Tuesday 20 September 2016, by Maša Vidmar

Different team processes are prominent in the forming/transition phase (e.g. planning) than in the functioning phase (e.g. team adapting) of a team’s cycle. Interpersonal processes are present throughout. Emergent states (e.g. team climate, cohesion and conflict) reflect team processes and also influence them.

ESL multi-professional teams operating within or around schools are a grass-roots form of cross-sectorial collaboration which has been recognised as important in tackling ESL. To help deal with the challenges of its implementation, two interrelated articles review theoretical and empirical scientific findings on the topic of teams with a practical insight for ESL teams. With its focus on team processes and emergent states (part II), the present article complements the first article which looked at the factors that shape, leverage or align team processes (part I). Team processes describe how members interact with other members and their task environment to achieve the team’s goal. Team processes prominent in the forming (transition) phase are setting the mission and goal, trusting (i.e. developing trust among team members), planning (of task accomplishment) and structuring (i.e. establishing norms of behaviour and interpersonal patterns). In the active phase, task processes (i.e. activities leading directly to goal accomplishment) and monitoring processes take place alongside team adapting (e.g. performance in new conditions) and team learning (e.g. discussing errors). Interpersonal processes (e.g. a strong sense of rapport, managing conflict, affect management) are prominent in all phases. Emergent states are seen as products of team members interacting with each other and with the task over time, but are not processes in themselves; instead, they tap qualities related to members’ attitudes, values, cognitions and motivations. Among cognitive emergent states, team climate has been recognised as the most potent for team effectiveness and also mental models and transactive memory. Among interpersonal/motivational/affective emergent states, team cohesion and efficacy and low levels of interpersonal conflict have been shown to contribute to team effectiveness. Team regulation is an important behavioural emergent state. Adequate training and leadership are necessary as they impact many team processes and emergent states.


Cross-sectoral collaboration has been recognised as a promising approach to combat ESL (European Commission, 2013) and ESL multi-professional teams operating within or around schools are a grass-root form of such collaboration. These teams are the key elements of the policy experiments in the TITA project. Generally speaking, such cross-sectorial multi-agency partnerships are recent and many challenges still need to be overcome (European Commission/EACEA/Eurydice/Cedefop, 2014), although the situation varies between countries.

The present article focuses on a micro-level approach to multi-professional teams (as opposed to the macro-level approach of cross-sectoral collaboration at the policy (system) level (for a framework of cross-sectoral collaboration, also see Bryson, Crosby, & Stone, 2006; Hood, Logsdon, & Thompson, 1993). It reviews scientific findings on the topic of teams; specifically, it focuses on team processes and emergent states. It is the second of two interrelated articles in which we deal with theoretical, empirical and practical insights into team cooperation from the micro-level perspective of team functioning. The present article with its focus on team processes and emergent states (part II) complements the first article which looked into the factors that shape, leverage or align team processes (part I). As indicated in the first article, the reason for concentrating on a micro-level approach to multi-professional teams is that many of the findings from the scientific team literature apply to such teams. Thus, in this article we examine a large body of theoretical and empirical literature on small groups and teams to help understand how (multi-professional) teams function in their daily operation at the grass-roots level and thus help deal with the challenges.
We begin our review by presenting the conceptual framework for understanding team processes (including emergent states) and how these relate with other elements of team functioning. This is followed by a review of team processes and emergent states and its relationship with team effectiveness. To help the reader apply these sometimes quite abstract findings to ESL multi-professional teams, practical insights are provided (marked in italics).


We first conducted computerised literature searches in electronic sources (PsycINFO, PsyArticles, ScienceDirect, ABI/INFORM Complete and Google Scholar) using a variety of relevant key words, e.g. team composition, team processes, team competencies, team leadership, team conflict, team performance, team effectiveness, small group research, group dynamics, meta-analysis. Second, we examined references cited in other articles (i.e. ‘backward search’ procedures). Third, we examined relevant chapters in major handbooks of work, organisation and industrial psychology.

