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Praising Top Performer Improves Teamwork

General (Ret.) H. Hugh Shelton Distinguished Professor of Leadership Brad Kirkman

General (Ret.) H. Hugh Shelton Distinguished Professor of Leadership Brad Kirkman

Conventional wisdom holds that boosting team performance in the workplace should focus on rewarding entire teams that perform well—and that rewarding individuals increases competition rather than helping team performance. But new research published in the Journal of Applied Psychology finds that rewarding individual workers can boost performance both for other workers and for the team.

“Our findings are based on laboratory and field experiments in China, and those findings tell us that recognizing individual team members can supercharge team performance,” says the paper’s co-author, Bradley Kirkman, head of the Department of Management, Innovation and Entrepreneurship at NC State.

In lab experiments, researchers had university students perform individual tasks (making small boxes) and then a team task (building the boxes into towers). They found that praising a team’s top performer significantly improved both the individual and team tasks. There was no improvement among teams lacking a praised team member.

The research gives a boost to programs that reward individual performance, such as “employee of the month” recognition efforts. Researchers at the University of Iowa, Texas Christian University and Tsinghua University collaborated on the study.

This article was originally published by NC State News.