10.1177/1046496405277134SMALL GROUP RESEARCH / October 2005Salas et al. / BIG FIVE IN TEAMWORK?
IS THERE A “BIG FIVE”
DANA E. SIMS
C. SHAWN BURKE
University of Central Florida
The study of teamwork has been fragmented throughthe years, and the findings are generally
unable to be used practically. This article argues that it is possible to boil down what
researchers know about teamwork into five core components that the authors submit as the
“Big Five” in teamwork. The corecomponents of teamwork include team leadership, mutual
performance monitoring, backupbehavior, adaptability, and team orientation. Furthermore,
the authors examine how these core components require supporting coordinating mecha-
nisms (e.g., shared mental modes, closed-loop communication,and mutual trust) and vary in
their importance during the life of the team and the team task. Finally, the authors submit a
set of propositions for future research.
Keywords: teamwork; teamwork taxonomy; team development; team task episode
Organizations are increasingly turning to team-based structures
to contend with the growing complexity of the environment in
which their employees operate (Katzenback & Smith, 1993).
Teams may operate in the complexity of a boardroom where the
team must envision their organization 10 years forward, the com-
plexity of an emergency room where the team coordinates to save a
life, or the complexity of combat in which the team must battle an
AUTHORS’NOTE: This article was supported in part by a contract (DASW01-03-P-0182)
from the Leadership Development Research Unit of the U.S. Army Research Institute
awarded to Aptima and the University of Central Florida. Portions of this article were pre-
sented at the 19th annual meeting of the Society for Industrial and OrganizationalPsychol-
ogy, Chicago. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Eduardo
Salas, Department of Psychology, University of Central Florida, P.O. Box 161390, Orlando,
FL 32816; phone: (407) 882-1325; e-mail: email@example.com.
SMALL GROUP RESEARCH, Vol. 36 No. 5, October 2005 555-599
© 2005 Sage Publications
ever-changing enemy in an ever-changing environment. Teams
have the potential to offer greater adaptability, productivity, and
creativity than any one individual can offer (e.g., Gladstein, 1984;
Hackman, 1987) and provide more complex, innovative, and com-
prehensive solutions to organizational problems (Sundstrom,
DeMeuse, & Futrell, 1990). Although teams have great potential,
their failure can have far-reaching effects on their respective orga-
nization (e.g., missed deadlines, low productivity, lost revenue,
faulty products; Alderfer, 1977; Janis, 1972; Whyte, 1955).
The team’s failure may be due to factors such as poor planning, a
lack of support by their creators, or a breakdown in internal team
processes (e.g., communication). In fact, many researchers have
shown that it is the team’s processes that ensure team effectiveness
(e.g., Gladstein, 1984; Hackman, 1987; McGrath, 1964). Based on
both antidotal experiences with teams and empirical or theoretical
support, it is known that teams are not easily implemented, that the
creation of a team of skilled members does not ensure success, and
that teamwork does not just happen (e.g., Hackman, 1998). In fact,
many teams never reach their full potential, and many fail alto-
gether. This begs the question, what ensures the success of a team?
We submit the answer is teamwork.
Managers, executives, coaches, and academicians alike discuss
and/or have an opinion about what teamwork is and how it is fos-
tered in a team. Unquestionably, teamwork is a popular topic that
has lead to an explosion of researcher and practitioner interest. This
is exemplified by a cursory search of Google and PsychINFO,
using the keyword teamwork, which resulted in 1,160,000 and
1,168 matches, respectively (retrieved August 2003). Despite
extensive interest in the topic, a clear definition of teamwork con-
tinues to be elusive. What can be discerned from even a cursory
review of these sources is that there are innumerable variables that
can affect the success and viability of a team.
As the use of teams has increased, research attention focusing on
the prediction of effective team performance and the variables that
may promote or detract from team performance has increased
(Hackman, 1990). A number of researchers have conceptualized
team performance as a function of each team member’s individual
556 SMALL GROUP RESEARCH / October 2005
input minus the process losses associated with working with others
(e.g., Shiflett, 1979; Steiner, 1966, 1972). Shaw’s (1976) conceptu-
alization of teamwork includes the productivity gains due to team
coordination. Through the study of team performance and team
processes, a number of models of team effectiveness have been
developed (e.g., Campion, Medsker, & Higgs, 1993; Fleishman &
Zaccaro, 1992; Hackman & Morris, 1975; Marks, Mathieu, &
Zaccaro, 2000; Roby, 1968; Salas, Dickenson, Converse, &
Tannenbaum, 1992; Stevens & Campion, 1994). It is important to
make a distinction between team performance and team effective-
ness (for a review, see Guzzo & Dickson, 1996; Salas, Stagl, Burke,
& Goodwin, in press). Team performance accounts for the out-
comes of the team’s actions regardless of how the team may have
accomplished the task. Conversely, team effectiveness takes a more
holistic perspective in considering not only whether the team per-
formed (e.g., completed the team task) but also how the team inter-
acted (i.e., team processes, teamwork) to achieve the team out-
come. This is an important differentiation because many factors
external to the team may contribute to the success (or failure) of the
team, and therefore in some cases team performance measures may
be deficient in understanding the team.
On closer inspection of most team effectiveness models, it is
apparent that none of these models specify exactly what teamwork
is, nor provide consistent tests of the various influences on team-
work. Instead, these models provide discussions of various factors
that promote or detract from effective teamwork. For example,
Stevens and Campion (1994) examine the effect of interpersonal
skills and self-management skills (i.e., conflict management, goal
setting) on team effectiveness. Hackman and Morris (1975) pro-
vide a more broad understanding of team performance as it relates
to the amount of effort required by the team task, the strategy
needed to perform the task, and the knowledge or skills of the indi-
vidual team members. The model presented by Marks, Mathieu,
and Zaccaro (2000) examines the temporal framework of team pro-
cesses in addition to interpersonal processes. As can be seen, there
is inconsistency among the factors these authors included in their
models and a failure to specify what defines teamwork. This incon-
Salas et al. / BIG FIVE IN TEAMWORK? 557
sistency may be primarily due to lack of agreement regarding
which factors are appropriate and which are not. This has left
researchers and practitioners alike still asking, “What is team-
work?” This article is motivated to answer this question, to uncover
a model of teamwork that is empirically supported but practically
To answer this question, we submit that a framework of the key
dimensions of what teamwork is (and what teamwork is not) is
needed. This is needed to guide future research and to provide prac-
titioners with more precise guidelines on how to manage, develop,
and build effective teams. We conducted an extensive review of the
literature of the past 20 years. This review included both empirical
studies and theoretical models of team effectiveness sources col-
lected using PsychINFO and other common academic search
engines. We used keywords such as teamwork, and team effective-
ness, and/or team performance. This process yielded more than
138 models (see Salas, Stagl, Burke, & Goodwin, 2004). A close
examination of these models revealed they varied in their precision
in explaining teamwork. All of them (with a few exceptions) treat it
as a process (a sort of black box) variable. Next, we focused on
studies or analyses where researchers tried to uncover the black box
in team effectiveness and where the tasks used were interdependent
(i.e., uncover what specific processes lead to effective team func-
tioning). We identified more than 20 primary and secondary
sources (see Table 1). We also looked for variables that could be
developed through interventions (i.e., something could be done to
improve it). A thematic analysis of the variables most commonly
discussed and having the greatest effect on team performance were
included in our framework. Sources that included adolescents or
extraordinary populations were excluded from the review. This the-
matic analysis (i.e., classifying articles in general themes) sug-
gested that in interdependent teams, the variables that seemed to
affect team functioning evolve around issues of leadership (e.g.,
Zaccaro, Rittman, & Marks, 2001), supporting behavior (Porter
et al., 2003), and flexibility (e.g., Kozlowski, Gully, Nason, &
Smith, 1999). These were the most frequent variables. Therefore,
we identified the important aspects of teamwork as team leader-
558 SMALL GROUP RESEARCH / October 2005
ship, mutual performance modeling, backup behavior, adaptabil-
ity, and team orientation (see Table 1). Based on our analysis, we
suggest that these are the five core components that promote team
effectiveness—that which we submit as the “Big Five” in
The “Big Five” in teamwork differs from other taxonomies and
models already available by offering a practical yet inclusive tax-
onomy that only includes components that most heavily affect team
performance and that are found in almost all teamwork taxono-
mies. Although we put forth that teamwork is summarily described
by the “Big Five,” supporting and coordinating mechanisms are
needed to meld together the value of each of the five factors. We
propose the coordinating mechanisms for effective teamwork are
the development of shared mental models (e.g., Stout, Cannon-
Bowers, Salas, & Milanovich, 1999), achievement of mutual trust
(e.g., Webber, 2002), and engagement in closed-loop communica-
tion (e.g., McIntyre & Salas, 1995). Furthermore, we acknowledge
that the ability for the team to engage in the “Big Five” and its coor-
dinating mechanisms will vary over the course of the team task as
the team gains experience working together.