The focus was on examining meta-analytical and review articles; this was complemented by looking at individual empirical studies. Emphasis was on recent literature published in the last two decades (since 1995). Most of the reviewed work builds on or integrates previous theoretical and empirical work. The methodology for this article and its predecessor in part I was common.

Conceptual framework for understanding team processes

Team processes are embedded in the contemporary perspective on teams [1] (see Figure 1). In the figure, the focus of our review is explained (in the blue circle). Team processes and emergent states occur in the complex and time-varying interrelations among the variables listed in the figure. It can be seen that team processes and emergent states in turn influence team effectiveness in ongoing cycles. This represents the theoretical framework and relevant empirical studies about team processes and emergent states are reviewed below.

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Figure 1. Conceptual framework for understanding team effectiveness (adapted from Ilgen Hollenbeck, Johnson, & Jundt, 2005; Klimoski & Mohammed, 1994; Kozlowski & Ilgen, 2006).

Team processes describe how inputs are converted into outcomes; i.e. how team members interact with other members and the task environment and how they combine and coordinate their resources (knowledge, skills, efforts) toward organising task-work to achieve collective goals (Marks, Mathieu, & Zaccaro, 2001; Kozlowski & Ilgen, 2006). In the classic work on teams, the model in which inputs lead to process that in turn lead to outcomes (the I-P-O model) has been emphasised; however, this model fails to capture the complexity and adaptability of teams (Ilgen et al., 2005). In a more contemporary conceptualisation, ‘processes’ (P) have been replaced by ‘mediators’ (M) that broaden the conceptualisation of the processes to include other variables (the IMOI model: input-mediator-output-input; ibid.). Research findings show that many mediators that link inputs with outcomes are in fact not processes, but so-called emergent states (Marks et al., 2001) [2] . Moreover, IMOI categories are not necessarily linearly and causally linked as is implied in the I-P-O model (Ilgen et al., 2005). This contemporary framework also introduced cyclicality in the model by adding an extra I at the end, indicating that outputs also serve as inputs for subsequent team cycles in the sense of cyclical feedback loops.

Team processes

There are several theoretical taxonomies that organise team processes (e.g. Marks et al., 2001; Kozlowski & Ilgen, 2006). A number of categories of processes have been identified; these are closely related to the phases of team development [3] – in each stage, different processes (mediators or mediating factors) are prominent (Ilgen et al., 2005; Marks et al., 2001), although they often blend into one another (Marks et al., 2001). The taxonomy (see Ilgen et al., 2005; Marks et al., 2001) holds implications for which team processes are critical in specific phases:

1. Forming (transition) phase processes:

  • Mission analysis and goal specification: refer to interpretation of the team’s mission and identification of the main tasks.
  • Trusting: refers to team members’ trust in team competence to accomplish a task (team efficacy) as well as their feeling of (psychological) safety.
  • Planning: is related to gathering information and, based on that, to developing a strategy to accomplish the task.
  • Structuring: includes the development and maintenance of norms, roles and interaction patterns.
    These processes take place either in early stages of team development (forming) or between two performance episodes or cycles (transition).

In the forming phase of an ESL team, it is important that trust is built among team members – on one hand, that they believe that as a team they are up to the task (e.g. to agree on adequate support for a particular ESL student and to provide it) and, on the other hand, that they feel safe as individuals in the team (e.g. feel free in expressing a new or different idea about a certain ELSer’s situation and appropriate strategies, are not afraid of being judged, belittled because of it). In this phase, it is important that relevant information is gathered (e.g. what kind of student’s behaviour was detected, what are other contextual factors – recent events in the school or family, what are the student’s and parents’ expectations regarding education etc.) and prepare a strategy for tackling the situation (e.g. plan to meet with the student, plan to outsource the counselling service, plan to work with teachers). In this phase, the team’s norm (i.e. fairly rigid rules about acceptable behaviour) and interaction patterns also develop; because in cross-sectorial ESL teams the norms are likely to vary for professionals coming from different sectors this may lead to dysfunctional conflicts (Hood et al., 1993). This indicates that special attention to these elements should be given in the forming phase; perhaps even by inviting an external expert who would help establish constructive normative, trust and communication patterns.

