- Systematic Review
- Open Access
Factors Influencing Team Performance: What Can Support Teams in High-Performance Sport Learn from Other Industries? A Systematic Scoping Review
Sports Medicine - Open volume 8, Article number: 25 (2022)
‘Talent wins games, teamwork wins championships’ Michael Jordan.
The primary aim of our systematic scoping review was to explore the factors influencing team function and performance across various industries and discuss findings in the context of the high-performance sport support team setting. These outcomes may also be used to inform future research into high-performance teamwork in sport.
A systematic scoping review of literature published in English since 2000 reporting team-based performance outcomes and included a performance metric that was ‘team outcome based’ was conducted using search of the Academic Search Ultimate, Medline, Business Source Ultimate, APA PsycInfo, CINAHL, SPORTDiscus, and Military database (ProQuest) using the terms: ‘team’, ‘function’ OR ‘dysfunction’, ‘Perform*’ OR ‘outcome’.
Application of the search strategy identified a total of 11,735 articles for title and abstract review. Seventy-three articles were selected for full-text assessment with the aim to extract data for either quantitative or qualitative analysis. Forty-six of the 73 articles met our inclusion criteria; 27 articles were excluded as they did not report a performance metric. Eleven studies explored leadership roles and styles on team performance, three studies associated performance feedback to team performance, and 12 studies explored the relationship between supportive behaviour and performance. Team orientation and adaptability as key figures of team performance outcomes were explored in 20 studies.
Our findings identified 4 key variables that were associated with team function and performance across a variety of industries; (i) leadership styles, (ii) supportive team behaviour, (iii) communication, and (iv) performance feedback. High-performance teams wishing to improve performance should examine these factors within their team and its environment. It is widely acknowledged that the dynamics of team function is important for outcomes in high-performance sport, yet there is little evidence to provide guidance. This inequality between real-world need and the available evidence should be addressed in future research.
Across multiple sectors, four key variables were identified as important for teamwork, team function, team performance and team effectiveness; (i) leadership style (ii) supportive team behaviour (iii) communication, and (iv) performance feedback.
Evidence obtained in this literature review was unable to illicit causal relationships between the four key variables important for high-performance sport support team function and individual athlete or playing team performance.
Considering factors associated with teamwork, team function team performance and team effectiveness from other sectors provides leverage points for high-performance sport support teams to improve functions.
Each team has the potential to rise or fall based on the group of people who share the same passion and goals and are working together to achieve success . This narrative is very common in elite sport, an environment that presents considerable health and performance challenges to the athlete and those charged with the responsibility of supporting them . Considering that the success of athlete support teams is often measured by athletic performance outcomes , evidence supports the notion that contemporary athlete achievement can be strongly influenced by the function of the athlete support team [4, 5]. However, given the enormity of the performance and health challenges, elite sport teams may need further inputs beyond traditional structures of coaching staff and limited number of medical personnel to influence health and athletic performance outcomes . Research exploring the dynamics of team function and team performance in an elite sporting environment is one under-appreciated area that can assist meeting this increasing challenge. The nature of team function is a complex phenomenon that is far from resolved .
A ‘team’ can be defined as a group of individuals with specified roles and responsibilities interacting adaptively, interdependently, and dynamically towards a valued common outcome and who are together embedded in an encompassing organisational system, with boundaries and linkages to the broader system context and task environment . Individuals within elite sport support teams include team/athlete coaches and the sports medicine and science team members who are constantly looking for ways to improve the performance and health of the athletes with whom they work . Although varying in definition across sporting contexts, this team of individuals supporting the athlete form the high-performance team (HPT; see Fig. 1) [2, 9,10,11]. Teamwork refers to the behavioural processes that team members (e.g. members of a HPT) use to achieve work within the team (e.g. communication, collaboration, sharing of expertise), and team function refers to a group of people working towards a common objective. That is, the function of a team relates to the ability to coordinate and cooperatively interact with each other to facilitate task objectives through a shared understanding of the team’s resources (e.g., members’ knowledge, skills, and experiences), the team’s goals and objectives, and the constraints within the work environment [12,13,14]. Thus, teamwork is a component of team function [15, 16]. Team performance accounts for the cumulative outputs of the team’s actions, sometimes irrespective of how the team may have accomplished the task . The effectiveness of a team, however, takes a holistic perspective in considering not only how the team performed, but also how the team interacted attempting to achieve a desired output (see Additional file 1) . Thus, the performance of support teams in high-performance sport may not be simply reduced to the outcomes of the athletes or teams of athletes they support.
