Occupational Health Science

, Volume 2, Issue 2, pp 99–125 | Cite as

Team Stress Research: A Review and Recommendations for Future Investigations

  • Songqi Liu
  • Yihao Liu
Review Article


Due to the increasing reliance on teamwork in the modern work environment featured by its fast pace and high pressure, research on how work teams perceive and manage stress has garnered growing attention. In an attempt to synthesize this literature, we summarized team stress research ranging from lab studies on ad hoc teams to field studies on intact work groups. We posited that research on team stress could benefit from an integrative overview of the theories and findings regarding teams’ reactions to stressors and their downstream consequences. Accordingly, we reviewed major theoretical frameworks used to explain perceptions and effects of stress in work teams. We then focused on empirical research that examined mediators and/or moderators of the team level stressor-strain relationships, due to their enhanced ability to inform underlying mechanisms. Finally, we concluded our review by proposing new theoretical directions to help guide further advancements in team stress research.


Work group Stressor and strain Coping Team effectiveness Wellbeing 

Teams are basic building blocks of modern organizations (Kozlowski and Bell 2003; Mathieu et al. 2017). They play important roles in settings as varied as corporate boardrooms, hospital wards, sports arenas, research laboratories, and military forces. Modern work teams frequently operate in high pressure environments that require them to recognize critical challenges, function under stress, and thrive despite adversity (Burke et al. 2006; Gardner 2012; Kozlowski et al. 1999; Maynard et al. 2015). For example, a team of auditors may need to work effectively under high collective workload during the tax season, a surgical team may need to coordinate closely and respond promptly to a patient’s critical health conditions, and a new product development team may face high levels of uncertainty and time pressure collectively due to fast-changing market trends. Given the ubiquity of stressors faced by work teams (Dietz et al. 2017), understanding how stressors are jointly appraised and coped with at work and how such collective processes unfold to affect team and individual outcomes has important implications ranging from team design and training to occupational health interventions.

Because stress appraisal, along with its underlying psychological and physiological mechanisms, is typically viewed as an intra-individual phenomenon, it is not surprising that stress and coping at work has largely been studied at the individual level of analysis (Bliese et al. 2017; Peiró 2008). Nevertheless, work stress research and stress management practices could benefit from adopting a team level perspective and taking into account the compositional processes underlying stress at work for several reasons (Dietz et al. 2012; Kozusznik et al. 2015). First, as people are increasingly embedded in the social realities of work teams, their stress perceptions, adaptive and maladaptive coping behaviors, and resultant performance and wellbeing are not independent (Griffin 2010; Korczynski 2003; Liu et al. 2015; Westman et al. 2011). The team context, by shaping workflow and social interaction patterns, may significantly affect both the degree to which a situation is appraised to be stressful and the way individuals respond to the situation (Bliese and Halverson 1996; Jiang and Probst 2016). By focusing only on subject-specific perceptions of stress, researchers are at risk of committing either the psychologistic fallacy (i.e., assuming that individual level outcomes can be explained exclusively in terms of individual characteristics or perceptions) or the atomistic fallacy (i.e., assuming that individual level results imply the nature of relationships among similar variables at higher levels of analysis; Diez-Roux 1998). As suggested by Chen et al. (2005), multilevel tests of relationships could add to the parsimony and breath of the theory (when homology – similar relationships between parallel constructs across levels of analysis – is supported), or help to refine theories in order to better understand how the processes operate at each distinct level (when homology is not supported). As such, it is of great importance to investigate both the common (i.e., individual level and team level) and unique (i.e., team level only) mechanisms, by which team stressors are appraised and coped with as a higher-level construct.

Second, examining team stress allows researchers to integrate rich but often disconnected literatures on individual stress reactions and teamwork processes (Bliese et al. 2017; Dietz et al. 2017). Synthesizing the above-mentioned research streams not only extends the nomological networks of stressors and strains to include team characteristics, effectiveness, and viability, but also enriches theoretical models of team processes by recognizing the role of stressors in shaping team cognitions, emotions, and behaviors (Gladstein and Reilly 1985; Kelly and Loving 2004). A good example is a study by Pearsall et al. (2009), which integrated the challenge stressor-hindrance stressor framework with the team processes literature in understanding the team level consequences of work-related stressors. The authors found that the differential effects of challenge and hindrance stressors on team performance were due to the adoption of specific coping strategies by team members. Furthermore, the focus on the collective stress and coping processes is likely to lead to new and more nuanced conceptualizations of existing constructs. For example, team workload, which goes beyond the sum of workload for individual team members, has been defined as “an emergent property of teams, characterized by a non-additive relationship between the finite performance capacities of a team and the taskwork and teamwork demands placed on the team by its performance environment” (Funke et al. 2012, p. 38). This conceptualization of team workload emphasizes both task-related demands and resources, as well as the complex coordination processes required to complete team tasks. Such construct emergence may have important implications for the theorizing and measurement of team stress related variables.

Third, studying stress from a team perspective could inform interventions designed to help individuals and work groups adjust to stressful situations and yet maintain their productivity and wellbeing (e.g., Länsisalmi et al. 2000; Windeler et al. 2017). In the existing stress literature, a disproportionally heavy emphasis on individual factors (vs. team and organizational factors) has resulted in individual-focused job-stress interventions that researchers, workers, managers, and policy makers often find of limited utility (e.g., training on individual stress management; Bennett et al. 2010; LaMontagne et al. 2007). In fact, a meta-analysis on occupational stress interventions (Richardson and Rothstein 2008) found that traditional stress management programs which largely focused on improving individual perceptions and relaxation skills had smaller effect sizes on team or organizational level outcomes (e.g., absenteeism and productivity) than on individual level outcomes (e.g., perceived job stress and job satisfaction). By contrast, lab and field experiments have shown the effectiveness and efficiency of team-based stress management programs in reducing emotional exhaustion and improving team functioning under stress (e.g., Le Blanc et al. 2007). Therefore, organizations interested in improving employee resilience and wellbeing may benefit from adopting a team perspective in formulating organizational practices and interventions.

Extending prior reviews on this topic (e.g., Dietz et al. 2017; Peiró 2008), the current paper aims to contribute to the team stress literature in the following ways. First, we list and briefly summarize theoretical frameworks that elucidate the processes via which teams appraise and respond to stressors at work. Second, we review empirical findings on the effectiveness and wellbeing of teams under stress. In particular, this review covers major team level stressors examined in past research, the collective processes through which teams cognitively evaluate stressors, and the shared actions work units engage in to cope with team stress. In addition, we zoom-in on factors that either facilitate or detract teams’ ability to cope with stress, including team design, team cognitions, and team training. In doing so, we identify mediating mechanisms and boundary conditions of the effects of team stressors on team outcomes. Third, we highlight several theoretical issues that deserve additional research attention and propose directions for future research on team stress.