When this phase denotes a transition from one team cycle to another, evaluation (with regard to team processes and to the support provided for a specific student) is important. Given that the ESL team is engaged in multiple tasks (e.g. it deals with several students), it may be in a transition phase while dealing with one student, but in an active phase while dealing with another student. As already mentioned, previous cycles (phases) serve as an input for future cycles (e.g. trusting or planning can be changed based on previous cycles).

2. Functioning (active) phase processes:

  • Task-work processes: refer to activities leading directly to goal accomplishment.
  • Monitoring processes: refer to monitoring progress toward goals, monitoring of a team (i.e. assisting team members to perform their task) and system monitoring (i.e. tracking the resources of a team and environmental conditions).
  • Bonding and other interpersonal processes: refer to a strong sense of rapport and a desire to stay together, managing diversity and managing conflict, motivating and confidence building, affect management (e.g. frustration, excitement).
  • Adapting: is performance in novel and routine conditions and also includes helping and workload sharing.
  • Learning from other team members: involves seeking feedback, sharing information, experimenting, asking for help, and discussing errors.
    Interpersonal processes (managing interpersonal relationships) are listed in the active phase even though they mediate the effectiveness of other processes in all stages (Cannon-Bowers & Bowers, 2011). For example, trusting can be seen as interpersonal process in the forming (transition) phase.

In the active phase what was envisioned in the planning phase is carried out (e.g. meeting with the potential ESL student). Because reality does not necessarily match the plans and may bring unexpected situations and challenges, adapting to the new conditions is an important team process as is members’ willingness to learn from each other. Monitoring of progress toward a goal may include checking if a measure agreed at the meeting (e.g. the student starts helping in local business) indeed leads to an improvement in the student’s experience and behaviour. Monitoring also involves ascertaining if the ESL team functions well and monitors changes at the policy level concerning ESL (e.g. a law that determines new tasks for ESL teams). Interpersonal processes for which foundations were built in the forming phase are an integral part of the active phase (e.g. how team members manage conflicts).

3. Finishing phase processes (team termination):

this phase refers to the team’s completion, disbanding or decay. There are many reasons for team termination and they may be unplanned (e.g. due to interpersonal tensions between members, task failure) or planned. There is a dearth of empirical studies on this phase.

The finishing phase of ESL teams may occur at the level of a particular school or the system level (e.g. changes in legislation that would abolish ESL teams).

Emergent states

Kozlowski and Ilgen (2006) take a slightly different perspective on team processes. They argue that team processes are difficult to capture due to their dynamic nature, so they focus on emergent states that are indicative of the nature and quality of team processes. Thus, emergent states are not processes in themselves; rather they are seen as products of team members interacting with each other and with the task over time that tap qualities related to members’ attitudes, values, cognitions and motivations (Kozlowski & Ilgen, 2006; Mark et al., 2001). The emergent states reflect team processes, but at the same time can also serve as an input (Kimoski & Mohammed, 1994; see Figure 1). As mentioned above, there are inconsistencies in the literature regarding the distinction between team processes and emergent states; thus some of the emergent states presented below overlap with the team processes presented above (e.g. trusting, bonding and other interpersonal processes are closely linked to emergent states of team cohesion and team conflict).

Authors propose three theoretical categories of emergent states/structures; emergent states for which there is solid empirical research evidence that they are important for team functioning are described below (for a review, see Kozlowski & Ilgen, 2006):

  • Cognitive: team climate, team mental models and transactive memory
  • Interpersonal, motivational and affective: team cohesion, team efficacy, team conflict
  • Behavioural: team competencies, team regulation.