The purpose of this article is to (a) clearly describe and define
each of the components of the “Big Five” and its coordinating
mechanisms; (b) provide research propositions surrounding the
“Big Five” to prompt further investigation and a potential research
agenda; and (c) to address issues of the phase of the team task and
team maturity on the manifestation on the importance of each of the
“Big Five” components. We hope that this article engages the team
dynamics research community into a dialogue and debate as to
what precisely is teamwork, how it is achieved, and how it is
TEAMS, TEAMWORK, AND TEAM TASKS
To proceed, it is important to describe both how a team is defined
in the context of this article and what is meant by teamwork from a
conceptual perspective. A team is two or more individuals with
Salas et al. / BIG FIVE IN TEAMWORK? 559
TABLE 1: The Big Five and the Coordinating Mechanisms of Teamwork
Teamwork Definition Behavioral Makers Selected Citations
Ability to direct and coordinate the activities of
other team members, assess team performance,
assign tasks, develop team knowledge, skills, and
abilities, motivate team members, plan and orga-
nize, and establish a positive atmosphere.
Facilitate team problem solving.
Provide performance expectations and
acceptable interaction patterns.
Synchronize and combine individual team
Seek and evaluate information that affects
Clarify team member roles.
Engage in preparatory meetings and feed-
back sessions with the team.
Salas, and Volpe (1995); Hinsz,
Tindale, and Vollrath (1997);
Marks, Mathieu, and Zaccaro
(2000); Salas, Stagl, Burke, and
Goodwin (in press); Stewart and
Manz (1995); Zaccaro, Rittman,
and Marks (2001).
The ability to develop common understandings
of the team environment and apply appropriate
task strategies to accurately monitor teammate
Identifying mistakes and lapses in other team
Providing feedback regarding team member
actions to facilitate self-correction.
McIntyre and Salas (1995).
Ability to anticipate other team members’ needs
through accurate knowledge about their responsi-
bilities. This includes the ability to shift workload
among members to achieve balance during high
periods of workload or pressure.
Recognition by potential backup providers that
there is a workload distribution problem in
Shifting of work responsibilities to underutilized
Completion of the whole task or parts of tasks by
other team members.
Brigg (1968); Marks, Mathieu, and
Zaccaro (2000); McIntyre and
Salas (1995); Porter et al. (2003).
Adaptability Ability to adjust strategies based on information
gathered from the environment through the use of
backup behavior and reallocation of intrateam
resources. Altering a course of action or team
repertoire in response to changing conditions
(internal or external).
Identify cues that a change has occurred, assign
meaning to that change, and develop a new plan
to deal with the changes.
Identify opportunities for improvement and inno-
vation for habitual or routine practices.
Remain vigilant to changes in the internal and
external environment of the team.
Campion, Medsker, and Higgs
Tannenbaum, Salas, and Volpe
(1995); Kozlowski, Gully, Nason,
and Smith (1999); Klein and
Pierce (2001); Priest, Burke,
Munim, and Salas (2002).
Propensity to take other’s behavior into account
during group interaction and the belief in the
importance of team goal’s over individual
Taking into account alternative solutions pro-
vided by teammates and appraising that input
to determine what is most correct.
Increased task involvement, information shar-
ing, strategizing, and participatory
Bandura (1991); Campion,
Medsker, and Higgs (1993);
Driskell and Salas (1992); Eby and
Dobbins (1997); Hackman and
Oldham (1980); Shamir (1990);
An organizing knowledge structure of the rela-
tionships among the task the team is engaged
in and how the team members will interact.
Anticipating and predicting each other’s needs.
Identify changes in the team, task, or teammates
and implicitly adjusting strategies as needed.
Salas, and Volpe (1995); Klimoski
and Mohammed (1994); Mathieu,
Heffner, Goodwin, Salas, and
Cannon-Bowers (2000); Stout,
Cannon-Bowers, Salas, and
Milanovich (1999); Zaccaro,
Rittman, and Marks (2001).
Mutual trust The shared belief that team members will per-
form their roles and protect the
interests of their teammates.
Willingness to admit mistakes and accept
Bandow (2001); Webber (2002).
The exchange of information between a sender
and a receiver irrespective of the medium.
Following up with team members to ensure
message was received.
Acknowledging that a message was received.
Clarifying with the sender of the message that
the message received is the same as the
McIntyre and Salas (1995)
specified roles interacting adaptively, interdependently, and
dynamically toward a common and valued goal (Dyer, 1984; Salas
et al., 1992). However, one important lesson that can be derived
from existing research is that effective teams require more than just
taskwork (e.g., “interactions with tasks, tools, machines, and sys-
tems”; Bowers, Braun, & Morgan, 1997; p. 90). Teams do more
than simply interact with tools; they require the ability to coordi-
nate and cooperatively interact with each other to facilitate task
objectives though a shared understanding of the team’s resources
(e.g., members’ knowledge, skills, and experiences), the team’s
goals and objectives, and the constraints under which the team
works. Essentially, teams also require teamwork.
Teamwork is a set of interrelated thoughts, actions, and feelings
of each team member that are needed to function as a team and that
combine to facilitate coordinated, adaptive performance and task
objectives resulting in value-added outcomes (e.g., Morgan,
Glickman, Woodard, Blaiwes, & Salas, 1986; Salas, Sims, &
Klein, 2004). This raises the question of whether different types of
teams engage in teamwork similarly. Recent research is beginning
to suggest that different types of teams (e.g., distributed, face-to-
face teams) manifest teamwork processes (e.g., communication)
differently (Burke et al., 2003; Priest et al., 2004). Given this, we
offer a brief discussion of the types of teams that have been
reviewed in the team literature.
A number of researchers have proposed team taxonomies (e.g.,
Devine, 2002; McGrath, 1984; Sundstrom, 1999) to assist in more
clearly delineating the tasks a team may engage in and the needed
competencies, the stability of team membership, the interaction
and communication of team members, and the life span of the team.
For instance, McGrath (1984) explicated three types of teams (nat-
ural, concocted, quasi-groups) with 12 subtypes. Another com-
monly accepted taxonomy is put forth by Sundstrom (1999) and
specifies six types of teams with diverse requirements and tasks:
management, service, production, project, action, and parallel.
However, as research has progressed in the field, a vast number of
so-called labels of convenience have emerged, resulting in a muddy
understanding of team types. In fact, as one begins to examine the
562 SMALL GROUP RESEARCH / October 2005
team literature, it becomes clear that the types of teams are as varied
as the number of authors who have discussed them. Whereas some
types of teams engage in distinctly dissimilar tasks, other teams
share similar tasks. Therefore, it becomes necessary to focus on the
actual tasks that teams perform to understand the processes that
will lead to team effectiveness.
It has been argued and empirically supported that the team task
will strongly affect the processes required for team performance
(e.g., Hackman, Brousseau, & Weiss, 1976; Kent & McGrath,
1969; Sorenson, 1971). A number of researchers have proposed
team task typologies (e.g., Cannon-Bowers, Tannenbaum, Salas, &
Volpe, 1995; Fleishman, 1975; McGrath, 1984; O’Brien, 1968;
Steiner, 1972; Wageman, 1995). Many typologies focus on the
order in which portions of the team task are completed and the
amount of interdependence among the team members that is
required (e.g., O’Brien, 1968; Steiner, 1972; Thibaut & Kelley,
1959; Thompson, 1967). For instance, Steiner (1972) distin-
guished among types of tasks as disjunctive, conjunctive, additive,
discretionary, compensatory, complementary, and divisible. Some
researchers have put forth very complex models to describe team
tasks. Shaw (1976) differentiated among team tasks based on diffi-
culty, solution multiplicity, intrinsic interest, cooperation require-
ments, familiarity, and problem-solving requirements. Other
researchers (e.g., Boguslaw & Porter, 1962) make a distinction as
to whether the team’s tasks are established or emerge over the
course of team performance.
