Creating a Positive Team

This post covers the research and planning phase designed to enable a successful implementation of a Positive Team strategy within your organization.

While there are many factors involved in creating a Positive Team – and some will work better in some organizations and for some leaders than others – this specific strategy focuses on applying the latest research on High-Quality Connections (HQCs) and Prosocial Behavior as part of a larger, cohesive positive leadership approach.

High-Quality Connections

What’s the value of High-Quality Connections?

High-Quality Connections are interactions between pairs that are positive in both subjective experience and the structural features of the connection (Stephens, Heaphy, & Dutton, 2011). These types of connections have been shown to drive benefits for individuals, groups and teams, and organizations as a whole (Stephens et. al., 2011; M. Worline, personal communications, March 3, 2018). Within teams, HQCs can drive better learning, more adaptivity, and more creativity. Within organizations more broadly, the results of HQCs include enhanced cooperation, increased adaptability and organizational resilience, higher levels of psychological safety, and greater employee attachment.

How to generate more High-Quality Connections?

According to Worline (personal communications, March 3, 2018) and Dutton (2003), there are four primary pathways for building HQCs: 1) Respectful engagement: engaging the other in a way that sends a message of value and worth; 2) Task enabling: helping in another person’s successful performance; 3) Trusting: conveying to the other person that we believe they will meet our expectations and are dependable; and 4) Playing: participating in activities with the intention of having fun.

How to apply this research to your team?

1) Respectful engagement: you can make presence a priority, withhold judgement and always give the benefit of the doubt, and make an effort to be an active listener; 2) Task enabling: you can deliberately focus your energy on teaching, helping, nurturing, advocating, and accommodating the people on your team; 3) Trusting: you can work to consistently seek input, share resources, use inclusive language, and be open and vulnerable with your team; 4) Playing: you can foster a culture of fun, making time for playful connections and storytelling. In addition, leaders’ behaviors tend to model and influence appropriate conduct for teams (Dutton & Spreitzer, 2014), so you can focus on transparently modelling and clearly valuing HQC building within you own style of working with colleagues.

Prosocial Behavior

What’s the value of Prosocial Behavior?

Evidence suggests that prosocial motivation, the desire to have a positive impact on other people, can help employees to take initiative, assist others, persist in meaningful tasks, and accept negative feedback, in addition to a slew of other benefits (Grant & Berg, 2010). Moreover, Grant (2013) has shown that employees who are givers, people who look to help others without any strings attached, disproportionately end up at the very top and the very bottom of many business success metrics. While this demonstrates the potential benefits of being a giver (rising to the top), it also highlights the risk associated with it. One of the key strategies recommend by Grant (2013) is to set careful boundaries, ensuring employees take care of themselves (including saying no to things), as opposed to exclusively engaging in unconditional giving and running out of energy and resources.

How to generate more Prosocial Behavior?

Research has established that receiving expressions of gratitude can increase the likelihood for prosocial behavior (Grant & Gino, 2010). Specifically, when people experience an expression of gratitude they feel an increase in social worth, or sense of being socially valued, leading to an increase in subsequent prosocial behaviors. Additional research by Grant (2013) suggests that focusing on how the work employees are doing impacts the lives of others can lead to higher rates of productivity, especially when compared to simply thinking about themselves or extrinsic rewards. For example, simply meeting a real person whose life was positively impacted by their work can shift one’s mindset and motivation to work harder to drive more positive impact in the world. Grant (2013) goes on to promote the value of assessing one’s own giving style in various contexts and focusing specifically on the kind of giving that is most energizing and productive.

How to apply this research to your team?

You can utilize a three-pronged approach to embed prosocial behavior into the team. First, you can create a culture of gratitude by transparently expressing gratitude to members on the team and across the company. Second, you can ensure your team members have a chance to interact with your end customers, both in the onboarding month and on an ongoing basis. Third, you can encourage your team members to use your product themselves. The more experience employees gain with their organization offerings, the more they can internalize the customer’s perspective and understand their impact (Dutton & Spreitzer, 2014). Additionally, you can set model behavior for successful giving and based on Grant’s (2013) advice and focus on coaching your team members on how to find their own giving style to create a culture in which they help others succeed while maintaining their own energy and resources.



Aronson, E., Willerman, B., & Floyd, J. (1966). The effect of a pratfall on increasing interpersonal attractiveness. Psychonomic Science, 4(6), 227-228.

Dutton, J. E. (2003). Breathing life into organizational studies. Journal of Management Inquiry, 12(1), 5-19.

Dutton, J. E., & Spreitzer, G. M. (2014). How to be a positive leader: Small actions, big impact. Oakland, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Grant, A. M., & Gino, F. (2010). A little thanks goes a long way: Explaining why gratitude expressions motivate prosocial behavior. Journal of personality and social psychology, 98(6), 946.

Grant, A. M., & Berg, J. M. (2012). Prosocial motivation at work. In The Oxford handbook of positive organizational scholarship.

Grant, A. M. (2013). Give and take: A revolutionary approach to success. New York, NY: The Penguin Group.

Stephens, J. P., Heaphy, E., & Dutton, J. E. (2011). High quality connections. The Oxford handbook of positive organizational scholarship, 385-399.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s