A Deep Dive Into Psychology and How It Helps Teams Thrive

April 19, 2021
Creative team in a brainstorming session
Many leaders don't possess more than an elementary understanding of psychology. It would benefit leadership and management teams to develop a deeper understanding of human psychology. Here are three ideas that benefit individual and team psychology in the workplace.

Without team-based achievement, it’s hard to imagine where we would be today. Dating back to the first semblance of organized societies, human beings have gained meaning and have thrived from the idea that they are fulfilling an essential role for their team. Early hunter-gatherer societies persisted because each individual team member bought into their position and met (or exceeded) their quota. Their survival depended on it. As a result, we have evolved to flourish in team-based environments. It’s safe to say that without our natural proclivity for teamwork, and the psychological needs teamwork satisfies, we wouldn’t be where we are today.

In fact, while exploring teamwork in the context of the modern workplace, psychologists have found that there are certain psychological characteristics that, when addressed and cultivated, increase the likelihood of success for teams in the workplace. Business owners and team leaders would greatly benefit from gaining a better understanding of people’s psychological needs and fulfilling them in the workplace. Benefits can vary from employee satisfaction all the way to increased productivity.

Here’s some food for thought.|

Team Identity

Teams that are oriented toward similar goals tend to perform better than teams that are not. It seems simple and logical enough, but there are more layers to it. In a study titled “Team Effectiveness: The Predictive Role of Team Identity,” researchers Daniela Pinheiro dos Reis and Katia Puente-Palaciosargue claim that the success of a team is built on a shared social identity which paves the way for team identity, and thus, a shared purpose. They define social identity as “a shared and collective structure that comes from the identity constructed between the individuals and the group to which they belong, and emerges as a result of the experiences in common and the exchanges of interpretations between the members of the group.” In other words, a team that has an established identity amongst its individual members has somewhat muddied the concept of the self and replaced it with a team-based identity in the workplace.

However, in order for individuals to buy into the team identity, you have to make a positive first impression. The aforementioned research found that “by involving the positive feelings of the individual in relation to the group, the affective component of social identity contributes support for positive experiences and, consequently, satisfaction.” Although it is intuitively true, these findings confirm that individuals within a team need to cultivate (1) positive feelings towards the team and (2) acceptance for their role within the team while sharing the desire to achieve the team’s objective(s). This is how team leaders successfully build and fortify a cohesive team identity.  

Emotional Intelligence

There’s more than one way to succeed in the workplace. Of course, whether you’re in marketing, sales, business development, or R&D, we all need to meet our goals and constantly innovate how we approach our craft. But, there are also indicators beneath the surface that impact your team’s success. This is where emotional intelligence comes into play. According to Howard Gardner’s Theory on Multiple Intelligences, emotional intelligence begins where rational intelligence ends. In defining the two, Gardner identifies rational intelligence as “hard facts and tight logical reasoning that can result in unproductive “win-lose” scenarios.” He continues, “While such a turn of mind can be useful for building systems, once they are in operation, solutions are often found in the toolkit of emotional intelligence.” Emotional intelligence, on the other hand, is a combination of two types of intelligence: interpersonal and intrapersonal. Interpersonal intelligence is “Detecting and responding to others’ moods, motivations, [and] desires” while intrapersonal intelligence is “being self-aware and attuned with values, beliefs, and thinking.” 

How do the benefits of emotional intelligence manifest themselves within the workplace? Here’s just a few to start:

  1. It helps leaders motivate and inspire good work by understanding others’ motivations.
  2. It brings more individuals to the table and helps avoid the many pitfalls of groupthink.
  3. It can produce higher morale and assist others in tapping their professional potential.
  4. It empowers the leader to recognize and act on opportunities others may be unaware of.

Regardless of economic development or the latest trend in workplace philosophy, there will always be an important place atop the hierarchy for rational intelligence. But, as a means to boosting worker productivity, morale, and creativity, it would behoove you to work towards incorporating emotional intelligence into your leadership toolkit.


When it comes to your workforce, it’s nearly impossible to sustain team identity and emotional intelligence without an open line of communication. On a macro level, this includes things like clearly stated organizational goals, company-wide transparency, and encouraging social interactions. On a micro level, this includes things like the dynamic between managers and their team members or the ability for individuals to make their voices heard in a non-judgmental setting. In the wise words of John H. Bryan, former CEO of Sara Lee Corporation, “You have to be willing sometimes to listen to some remarkably bad opinions. Because if you say to someone, ‘That’s the silliest thing I’ve ever heard; get on out of here!’—then you’ll never get anything out of that person again, and you might as well have a puppet on a string or a robot.” 

While we typically view communication as the ways in which we talk with one another, psychologist, coach, and training consultant Dr. Celine Mullens emphasizes the importance of listening. “Most people speak at a rate of 2.5 words per second, often in a noisy environment with less than clear diction. We are usually unaware how unclear our communication can be.” She continues, “when colleagues or those who report to you feel listened to and heard, it builds trust and respect, setting the scene for receptivity to what you communicate on an ongoing basis.” An organization capable of effective communication amongst its leadership and from its leadership to its workforce can expect to have a positive impact on employee wellbeing, job satisfaction, and productivity.

At the base of many organizational problems lies communication, or the lack thereof. Consider whether your organization presents a united front when it comes to how leaders communicate with (and listens to) their workforce.

What It All Means

An elementary understanding of some aspects of human psychology can be the basis for a happier workforce. After all, your employees don’t stop being people with intrinsic psychological needs just because they’re at work. By forming a cohesive team identity and forming a workplace philosophy and policy under the umbrellas of emotional intelligence and effective communication, you are giving your workforce its best opportunity for feeling like they are in the right place. This results in a positive work environment which leads to a happier workforce that is willing to go the extra mile.   

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