Your voice at the workplace to decide whether you’re in a team

The researchers pointed out that having a supportive as well as challenging voice would be ideal, but between the two, a supportive voice was a stronger driver of team formation.


Suggesting a creative idea or efficiency in work are ways for companies to overcome challenges and meet goals. Speaking up matters in the workplace. Business leaders and management have always encouraged people for the same.

But new research pointed out another attribute of speaking that helps companies overcome challenges altogether. It is a form of speaking that has more effect on getting work done and how teams come together.

New research has found that people with a “supportive voice,” which often provides trust and cooperation, have a higher chance of being recruited as a part of a team as compared to people who use a more task-oriented “challenging voice.”

“What we say within a group, the ideas we suggest and the way we support others, signals something about who we are to our coworkers. It can attract people to us or repel them,” said Melissa Chamberlin, assistant professor of management and entrepreneurship at Iowa State University, and co-author of a paper recently published in the Journal of Management.

In the paper, Chamberlin and her research team demonstrate how two different ways of communicating work-related issues shape reputations and affect the formation of teams to complete short-term projects.

It is observed that a challenging voice pushes back against the status quo and offers ideas for improvement. It has many drawbacks, such as a challenging voice perceived as criticism or conflict. But it is to be noted that it signals an employee’s competence or expertise. It helps teams complete tasks efficiently and effectively, especially in dynamic and fast-paced Industries, said Chamberlin.

“Supportive voice is still about speaking up in the workplace, but it’s looking at what’s going well in the group or team. It might defend the status quo by saying there’s value in what the team is already doing,” said Chamberlin.

The researchers collected data from a cohort of full-time, first-year Master of Business Administration students for four months. This study was to understand the effects of the two communication behaviors on team formation. The students were periodically assigned to different teams to complete projects. They were then asked to rate fellow team members’ use of challenging and supportive voices, quality of work, reputation, and trust.

Near the end of a study, students were allowed to assemble into teams. But this time, they were not given any direction from the MBA office.

The study results revealed students who ranked high on challenging voice built a reputation for conducting high-quality work. Still, students preferred to work in teams with those who frequently used supportive voices. Chamberlin said the results were surprising.

“Because challenging voice is the predominant form of speaking up we encourage in classrooms and as managers, we thought it was going to be a strong driver of people selecting team members later. But as it turns out, this more supportive voice that helps establish relationships and a sense of trust amongst individuals in the group was more important,” Chamberlin said.

The researchers observed that having both types of voice would be ideal. Still, a supportive voice was a more potent driver of team formation between the two.

“There might be times that challenging voice reigns supreme but other situations where the supportive voice becomes more critical for a team,” said Chamberlin.

“Supportive voicers can keep teams together to make sure the work gets done.”

Researchers from the University of Iowa, Binghamton University, and the University of Georgia contributed to the paper.

Journal Reference

  1. Daniel W. Newton, Melissa Chamberlin, Cynthia K. Maupin, Jennifer D. Nahrgang, Dorothy R. Carter. Voice as a Signal of Human and Social Capital in Team Assembly Decisions. Journal of Management; DOI: 10.1177/01492063211031303


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