Team climate

Team/unit/collective climate is defined as a shared perception of policies, practices and procedures (both formal and informal) and was identified as the most potent cognitive process in teams related to team effectiveness (Kozlowski & Ilgen, 2006). A meta-analysis of empirical studies demonstrated that the affective, cognitive and instrumental dimensions of general climate influenced individuals’ outcomes of job performance, psychological well-being and withdrawal through their impact on organisational commitment and job satisfaction (Carr, Schmidt, Ford, & DeSchon, 2003).

Based on research, Kozlowski and Ilgen (2006) identified three factors influencing the strength of the team climate:

  • ‘strategic imperatives’ (objectives with the highest priority within organisation/team; Schneider, Wheeler, & Cox, 1992);
  • leadership (because leaders shape interpretation of the climate for team members with whom they have good relationships, the quality of the relationship between members, and the team leader plays a key role in developing the nature and strength of the climate); and
  • frequent interpersonal interactions (Rentsch, 1990).

Attention to building a collective climate within ESL multi-professional teams seems warranted. If an ESL team can find its ‘strategic imperative’, i.e. it can establish a consensus on what is their main goal, this will contribute to team climate and team effectiveness. This may appear easier than it is; professionals with different educational backgrounds and roles in school may have different (even opposing) values, ideologies and opinions on what is the goal of ESL team (e.g. the school head may want to keep a student in school because of funding issues and the counsellor may see the programme as not fitting the student’s needs and interests; for details on subgroup conflict, see below). Moreover, it is important that the person who takes on the leadership role is consciously striving to have good relationships with each team member. Providing opportunities for (informal) interpersonal interactions is also necessary (e.g. to organise a social (team-building) event for the ESL team members).

Team mental models and transactive memory

Team mental models are defined as organised mental representations of knowledge or beliefs that are relevant to key elements of the team’s task environment and are shared among members (e.g. representations of tasks, of situations, of response patterns or of the working relationship; Klimoski & Mohammed, 1994). A review of empirical studies demonstrated that the sharedness of the team’s mental model has a positive relationship with the team’s performance (Mohammed, Ferzandi, & Hamilton, 2010), indicating that team members must have accurate and shared knowledge of the team’s missions, objectives, norms and resources (Salas, Rosen, Shawn Burke, & Goodwin, 2009). Norms are embedded in team mental models.

Transactive memory refers to knowledge about who knows what (Kozlowski & Ilgen, 2006); this means that each member learns what the other team members know in detail. As a result, members direct new information to the corresponding member and also seek necessary information in that way.

For ESL teams team mental models refer to the shared view of how they see the problem of ESL (and the specific student), their planned strategy of how to provide support (which resources to use and how) and their working relationship. For example, a teacher’s mental model may be that they only provide information on the student’s classroom behaviour if they are prompted – if this is not aligned with another’s mental model either the teacher’s or the other’s mental model needs to be modified. Transactive memory means that e.g. other members know which team member possesses legal or administration knowledge; or that a teacher knows that the counsellor provides information on second-chance education programmes and is able to ask for this information or direct a student to the counsellor for such information. Convergence of team mental models can be achieved through training (Mohammed et al., 2010) and transactive memory by shared experience and face-to-face interaction (Kozlowski & Ilgen, 2006).

Team cohesion

Team cohesion has been the most widely studied when it comes to team interpersonal, motivational and affective emergent states. Cohesion (cohesiveness) is defined as ‘the resultant of all forces acting on the members to remain in the group’ (Festinger, 1950, p. 274). Cohesion has three facets: member attraction (i.e. member’s tendency to stick together – interpersonal cohesiveness), task commitment (i.e. members’ commitment to the team’s task – task cohesiveness) and group pride. Several meta-analyses of empirical studies (e.g. Beal, Cohen, Burke, & McLendon 2003; Castaño, Watts, & Teklab, 2013; Gully, Devine, & Whitney, 1995/2012) have found support for a positive relationship between each component of team cohesion and team performance. The relationship is stronger if a task requires greater interdependence (Gully et al., 1995/2012). Members’ personality (extraversion, emotional stability), clear goals and norms seem to help develop team cohesion; however, the research evidence is scarce (Kozlowski & Ilgen, 2006).