Teams that encourage and facilitate each other’s efforts in order to reach a common goal are influenced by issues of leadership , supportive team behaviour , organisational environment  and adaptability . Teams educated about the mechanisms of teamwork (performance monitoring, adaptation, and facilitative leadership) have better performance outcomes , particularly when team members were able to anticipate each other’s behaviours and had better communication mechanisms. The addition of coordinating mechanisms such as supportive team behaviour, team communication and orientation are necessary facilitators of teamwork for a team to be successful [7, 22]. Furthermore, the high-performance sporting environment presents challenges for individuals to function effectively as a team . Despite increased interest in the teamwork construct [24, 25], there are multiple and divergent conceptualisations of teamwork. There is a limited perspective in the present literature regarding the teamwork–team performance relationship . To the authors’ knowledge, little work has described what the inputs and processes of teamwork are, nor described methodologies to measure the various influences and determine their role in assessing teamwork relative to performance in high-performance sport.
Challenges within HPTs in the elite sport setting arise because of factors such as organisational climate, professional conflict, power and influence challenges coupled with employment insecurities . Additionally, high risk to reward scenarios, the demand to have a competitive advantage, and the emphasis on winning, have fractured the modern sports culture resulting in disparity and separation of athlete support staff and coaching staff within the same team [2, 27, 28]. Effective team function underpins the achievement of desired outcomes of collaborative work . Consequently, suboptimal teamwork has at times catastrophic results for outcomes of such work . While high-performance teams in elite sport have benefited from considerable scientific advances in physical preparation, participation and recovery practices, elite sport in this instance has not benefited from the science of teamwork effectiveness . The primary aim of our systematic scoping review was to explore the factors influencing team function and performance across various industries and discuss findings in the context of the high-performance sport support team setting. These outcomes may also be used to inform future research into high-performance teamwork in sport.
We adopted the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-analysis extension (PRISMA-ScR) guidelines  to identify a primary set of articles for data extraction and review. The 5-step process as described by Arksey and O’Malley  with enhancements as described by Levac et al.  was utilised: Identify the research question, identify relevant studies, study selection, chart the data, and collate, summarise, and report the results. In the final step, the review process was supplemented by application of thematic analysis methods  to categorise each article within the themes that emerged from relevant literature on team effectiveness models [7, 35,36,37]. The PRISMA extension for scoping reviews (PRISMA-ScR) checklist was used to ensure complete and transparent reporting .
Identification of Relevant Studies
The article inclusion criteria were; full text, empirical studies published in English, between 2000 and November 2021, and reported objective team-based performance outcomes and included a performance metric that was ‘team outcome based’, e.g., team effectiveness, cohesiveness, efficiency, reflexivity and potency. We chose to explore only articles with an objective performance based outcome to limit theoretical/speculative content. Articles were excluded under the following criteria: the study had no defined metric of performance outcomes, was a literature review or was an opinion piece.
A search of the Academic Search Ultimate, Medline, Business Source Ultimate, APA PsycInfo, CINAHL, SPORTDiscus, and Military database (ProQuest) was conducted in October 2021 using the terms: ‘team’, ‘function’ OR ‘dysfunction’, ‘Perform*’ OR ‘outcome’. All records retrieved by the search query were imported into Endnote X9 (Thompson Reuters, Carlsbad, CA, USA) and duplicates removed.