Research on Team Stress

Drawing on previous research (e.g., Dietz et al. 2017; Weaver et al. 2001), we view team stress more than the sum of team members’ individual stress experiences. In particular, team stress represents a type of team emergent cognition and can be defined as team members’ shared psychological responses to team demands that tax and even go beyond team members’ capacities or resources (Salas et al. 1996; Vagg and Spielberger 1998; Weaver et al. 2001). This definition emphasizes that team stress represents a shared property of all team members, for two reasons. First, due to the interdependent nature of teamwork, team members tend to share the same work goals, follow similar teamwork procedures, and engage in comparable cognitive appraisals regarding their work environment (Drach-Zahavy and Freund 2007; Pearsall et al. 2009). Therefore, team stress may emerge from individual cognitions as a collective state representing team members’ shared appraisals of work demands. Second, teamwork is characterized by team members’ frequent social interactions as they make progress toward the team goal. These interactions could lead to team members’ awareness of each other’s stress appraisals and in turn result in their collective assessment of certain teamwork events as stressful (Gonzáles-Morales et al. 2012; Pearsall et al. 2009). It is also important to note that team stress is different from team strain, which represents affective (e.g., negative mood), cognitive (e.g., rumination), and motivational (e.g., disengagement) consequences of acute or prolonged team stress, especially when not coped with effectively (e.g., Leach et al. 2005).

As indicated by its definition, team stress emerges when high levels of team stressors are present in teams’ work environment. Interestingly, instead of directly measuring team stress, existing research tends to investigate the effects of team stressors on various team outcomes. This tendency may be attributable to be fact that team stressors are more easily manipulated in the lab and more observable in the field, compared to the subjective experiences of team stress. As such, in the current review, we place our emphasis on summarizing theoretical perspectives and empirical evidence on the effects of team stressors on team outcomes, which offer insights into the emergence, accumulation, and consequences of team stress.

We define team stressors as environmental events or conditions, the exposure to which may cause changes in team members’ capabilities to interact interdependently and achieve the team goal together. Examples include workload, time pressure, task ambiguity, difficult requests raised by organizational stakeholders, and physical threats faced by a team. Accordingly, our review does not intend to cover studies in which job stressors were only measured at the individual level without referent-shift, due to concerns for the construct validity of aggregated team scores (Kozlowski and Klein 2000). Instead, we focus on theories and findings that illustrate how team coordination/effectiveness and member attitudes/wellbeing are affected by the exposure to resource taxing conditions imposed on the whole work group. Furthermore, we do not focus on studies on large work units, such as large combat groups, firms, or schools (e.g., Tucker et al. 2005; Wittmer et al. 2013). Although these work units are suitable to the study of coactive stress responses (Peiró 2008), they do not fit the traditional definition of work teams, where high task interdependence is expected (Kozlowski and Bell 2003).

The body of knowledge on team stress largely results from two research traditions: research on how small ad hoc teams are affected by experimentally manipulated stressors while working on highly interdependent tasks, and research on how intact work groups perceive and react to naturally occurring demanding conditions faced by group members. In the former scenario (e.g., Ellis 2006; Isenberg 1981; Karau and Kelly 1992), team members’ physical proximity and the coordination requirements of the team task (e.g., during a command-and-control battle simulation or a team discussion on a business decision) suggest that the actual pattern of interactions among the team members is often the key to successful performance under stress. The typical team stressors examined by this type of research include time pressure, workload, threat of resource loss, task complexity, etc. Team performance, often measured objectively, is the primary outcome variable of interest. Regarding the latter scenario (e.g., Raver and Gelfand 2005; Savelsbergh et al. 2012; Taylor et al. 2017), the research samples typically consist of work units such as sports teams, bank branches, restaurants, and police stations. Common team stressors examined are time pressure, role ambiguity, organizational politics, and job insecurity. In addition to predicting team coordination and performance, field research has also examined outcomes such as member wellbeing, either directly aggregated to the team level or modeled as a team level factor (as opposed to an individual level factor). Because member interaction networks in these work units may be sparse, it is critical to establish within-group agreement and between-group variability of key constructs, before analyses and inferences can be carried out at the team level (Bliese and Halverson 1996). The above observations we offer do not mean, however, that these two research streams are mutually exclusive. Instead, most research in this area attempted to draw on both approaches. For example, lab studies on ad hoc teams have captured member agreement on the appraisal of stress (e.g., Pearsall et al. 2009) and field studies on project teams have integrated teamwork process variables in explaining the effect of team stressors on member wellbeing (e.g., Venkatesh et al. in press). Thus, we review these studies as an integrated stream of research, rather than as separate areas.

Major Theoretical Perspectives

To explain the effects of team stressors on team effectiveness and wellbeing, extant research has drawn from several theoretical perspectives, which are summarized in Table 1 and discussed below.
Table 1

Major theoretical perspectives on team stress

Theoretical Perspectives /Frameworks

Key Propositions

Input-Process-Output (IPO) Framework

Teams’ operating context (i.e., input, such as stressful work environment) influences team effectiveness (i.e., output) indirectly through the nature of interdependent activities among team members (i.e., process).

Threat-Rigidity Thesis

A work team may react to a threat (i.e., adversity, stressor) with two types of rigidity, restriction in information processing and constriction of control. Internal (vs. external) attribution and likelihood of success are expected to condition the effects of threat on group cohesion, leadership support, and pressure on uniformity.

Challenge Stressor-Hindrance Stressor Framework

Team members appraise the work situation as either an opportunity for growth and mastery (i.e., challenge) or a possible barrier to achieving their goals (i.e., hindrance). Such primary appraisals affect teams’ choice of coping behaviors and subsequent performance outcomes.

Job Demands-Resources Theory

Job stress is jointly affected by job demands and job resources. Job demands initiate a health-impairment process that affects performance or wellbeing outcomes. Job resources mitigate the impact of job demands on strain.

Input-Process-Output (IPO) Framework

The IPO framework, widely used to study teamwork in general, has long recognized the role of environmental stressors on team outcomes (Hackman and Morris 1975; McGrath 1964). The IPO model addresses three basic components inherent in team functioning: inputs (i.e., internal and external factors that enable and constrain team members’ interactions), processes (i.e., team members’ interactions directed toward task accomplishment), and outputs (i.e., results and by-products of team activities that are valued by one or more constituencies). In essence, this framework posits that teams’ operating contexts (i.e., inputs, with team stressors as an example) influence teams’ effectiveness and viability (i.e., outputs) indirectly through the nature of interdependent activities among team members (i.e., processes).

Guided by this framework, team stress research has been using indicators of team processes to explain the effects of environmental stressors on team effectiveness. For example, Maruping et al. (2015) found that team processes such as transition, action, and interpersonal processes could explain the influence of time pressure on team performance. It is, however, worth noting that past research has criticized the IPO framework as being overly simple and static (Burke et al. 2006; Ilgen et al. 2005; Mathieu et al. 2017). Therefore, team stress research may benefit from studying mediating mechanisms that are not necessarily behavior-based team processes (Marks et al. 2001), but rather team cognitions or emotions, which could emerge from teams’ collective appraisals of stressors and exert permeable influences on teams’ social interaction patterns and goal achievement effectiveness (Knight and Eisenkraft 2015). In addition, team stress research may also benefit from considering multiple performance episodes, rather than a single round of inputs to throughputs to outputs, such that team stress in the previous performance episode could serve as an input shaping the team’s appraisal of the environment and coping actions in the next episode (Mathieu et al. 2008).