The majority of models, however, have instead focused on the
flexibility the team enjoys in being able to distribute portions of the
team task among members and the order in which the subtasks are
completed. These taxonomies take into account not only how the
individual member input is combined but also the flexibility of job
assignments (e.g., the degree to which other team members are able
to perform other team members’ tasks) have been offered. Naylor
and Dickinson (1969) discussed tasks in terms of task structure
(complexity) and work structure (how tasks are distributed).
O’Brien (1968) and Blickensderfer, Salas, and Cannon-Bowers
(2000) went further to suggest that team task characteristics should
Salas et al. / BIG FIVE IN TEAMWORK? 563
be categorized as to whether the task must be completed by a partic-
ular team member or can be reallocated to another team member
and whether there is an imposed order in which portions of the task
must be completed. O’Brien (1968) differentiated collaborative
tasks (team members must cooperate throughout all stages of the
task) from coordination tasks (requiring different positions and
subtasks to be performed sequentially).
In the following sections, we begin with a description of the
coordinating mechanisms that we propose support and facilitate
the enactment of the “Big Five.” Although we have given a substan-
tial amount of attention to the type of teams and team tasks, we pro-
pose that the coordinating mechanisms will be needed in all cases
and will have little variance acrossthe team type or task. The excep-
tion to this statement is in regards to closed-loop communication
and is discussed in greater detail in future sections.
DEFINING THE COORDINATING MECHANISMS
If a team were able to effectively enact the five teamwork com-
ponents that have been proposed as the “Big Five,” would the team
be guaranteed success? We argue that the team would enjoy
degrees of improved performance as compared to teams that do not
engage in the prescribed competencies. In fact, past research has
found that teams that were trained on three of five of the suggested
teamwork dimensions (performance monitoring, adaptation, and
facilitative leadership) had better performance (Entin, Serfaty, &
Deckert, 1994). However, it would only be with the addition of
coordinating mechanisms that the team could be assured success.
The teams studied by Entin et al. (1994) were better able to antici-
pate each other’s behaviors and had better communication. This
may provide preliminary evidence that mechanisms such as shared
mental model and closed-loop communication are necessary facili-
tators of the “Big Five” suggested here.
The need for coordinating mechanisms is not a unique concept.
In fact, a similar concept was proposed in Shiflett’s (1979) model
of team performance in which the team inputs (e.g., the “Big Five”)
564 SMALL GROUP RESEARCH / October 2005
required so-called transformers to achieve team outputs. Shiflett’s
transformers were variables that determined the manner in which
the team inputs were incorporated. The coordinating mechanisms
as envisioned herein do not determine how the inputs are incorpo-
rated but rather ensure that the “Big Five” are consistently updated
and that relevant information is distributed throughout the team.
Throughout the introduction of the “Big Five,” it will become clear
that for team members to effectively work together, individuals
must have a clear understanding of their roles in the task, of the
resources available, and of their teammates’capabilities (i.e., task-
related competencies, preferences). In addition, teams must main-
tain a degree of mutual trust to freely communicate information
throughout the team (Cannon-Bowers et al., 1995). These coordi-
nating mechanisms, which are discussed in turn, include shared
mental models, closed-loop communication, and mutual trust.
SHARED MENTAL MODELS
Working cooperatively requires that team members coordinate
by anticipating and predicting each other’s needs through common
understandings of the environment and expectations of perfor-
mance. This shared understanding or representation of team goals,
individual team member tasks, and the coordination of the team to
achieve common goals is frequently referred to as mental models
(Cannon-Bowers et al., 1995). Mental models are what individuals
use to organize or encode information such as the dynamics of the
environment in which they are embedded and the response patterns
needed to manage these dynamics, the purpose of the team, and the
interdependencies among team members’ roles (Zaccaro et al.,
2001). Two types of mental models have been frequently discussed
in relation to team performance: team-related mental models and
task-related mental models (e.g., Mathieu, Heffner, Goodwin,
Salas, & Cannon-Bowers, 2000). Team-related mental models
have to do with the team functioning and expected behaviors,
whereas task-related mental models contain information regarding
the materials needed for the task or the manner in which the
equipment is used.
Salas et al. / BIG FIVE IN TEAMWORK? 565
Shared mental models facilitate the team’s progression toward
goal attainment by creating a framework that promotes common
understanding and action (Zaccaro et al., 2001). With this shared
understanding, teams can perform the needed teamwork skills
(e.g., backup behavior, mutual performance monitoring) required
for effective team performance. Conversely, without this shared
understanding, the individual members may be headed toward dif-
ferent goals, thereby leading to ineffective feedback or assistance
(e.g., Salas, Burke, & Fowlkes, in press) or the inability to antici-
pate each other’s actions or needs (Cannon-Bowers, Salas, & Con-
verse, 1990, 1993). Further evidence of the importance of shared
mental models has been found, indicating that teams that share sim-
ilar mental models communicate more effectively, perform more
teamwork behaviors (i.e., backup behaviors), are more willing to
work with team members on future projects (Rentsch & Klimoski,
2001), and generally perform better (e.g., Griepentrog & Fleming,
2003; Mohammed, Klimoski, & Rentsch, 2000; Stout et al., 1999),
although some types of mental models are more important for
certain tasks than are others (Cannon-Bowers et al., 1993).
This is not to suggest that a complete overlap of the understand-
ing of the team functioning and team members’ capabilities across
all team members is superior. It may be time consuming, if not
impossible, to expect an exact replication of mental models across
all members (Woehr & Rentsch, 2003). Furthermore, an exact rep-
lication would reduce the availability of alternative solutions or
strategies because of team members’ varying perspectives and
understandings, thereby resulting in decreased adaptability
(Kozlowski et al., 1999). Therefore, each member is only required
to have sufficiently similar and compatible mental models that
guide the team toward the same team objectives. It is with this
shared understanding that teams can initially perform the needed
teamwork skills (e.g., backup behavior,mutual performance moni-
toring) required for effective team performance. Then, it is
expected that as the team members perform together over time,
they will update their shared understanding through closed-loop
communication, mutual trust, and the “Big Five” of teamwork.
566 SMALL GROUP RESEARCH / October 2005
The importance of this coordinating mechanism increases in
teams that must perform in stressful conditions. As team members
encounter stress, the amount of communication often decreases,
forcing the team to rely more heavily on implicit coordination
rather than on explicit communication (Kleinman & Serfaty, 1989;
Orasanu & Salas, 1993). Empirical research has found that teams
that have developed shared mental model have more accurate
expectations for the needs of the team and the teammates during
periods of stress (Salas, Cannon-Bowers, & Johnston, 1997).
In general terms, communication is the exchange of information
between two or more individuals irrespective of the medium
(McIntyre & Salas, 1995; Salas & Cannon-Bowers, 2000). Com-
munication is especially important as the environment increases in
complexity (e.g., emergency situations) as it not only distributes
needed information to other team members but also facilitates the
continuous updating of the team’s shared mental model (Salas
et al., 1997) and team members’ ability to engage in the “Big Five”
activities. For these reasons, communication is invaluable in team-
work. However, consider when communication is not received or is
not understood by the person needing it the most.
There are many reasons why communication fails to occur and,
if it does occur, why it may not be heard or interpreted as it was ini-
tially intended (e.g., noise, linguistic difficulties, misinterpreta-
tion). Very often, individuals will receive very different messages
when hearing the same communication because of their own per-
spectives and biases (Bandow, 2001). Communication may be hin-
dered because the environment has become stressful and team
members have become focused on their individual tasks rather than
on how those tasks affect other team members’tasks. Furthermore,
consider that providing too much information (information over-
load) can degrade performance in teams that are performing in
stressful environments (Johnston & Briggs, 1968).
Roby (1968) suggests that the difficulty of communication in
teams is maintaining the appropriate balance of enough informa-
Salas et al. / BIG FIVE IN TEAMWORK? 567
tion to the right individuals at the proper time and using the most
effective mode of communication. However, Lanzetta and Roby
(1956) suggest that teams experience difficulty in developing a sys-
tem of communication that is able to anticipate what information is
needed by whom and when that information is needed. Lanzetta
and Roby’s solution to this has been to provide team members with
direct access to needed information (e.g., control panels were
within sight) rather than to depend on other teammates to provide
the information. A study by Morrissette, Hornseth, and Shellar
(1975) found that providing access to information to multiple team
members (i.e., redundant information) improved team perfor-
mance. The problem with the suggestions is that neither of these
solutions addresses improving the communication within the team
but rather provides contingencies for when communication does
not occur. Furthermore, these solutions are not always feasible for
the team or the team task. For instance, it may not be possible for
team members to have direct access to all information because of
the shear amount of information available.