Final Study Selection
Two authors (BS, BGS) independently reviewed titles and abstracts for potential eligibility. For the potentially eligible records, the full-text articles were thereafter retrieved and assessed according to the inclusion and exclusion criteria. The reference lists of the resulting articles were searched by the lead author (BS) for inclusion of additional articles. Any discrepancies were discussed by the reviewers (BS, BGS). No conflicts were identified. The review of full-text articles revealed that those articles that reported a performance metric provided sufficient content data for a continued analysis.
Collating the Results
Analysis of the methodological and conceptual features of extracted data was thereafter performed by the lead author (BS) to summarise and collate the content of the articles and was subsequently confirmed by a co-author (BGS). Analysis of eligible papers involved describing the type of study which was performed, the occupational domain the study was conducted, where it was conducted, participant characteristics, study aims, performance metric and the category of teamwork. With regards to the conceptual analysis, we focused on examining common and emerging themes among definitions of team performance and their operationalisation (e.g., leadership, team orientation) as well as primary research findings as they pertained to team performance. A critical appraisal was not conducted on our findings as the aim of this review is to identify and map the available evidence .
The operationalisation categories followed the key themes of teamwork that emerged from the literature on team effectiveness models [7, 12]. Team leadership roles and styles; the ability to direct and coordinate the activities of other team members, assess team performance, assign tasks, develop team knowledge, skills, and abilities, performance goals and feedback; the ability to develop common understandings of the team environment and apply appropriate task strategies to accurately monitor teammate performance, team orientation and adaptability; the ability to adjust strategies based on information gathered from the environment through the use of supportive team behaviour and reallocation of intrateam resources, supportive team behaviour; the ability to anticipate other team members’ needs through accurate knowledge about their responsibilities (Fig. 2).
The initial literature search identified a total of 11,734 articles for title and abstract review, and one article was retrieved from another source. Seventy-three articles were selected for full-text assessment with the aim to extract data for either quantitative or qualitative analysis. Forty-six of the 73 articles met our inclusion criteria; 27 articles were excluded as they did not report a performance metric. The article selection process is seen in Fig. 3.
The 46 papers identified from the search process were published across a twenty-year period (2000–October 2021) (Figs. 4, 5). Team performance outcomes were examined within business (n = 12), sport (n = 8), military (n = 6), health and social care (n = 3), engineering (n = 2), education (n = 1) or across multiple sectors (n = 14) (Fig. 4). In terms of geographical location, the studies were conducted across: North America 61% (USA, n = 26; Canada, n = 2), Europe 28% (UK, n = 4; Netherlands, n = 3; Spain, n = 2; Germany, n = 1; Italy, n = 1; Portugal, n = 1; Europe, unknown = 1), Asia Pacific 9% (South Korea, n = 1; Pakistan, n = 1; India, n = 1; Australia, n = 1), Africa 2% (Tunisia, n = 1). There was a positive trend of the number of articles produced over the 2-decade period, 2000–2004 (n = 7), 2005–2009 (n = 10), 2010–2014 (n = 12) and 2015–2019 (n = 13) (Fig. 5).
Studies utilised mixed methods approaches (n = 17) (i.e., questionnaires combined with archival data from financial reports and published articles), cross-sectional surveys (n = 12), experimental interventions designed to evaluate team performance among participants (n = 8), and interview-based approaches (n = 1). Other designs included archival analysis (n = 5) and laboratory-based experiments (n = 3).
Team Leadership Roles and Styles
Eleven studies explored leadership influences on team performance (Table 1) [38,39,40,41,42,43,44,45,46,47,48]. The role of the team leader is described as pivotal for effective team function, as leaders have responsibility for team members and the direction of all team activity and processes [45, 49]. Leaders who displayed higher cognitive ability, conscientiousness and charisma were better able to mediate their teams to enhance team performance outcomes [40, 41, 43, 44, 46]. Charismatic and transformational leaders positively change the values and priorities of team members and motivate them to perform beyond their expectations [39, 41]. Leaders within a centralised structure where the decision-making authority is concentrated at the top, and all other lower levels follow the directions coming from the top of the organisation structure, have negative effects on conflict and performance. This leadership model also affects relationships between team members [38, 42, 46]. Our literature search revealed that teams will perform better when team leaders are highly involved in the team’s communication and workflow networks [42, 45]. Specifically, in diverse work groups, the nature of interpersonal interactions was found to be an important determinant of group member performance and group effectiveness. For example, referring to gender diversity, one of the studies retrieved argued that a diverse group with low leader-member relationships (i.e. where relationships between team leaders and team members were poor) will not perform highly regardless of how well the leader differentiates role assignments because of insufficient attention to relationships . Leaders act as influential role models, wherein their self-regulatory behaviours directly shape task-related team processes, which was shown to positively influence team performance .
