Teams & Groups

Leader and Team “On the Same Page”

Phrases like “being on the same page” or “seeing eye to eye” indicate a level of agreement in understanding among two or more people. Understanding is especially important when the parties in question are teams and their leaders. A lack of mutual understanding between leaders and teams can result in maladaptive actions that impede performance and development.

Perceptual Distance

Perceptual distance refers to the amount of disagreement between what a leader perceives versus what a team perceives. The greater the perceptual distance between a leader and his or her team, the more likely each side will have different ideas about what is being done or should be done. Different expectations or pursuing conflicting courses of action can lead to negative feelings for both team members and leaders. Such discrepancies can also result in teams and leaders failing to recognize or capitalize on catalysts, which are events or things that stimulate teams to break out of a stale routine or ineffective performance pattern. Examples of catalysts include performance appraisals and being aware of group processes, such as conflict, within one’s team.

Goal Accomplishments and Perceptual Distance

When leaders have a higher sense of goal accomplishment than their team, there is a negative effect on performance. Interestingly, performance tends to be much lower when teams have a higher sense of goal accomplishment than do their leaders. Performance is best when the perceptual distance between leaders’ and teams’ ideas on goal accomplishment is small, and both have a high sense of goal attainment.

Constructive Conflict and Perceptual Distance

Constructive conflict is conflict centered on developing productive solutions to challenges by using debate and discussion. This type of “good” conflict exhibits a similar set of relationships with perceptual distance for teams and leaders as does goal accomplishment. That is, performance is more negatively impacted when team members’ believe they have enough constructive criticism while their supervisor thinks they don’t use enough constructive criticism.

Implications for Practice

Based on these results, human resource professionals should:
  • Have a clear set of explicit work goals (e.g., meeting a deadline) that are mutually understood by both teams and their leaders.
  • Develop a common idea of low, medium, and high performance that teams and leaders both can independently recognize.
  • Encourage more sharing of ideas between supervisors and teams on how to increase performance.
Overall, ensuring that supervisors and their teams work together on having similar conceptions of goal achievement and constructive conflict can pay off in improved production and development.

Don Johnson


This was a summary of the research and practice implications from: Gibson, C. B., Cooper, C.D., & Conger, J. A. (2009). Do you see what we see? The complex effects of perceptual distance between leaders and teams. Journal of Applied Psychology, 94, 62-76.