We propose that introducing closed-loop communication will be
a more effective means for combating information exchange diffi-
culties and ensuring that sent communications are heard and accu-
rately understood. Closed-loop communication involves (a) the
sender initiating a message, (b) the receiver receiving the message,
interpreting it, and acknowledging its receipt, and (c) the sender
following up to insure the intended message was received
(McIntyre & Salas, 1995). Seigel and Federman (1973) found that
teams trained on communication dimensions tended to perform
better than did teams that were not trained on communication
Without sufficient trust, team members will expend time and
energy protecting, checking, and inspecting each other as opposed
to collaborating to provide value-added ideas (Cooper & Sawaf,
1996). Trust in the team setting has been defined as “the shared per-
ception . . . that individuals in the team will perform particular
568 SMALL GROUP RESEARCH / October 2005
actions important to its members and . . . will recognize and protect
the rights and interests of all the team members engaged in their
joint endeavor” (Webber, 2002, p. 205). Trust is cited as affecting a
variety of team processes and outcomes such as group participation
and contribution, cycle times, product quality, and even team mem-
ber retention (Bandow, 2001). Jones and George (1998) found that,
in addition to mediating cooperation and teamwork, trust also fos-
ters a willingness to disseminate information more freely among
team members. If team members do not feel that their input is val-
ued or that the information they provide will be used appropriately,
they may be less willing to share that information (Bandow, 2001).
In addition, team members may not be willing to participate in
information sharing if they fear being perceived as incompetent
(Bandow, 2001). Inherently, trust is needed in teams because when
team members work interdependently, they must be willing to
accept a certain amount of risk to rely on each other to meet
deadlines, contribute to the team task, and cooperate without
A culture of mutual trust is important in supporting the core
components of teamwork as well. This is because of the finding
that trust has a critical influence on how individuals within a team
will interpret other’s behaviors (Simons & Peterson, 2000). If a
group level of trust has not been developed, team members may be
more likely to interpret behaviors such as disagreement, missed
deadlines, or other seemingly ambiguous events as intentionally
damaging acts against the individual or team. Frequently, when this
attribution is made, the team member will respond in a reciprocal
manner, leading to a spiraling degradation of team functioning
(Creed & Miles, 1996). Consequentially, teamwork behaviors such
as performance monitoring and backup behaviors may be misinter-
preted as team members keeping tabs on each other. Therefore,
through the fostering of mutual trust, it is understood and accepted
by team members that group members are in fact looking out for
each other for the good of the team. Trust is also needed in the
acceptance of team leadership behaviors. If team members do not
trust each other or their team leader, they will be less willing to
Salas et al. / BIG FIVE IN TEAMWORK? 569
appear uninformed, thereby hindering the team leader from
effectively managing the team.
In the following section, we will now provide a deeper descrip-
tion of the components included in the “Big Five” and an explana-
tion of the importance each variable plays in ensuring team effec-
tiveness and performance. In addition, a number of future research
propositions will be offered regarding the interrelationships among
the “Big Five” components and team effectiveness.
INTRODUCING THE BIG FIVE OF TEAMWORK
We propose that regardless of the team task that is examined, a
focal set of teamwork components will be required to complete the
task, and we present the components as the “Big Five” of team-
work. This set of components includes team leadership, mutual
performance monitoring, backup behavior, adaptability, and team
orientation. As each of the dimensions is defined, and as its individ-
ual importance as it relates to team effectiveness is explained in the
next pages, a number of research propositions will also be pro-
vided. In Figure 1, we provide a graphical representation of the
interrelationships of the “Big Five” and include the research propo-
sitions we propose between each of the variables.
Although we put forth that each of the “Big Five” is required for
team effectiveness, we acknowledge that each component may be
manifested differently across most team task types because of the
constraints of the team task and the varying needs of the team dur-
ing a given challenge or change. McIntyre and Salas (1995) support
this in suggesting that understanding the tasks of a particular team
will assist in understanding the importance that a given teamwork
dimension holds. For this reason, as each of the components
included in the “Big Five” is discussed in turn, a brief description of
how the component may be manifested while performing the team
task is provided. We limit our discussion to an illustrative set of
team tasks (collaborative and cooperative tasks) that are described
by O’Brien (1968). We acknowledge that the typology used may be
a simplistic description of the tasks that teams perform, but we
570 SMALL GROUP RESEARCH / October 2005
argue that these team tasks are intended to be descriptive and to
spark thought in how the “Big Five” may differ across different
types of tasks rather than to provide a definitive answer.
We further qualify our discussion of these tasks in terms of the
manifestation of the “Big Five” such that the team members must
be highly interdependent (e.g., team members must depend on one
another to complete the task; for a description of degrees of interde-
pendence in teams, see Saavedra, Earley, & Van Dyne, 1993). As
Salas et al. / BIG FIVE IN TEAMWORK? 571
Figure 1: Graphical Representation of High-Level RelationshipAmong the BigFive
and the Coordinating Mechanisms Including Research Propositions
discussed in the initial definition of a team, interdependence is a
significant characteristic of a team (e.g., Salas et al., 1992; Wall,
Kemp, Jackson, & Clegg, 1986) and is crucial for the “Big Five”to
hold true because it increases the team members’sense of responsi-
bility for each others’behaviors (Kiggundu, 1983) and their moti-
vation to perform teamwork behaviors (Campion et al., 1993). In a
collaborative task, team members are interdependent because of
their need to collaborate through all aspects of the team task (e.g., a
NASCAR mechanic team must complete diverse tasks to insure the
driver’s ability to complete the race). Conversely, team members
engaged in a coordination task are interdependent with each other
because a failure in earlier stages of the task will affect the ability
for each subsequent team member to complete his or her portion of
the task (e.g., air strike teams must clear the ground enemies before
the ground team may proceed).
Team leadership warrants its place as one of the “Big Five”
because the team leader’s failure to guide and structure team expe-
riences to facilitate coordinative, adaptive action can be a key factor
in ineffective team performance (Stewart & Manz, 1995). Gener-
ally it is believed that a leader who is managing independent indi-
viduals should diagnose a problem, generate possible solutions,
and implement the most appropriate solution (e.g., Fleishman
et al., 1991; Zaccaro, Marks, O’Connor-Boes, & Costanza, 1995).
In this scenario, the leader’s responsibility “is to do, or get done,
whatever is not adequately handled for the group needs”(McGrath,
1962, p. 5) including defining the goals, organizing resources to
maximize performance, and guiding individuals toward those
goals. However, team leadership affects team effectiveness not by
handing down solutions to the team but rather by facilitating team
problem solving through cognitive processes (e.g., shared mental
models), coordination processes, and the team’s collective motiva-
tion and behaviors (e.g., performance expectations; Salas, Burke,
& Stagl, in press; Zaccaro et al., 2001). However, it should be noted
that much of what is known about team leadership has been adapted
572 SMALL GROUP RESEARCH / October 2005
from individual leadership theory (e.g., Fleishman et al., 1991;
Offerman, Kennedy, & Wirtz, 1994), and there have been a number
of calls for additional empirical research to gain a deeper under-
standing of the effect of team leader support on team effectiveness
(e.g., Campion et al., 1993; Dyer, 1984). For this reason, most of
this discussion of team leadership is based on theoretical work.
Team leaders enable effective teamwork and interdependent
action through three overarching functions. First, the team leader
has a role in the creation, maintenance, and accuracy of the team’s
shared mental model. During the initial formation of the team and
throughout the team’s lifespan, the leader establishes and main-
tains an accurate shared understanding of the team objectives, the
team constraints, the roles of each team member, and the resources
that are available to the team. The team leader is often in the best
position to provide accurate and comprehensive information to the
team regarding the resources and constraints of the team (Zaccaro
et al., 2001). Empirical evidence by Marks et al. (2000) indicates
that the provision of enriched information by team leaders results
in more similar and accurate mental models among team members.