Threat-Rigidity Thesis

The threat-rigidity thesis was introduced by Staw et al. (1981). It posits a general tendency for a work team to behave rigidly under threats – environmental events that have impending negative or harmful consequences. Specifically, teams tend to react to a threat with two types of rigidity: restriction in information processing and constriction of control. Restriction in information processing means a narrowed field of attention, a reduction in the number of alternatives considered, and reliance on prior schemas and expectations (Kamphuis et al. 2011). When facing threats, team members tend to focus on sources of information that are considered a priority (e.g., tasks that need to be completed) and ignore secondary or peripheral issues (e.g., interpersonal activities; Gladstein and Reilly 1985; Urban et al. 1996). In addition, team members under stress tend to become more self-focused and less team-focused (Driskell et al. 1999).

Constriction of control means that power and influence become more concentrated in higher levels of a hierarchy, with fewer people making the decisions. For example, Isenberg (1981) found that team members participated less equally and leadership was more salient (i.e., autocratic and influential) as time pressure increases. In addition, Argote et al. (1989) found that higher levels of perceived threat were associated with more centralized communication structure in a group, an indicator of constriction of control.

Staw et al. (1981) also proposed boundary conditions for the threat-rigidity effect. Under external attribution of threat and projected high probability of success, teams facing threatening environmental events are expected to experience increased cohesion, more support for leadership, and heightened pressure to conform, which in turn lead to restriction in information and constriction of control. Alternatively, under internal attribution of threat and projected high probability of failure, teams facing threatening environmental events are expected to experience decreased cohesion, leadership instability, and dissension, which in turn lead to input of new information and loosening of control.

Although the threat-rigidity thesis is often referenced in team stress research, it has received mixed support (Kamphuis et al. 2011). For example, Driskell and Salas (1991) found that when under stress, rather than centralizing authority and decision making, group leaders and group members became more receptive to information provided by others. In addition, Harrington et al. (2002) found that internal attributions, rather than external attributions, resulted in a more rigid decision making process. In sum, the threat-rigidity thesis seems to characterize some, but not all teams’ responses to threating situations.

Challenge Stressor-Hindrance Stressor Framework

The challenge stressor-hindrance stressor framework was developed based on the transactional theory of stress (Cavanaugh et al. 2000; Lazarus and Folkman 1984). This framework, originally used to explain the individual level effects of various workplace demands, suggests that challenge stressors (e.g., workload, job complexity, and responsibility) are likely to lead to higher work motivation and job performance because they are associated with higher outcome expectancy and instrumentality; while hindrance stressors (e.g., role ambiguity, hassles, and red tape) are likely to lead to the opposite because they are associated with lower outcome expectancy and instrumentality (LePine et al. 2005). In addition, both types of stressors are expected to induce strain, such as anxiety and burnout, although this effect is more apparent for hindrance stressors than for challenge stressors. Research has generally supported the validity of this framework (e.g., Podsakoff et al. 2007; Zhang et al. 2014). However, it is less well understood the individual differences in and conditions under which people perceive certain environmental stressors as a challenge or hindrance. Webster et al. (2011), for example, argued and demonstrated that workload, role ambiguity, and role conflict could be appraised as being both challenge stressors and hindrance stressors to varying degrees.

The team level adaptation of this framework suggests that because stress appraisals are embedded in social interactions within teams, team members will process environmental stimuli in a relatively similar manner, causing convergence in perceptions of challenge and hindrance stressors (Sacramento et al. 2013; Lee 2011). In addition, different effects of challenge stressors and hindrance stressors on team outcomes may be due to the adoption of distinct coping strategies (Pearsall et al. 2009). Specifically, team members may appraise a work situation as an opportunity for collective growth or mastery (i.e., challenge), or as a possible barrier to achieving the team goal (i.e., hindrance). Based on such appraisals, team members then engage in certain coping behaviors, which also tend to converge. In particular, teams may adopt problem-focused coping strategies in the presence of challenge stressors and adopt avoidant coping strategies in the presence of hindrance stressors. Similar to individual level appraisals, it is conceivable that certain team and/or environmental characteristics may determine how team stressors, such as workload, threat, and task complexity are perceived collectively, which may have downstream effects on team performance (Chong et al. 2011).

Job Demands-Resources (JD-R) Model

The JD-R model explains how job demands and resources have unique and multiplicative effects on both job strains and work motivation (Bakker and Demerouti 2007; Demerouti et al. 2001). Job demands refer to components of the work environment that require sustained physical or mental effort. They are likely associated with certain physical and/or mental costs, especially when employees have not adequately recovered from previous effortful work sequences. Job resources, on the other hand, refer to aspects of the job that are functional in achieving work goals, reduce job demands and the associated costs, and/or stimulate personal growth, learning, and development. The model posits that job demands may impair organizational outcomes through their impacts on strains, while job resources may enhance organizational outcomes through their influences on work motivation. In addition, the effects of increased demands can be offset by supplying employees with adequate resources.

Research has also suggested that the JD-R model exhibits isomorphic properties at the team level (Consiglio et al. 2013; Ellis and Pearsall 2011). In particular, high job demands, in the form of a combination of time pressure and threat (Ellis and Pearsall 2011) or the social, technical, and project management risks of the team tasks (Windeler et al. 2017), have been shown to reduce teamwork mental model accuracy and increase tension and perceived stress in teams. These deleterious effects, however, may be buffered by team resources, such as managerial support (Akgün et al. 2007), empowering leadership (Windeler et al. 2017), or a high level of trust among team members (Molines et al. 2017). In addition, this framework informs designing interventions to help teams cope with high demands (e.g., cross-training: Ellis and Pearsall 2011). It is worth noting that, although the multiplicative effects of job demands and job resources have been repeatedly demonstrated, job resources do not always buffer the negative effects of job demands (Bakker et al. 2007). Therefore, additional inquiries about which type of team resource is likely to buffer the impact of each specific type of team stressors are still needed (Akgün et al. 2007).

Mediators of the Relationship between Team Stressors and Outcomes

As suggested by reviews of the team literature in general (Ilgen et al. 2005; Mathieu et al. 2017), team processes and team emergent states are often invoked as mediators linking team composition and situational factors to team and individual outcomes. The same variables have also served as mechanisms explaining the effects of team stressors on team outcomes (Table 2). Below, we reviewed the mediators shown to channel the effects of team stressors on team outcomes.
Table 2

Mediators of the relationship between team stressors and outcomes

Mediator category



Team Processes

Transition Processes

Team learning

Definition: the ongoing process of collective reflection and action. Operationalization: aggregate of individual team members’ responses to survey items.