Related to team cohesion is team attachment (i.e. to feel secure within a team and assured that work needs will be attended to; Richardson & West, 2010). The emphasis is on satisfying the fundamental socio-emotional requirements of people working in teams (the need to belong).

For an ESL team this means that the commitment of the head, teachers, other school professionals and external actors to preventing ESL and the commitment to ‘be on the same side’ as other team members (minimal subgroup identification) is important. Their pride to be members of the ESL team is also important.

Team efficacy

Team efficacy is a construct analogue to self-efficacy at the individual level (Bandura, 1977). It is a shared team-level belief in collective capabilities to achieve desired goals (Bandura, 1997). Recent meta-analyses of empirical studies (Gully, Incalcaterra, Joshi, & Beaubien 2002; Stajkovic, Lee, & Nyberg, 2009) showed that team efficacy is significantly correlated with team performance. Based on the importance of self-efficacy, it has been suggested how to improve team efficacy: to observe effective and ineffective teams, to persuade team members that they can persist and succeed, although more research is needed in this respect (Kozlowski & Ilgen, 2006). Thus, the TITA video platform could essentially be used in the process of developing team efficacy (e.g. by observing teams as they perform their tasks).

Team conflicts

Conflicts are a common phenomenon in teams and organisations. Conflict occurs when there are opposing interests, goals, beliefs, preferences, actions or misunderstandings about any of the foregoing (Deutsch, 2003). Authors differentiate between relationship conflict (about values, interpersonal style) and task conflict (about procedures, interpretation of facts) (DeDreu & Weingart, 2003; Jehn, 1995; Jehn, 1997).

Consistent across studies is that conflict focused on interpersonal issues reduces team satisfaction and performance (DeDreu & Weingart, 2003; O’Neill, Allen, & Hastings, 2013; de Wit, Greer, & Jehn, 2012). Regarding task conflict there has been a history of debate on whether task conflict is functional (Kozlowski & Ilgen, 2006) or disruptive (DeDreu & Weingart, 2003) for team performance. The emerging consensus based on empirical studies is that task conflict is generally unhelpful for teams (yet it can have a positive effect in specific conditions, see O’Neill et al., 2013; de Wit et al., 2012); instead, teams require a rich discussion in a trusting climate in which members feel free to express their doubts and also require the ability to resist to making compromises quickly (also see Ilgen et al., 2005). Another perspective on conflict comes from minority influence theory – the consistency of minority arguments over time is likely to change the view of the majority (West, 2005).

The key issue with conflict is how to manage or handle it. Strategies to manage conflict can be preventive (i.e. prior to conflict occurrence) or reactive (i.e. working through interpersonal disagreements among team members once they emerge; Marks et al., 2001). Klein, DeRouin and Salas (2006) suggest workplace interpersonal skills (e.g. social skills, social competence, people skills, soft skills) likely play an important role in the process of building team trust, minimising and resolving both task and interpersonal conflict.

Concerning the topic of conflict, subgroup conflicts are also worth mentioning. These are related to subgroup identification, i.e. when a team is informally divided into subgroups according to different factors (e.g. age, gender, professional background – teacher, head etc.; see social identity theory, Tajfel, 1981) in which case a shared vision and goals may be difficult to achieve and subgroup conflicts may occur. Thus, it is important for subgroup identification to be low.

Conflicts are common and will also occur in ESL teams. Because relationship conflicts (e.g. a teacher finds the feedback from the head to be disrespectful) have been related to lower levels of team satisfaction and effectiveness, it is important to have a person in the team composition who is good at managing conflicts (if necessary, training should be provided). Task-related conflicts (e.g. whether a student should be given psychological support or not) are less detrimental to team functioning. Preventive conflict management strategies may involve establishing team rules about the nature and timing of conflict, and a norm for cooperative rather than competitive approaches to conflict resolution (e.g. a conflict is our common problem and it is not about the head winning against a teacher or vice versa) (Mark et al., 2001). Reactive conflict management strategies involve identifying the parameters of a conflict between team members (e.g. why exactly the teacher found the head’s feedback to be disrespectful – because of their words, gestures), compromising, willingness to accept differences in opinions etc. (ibid.).