Second, the team leader facilitates team effectiveness by monitor-
ing the internal and external environment of the team to facilitate
team adaptability and to ensure teams are not caught off guard
when changes in their environment occur. The leader promotes
team effectiveness by using the information about the external
environment (see Roby, 1968) to coordinate team behaviors and
interactions (Zaccaro et al., 2001) as well as by providing skill
development opportunities as needed. If the internal team function-
ing (e.g., nonproductive team conflict) is faulty, the leader must
determine what changes are needed and must reestablish adaptive
norms and performance expectations accordingly, which is the
final function of the team leader discussed here.
A final function of the team leader is establishing behavioral and
performance expectations and tracking the abilities and skill defi-
ciencies of each team member (Salas, Burke, & Stagl, in press).
Team leaders must set expectations for acceptable interaction pat-
terns (e.g., promoting information exchange) and create a team cli-
mate that encourages behaviors such as mutual performance moni-
Salas et al. / BIG FIVE IN TEAMWORK? 573
toring, backup behavior, and adaptability. Developing task-based
and team-based norms benefits teams because individual members
will enforce norms and team expectations in nonconforming mem-
bers (Festinger, Schachter, & Back, 1950).
Considering the three leadership functions together, we argue,
as have others (e.g., Hinsz, Tindale, & Vollrath, 1997; Zaccaro
et al., 2001), that team leaders ultimately facilitate team effective-
ness not only by synchronizing and combining the individual con-
tributions of each of the team members but also by insuring individ-
uals on the team understand their interdependence and the benefits
of working together. For this reason, we propose that there is not a
direct but rather a mediated relationship between team and its effect
on team effectiveness. It is proposed that team leaders’reinforce-
ment of the needed team processes is an effective means of ensur-
ing that the behaviors occur. This is supported by past research that
examined assertiveness training that found that team leaders
affected the manifestation of the trained skills (Smith-Jentsch,
Zeisig, Acton, & McPherson, 1998). Future research will need to
determine whether other behaviors (e.g., performance monitoring)
are able to be reinforced within the team by team leaders.
Proposition 1: The team leader will influence team effectiveness
through his or her ability to set or reinforce performance expecta-
tions including performance monitoring and backup behavior.
Although this article argues that all teams require team leader-
ship to be effective, the manifestation of team leadership may differ
across different types of team tasks. Illustrative examples of how
team leadership may differ across team tasks are provided below.
Coordination task. In tasks in which subtasks must occur in a
specified order, a team leader is likely to assign specific roles and
play a large part in coordinating the integration of the individual
subtasks. Further, he or she should assist the team in determining
contingency plans if a sequence is delayed or unable to be com-
pleted. Take for instance, the service team at your favorite local res-
taurant. The host or hostess seats the guest, the server takes the
574 SMALL GROUP RESEARCH / October 2005
guest’s order, and the cook fills the order. After the guest completes
the meal, the table must be cleaned and reset for the next guest. Dif-
ferent members of the team fulfill each of these steps of the overall
task (i.e., customer service) while the team leader (i.e., the general
manager) must oversee all of the steps. The team leader assists in
managing the workflow when there are fluctuations in the number
of customers and/or changes in staff shifts to ensure that each step
Collaborative task. In tasks in which roles or responsibilities are
less clearly defined and there is flexibility in who may perform the
subtasks, the team leader must set expectations about the dynamic
nature of the task (e.g., the degree to which team members will be
able to adopt each other’s subtasks) so that the team may quickly
adapt while the team is performing. Consider the flight service
team that ensures the safety and comfort of each passenger.
Although there may be predetermined roles that each flight service
team member assumes at the start of a flight, the team leader must
set the expectation that, should an unexpected event arise (e.g., tur-
bulence, an unruly passenger), the roles of each team member may
change. Because of the ambiguity of the unexpected events that
may arise during flight or the tasks that may be needed, the team
leader may not be able to overtly coordinate the team tasks but must
instead ensure that accurate shared mental models are developed
and must set performance expectations early in the team members’
MUTUAL PERFORMANCE MONITORING
Effective teams are comprised of members who maintain an
awareness of team functioning by monitoring fellow members’
work in an effort to catch mistakes, slips, or lapses prior to or
shortly after they have occurred. Mutual performance monitoring
has been defined as the ability to “keep track of fellow team mem-
bers’work while carrying out their own ...toensure that every-
thing is running as expected and . . . to ensure that they are follow-
ing procedures correctly”(McIntyre & Salas, 1995, p. 23).
Salas et al. / BIG FIVE IN TEAMWORK? 575
Although it is proposed that mutual performance monitoring will
improve team performance throughout a team task, this dimension
of the “Big Five”will become increasingly important to team per-
formance when the team is engaging in stressful tasks. Roby and
Lanzetta (1957) found that overloaded team members are more
likely to make errors. Potentially compounding this problem is that
research has shown that individuals may not be aware of their own
performance deficiencies (e.g., Bolin, Sadacca, & Martinek, 1965;
Doten, Cockrell, & Sadacca, 1966). Fortunately, team member
feedback can lead to individuals becoming more cognizant of their
performance. We propose that it is the information gathered
through mutual performance monitoring that affects team perfor-
mance by identifying errors or lapses, and this information,
expressed through feedback and backup behavior (discussed in the
next section), boosts the team from the sum of individual perfor-
mance to the synergy of teamwork and ultimately to team
We propose that there is a mediated relationship between mutual
performance monitoring and team effectiveness. To examine this
proposition, a measure of the process or behavior must be devel-
oped. Many researchers have indicated that mutual performance
monitoring is difficult to measure because it is not outwardly mani-
fested (i.e., researchers are unable to determine when or if the team
member is consistently monitoring performance). Specifically, if
there are no errors or lapses that require backup behavior, there is
no accepted method to determine when mutual performance is
occurring. Therefore, a research priority is to develop new ways to
assess performance monitoring to test the proposed moderated
Proposition 2: Mutual performance monitoring affects team effective-
ness through effective backup behavior.
Two prerequisites to effective mutual performance monitoring
were identified. First, effective mutual performance monitoring
requires a shared understanding of the task and team responsibili-
576 SMALL GROUP RESEARCH / October 2005
ties (i.e., shared mental model). A shared mental model is impor-
tant for mutual performance monitoring because it provides team-
mates with an understanding of what other team members are
supposed to be doing. Therefore, a shared understanding is not only
required for performance monitoring to occur but it also acts as a
foundation for the effectiveness of performance monitoring and
feedback. If the team does not share the same mental model for how
the team should be performing, performance monitoring becomes
ineffective, and any feedback that could potentially be given
A second perquisite to effective mutual performance monitoring
is the creation of an open, trusting, and cohesive team climate
because, for it to be effective,mutual performance monitoring must
become an accepted norm intended to maximize team performance
rather than an opportunity for team members to keep tabs on each
other (McIntyre & Salas, 1995). Without this team climate, team
members may view performance monitoring negatively and may
react critically to feedback or assistance provided by a team
Proposition 3: Effective mutual performance monitoring will only
occur in teams with adequate shared mental models and a climate of
We do not expect that mutual performance monitoring will man-
ifest itself differently for different types of team tasks. Instead,
team members will have different opportunities to engage in the
behavior depending on the team task. Illustrative examples of how
mutual performance monitoring may occur during different types
of team tasks are described below.
Coordination task. An example of a coordination task can be
seen in a team working on an assembly line. An error that occurs
early in the production line can have far reaching effects on the
team outcome regardless of the quality of the subsequent subtasks.
Imagine an assembly line team member who fails to fully tighten a
Salas et al. / BIG FIVE IN TEAMWORK? 577
screw. If the error is never identified, the final product may be
faulty. Depending on the product, this may result in lower customer
satisfaction (e.g., sunglasses falling apart) or even deaths (e.g., air-
plane mechanical problems). Therefore, it must be every team
member’s responsibility to identify and initiate a remedy. For this
reason, a team member may manifest team performance monitor-
ing by directly examining the quality or completeness of the prod-
uct that is provided from the previous step. Thus, team performance
monitoring may occur in a more disjointed fashion in coordination
tasks than in other types of tasks.
Collaborative task. In this type of task, team members can be
expected to be involved in every step of the task and therefore have
more opportunity to provide frequent, real-time feedback about the
team’s performance rather than feedback that follows the comple-
tion of subtasks, as seen in coordination tasks. An example of this
type of task might be a professional moving team. The overall task
is to move all the items from one location to the moving truck or
vice versa. Although there may be a loose order in which items
should be loaded into a truck (e.g., mattresses prior to boxes), the
team has flexibility in the order in which items are moved and in the
team member who will move each item. Because of the team task,
physical exhaustion is possible, and team members should be
observant of each other to prevent injury and/or damaged items.