Savelsbergh et al. (2012)

Team unlearning

Definition: a breakdown of routines, habits, or cognitive frameworks. Operationalization: aggregate of individual team members’ responses to survey items measuring belief change and routine change.

Lee (2011)

Action Processes

Team transactive memory

Definition: a cooperative division of labor for learning, remembering, and communicating relevant team knowledge. Operationalization: an additive index of three coded behaviors at the team level – directory updating, information allocation, and retrieval coordination.

Ellis (2006)

Team problem-focused coping

Definition: addressing the problem causing distress. Operationalization: aggregate of individual team members’ responses to survey items.

Team avoidant coping

Definition: avoiding dealing with a stressor. Operationalization: aggregate of individual team members’ responses to survey items.

Pearsall et al. (2009)

Team coordination

Definition: the extent to which team members interact and work together synergistically. Operationalization: aggregate of individual team members’ responses to survey items measuring the extent to which team members worked together in a synchronized fashion.

Chong et al. (2011)

Team concentration

Definition: the ability of a team to concentrate or stay focused on a particular task. Operationalization: (for the NFL sample) the total number of penalties and total penalty yards incurred by a team; (for the NBA sample) the number of assists a team registered in a game.

Taylor et al. (2017)

Interpersonal Processes

Team relationship conflict

Definition: personality incompatibilities, animosity, and rivalry between group members. Operationalization: aggregate of individual work-unit members’ responses to survey items.

Raver and Gelfand (2005)

Team processes

Definition: task management processes that teams use to handle interdependencies between the multiple tasks for which they are responsible. Operationalization: aggregate of individual team members’ responses to survey items measuring team transition, action, and interpersonal processes.

Maruping et al. (2015)

Team Emergent States

Team Cognitions

Team perspective

Definition: perception of the interrelations of actors and actions in a group system. Operationalization: aggregate of individual team members’ responses to survey items measuring group identity and team mental model of task activity.

Driskell et al. (1999)

Team cohesion

Definition: the forces that bind members to each other in a group. Operationalization: aggregate of individual work-unit members’ response to survey items.

Raver and Gelfand (2005)

Team commitment

Definition: relative strength of individuals’ identification with and their involvement in a particular team. Operationalization: aggregate of individual team members’ responses to survey items.

Drach-Zahavy and Freund (2007)

Team mental model

Definition: organized mental representations of knowledge regarding critical components of a team’s task environment. Operationalization: team interaction mental model similarity and accuracy assessed using the concept-mapping technique.

Ellis (2006)

Team Wellbeing

Emotional exhaustion climate

Definition: an abstraction of the organizational environment in relation to the phenomenon of emotional exhaustion (i.e., “people are used up”). Operationalization: aggregate of individual work-unit members’ responses to survey items.

Molines et al. (2017)

Team Processes

Marks et al. (2001: p. 357) defined team processes as “members’ interdependent acts that convert inputs to outcomes through cognitive, verbal, and behavioral activities directed toward organizing taskwork to achieve collective goals”. Based on their taxonomy, the team process variables examined as mediators of the relationships between team stressors and outcomes can be grouped into transition, action, and interpersonal processes.

The two types of transition processes that may play key roles in how teams cope with stress are learning and unlearning. Team learning refers to an “ongoing process of collective reflection and action, characterized by asking questions, seeking feedback, experimenting, reflecting on results, and discussing error or unexpected outcomes of actions” (Edmondson 1999: p. 353). When teams are under pressure, such active knowledge creation and acquisition, which is deemed critical in the successful performance and adaptation of teams, may be suppressed. For example, Savelsbergh et al. (2012) found that when teams felt that they had more work to do than their capacity, team learning behaviors which were positively related to client-rated project team performance, were reduced. Lee (2011), on the other hand, focused on team unlearning, referred to as breakdown of routines, habits, or cognitive frameworks (Akgün et al. 2006), such that teams are more likely to actively reevaluate, update, and customize their procedures and products in a turbulent and demanding situation. Lee (2011) examined a sample of new product development teams and found that challenge stressors were positively related to team unlearning, which was positively related to the success of the new product.

Action processes unfold when teams are engaged in acts that contribute directly to goal accomplishment (Marks et al. 2001). One example of an action process is team transactive memory, a cooperative division of labor for learning, remembering, and communicating relevant team knowledge (Lewis 2003). Ellis (2006) operationalized this construct as an additive index of three coded behaviors at the team level – directory updating, information allocation, and retrieval coordination. Observing student teams working on a decision-making simulation, he found that acute stressors (i.e., time pressure and threat) negatively affected team transactive memory, which in turn reduced team performance.

A second type of relevant action process is team collective coping, defined as learned uniform responses to remove the stressor, to change the interpretation of the situation, or to alleviate negative feelings (Länsisalmi et al. 2000). Pearsall et al. (2009) found that teams’ problem-focused coping strategies (i.e., team members’ collective actions addressing the problem causing distress) mediated the positive relationships between challenge stressors and team performance and transactive memory. Teams’ avoidant coping responses (i.e., team member collectively avoiding dealing with a stressor), on the other hand, mediated the negative relationship between hindrance stressors and team performance and the positive relationship between hindrance stressors and team psychological withdrawal.

Another team action process relevant to team stress is team coordination, the extent to which team members interact and work together synergistically. Chong et al. (2011) found that team coordination partially mediated the time-pressure – team-performance relationship. In particular, challenge time pressure (i.e., the degree to which a team perceives time pressure as a positive stressor that promotes goal achievement) enhanced team coordination, which in turn positively influenced team development timeliness and adherence to budget. In a similar vein, Taylor et al. (2017) recently used the term “team concentration” to represent the pathway via which travel stressors (cf., commuting stress at the individual level; Zhou et al. 2017), as an aggregate index of travel distance, eastward travel, back-to-back trips, and number of trips in the past months, affected sports teams’ performance. In the NFL sample, team concentration (or lack thereof) was operationalized as the total number of penalties and total penalty yards incurred by a team; while in the NBA sample, it was measured as the number of assists a team registered in a game. The authors found that the effect of team travel stressors on team task performance through team concentration was significant in the NBA sample, but not in the NFL sample. The effect of team travel stress on team counterproductive work behaviors (e.g., number of personal, flagrant, and technical fouls) through team concentration was significant in both the NFL sample and the NBA sample.

We also identified a couple of studies suggesting that team interpersonal processes could mediate the relationships between team stressors and outcomes. Raver and Gelfand (2005) proposed and demonstrated that team relational conflict (i.e., personality incompatibility, animosity, and rivalry between group members) mediated the negative relationship between ambient sexual harassment (i.e., a team level phenomenon reflecting the general level of sexual harassment) and team financial performance in a sample of restaurant workers. Finally, Maruping et al. (2015) measured aggregated team processes as a superordinate variable consisting of team transition, action, and interpersonal processes. Using a sample of software development and support teams, the authors reported that time pressure had an inverted-U shape relationship with team performance, and this relationship was mediated by the effectiveness of team processes.

