Seeing oneself as a valued contributor: Social worth affirmation improves team information sharing

By: Julia Lee Cunningham, Francesca Gino, Dan Cable, Bradley Staats


Teams often fail to reach their potential because members’ concerns about being socially accepted prevent them from offering their unique perspectives to the team. Drawing on relational self and self-affirmation theory, we argue that affirmation of team members’ social worth by trusted people outside the team helps them internalize an identity as a valued contributor, thereby reducing social acceptance concerns and facilitating information sharing in teams. We devised three intervention studies to demonstrate the causal effect of social worth affirmation in teams. In Study 1, senior executive teams in which members experienced social worth affirmation performed better on a crisis simulation that required information sharing in teams (compared to control teams). In Study 2, with U.S. military cadets, we examined social acceptance concerns as a mechanism by which social worth affirmation influences information sharing. In Study 3, we showed that social worth affirmation improves virtual teams’ ability to share information by exchanging unique information cues. Our results suggest that affirmation of the social worth of team members through their personal relationships broadens their sense of self, thereby reducing their social concerns about being accepted by other members. This, in turn, leads to better information sharing in teams.