The team can engage backup behavior (discussed in the next sec-
tion) by altering the type or amount of items the exhausted member
is moving. Alternatively, because the packing of a moving truck
can affect the speed in which it is unloaded and the likelihood of
damage occurring, team members must be mutually accountable
for how the truck is loaded. If a team member is not loading the
items into the truck correctly, the other team members can provide
feedback to the individual. However, this feedback must be pro-
vided in a way that all members understand that the intent is to
improve team performance (i.e., completing the move more
quickly) rather than in a way that places blame or that makes a
member look bad.
578 SMALL GROUP RESEARCH / October 2005
Backup behavior has been defined as “the discretionary provi-
sion of resources and task-related effort to another . . . [when] there
is recognition by potential backup providers that there is a work-
load distribution problem in their team”(Porter et al., 2003, pp.
391-392). Marks et al. (2000) identify three means of providing
backup behaviors: (a) to provide feedback and coaching to improve
performance; (b) to assist the teammate in performing a task; and
(c) to complete a task for the team member when an overload is
detected. If it is determined through mutual performance monitor-
ing that a team member’s workload has surpassed his or her capac-
ity, the team can engage in backup behaviors by shifting work
responsibilities to other underutilized team members as it becomes
necessary. Should the tasks of the overloaded team member not be
facilitated or taken over, it is expected that team performance will
Proposition 4: Backup behavior affects team performance directly by
ensuring that all aspects of the team task are completed.
Research that has shown that providing flexibility in how work
is completed increases team effectiveness (Campion et al., 1993).
The ability of the team to reduce work overload is an important
component of team effectiveness as workload can often act as a
stressor. Johnston and Briggs (1968) found that teams that were
able to compensate for each other under periods of high stress had
fewer errors. Although each team member had specific tasks for
which they were responsible for this task, it is the ability of the team
to self-assess overloads within one or more team members and the
team’s ability to redistribute that overload that resulted in adapta-
tion to the changing environment. Therefore, the importance of
backup behavior does not simply lie in improved performance out-
comes but rather in how backup behavior affects team processes to
allow greater team adaptability in changing situations and environ-
ments. Depending on the task, this compensation (i.e., backup
behavior) may be manifested in the ways described by Marks et al.
(2000; e.g., physically taking over the task, ensuring that someone
Salas et al. / BIG FIVE IN TEAMWORK? 579
corrects the error). The difficulty in examining the proposed rela-
tionship is in defining what effective adaptation means in the par-
ticular team and team task and in the conditions under which the
team is performing. Future researchers must pay attention to this
concern in testing the following research proposition.
Proposition 5: The effect of backup behavior on team effectiveness is
mediated by the team’s ability to effectively adapt to changes inter-
nal and external to the team.
Although there has been a great deal of empirical work on help-
ing behavior in dyads (e.g., Anderson & Williams, 1996), there
appears to be a dearth of empirical attention to backup behavior in
teams. Although backup behavior has sometime been referred to as
helping (e.g., Organ, 1997), theorists have begun to suggest there
are differences between the two constructs in both their occurrence
and their effect on teamwork. Porter and colleagues (2003) suggest
the primary difference is that backup behavior is a response to the
recognition of a genuine need for assistance. Porter et al. suggest
that a request for help that does not reflect a legitimate request for
assistance or recognition of a legitimate need for help may lead to
poorer team outcomes if assistance occurs at the cost of other tasks
being completed. Conversely, helping behavior does not appear to
require a legitimate need (i.e., a workload capacity distribution
problem), only a request for assistance. This suggests that both
shared mental models and mutual performance monitoring are nec-
essary antecedents to effective backup behavior because they form
the foundation for decisions of when a team member must step in to
provide back up, who should step in, and what assistance is needed.
Proposition 6: Effective backup behavior requires the existence of
adequate shared mental models and mutual performance
Similar to mutual performance monitoring, we expect that
backup behavior will be dictated by the needs of the team. Not only
will team members have different opportunities to engage in the
behavior depending on the team task, but the needs of the team
580 SMALL GROUP RESEARCH / October 2005
member may differ (e.g., unable to complete the subtask and
requiring another team member to complete the task vs. needing
assistance in completing the task). Below we provide examples of
how backup behavior may be evident in different team tasks.
Coordination tasks. Although the subtasks of the coordination
team task must occur in a particular sequence, it is possible that any
team member with the appropriate knowledge or skills may pro-
vide backup behavior. For instance, consider a high school swim
team competing in a relay race. Each segment of the race requires
different swim strokes, and each segment occurs in a predeter-
mined order. A team member may be able to provide backup behav-
ior for a weakened member by swimming his or her segment (i.e.,
complete the task for them) or by providing him or her with sugges-
tions for conserving energy or by improving his or her speed.
Collaborative tasks. In this task, team members may have more
flexibility in the order of subtask completion and the particular
member who may complete the task. Similar to the cooperative
task, backup behaviors may include assisting with or taking over
subtasks or providing constructive feedback to improve task per-
formance. One example of this type of team is a project team of stu-
dents completing a school assignment. Assuming that each mem-
ber of the team has a relatively similar skill set, it is possible that
any member of the team is capable of performing any aspect of the
final report. The team may split up the project into portions, work-
ing separately until the final integration. Backup behavior in this
scenario could occur by finishing another team member’s section.
Alternatively, if the team members were able to review each other’s
work periodically, team members could provide constructive feed-
back on how to better complete another member’s portion of the
Adaptability is commonly considered a team outcome for which
the team strives, but some theorists contend that adaptability is best
Salas et al. / BIG FIVE IN TEAMWORK? 581
understood as a team process that moves the team more effectively
toward its objectives (Burke, Stagl, Salas, Pierce, & Kendall,
2005). Adaptability has been defined as the ability to recognize
deviations from expected action and readjust actions accordingly
(Priest, Burke, Munim, & Salas, 2002). The ability of a team to
maintain a culture of adaptability requires that there is a global per-
spective of the team task, of how changes may alter team member’s
roles in the team task, and of the ability to recognize that changes
are occurring. As was discussed in regard to backup behaviors and
performance monitoring, team members must remain vigilant in
the activities of other team members to detect errors and determine
if additional information or assistance is needed and whether the
team as a whole should adapt their planned actions.
The team’s operational need for team adaptation is driven by the
complexity within which many teams operate (i.e., things do not
always go as planned). The ability to adapt to the individual actions
of fellow team members and the environment in which the team
exists is a prerequisite for coordinative action seen in teams.
Research by Campion, Medsker, and Higgs (1993) has shown that
teams whose members were more adaptable were rated as more
effective than were teams with members who were not flexible.
However, for team performance to be improved by adaptability, the
team’s adaptation must be focused and purpose driven. In other
words, changes in the environment or team task must be constantly
assessed to determine if the current team processes will continue to
be effective in reaching the team objectives.
Team adaptability is important to many types of teams in many
different situations. Adaptability assists teams to respond to unex-
pected demands (e.g., deterioration of patient health). It is the abil-
ity of this team to identify cues that the conditions have changed
(e.g., time allotted to complete the task), to assign meaning to that
change (e.g., requiring a change in strategy), and finally to develop
and successfully carry out a new plan of treatment. If any step
within this process is skipped or breaks down, the chance of team
success decreases. Therefore, the strength of this component of the
“Big Five”of teamwork is not only the ability to change team
behaviors but also the ability of these changes to combat the newly
582 SMALL GROUP RESEARCH / October 2005
encountered deviation. However, as stated earlier, the difficulty in
assessing this component of the “Big Five”is in defining the qual-
ity of the adaptation in which the team engages. Future researchers
must make take care in defining this construct prior to testing the
following research propositions.
Proposition 7: Adaptability of a team has a direct effect on team
Proposition 8: Effective adaptability requires the existence of ade-
quate shared mental models and effective engagement in mutual
performance monitoring and backup behavior.