Team Emergent States

Emergent states, be they cognitive, motivational, or affective, are constructs that develop over the lifespan of the team. Team processes and team emergent states may reciprocally influence each other, and subsequently affect team outcomes (Marks et al. 2001). Among such constructs, team cognition emerges from the interplay of the individual cognition of each team member and team process behaviors (Cooke et al. 2004). Team cognition constructs used to explain the relationships between team stressors and team effectiveness can be categorized as either relationship-based (i.e., a strong identification with and commitment to the team) or knowledge-based (i.e., a psychological map depicting how the characteristics, duties, and needs of teammates fit with one another). Examples of the former include group identity (Driskell et al. 1999), team commitment (Drach-Zahavy and Freund 2007), and team cohesion (Raver and Gelfand 2005). For instance, Drach-Zahavy and Freund (2007) showed that team commitment, defined as the relative strength of the individual’s identification and his or her involvement in a particular team (Bishop et al. 2000), partially mediated the relationships between the interactive effects of team stressors (i.e., quantitative stressors – accumulating demands, time pressures, and overload; and qualitative stressors – highly complex tasks, non-routine jobs, and performance standards that are too high) and team structure on team effectiveness (more details about the nature of team structure will be provided in a later section). Moreover, Raver and Gelfand (2005) showed that ambient sexual harassment impaired team cohesion, referring to individuals’ desire to maintain memberships of the team, which then hurt team financial performance.

Knowledge-based team cognition is generally operationalized as team mental models, namely organized mental representations of knowledge regarding critical components of teams’ task environment (Klimoski and Mohammed 1994). For example in Ellis (2006), a high acute stress condition and a low acute stress condition were created in the lab by manipulating time pressure and threat of impending negative consequences faced by teams. The data suggest that acute stress had a negative influence on team performance via its negative effect on team interaction mental models. Driskell et al. (1999) examined a composite measure of team cognition, namely team perspective, as an explanatory mechanism. Specifically, team perspective was measured as a combination of several indicators of group identity and team task mental model. A high stress condition and a low stress condition were created in the lab by manipulating auditory distraction, task load, and time pressure. Their results showed that team perspective accounted for the negative relationship between team stress and team performance, such that the main effect of team stress on team performance was reduced to non-significant when team perspective was controlled for.

Finally, one study examined team wellbeing as an emergent state that transmitted the effects of team stressors on extra-role behaviors. Specifically, Molines et al. (2017) found that organizational stressors, measured as an aggregate of work-unit member’s responses to survey items measuring excessive administrative duties, bureaucratic red tape, etc., indirectly influenced collective organizational citizenship behaviors directed at both the organization and coworkers at the police station level, via their impact on emotional-exhaustion climate (i.e., an abstraction of the organizational environment in relation to the phenomenon of emotional exhaustion, such as when “people are used up”).


Most team stressors seem to affect team outcomes through their impacts on the quality of team interaction and coordination, the scope of team knowledge and perspective, and/or the level of team collective cognition and wellbeing. Despite such cumulative knowledge, the relative importance of various team process and emergent state constructs in explaining the downstream effect of team stressors, however, is less clear. Moreover, there are many aspects of team processes (e.g., goal specification and strategy formulation; cf., Gevers et al. 2001) and team emergent states (e.g., psychological safety, learning and performance goal orientation, and need for closure: De Grada et al. 1999; Gardner 2012; Spoelma and Ellis 2017) that may very well be linked to team stressors, but have received limited research attention. Finally, due to a lack of temporal focus on the part of the studies reviewed, little is known about whether the impairment of certain team processes and emergent states proceed/succeed others and how these team processes and emergent states deteriorate/develop over time as team stressors unfold.

Moderators of the Relationship between Team Stressors and Outcomes

Table 3 listed empirical findings regarding moderators of the relationships between stressors and outcomes at the team level. Such moderators can be grouped into the following buckets: team design, team emergent states, and team training.
Table 3

Moderators of the relationship between team stressors and outcomes

Moderator category



Team Design

Team Incentive

Team task cohesion

Definition: cohesion based on the potential of the group to mediate in the attainment of material personal interests and goals which cannot be attained in the individualistic framework. Operationalization: manipulated such that high task-cohesive teams received a cover story emphasizing team performance and the reward associated with high team performance, while low task-cohesive teams did not receive such a cover story.

Zaccaro et al. (1995)

Team Structure

Team structure

Definition: team relationships that determine the allocation of tasks, responsibilities, and authorities. Operationalization: aggregate of individual team members’ responses to survey items measuring mechanistic structure and organic structure.

Drach-Zahavy and Freund (2007)

External Leadership

Management support

Definition: the degree to which management creates a facilitative climate of support, trust, and helpfulness on performance. Operationalization: aggregate of two managers’ responses to survey items measuring support received from senior company management.

Akgün et al. (2007)

Internal Leadership

Temporal leadership

Definition: leader behaviors that aid in structuring, coordinating, and managing the pacing of task accomplishment within the team. Operationalization: aggregate of individual team members’ responses to survey items measuring leaders structuring, coordinating, and managing task pacing in teamwork.

Maruping et al. (2015)

Empowering leadership

Definition: the process of implementing conditions that enable sharing of power with an employee by delineating the significance of the employee’s job, providing greater decision making autonomy, expressing confidence in the employee’s capabilities, and removing hindrances to performance. Operationalization: aggregate of individual team members’ responses to survey items measuring leading by example, participative decision making, coaching, informing, and showing concern.

Windeler et al. (2017)

Project manager technical knowledge

Definition: Project managers’ understanding of detailed technical design, code testing, development tools and platforms. Operationalization: supervisors responded to items measuring the extent to which the project manager was knowledgeable about the technical activities necessary to develop systems.

Project manager project management knowledge

Definition: Project managers’ understanding of details involved in managing a project from launch to completion. Operationalization: supervisors responded to items measuring the extent to which the project manager was knowledgeable about things such as the importance of planning, resource estimation, monitoring and client interfacing.

Venkatesh et al. (in press)

Team Emergent States

Team Cognitions

Group potency

Definition: the collective belief within a group that it can be effective. Operationalization: aggregate of individual team members’ responses to survey items measuring the team’s confident in itself.

Gevers et al. (2001)

Team identification

Definition: the emotional attachment to and involvement in a team. Operationalization: aggregate of individual team members’ responses to survey items measuring the extent to which members were emotionally attached to the team.

Chong et al. (2011)

Team promotion focus

Definition: a team’s shared orientation towards promotion-related goals and strategies. Operationalization: aggregate of individual team members’ responses to survey items measuring the extent to which the team as a whole is oriented toward achieving success.

Sacramento et al. (2013)

Trust climate

Definition: positive expectations that individuals have about the intent and behaviors of multiple organizational members based on organizational roles, relationships, experiences, and interdependences. Operationalization: aggregate of individual work-unit members’ responses to survey items.