Performance Goals and Feedback
Three studies associated performance monitoring to team performance (Table 2) [50,51,52]. They explored the use of negative feedback and positive reinforcement as modalities for performance feedback and argued this can help to build the team, the culture, and the capacity for quality improvement [50,51,52]. They showed, learning through performance feedback provides team members with the opportunity to learn how to work collaboratively , having the potential to (1) shape team culture or attitudes, (2) establish common team goals, and (3) improved understanding of performance standards . However, in one study, it was noted that the effect of team performance feedback on intentions to improve performance was hindered by a poor understanding of how the team could use the feedback and how the feedback was perceived .
Supportive Team Behaviour
Eleven studies [26, 53,54,55,56,57,58,59,60,61,62] explored how the relationship between supportive team behaviour, the ability to anticipate other team members’ needs through accurate knowledge about their roles and responsibilities , and team performance, complement each other (Table 3). Teams with strong group identity, communication and structural cohesion mitigated the adverse consequences of team conflict and collective team failure [53, 56, 60, 61, 63], Relationship conflict within teams has negative consequences on task performance [57, 59]. Task conflict has positive impacts on team performance in teams exhibiting high levels of openness and emotional stability [54, 55, 57]. Members within teams that engage in more cooperative behaviours become more efficient, effective, and viable [55, 56, 60, 61]. Supportive team behaviour has additional positive effects on team performance when in combination with performance monitoring .
Team Orientation, Organisational Context and Adaptability
Team orientation, organisational context and adaptability as key features of team performance outcomes were explored in twenty-one studies (Table 4) [38, 63,64,65,66,67,68,69,70,71,72,73,74,75,76,77,78,79,80,81,82]. Team orientation describes how members in teams learn, store, use, and coordinate their knowledge to accomplish team and organisational goals . Team communication and cohesion were found to be key to collaborative work within teams to enhance team performance [63, 68, 69, 75, 80]. Functional diversity within teams had varying implications for team processes and performance depending on how this was utilised . Specifically, intrapersonal functional diversity—where each member’s experience is distributed over many functional domains (operations, logistics, leadership), rather than focused on one specific functional area—was positively associated with information sharing and collective group performance [68, 83]. The right processes and team culture in an organisation promote team commitment . Organisational context influences team effectiveness, both directly and by determining the initial conditions that promote effective team functioning .
A relationship exists between team performance and measures of demographic similarity; described as the team’s agreeableness, self-efficacy and creativity [73, 75, 83], and demographic diversity of age and sex [65, 74], In individuals low on self-efficacy and agreeableness, team climates encouraging exploitation and exploration respectively deliver increasing performance and creative benefits. When team encouragement for exploitation—treating someone unfairly in order to benefit from their work—increases, the returns on such encouragement diminish, and individuals with high levels of self-efficacy and agreeableness show less additional performance and creative returns [72, 73]. Age, job tenure and performance dissimilarity are also associated with lower team performance as broader contextual factors in the social world are potential obstacles to effective team functioning [65, 74].
This systematic scoping review identified four key variables that were associated with team function and performance across a variety of industries; (i) leadership styles , (ii) supportive team behaviour , (iii) communication, and (iv) performance feedback . High-performance teams may wish to consider prioritising these variables to improve health and performance outcomes. However, this should be done with caution given limited evidence was identified in sport relative to these factors. Team function and performance in the context of support teams in high-performance sport may be better enhanced if we first work towards understanding the behaviour of those four key variables relative to each other in the broader sports team .