Team adaptability is also important for team tasks that require
innovation (e.g., research and design team needing to redesign a
product) or for teams that experience a setback or failure (e.g.,
loosing the championship basketball game). Frequently, team
members act in routine or habitual ways with each other. However,
when team actions become mindlessly habitual, the members may
not see changes in the environment as quickly. This mindlessness
can result in a greater chance of errors, productivity loss, or missed
opportunities for innovation and improvement (Gersick & Hack-
man, 1990; Weick & Roberts, 1993). Consider Eastman Chemical
Company, better known as Kodak. In the late 1980’s, the organiza-
tion began to lose its position in the photography industry. In
response to this, management reorganized the company into teams
and ultimately improved product quality, customer satisfaction,
and operating efficiency, thereby regaining its reputation as an
industry leader (Anfuso, 1994). As seen in this example, the adop-
tion of a team structure may even be a means of adapting. Similar to
backup behavior, adaptability can be manifested in many different
ways depending on the team task and the challenge encountered
(e.g., rate of work, tasks engaged in, who performs the task). We
offer examples of how teams may adapt when performing collabo-
rative or cooperative tasks but offer the reminder that there are
innumerable means by which a given team or team member may
engage in adaptability, and the following examples are merely
Salas et al. / BIG FIVE IN TEAMWORK? 583
Coordination tasks. Although coordination tasks do not allow
flexibility in the order of tasks, it is possible that the set of subtasks
that are performed may change. A vivid example might be easily
envisioned in the emergency room. Imagine a team of medical pro-
fessionals working with a patient who has symptoms of an anxiety
attack (e.g., dizziness, difficulty breathing, and chest pain). In treat-
ing an anxiety attack, there are prescribed sets of tasks that must be
performed. As the treatment progresses, the patient’s condition
worsens, and the physicians realize that the patient is in fact experi-
encing a heart attack. Obviously, this change in the patient’s condi-
tion drastically changes the type of treatment needed, the subtasks
that will need to be performed, and the time pressure under which
the team must operate.
Collaborative tasks. In this type of task, the team is able to adapt
in a number of ways including who completes the task, the order in
which the subtasks are completed, and the set of subtasks that are
undertaken. A research and design team, which contains a variety
of team members with specific expertise, may develop a strategy to
design a new model of SUV for the company. However, as reports
of low gas mileage and safety concerns become the focus of poten-
tial buyers, the team must adapt to the buyers’concerns (e.g.,
designing special safety features) or adjust the marketing strategy
(e.g., focusing on aspects of the vehicle besides gas mileage).
The final dimension proposed as an essential aspect of team-
work in the “Big Five”is team orientation. Although the previous
dimensions included in the “Big Five”have been behavioral in
nature, team orientation is attitudinal. Team orientation is not only
a preference for working with others but also a tendency to enhance
individual performance through the coordination, evaluation, and
utilization of task inputs from other members while performing
group tasks (Driskell & Salas, 1992). The terms team orientation
and collective orientation are frequently used interchangeably in
team and group literature; however the two terms are not synony-
584 SMALL GROUP RESEARCH / October 2005
mous. Collective orientation is frequently culturally based and is
context free (i.e., it does not have to be work related) such that it is a
general preference to accomplish group goals rather than individ-
ual goals (e.g., concern for the welfare of society) and to cooperate
in groups (Hofstede, 1984; Wagner, 1995; Wagner & Moch, 1986).
In addition, team orientation can be differentiated from team cohe-
sion. Teamcohesion is an attraction or desire to work with a partic-
ular team (e.g., Cartwright, 1968; Goodman, Ravlin, & Schminke,
1987; Zander, 1979) rather than a general preference to work in
Team orientation is an important dimension in the Big Five not
only because it improves individual effort and performance within
a team (Shamir, 1990; Wagner, 1995) and individual satisfaction
(Campion et al, 1993; Cummings, 1981; Hackman & Oldham,
1980) but also because it has been found to facilitate overall team
performance (e.g., better decision making; Driskell & Salas, 1992).
Team orientation has also been found to result in increased cooper-
ation and coordination among team members (Eby & Dobbins,
1997), and this may facilitate team performance through increased
task involvement, information sharing, strategizing, and goal set-
ting. For instance, Driskell and Salas (1992) found that individuals
with a team orientation more frequently considered teammate input
to decide on a final course of action. Although team member input
was not always accepted as correct in Driskell and Salas’s study,
error detection improved and resulted in higher quality decisions.
With most tasks, there are a number of ways to approach any prob-
lem and an equally large number of solutions. Returning to the
example of a research and design team that has been tasked with
developing a new automobile. These teams may include diverse
members such as engineers, artists, marketers, and customer repre-
sentatives. Each team member has different perspectives that add
unique value to the automobile (e.g., comfort of the vehicle, the
aesthetic value, the safety, and the cost of development). However,
if the concerns of the engineer are not considered, the vehicle may
be unfeasible to build or unsafe. If the concerns of the customer are
not weighed, the vehicle may not be marketable to the general pub-
lic. Together, the research and design project team must value each
Salas et al. / BIG FIVE IN TEAMWORK? 585
others’perspectives to be successful. For this reason, a willingness
to accept feedback and assistance from other teammates is likely to
improve work processes. This provides evidence that team
orientation will affect the occurrence of mutual performance
monitoring and backup behavior.
Proposition 9: Team orientation affects team effectiveness through
team members’willingness to engage in mutual performance
Proposition 10: Team orientation affects team performance through
team members’acceptance of feedback and/or assistance through
Research suggests that team orientation may be a malleable atti-
tude (Eby & Dobbins, 1997) based on past experiences in teams
(Loher, Vancouver, & Czajka, 1994), on the perceived ability to
complete the task (e.g., Bandura, 1991; Loher et al., 1994; Vancou-
ver & Ilgen, 1989), and on expected positive outcomes (Eby &
Dobbins, 1997). However, it should be noted that there does not
appear to be a direct relationship between the preference to work in
team settings and individual performance. Eby and Dobbins (1997)
have suggested factors, such as individual differences (e.g., locus
of control, self-efficacy, need for affiliation) and past experiences
with working on teams, that may moderate the relationship
between team orientation and performance. Therefore, some ways
in which management can facilitate the development of a team ori-
entation is by providing feedback about team successes and coop-
eration; by focusing on expectations of workload sharing, commu-
nication, and accountability; and by creating a norm for
cooperative behavior through reward systems (Eby & Dobbins,
1997). However, future research is needed to determine which of
these suggestions is most effective and under what conditions it is
Because of the attitudinal nature of team orientation, it is not
expected that the attitude will differ in its manifestation across dif-
ferent types of team tasks but rather will facilitate the occurrence of
the other needed behaviors (e.g., mutual performance monitoring,
586 SMALL GROUP RESEARCH / October 2005
backup behavior). It is for this reason that no behavior examples of
team orientation will be provided.
THE BIG FIVE IN RELATION TO TEAM DEVELOPMENT
AND TASK EPISODES
Dyer (1984) argued that to suggest that teamwork was all that
was needed to ensure teams were successful was too superficial of a
response. He suggested that knowledge about how team members
interact and whether those interactions differ over time because of
the situation and/or the experience of the team was needed. Further,
he suggested that one of the largest measurement problems in team
research is the failure to examine the sequence of team behavior
and the related outcome of that sequence of behaviors. We concur
with Dyer’s assessment that teamwork is dynamic and that its man-
ifestation can vary based on a vast number of variables (e.g., team
environment, type of task, individual difference, perceived work-
load). For this reason, we argue, as have others (e.g., Campion &
McClelland, 1993; Griffin, 1991; Harrison, Mohammed,McGrath,
Florey, & Vanderstoep, 2003; Kozlowski et al., 1999; Marks et al.,
2000; McGrath, Arrow, & Berdahl, 2000; Morgan et al., 1986), that
to fully understand team performance, it is insufficient to take a sin-
gle snapshot of team performance. Instead, performance should be
sampled during a variety of conditions and situations, including
both laboratory and applied research settings, to get an accurate
Teams become more effective over time as members learn to
work together and become increasingly proficient in their taskwork
(Morgan et al., 1986). Improvement in team performance may in
part be due to team members developing expectations about each
other, establishing procedures for working together (Dyer, 1984),
and developing shared knowledge and requisite communication
behaviors (Bowers, Weaver, Barnett, & Stout, 1998). Several
researchers have offered models of team development that suggest
that teams go through stages of development in which teams learn
their tasks, their roles, and their expected performance and then
Salas et al. / BIG FIVE IN TEAMWORK? 587
progress into more complex relationship building and teamwork
behaviors (Jordan, Jensen, & Terebinsky, 1963; Morgan, Salas, &
Glickman, 1994). Conversely, Tuckman (1965) discussed team
performance in terms of forming, storming, norming, and perform-
ing, which suggests that developing interpersonal relationships is
important before the team can focus on team tasks.