Molines et al. (2017)

Team Training

Teamwork Skills Training

Team adaptation and coordination training (TACT)

Definition: training designed to teach teams to recognize changes in situational stress levels, a set of adaptive coordination strategies, and the most appropriate conditions to use each strategy. Operationalization: the training taught teams (1) how to identify signs and symptoms of stress in the external environment, in the team, and in individual team members and (2) adaptive strategies to cope with increases in workload and stress. The training condition also gave teams opportunity to practice what they have learned.

Entin and Serfaty (1999)

Taskwork Skills Training


Definition: a training program where each team member receives instruction regarding the roles and responsibilities of his/her teammates. Operationalization: manipulated through positional rotation. In the experimental condition, team members were able to gain experiences carrying out the duties of their teammates through active participation.

Ellis and Pearsall (2011)

Team Design

Team design refers to the specification of team size, membership, and staffing; the definition of a team’s tasks and members’ roles; and the creation of organizational support for the team (Guzzo and Dickson 1996; Stewart 2006). Several studies have examined how design features can affect teams’ ability to cope with stressors. For example, Zaccaro et al. (1995) examined the effect of temporal urgency – when insufficient time exists during the performance period to plan team actions, monitor performance, and make adjustments accordingly – on team performance, conditioned by team task cohesion. Using a lab simulation, the authors manipulated team task cohesion, such that high task-cohesive teams received a cover story emphasizing team performance and the reward associated with high team performance, while low task-cohesive teams did not. Results showed that task cohesion could improve teams’ responsiveness and decision-making performance under conditions of temporal stress. High task-cohesive, high temporally urgent teams performed as well as teams in the low time-pressure conditions, while low task-cohesive, high temporally urgent teams performed significantly worse than teams in other conditions.

Another team design feature that plays an important role in shaping teams’ coping effectiveness is team structure, defined as team relationships that determine the allocation of tasks, responsibilities, and authorities (Stewart and Barrick 2000). Previous research suggest that team structure varies on two dimensions: mechanistic and organic (Burns and Stalker 1961). Team structure is considered “mechanistic” when efforts to control members’ job accomplishment aim to establish certainty via mechanisms such as centralization of authority, routinization of job requirements, and formalization of work through heavy emphasis on documentation and written procedures. Under such a structure, roles within the team are narrow and highly specialized, affording workers low personal discretion. Team structure is considered “organic” when productivity is assured through shared control, opportunities for participation based on knowledge, autonomy, and adaptability and continual adjustment. In this scenario, roles are more broadly defined, so that workers have wider personal discretion, which leads them to see “the bigger picture” and cooperate with others. Drach-Zahavy and Freund (2007) found that when mechanistic structuring was low, team effectiveness was significantly lower under high as opposed to low levels of quantitative stress (i.e., conditions that consist of accumulating demands, time pressures, and overload). By contrast, when mechanistic structuring was high, team effectiveness remained high regardless of quantitative stress. On the other hand, when organic structuring was low, team effectiveness remained low regardless of the level of qualitative stress (i.e., conditions that consist of highly complex tasks, non-routine jobs, or performance standards which are too high). However, when organic structuring was high, team effectiveness was significantly higher under high rather than under low levels of qualitative stress.

External leadership provides a point of interface between the team and the organization (Morgeson et al. 2010). Support from various hierarchical levels of organizational leadership, therefore, can significantly impact the resources available to teams, hence their ability to cope with stress (Wang et al. 2014). Akgün et al. (2007) suggested that team crisis (i.e., a sense of urgency) and team anxiety (i.e., an apprehension, a state of uneasiness or fear about anticipated real or perceived events) may motivate better performance when management creates a facilitative environment of support, trust, and helpfulness on performance. Using a sample of new product development teams, the authors found that with a high degree of management support during the project, team crisis positively influenced team learning and new products’ speed-to-market and success; and team anxiety positively impacted speed-to-market. When management support was low, however, no significant relationships were found among team crisis, anxiety, and project outcomes.

Internal leadership originates from the leader who is a member of the team and thus engages in part of the team’s task cycles (Morgeson et al. 2010). Previous research suggests that a form of internal leadership that may significantly affect teams’ ability to cope with stress is temporal leadership – leader behaviors that aid in structuring, coordinating, and managing the pacing of task accomplishment within teams (Mohammed and Nadkarni 2011). Behaviors that comprise team temporal leadership include reminding team members of important deadlines, setting interim milestones, coordinating to ensure on-time work delivery, and building in time for contingencies and problems. This type of leadership is expected to be especially beneficial when teams need to operate under high time pressure. Maruping et al. 2015found that the inverted U-shape relationship between perceived time pressure and team performance was moderated by team temporal leadership. Specifically, under strong team temporal leadership, the effect of perceived time pressure on team performance was mostly positive, while under conditions of weak team temporal leadership, the effect was positive at low levels of perceived time pressure and negative at intermediate to high levels of perceived time pressure.

In another study on information system development teams, Windeler et al. (2017) found that empowering leadership (i.e., leadership behaviors that involve delineating the significance of employees’ jobs, providing greater decision making autonomy, expressing confidence in employees’ capabilities, and removing hindrances to performance) buffered the cross-level effects of job demands, operationalized as project size and target volatility, on team members’ role ambiguity and role conflict.

More recently, Venkatesh et al. (in press) examined a mediated moderation model, in which the stress-buffering effect of information system project managers’ knowledge on the relationship between technical project risk (i.e., the extent to which projects have high, volatile, and/or unclear requirements) and team members’ psychological stress and performance was mediated by process control. Specifically, when project managers had high technical and project-management knowledge, project teams’ internal and external process controls were higher. Under such conditions, technical project risk, a team level stressor, had little impact on individual team members’ performance and psychological stress. By contrast, when project managers had low technical and project-management knowledge, project teams’ internal and external process control were lower. Under such alternative conditions, technical project risk significantly reduced team member performance and elevated their psychological stress.

In sum, team design factors, including task features, member composition, and leadership styles, may significantly shape the way teams react to and cope with certain types of team stressors. However, given the complexity of teamwork and the multi-facet nature of team stressors, it is unlikely that any single team design factor can buffer the negative impact of all types of team stressors. Instead, a matching principle may be useful to identify certain team design factors as buffers of certain types of team stressors. We will elaborate this idea in a subsequent section of this paper.