Leadership Styles Influence Team Cohesion and Performance
In sport, leadership behaviour is not just important for individual players; it is important for the team as a whole as it establishes an interpersonal environment characterised by support, respect, trust and appreciation of staff and players , which ultimately have a positive influence on team cohesion and performance . Leadership styles that promote back up behaviour were suggested to enhance team cohesion. Highly cohesive teams worked together more efficiently and, consequently, performed better than less cohesive teams . It is well established that leadership serves as a critical input for influencing group processes and output, and that leaders can shape team members’ attitudes, beliefs, and values . Sports psychology research supports the view that leadership behaviours are associated with higher levels of motivation and performance [87,88,89], increased well-being , and increased task/team cohesion . A study of leadership styles of football coaches indicated that leadership behaviours that communicated a clear and positive vision of the future appeared to reduce the risk of severe injuries by 29%-40% . This is in line with the idea that transformational leaders develop an image of the future of their organisation and communicate that vision to their subordinates. In contrast, leadership that does not promote supporting behaviour and adaptability might risk insufficient collaboration within the team, poor decision-making and high stress. This is likely to lead to the team underperforming .
Our findings demonstrate that charismatic leadership has positive effects on team performance . This is contrary to the evidence supporting this style of leadership within the sport setting. In a recent study in the sport of football , no correlation was found between charismatic leadership and injury rates or players’ availability. It is incumbent on the leader to establish positive rapport across the team as this is an important determinant of team performance and effectiveness .
Team Communication and Feedback Influence How a Team May Function
Open communication and feedback about both strengths and weaknesses were identified as a characteristic of well-performing teams, and poor communication was a marker of dysfunctional relationships . When teams of multidisciplinary practitioners adopt this teamwork approach, they have been described as an ‘interdisciplinary team’, differentiated by their integration of knowledge and collaborative behaviours beyond that seen in ‘multidisciplinary teams’, where individuals work towards their own goals with limited interaction [84, 92]. This may be explained by the mechanism through which teams collectively encode, store, and retrieve knowledge; described as transactive memory systems (TMS). TMS facilitates team shared knowledge and communication by developing a structure and organisation [64, 67, 69, 77, 79,80,81], and supporting the development, integration and change of knowledge and its content .
Communication is considered an important mediator of performance in team sports . This notion is supported by work which highlights the importance of distributed decision-making in groups of people , and in fact, a recent study in the sport of football concluded that the quality of communication within a team was associated with both injury rates and player availability . Teams with high internal communication quality had lower injury rates and higher player availability than teams with low communication quality . Low communication quality between the head coach and the medical team was significantly associated with the injury rate; such teams had a 6%–7% lower player availability at training and matches and a 50% higher injury burden, compared with teams with moderate or high communication quality . High quality communication between individuals in different roles is likely to promote good collaborations and facilitate the benefits derived from multiple perspectives in informed decisions, for instance, return to play decision or major decisions regarding the well-being of players [2, 91].
Low-quality communication is likely to increase the risk of misunderstandings and promote one-sided decision-making and high stress, which in the long run might contribute to the risk of injuries [11, 91]. Without effective communication and feedback, it is difficult to modify individual training plans (e.g. training load and other environment considerations like training surface) according to athlete age, position and medical history. Good communication, management and training restrictions can assist players to continue playing and performing throughout the season without exacerbating the injury . The tendency to weight negative information more heavily than positive information during feedback processes could help account for the asymmetrical effects that negative (as opposed to positive) feedback has on group members' implicit performance . Feedback strongly influences emotional reactions, which in turn affect employees' attitudes and role behaviours. Therefore, leaders may be better off framing their feedback to subordinates in a positive rather than a negative manner as this comes with increased employee commitment and organisational citizenship behaviour . Considering teamwork factors that have been demonstrated to shape outcomes of teamwork in organisations outside of sport provides leverage points for teams to improve team function .
