The Chemistry of Winning Teams

Chester Spell

Chester Spell, Professor of Management, School of Business–Camden

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.

Spell, an avid sports fan who is associate editor of the academic journal Personnel Review, defines team chemistry as how well a group of people works productively together in a job. He and a research colleague, Katerina Bezrukova at the University at Buffalo, created an algorithm to quantify team chemistry that they published in the Journal of Applied Psychology. Using social identity theory, they developed a measurement of factors such as backgrounds, culture, and age. Called “faultlines,” these factors divide a group into smaller subgroups of people who share things. “We found that people who were in a tight subgroup at their work were happier overall, across all sorts of jobs,” Spell said. “We know that it is easier to perform when you are happy, whether you are a chef, sales rep, or baseball player.”

Spell has watched the Phillies over the past several rebuilding seasons as they brought in younger players who found more success in 2018 than in previous years. “A big difference, honestly, is that they have a talented core of ‘homegrown’ talent, drafted from within the organization,” Spell said. “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’,” Spell said.

Spell thinks it will be a challenge for the Eagles to replicate last year’s success due to the high turnover of players in football that can alter team chemistry. “I would say for the Eagles to continue to be successful, they really have to continue with what they were doing and find the right pieces that fit in with the team,” he said.

Posted in: 2018 Fall, On Campus

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