Team Emergent States

As reviewed previously, team cognitive states, such as commitment and cohesion, could be affected by team stressors. Certain team cognitions, prior to teams’ exposure to stressful conditions, however, could buffer the adverse effects of team stressors on team coordination and performance. Group potency, for example, the collective belief within a group that the group can be effective (Guzzo et al. 1993), may help determine whether a group facing time pressure starts working right away or procrastinates and thus makes less progress. Gevers et al. (2001) found that the effect of time pressure on project progress was moderated by group potency, such that the progress made by groups with high levels of potency was hardly affected by the amount of time pressure anticipated by these groups, while low potency groups made far more progress when the level of time pressure in the project was low rather than high. Another type of team cognition that functions as a stress-buffer is team identification, namely the emotional attachment to and involvement in a team (Van der Vegt and Bunderson 2005). In particular, Chong et al. (2011) found that team identification sustained team coordination, especially for teams facing hindrance time pressure. Specifically, the negative relationship between hindrance time pressure and team coordination was stronger when team identification was low and weaker when team identification was high. Sacramento et al. (2013) suggested that team promotion focus, defined as team members’ shared orientation toward promotion-related goals and strategies, may help create a norm of rapid and unobstructed information sharing, thus potentially enhancing the positive effect of challenge stressors on team performance. Using a sample of research and development teams, the authors found that team promotion focus strengthened the positive relationship between job demands and team creativity.

Finally, Molines et al. (2017) suggested that trust climate – team members’ shared positive expectations about each other’s intentions and behaviors based on organizational roles, relationships, experiences, and interdependencies – may alter the effect of team/organizational stressors on team member wellbeing. Using a sample of French police officers, the authors found that the relationship between shared organizational stressors (e.g., excessive administrative duties and bureaucratic red tape) and emotional-exhaustion climate (i.e., emotional exhaustion referenced and aggregated to the police station level) was positive when trust climate was low and non-significant when trust climate was high. Also, the indirect relationship between organizational stressors and individual-based organizational citizenship behaviors through emotional exhaustion climate was negative and significant when trust climate was low, but non-significant when trust climate was high.

Team Training

Team training generally focuses on improving either teamwork skills or taskwork skills of team members (Salas et al. 2008). Past studies have offered evidence that training focused on either of these skill sets may enhance teams’ ability to cope with stress (Driskell et al. 2015). In particular, Entin and Serfaty (1999) examined the effect of Team Adaptation and Coordination Training (TACT), a type of teamwork training designed to teach teams to recognize changes in situational stress levels, a set of adaptive coordination strategies, and the most appropriate conditions to use each adaptive strategy. This training exercise helps teams anticipate and formulate strategies to deal with dynamic and stress-inducing situations, and reduce the amount of communications necessary for successful task performance, which tend to break down under stressful circumstances. In a lab experiment, the authors found that training conditions interacted with stress levels to influence team performance. Specifically, under the high stress condition, TACT led to improvement in team performance.

Another type of team training that has been shown to effectively buffer the negative impacts of team stressor is cross-training, where team members receive instructions regarding the roles and responsibilities of their teammates with the goal of enhancing individual members’ taskwork skills (Volpe et al. 1996). Cross-trained teams may be able to maintain a high level of performance under heavy workload or restricted communication because of a common understanding of the situation among members. This knowledge permits teams to use an implicit coordination strategy, which minimizes the need for overt communication. Ellis and Pearsall (2011) demonstrated that although cross-training was less influential when job demands were low; when job demands were high, cross-trained teams evidenced higher mental model accuracy, more information allocation, and less tension than teams that were not cross-trained.


Team design features, cognitive states, and training have been shown to be important boundary conditions of the effect of team stressors. That said, similar to reported mediators, past studies rarely examined two or more moderators of team stressors simultaneously, making it difficult to judge their relative utility. With few exceptions (e.g., Drach-Zahavy and Freund 2007; Maruping et al. 2015), extant research tends to develop generic, rather than stressor-specific, arguments about why the team stressor-strain relationship may be mitigated given a boundary condition. In addition, an important component of team design, team composition (e.g., size, tenure, personality, ability, and diversity), has received little attention in team stress research. Furthermore, additional forms of team leadership may enhance teams’ ability to cope with stressors, thus buffering their impacts on team performance and member wellbeing. For example, leaders may select highly competent team members or members who have previously worked well together (composing team), assist the team in interpreting stressful events that happen inside and outside the team (sensegiving), and help resolve difficulties between different teams (managing team boundaries). Finally, evidence on effective training programs aiming to help teams adapt to stressful conditions is still very limited.

New Theoretical Directions for Future Research

Now that we have reviewed both theoretical and empirical work in the team stress literature, we propose several new theoretical directions to help guide further advancements in team stress research. The new theoretical directions we propose here include conceptualizing team stress with a dynamic perspective, theorizing about the compilation forms of emergence in team stress, and applying a matching principle to identify team stress buffers.

Conceptualizing Team Stress with a Dynamic Perspective

As we reviewed earlier, teams’ reaction to stressors is often conceptualized and modeled as a single round linear path from stressors to strains, despite repeated calls for research examining the episodic nature and feedback loops involved in the process (e.g., Ilgen et al. 2005; Marks et al. 2001). As such, we propose to replace this snap-shot or one-off view of team stress with a dynamic perspective in the following ways.

First, just as individuals’ appraisals of and responses to stress change over time (Lazarus 1993), teams’ stress reactions (e.g., reappraisal of stress and choice of coping strategies) may change over time as well. For example, based on the punctuated equilibrium theory (Gersick 1988), team members only begin to express urgency about finishing a project on time from the midpoint on (relative to the deadline). Then in the second half of the project period, team members would particularly focus on solving task problems, implying that time pressure may be perceived differently in the second half of the project period as compared to the first (Chong et al. 2011). Building on this logic, teams’ perceived challenge and hindrance stressors may ebb and flow or follow certain trajectories from early to late stages of the project. That is, as time passes by, the same stressor may be appraised differently, perhaps as a challenge stressor at the beginning of the project when time pressure is low, but as a hindrance stressor later on when the deadline is approaching. As a result, depending on the specific situation, the same resource-taxing condition may elicit different interaction patterns among team members and lead to different team performance outcomes.

In addition, teams’ sensemaking of the work environment may also manifest as dynamic. For example, teams’ reactions may be much stronger when they are encountered with novel and unexpected stressors. However, if the same stressors continue to arise in the work environment over time, teams may be able to make sense of the stressors both cognitively (e.g., become mentally prepared) and behaviorally (e.g., learn how to cope with them), leading to less adverse reactions. Theorizing about the antecedents and consequences of such state-like team coping reactions is likely to enrich team stress research by understanding teams’ day-to-day or episode-to-episode management of stress.

Second, as demonstrated in previous research, stressors may result in important team process changes without affecting team performance (Adelman et al. 2003). For example, Adelman et al. (2003) showed that team members initially adapted to increasing time pressure by accelerating their cognitive processing and increasing the amount of implicit coordination, while omitting certain other team activities without showing performance decrements. This implies the presence of certain levels of resilience among work teams, such that elevated pressure can elicit adaptive responses which then neutralize the impact of stress. This adaptation process may unfold before, during, or after performance episodes (Maynard et al. 2015). During the transition period, teams may reflect on and adjust their performance goals and generate more appropriate strategies (e.g., Burke et al. 2006; LePine 2005). During the action period, teams could enhance individual efforts, the frequency of communication, or backing-up behaviors, and reduce the response time to cope with increased workload and task difficulty (e.g., Randall et al. 2011). Additionally, teams may engage in various interpersonal activities to recuperate resources by managing conflicts, rehabilitating physical and emotional energy, and building confidence. It is also worth noting that team resilience may be compromised when stressors go beyond teams’ coping capabilities (West et al. 2009); thus, an “inverted-U” curve may be expected regarding the relationship between team stressors and team resilience/adaptive responses. In sum, a dynamic view and repeated measures of these adaptive responses (and potential maladaptive responses) may help provide a more nuanced depiction of the team coping processes.

