmouth, looked at the values held by both the teams’ members and leaders and the impact of those values on performance.

The research showed that these values help determine whether team members are interdependent on each other for some common purpose — whether, in essence, they function as a real team. Such teams, research has shown, are more effective and perform better than those that are actually little more than a collection of individuals, each doing his or her own thing — although perhaps toward a common goal.

Our research showed that:

•Real executive teams were far more likely than their less effective counterparts to have members who placed a high value on people and relationships.

•At the same, however, team leaders who placed a high value on affiliation were far less likely than less

affiliative leaders to create real, highly effective teams.

(Graph showing that on 'real teams', 36% of leaders and 80% of members put a high value on affiliation. On 'not real' teams, 80% of leaders and 0% of members put a high value on affiliation).


The new research confirms the general wisdom that valuing people and relationships — within certain limits — is important for team effectiveness. A lack of warmth and civility can quickly scuttle the efforts of any team, no matter how talented or experienced. Team members who value affiliation tend to dedicate more effort to the team and be more cooperative — and less competitive — with their peers.

The team leader, too, must place some value on affiliation if he or she is to create the trust, cooperation, and commitment of the team members. The distant, detached leader can often snuff out the energy and passion of what otherwise might be a great team. But the reverse also is true. When leaders place too high a premium on affiliation, they often become overly concerned about maintaining good personal relationships with their members. Such leaders sometimes play favorites, avoid confronting inappropriate team behavior or performance, or fail to make decisions that go against the preferences of the team. We’ve also found that highly affiliative leaders often have difficulty excluding people from the team, even when it already is too large to be effective. As a result, the team keeps getting bigger rather than changing shape to meet changes in the business.

Ultimately, team leaders must use an appropriate level of affiliation if they are to create real, high-performing teams. Depending on the leader, that may mean consciously placing more emphasis on relationships or controlling the urge to be overly affiliative. Leaders might start by asking themselves and others: How do my relationships support or detract from the purpose and direction of this team?

About Hay Group

Hay Group is a global organizational and human resources consulting firm that helps its clients — Boards, CEOs, Executives, and HR Managers — on virtually all aspects of their people-related business issues. Founded in 1943, Hay Group has over 2,200 employees working from 77 offices in 76 cities and 42 countries.

Our areas of expertise include:

•Design and analysis of organizations and jobs;

•Talent management through assessment, selection, and development;

•Compensation, benefits, and performance management;

•Executive remuneration and corporate governance; and

•Employee and customer attitude research.

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This press release was distributed through eMediawire by Human Resources Marketer (HR Marketer: on behalf of the company listed above.

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Dario Priolo
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