The steps of team development do not form a clear-cut lockstep
but rather a pattern that is guided by individual team member char-
acteristics and experiences, by the team task, and by environmental
constraints (Morgan et al., 1994). Therefore, it is hypothesized that
the “Big Five”and its coordinating mechanisms will vary in impor-
tance or prominence in the early development stages of the team
(e.g., team leadership, communication), whereas other core com-
ponents will gain prominence later in team development as teams
proceed through phases of the team task (e.g., performance moni-
toring, backup behavior). For this reason, the issues of team devel-
opment and team task cycles will be briefly discussed in relation to
the core teamwork dimensions presented in this article. Through-
out this discussion, we provide empirical support for our arguments
when it is available. It is important to note, however, that although
there have been a number of calls for more longitudinal team
research, few answers have been offered.
In reviewing the literature, there was little empirical or theoreti-
cal research available to guide our understanding of how the “Big
Five”and the coordinating mechanisms may differ as team mature.
However, we suspect that during the initial stages of team develop-
ment, team leadership and team orientation will play a large role in
teamwork as teams begin to explore their task interrelationships
and the roles for which each member is responsible. Team leader-
ship is important during this stage of team development because the
leader will need to set initial performance expectations and specify
the members’roles and responsibilities. Team orientation will also
be needed during the initial team formation to overcome the early
hurdles of learning the strengths and challenges of each team mem-
588 SMALL GROUP RESEARCH / October 2005
ber and the members’preferences of how tasks are completed. We
propose that as teams progress through this cycle, the groundwork
for performance expectations and interpersonal interactions will be
set, and team members can then focus on becoming more proficient
in performing their individual tasks and can begin to spend more
time monitoring others’behaviors and providing backup
The largest amount of empirical evidence related to team pro-
cesses throughout team development focused on communication,
one of the coordinating mechanisms we have proposed. Empirical
support by George and Dudek (1974) has also shown that the lack
of communication during the initial stages of team development
can have a detrimental effect on team performance. Communica-
tion during this stage may be used to learn to anticipate each other’s
needs through nonverbal clues and through establishing norms for
communication. This is further supported by studies examining
specific aspects of communication (e.g., timing, accuracy, brevity,
information content, frequency of communications) that found that
more experienced teams communicated less than did inexperi-
enced ones. These studies suggest that over time, teams appear to
develop a common vocabulary that will reduce the length of the
message (e.g., Obermayer & Vreuls, 1974; Obermayer, Vreuls,
Muckler, Conway, & Fitzgerald, 1974).
TEAM TASK CYCLE
Not only do we expect the amount of time team members have
spent working together to affect the importance of different dimen-
sions of teamwork, we also expect that the phase of team perfor-
mance may also affect the importance each dimension plays in
team performance. Currently there is no research to suggest which
of the dimensions included in the “Big Five”might play the largest
role in the preliminary stages of the team task. However, we pro-
pose that adaptability and team orientation may be most important
when the team initially develops a strategy for approaching the
team task. Both of these dimensions suggest that team members
Salas et al. / BIG FIVE IN TEAMWORK? 589
must be willing to adjust and consider alternative perspectives
while developing a plan for future team action.
Although there is a lack of research that considers the dimen-
sions during the early stages of the team task included in the “Big
Five,”a considerable amount of research has been conducted on
changes in and the importance of communication during the course
of the team task cycle. Brown (1967) found that frequency of com-
munication varied based on the phase of the task. In fact, research
has found that teams that take time to strategize before engaging in
a more complex team task have better performance than those that
do not, suggesting that communication may be one of the more
important team processes in the initial stages of performance.
These strategies often include a plan for how the team will engage
in the task should changes in the environment occur.
Once the team progresses to the performance stage of the task in
which the team is actively pursuing the team objectives, perfor-
mance monitoring, backup behaviors, and adaptability are
expected to increase in importance. As the team engages in per-
forming the team task, there is greater susceptibility to errors and
the need to remain vigilant. When the team completes the task,
team members progress into a transition phase in which they
reevaluate their performance, provide and receive feedback, and
make adjustments to their strategies as needed (Marks et al., 2000).
In this stage, teams will require team leadership to provide addi-
tional guidance and feedback. Members’team orientation will play
a role in receiving and using performance feedback from the team
leader and other team members. This is a particularly important
phase in team performance as the team is able to develop prescrip-
tions for future performance cycles (e.g., Marks et al., 2000; Roby,
1968). This series of performance and transition phases repeats
until the team completes its task.
Although a remarkable amount of research has been conducted
to determine how to make teams function maximally, no one has
590 SMALL GROUP RESEARCH / October 2005
been able to clearly define exactly what is teamwork. The study of
teamwork has been fragmented over the years and has not lent itself
to being used practically. The general consensus, however, is that
teams require a complex mixture of variables that include not only
organizational support and individual skills but also teamwork.
Therefore, based on a review of the team literature, we have argued
that it is possible to condense what we know about teamwork into
five core components, which we submit as the “Big Five”of team-
work, and three coordinating mechanisms.
We have provided a theoretical model of the interrelations
among the “Big Five”dimensions and their subsequent research
propositions in Figure 1. We have proposed that these dimensions
are commonly occurring in many other models of teamwork and
must be manifested during any team task that can be suggested.
These components have been presented here as team leadership,
mutual performance monitoring, backup behavior, adaptability,
and team orientation and require coordinating mechanisms of
shared mental models, closed-looped communication, and mutual
By distilling the team literature into five core teamwork dimen-
sions, this article has two primary implications. First, we believe
that the “Big Five”will bridge the gap between academicians and
practitioners by providing a practical framework for understanding
the conceptual processes involved in team processes and the man-
ner in which these processes occur in different team tasks on a day-
to-day basis. Currently, many organizations create teams without
the benefit of what has been gleaned from team research. We
believe that one reason this is occurring is because of the over-
whelming sources of suggestions and recommendations that have
been made to ensure team effectiveness. Therefore, this core model
of the “Big Five”of teamwork makes the implementation of
research findings to applied settings more manageable.
A second implication of this article is the reiteration of the glar-
ing need for longitudinal research to provide greater understanding
of how team processes change both in the terms of a team’s ability
to perform the “Big Five”tasks and in the importance that each of
the “Big Five”factors plays over time. In an effort to address this
Salas et al. / BIG FIVE IN TEAMWORK? 591
issue, we have taken an additional step to propose how all of these
factors will vary in their importance and the skill with which they
are performed during the life of the team and team task. It is our
hope that this article will be a stepping-off point for more directed
empirical interest in testing the core components of teamwork
within a framework that takes into account the stages of team devel-
opment and the stages of the task in which the team is engaged over
In conclusion, although the “Big Five”provides a theoretical
framework of the core components of teamwork, additional vari-
ables that have also been found to affect team performance and
team effectiveness should not be disregarded. We chose the word
core carefully; other variables may affect teamwork as well under
certain conditions. We agree that teamwork is a complicated pro-
cess, and we do not intended to discourage research of variables not
included in the “Big Five.”However, the team literature as it cur-
rently exists has become unmanageable for any practical purposes.
Therefore, the “Big Five”is intended to provide a more focused
direction for future research by identifying some of the larger gaps
in the team literature and providing practical guidance to those in
applied settings in designing and facilitating teams. And as we
noted at the onset, we hope this article generates thinking, dia-
logue, research, debate, and discussion as to what precisely is team-
work and what we can do about it. Time will tell.
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Eduardo Salas, Ph.D., is trustee chair and professor of psychology at the University
of Central Florida, where he is also program director for the Human Systems Inte-
gration Research Department at the Institute for Simulation and Training.His exper-
tise includes helping organizations to foster teamwork, design and implement team
training, manage decision making under stress, and develop performance
Dana E. Sims, M.S., is a doctoral student of industrial organizationalpsychology at
the University of Central Florida. Her research interests include teamwork, distrib-
uted teams, team training, upward communication, trust in the workplace, and
C. Shawn Burke, Ph.D., is a research scientist in the Institute for Simulation and
Training at the University of Central Florida. Current research interests relate to
team adaptability and its corresponding measurement, issues related to multicultural
team performance and leadership and the training of such teams, and the effect of
stress on team process and performance.
Salas et al. / BIG FIVE IN TEAMWORK? 599