Team regulation

Task episodes are cyclic and consist of: (a) preparation for task engagement; (b) engagement; and © disengagement/reflection (Kozlowski & Ilgen, 2006). Regulation involves setting the goals and task strategies; allocation of team member resources in response to shifting task demands, reflection/feedback on processes, goal attainment and this then serves as an input for subsequent goals and strategies. Feedback is an integral part of team regulation because it affects the setting of the goals as well as the investment of members’ resources. However, depending on what exactly needs to be accomplished one has to distinguish individual-level feedback from team-level feedback. Team regulation is crucial for the team’s performance (ibid.).

In the context of ESL teams, regulation is especially important in the context of feedback as an integral part of team regulation. After every cycle of team functioning (i.e. dealing with one student), feedback to each members as well as the team as a whole (e.g. about the strategies and resources used, about how well they responded to changes in task demands, about the interpersonal processes) serves as an input for the next cycle (i.e. dealing with another ESL student).


The effectiveness of ESL teams can be conceptualised in three ways: group-produced output (e.g. the number of ESLers who returned to school/training), the consequences for team members (e.g. job satisfaction, improved attitude to working with the ESL student) and an improvement in the team’s capability to perform effectively in the future (Guzzo & Dickson, 1996). If we want ESL teams to fulfil this mission, simply putting people together in a team will not suffice. Given the complexity of ESL and ESL teams, the theoretical, empirical and practical insights into team cooperation presented in this and the related article (namely, parts I and II) should be carefully taken into consideration.

Based on the literature review, it is recommended that ESL teams do not rush into their main task – dealing with (a potential) ESL student. Instead, in the formation (transition) phase time and attention should be given to finding an agreement on interpreting the team’s mission and identifying the main goal. This may pose a challenge given that members of the ESL team have different professional backgrounds and may come from different sectors. Moreover, in this phase developing trust among team members, planning task accomplishment and establishing norms of behaviour and interpersonal patterns also take place and should be given appropriate space and time. Once the ESL team enters the active phase, it is important to focus on both the task processes and interpersonal processes. In this phase, team monitoring, team adapting (to perform in novel and routine conditions; helping and workload sharing) and team learning occur (e.g. seeking feedback, discussing errors). The finishing phase of the ESL team denotes its termination (which can be planned or unplanned; at the school or system level). With regard to emergent states, the review of the literature in the present article indicates that the mechanism of expert team performance entails a positive team climate, shared mental models and transactive memory, develop a strong sense of team cohesion (“teamness”) and efficacy, have lower levels of (subgroup) conflict, optimise resources by learning and adapting, and engage in the regulation process (the preparation-engagement-reflection cycle) (also see Salas, Goodwin, & Burke, 2009). As already noted in the first article, adequate training and leadership are necessary as they impact on many of the team processes and emergent states (e.g. team mental models can be developed through training, leadership is related to team climate).


[1In this article, the general term ’team’ is used rather than multi-professional collaboration to denote that the aspects presented here are based on the science of teams in general and hold for teams generally.

[2Introduction of the concept of emergent states may lead to confusion with regard to terminology as it is not always clear in which cases team processes refer to a broad concept of mediators and which cases to team process in the narrow sense (excluding emergent states). The literature on team processes does not consistently distinguish between these two concepts, thus some team processes listed in the section on team processes overlap with emergent states.

[3Team development is an informal process by which team members create social structures and work processes. There are different models that describe team development. Tuckman’s stage model (1965) is one of the classic ones and describes four stages in team development: forming, storming, norming and performing.

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