Team Culture May Mitigate Against Consequences of Team Conflict
Team culture—a shared set of values that inform a group’s behaviour—is considered one of the most prominent contributors to the success of a sporting organisation [96, 97]. Teams with strong team culture mitigate the adverse consequences of team conflict and collective team failure [53, 56, 60, 61, 63] as it facilitates supportive behaviour and accountability by having clear purpose, well-defined roles and organisational policies [10, 98]. In the sport setting, there are established hierarchies based around teamwork . The organisational culture and climate of elite sport have been described as ‘rife’ with culturally-driven challenges that include interdepartmental communication problems, coach-athlete conflict, interference from owners, negative reporting in the media and staff being required to continually justify how their input impacts performance . Sports teams that foster acceptance of group goals, promote communication and positive conflict had a positive relationship with team cohesion . Teams who are able to address conflict directly are better able to develop an open constructive atmosphere and forge a stronger team identity . However, HPT may exhibit high levels of team conflict, particularly within high pressure environments like that in elite sport  which can interfere with effective team performance . When team members’ perceptions of their individual role within the team are in alignment with how other team members perceive their roles, HPT can avoid high levels of team conflict and exhibit better team performance .
Bias, Limitations and Future Research
Within our systematic scoping review, we identified commonly interchangeable use of terminology which makes pooling and summarising the results across industries and domains difficult. The studies identified displayed a publication bias towards cross-sectional studies. Such study designs are unable to assess the dynamic nature of working in teams. Teams are complex, dynamic systems that ‘adapt’ to new knowledge, relationships, external events and environment constraints among many other potential inputs. It is therefore important to carefully consider optimal study designs when examining team behaviours and their consequences  through certain study designs. Future research to agree on a taxonomy of definitions will enable research in this area to be applied to a sporting context and compared across investigations. An expected limitation of this review was the lack of existing research that satisfied the search criteria for data extraction. To minimise this limitation, we searched a common array of academic research databases leading to a sensitive search strategy which identified many false positives based on the inclusion criteria. No studies identified in this systematic scoping review investigated causal relationships. Future research investigating whether certain inputs or process improve team function may benefit from utilising causal inference methodology.
We concede this review has explored the effect of support team-teamwork/team effectiveness/team function on injury incidence and availability of athletes; however, its effect on athlete or playing team sporting performance has not been commensurately discussed. To the knowledge of the researchers, no evidence linking support team-team work to individual or playing team sporting performance exists. If we are to consider, however, increased athlete availability increases training opportunity, and that the people in the broader team environment can affect competition performance in athletes [102,103,104], it is reasonable to assume support team-teamwork/team effectiveness/team function affects athlete or playing team sporting performance similarly to how it affects athlete injury incidence and availability.
Across various sectors, we identified that improved team function and performance are associated with leadership, supportive team behaviour, communication, and performance feedback. In the context of complex sporting organisations where leaders must respond to multiple stakeholders and meet performance goals across multiple dimensions of effectiveness, addressing the reported challenges and considering the importance of organisational commitment to team development can help ensure that team objectives are effectively designed, delivered, and sustained. While the evidence obtained in this literature review was unable to elicit causal relationships between these factors and enhanced sport performance, it provides a point at which high-performance sport support teams can commence their investigation and interventions to improve team function and performance. This review will pave the way for future research; however, no agreement currently exists on terminology and definitions for performance outcomes to support performance analyses of teamwork and to establish if a performance support team that works effectively will enable better health and performance outcomes for their athletes/sport team. It is widely acknowledged that the dynamics of team function is important for outcomes in high-performance sport, yet there is a dearth of evidence to provide guidance in the high-performance sport context; hence, we have explored team work in alternate sectors. This inequality between real-world need and the available evidence should shape future research to work towards examining team effectiveness related to achieving both health and performance outcomes in elite sport.
Availability of data and materials
All relevant data are included within this article.
Transactive memory systems
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Salcinovic, B., Drew, M., Dijkstra, P. et al. Factors Influencing Team Performance: What Can Support Teams in High-Performance Sport Learn from Other Industries? A Systematic Scoping Review. Sports Med - Open 8, 25 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40798-021-00406-7
- Team effectiveness
- Team performance