Preparing the self for team entry: How relational affirmation improves team performance

By: Julia Lee Cunningham, Francesca Gino, Daniel M. Cable, Bradley R. Staats

Lee, Julia J., Francesca Gino, Daniel M. Cable, and Bradley R. Staats. "Preparing the Self for Team Entry: How Relational Affirmation Improves Team Performance." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 16-111, March 2016.


Working in teams often leads to productivity loss because the need to feel accepted prevents individual members from making a unique contribution to the team in terms of the information or perspective they can offer. Drawing on self-affirmation theory, we propose that pre-team relational self-affirmation can prepare individuals to contribute to team creative performance more effectively. We theorize that relationally-affirming one’s self-views increases general feelings of being socially valued by others, leading to better information exchange and creative performance. In a first study, we found that teams in which members affirmed their best selves prior to team formation (i.e., by soliciting and receiving narratives that highlight one’s positive impact on close others) outperformed teams that did not do so on a creative problem-solving task. In the second experiment, conducted using virtual teams, we show that pre-team relational self-affirmation leads to heightened feelings of social worth, which in turn explains the effect of the treatment on the team’s ability to exchange information.