Quantifying Team Chemistry


Chester Spell

Chester Spell

By Jeanne Leong

The Philadelphia Eagles’ Super Bowl victory and improved Phillies and 76ers teams have given area sports fans hope. While the teams have many gifted players, a Rutgers School of Business–Camden professor who studies effective organizations says it takes more than talent to make a winning team. According to Chester Spell, a professor of management, team chemistry is what makes a good team a great team.

An avid sports fan, Spell and his research colleague, Katerina Bezrukova, an associate professor of management at the University at Buffalo, created an algorithm that quantifies team chemistry.

Using social identity theory, they created their measure. Differences within the team, such as backgrounds, culture, or age, called faultlines, divide a group into smaller subgroups of people who have something they share, such as interests, traits, or ideas. Spell says finding common ground is the key to creating bonds.

“We found that people who were in a tight subgroup at their work were happier overall, across all sorts of jobs,” says Spell. “We know that it is easier to perform when you are happy, whether you are a chef, sales rep, or a baseball player.”

In the past several years of rebuilding the team, the Phillies have brought in younger, talented players.

“A big difference, honestly, is that they have a talented core of ‘homegrown’ talent, drafted from within the organization,” says Spell. “They share a common experience and that can help team chemistry.”

As for the Eagles, who hope to win another Super Bowl, Spell says the team used its underdog status in the 2017 season as a way to find commonality and create bonds. While losing several key players to season-ending injuries, the teammates supported one another—including a few players who wore dog masks to riff on their underdog status during the playoffs.

“Everything became a rally of them being an in-group, and everyone else is the out-group,” says Spell.

Spell says it’s more difficult to replicate last year’s team chemistry because in football, there are more players who leave teams and new players who join teams each season than almost any other sport, so he says it’s a tall order to get new players and coaches to buy into what worked last season. “I would say for them to continue to be successful, they really have to continue with what they were doing and finding the right pieces that fit in with the team,” Spell says.

Spell’s research, “Multilevel Perspective on Faultlines: Differentiating the Effects between Group- and Organizational-level Faultlines” was published in 2016 in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

Posted in: Research Highlights

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