Third, drawing on the cybernetic theory of work stress (Edwards, 1992), team stress research can incorporate the ideas of negative feedback loops, where team stress, resulting from a negative discrepancy between teams’ current state (i.e., teamwork progress) and desired state (i.e., teamwork goal), damages member wellbeing and activates collective coping, which, in turn, influences both member wellbeing and team effectiveness. This cybernetic perspective suggests a series of sequential relationships, such that team stress perceptions at the previous time point influence member wellbeing and elicit coping efforts at the current time point, which influence stress perceptions at a future time point. For instance, effective coping reactions (e.g., problem-focused coping) at the current time point may reduce goal-performance discrepancies and thus mitigate team stress at a future time point, while ineffective coping reactions (e.g., avoidant and certain emotion-focused coping) may further amplify negative discrepancies and thus add more fuel to the team stress perceptions. To gauge these autoregressive effects and reciprocal influences, all model components should be measured at each time point. This perspective is also consistent with Ilgen et al.’s (2005) emphasis that team outputs in the previous performance episode could serve as inputs for subsequent performance episodes.

Theorizing about the Compilation Forms of Emergence in Team Stress

Team stress is an emergent phenomenon, which (a) originates from the individual level experiences and responses (i.e., individual physiological reactions and cognitive appraisals), (b) is constrained by higher level structures, and (c) is variable in the form by which it manifests. Different interaction process dynamics (e.g., direct or second-hand exposure to the same stressor, and/or disparate perception of stressors due to the division of labor) and constraints (e.g., organizational structure, leadership, and workflow) shape the way this construct forms and emerges. Kozlowski and Klein (2000) suggested two ways that emergent phenomena could manifest in a bottom-up fashion. Composition forms are homogenous, linear, and convergent, whereas compilation forms are heterogeneous, nonlinear, and divergent. To our knowledge, current research on team stress has exclusively focused on the composition forms of emergence (i.e., shared perceptions that coalesce around a common understanding; e.g., agreed-upon perceptions of temporal pressure and ambient sexual harassment) and ignored the possible and potentially more nuanced compilation forms of emergence (i.e., distinctly different points of view that fragment the group; e.g., uneven distribution of time pressure and task complexity within the team).

Conceptualizing team stress as a compilation construct may generate further insights into how stress affects team outcomes. For example, team task structure can influence the configural nature of team performance. Thus, the level of stress experienced by a key player in the team (e.g., the chef in a restaurant kitchen, the quarterback of a football team, or the person holding a central role in the communication network of a volunteer group: the disjunctive model) may have a stronger impact on team coordination and performance than the team average (i.e., the additive model). Accordingly, the key players’ resilience and stress buffers that help them cope with the stressful experiences may prove critical to teams’ coping effectiveness. In addition, although research has considered how team composition affects team adaptation (LePine 2005; Randall et al. 2011), it is less clear how heterogeneity (e.g., variance) in member characteristics, such as cognitive ability, work experiences, self-efficacy, or affective disposition affect teams’ ability to cope with both acute and chronic stressors (cf., Kaplan et al. 2013). Kozlowski and Chao (2012) suggest that other types of compilation include patterned emergence based on unit bifurcation (e.g., faultlines, such as when male and female group members have different perceptions about the group’s sexual harassment climate), proportional thresholds (e.g., the percentage of team members who experienced furlough in the past 6 months and thus were worried about job security), and network metrics (e.g., the density of the team’s adversarial network). Finally, different members of teams could be under different sources of stress (e.g., under−/over-qualification, discrimination, and financial stress). Little research attention has been paid to the extent to which such variety in the sources of stress experienced by team members affects team processes and outcomes. Thus, we recommend that future theoretical work unveils the nature of team stress based on these alternative forms of emergence process.

Applying a Matching Principle to Identifying Team Stress Buffers

As we reviewed previously, simultaneous examination of multiple team stress buffers is rare. In addition, extant research tends to provide little justification for why a particular type of team design feature or team cognition serves as the boundary condition of the stressor-strain association. It is conceivable that not all team stressors are appraised and coped with in the same way. Thus, it is important for future research to develop more precise theory about what team stressors are likely to be mitigated or neutralized by what team resources.

At the individual level of analysis, De Jonge and Dormann (2006) suggested that the strongest interactive effects of stressors and resources should be observed when stressors, resources, and strains are based on qualitatively matching dimensions. For example, de Jonge et al. (2008) found among a sample of healthcare workers that the negative effect of emotional work demands on employee work motivation was more strongly attenuated by emotional resources (e.g., emotional support from coworkers) than cognitive resources (e.g., job control). Applying this principle to the team level, the interactive effects of team stressors and team resources may be most detectable when their dimensions are aligned. For instance, team temporal leadership may buffer the impact of time pressure on the timely completion of team project. Similarly, team psychological safety may weaken the impact of project risk and complexity on the innovativeness of the team product. Furthermore, team training to help improve implicit coordination may neutralize the impact of lack of direct communication due to high workload or disruption of communication channels on teams’ ability to synchronize member activities to complete the interdependent task. Along these lines, future research should clarify how teams may need different resources to deal with different types of threat (e.g., physical, material, or social), hindrances (e.g., organizational politics, job insecurity, or daily hassles), and demands (e.g., high volume of work, emotionally demanding work, or work that requires complex coordination).


Organizations increasingly deploy teams to handle high-stake and high-pressure performance scenarios. To the extent that team processes are interrupted and member wellbeing is impaired when teams are exposed to chronic or acute stressors, team performance and viability may be adversely affected. In reviewing extant research on team stress, we identified as well as critically evaluated key theoretical frameworks and empirical findings with regard to the outcomes of team stressors. We also attempted to integrate this literature by providing a taxonomy of the mechanisms and boundary conditions of the impact of team stressors. Despite increasing research attention on team stress since the 1980s, significant gaps in theory building and testing in this area still limit understanding of team adjustment under stress and the ability to intervene when needed. Therefore, we strongly recommend that future research on team stress pursues theoretical advancements, such as those highlighted in the current review.


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

On behalf of all authors, the corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest.


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© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Managerial Sciences, J. Mack Robinson College of BusinessGeorgia State UniversityAtlantaUSA
  2. 2.School of Labor and Employment Relations and Department of PsychologyUniversity of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignChampaignUSA

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