The importance of a shared sense of 'we' and 'us'

“The leaders who work most effectively, it seems to me, never say "I." And that's not because they have trained themselves not to say "I." They don't think "I." They think "we"; they think "team." They understand their job to make the team function. They accept responsibility and don't sidestep it, but "we" gets the credit. This is what creates trust, what enables you to get the task done.”

Peter F. Drucker

What is it that distinguishes successful leaders from others? How come that some organisational leaders succeed in creating a well-oiled team, where the target profit is obtained and colleagues enjoy coming to work, whereas other leaders are confronted with disappointing losses, burnouts, and job losses? The same question arises on the sport ground. How come that some coaches succeed in shaping a team in which players would always go that extra mile for each other, while other coaches have various world star players, but do not succeed in joining their forces?

Recent research, both within organisational and sport contexts, points to the talent of leaders to cultivate a strong team identity — a shared sense of 'we' and 'us' — in their team. Good leaders (whether it is the CEO, the manager, the coach or the leaders within the team) succeed in making their team members think, feel, and behave as members of one team (as 'we' and 'us'), rather than as a group of individuals (as 'me' and 'you'). This sense of 'we' and 'us', in scientific terms referred to as a joint social identity, leads team members to go beyond what is strictly expected from them to help each other and their team. After all, these highly identifying team members perceive the success of their team as a personal success. Moreover, by cultivating this team identity, both formal leaders and leaders within the team create a leverage to foster the team's effectiveness and their resilience as a team, as well as team members' satisfaction and well-being.

“The ratio of We's to I's is the best indicator of the development of a team.”

To guide formal leaders on the one hand, and the leaders within the team on the other hand in cultivating and strengthening this joint team identity, we developed two programs; the 5R Program solely focuses on the cultivation on this joint team identity, whereas our all-in 5RS Program starts with implementing a structure of shared leadership and then combines the strengths of both the formal leader and the leaders within the team to strengthen that sense of 'we' and 'us'.

Read more about our studies related to this topic: 

The power of empowerment: Predictors and benefits of shared leadership in organizations

Edelmann, C., Boen, F., & Fransen, K. (2020). The power of empowerment: Predictors and benefits of shared leadership in organizations. Frontiers in Psychology, 11, 582894. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.582894

    Making ‘us’ better: High-quality athlete leadership relates to health and burnout in professional Australian football teams.

    Fransen, K., Haslam, S. A., Steffens, N. K., Mallett, C., Peters, K., & Boen, F. (2020). Making ‘us’ better: High-quality athlete leadership relates to health and burnout in professional Australian football teams. European Journal of Sport Science, 20(7), 953–963. doi: 10.1080/17461391.2019.1680736

    We will be champions: Leaders' confidence in 'us' inspires team members' team confidence and performance.

    Fransen, K., Steffens, N. K., Haslam, S. A., Vanbeselaere, N., Vande Broek, G., & Boen, F. (2016). We will be champions: Leaders' confidence in 'us' inspires team members' team confidence and performance. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports, 26(12), 1455–1469. doi:10.1111/sms.12603

    Leading from the top or leading from within? A comparison between coaches' and athletes' leadership as predictors of team identification, team confidence, and team cohesion.

    Fransen, K., Decroos, S., Vande Broek, G., & Boen, F. (2016). Leading from the top or leading from within? A comparison between coaches' and athletes' leadership as predictors of team identification, team confidence, and team cohesion. International Journal of Sports Science & Coaching, 11(6), 757–771. doi:10.1177/1747954116676102

    When do elite cyclists go the extra mile? Team identification mediates the relationship between perceived leadership qualities of the captain and social laboring.

    De Cuyper, B., Boen, F., Van Beirendonck, C., Vanbeselaere, N., & Fransen, K. (2016). When do elite cyclists go the extra mile? Team identification mediates the relationship between perceived leadership qualities of the captain and social laboring. International Journal of Sport Psychology, 47(4), 355-372. doi:10.7352/IJSP 2016.47

    Believing in us: Exploring leaders’ capacity to enhance team confidence and performance by building a sense of shared social identity.

    Fransen, K., Haslam, S. A., Steffens, N. K., Vanbeselaere, N., De Cuyper, B., & Boen, F. (2015). Believing in us: Exploring leaders’ capacity to enhance team confidence and performance by building a sense of shared social identity. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 21(1), 89-100. doi:10.1037/xap0000033

    The myth of the team captain as principal leader: Extending the athlete leadership classification within sport teams.

    Fransen, K., Vanbeselaere, N., De Cuyper, B., Vande Broek, G., & Boen, F. (2014). The myth of the team captain as principal leader: Extending the athlete leadership classification within sport teams. Journal of Sports Sciences, 32(14), 1389-1397. doi:10.1080/02640414.2014.891291

    The impact of athlete leaders on team members’ team outcome confidence: A test of mediation by team identification and collective efficacy.

    Fransen, K., Coffee, P., Vanbeselaere, N., Slater, M., De Cuyper, B., & Boen, F. (2014). The impact of athlete leaders on team members’ team outcome confidence: A test of mediation by team identification and collective efficacy. The Sport Psychologist, 28(4), 347-360. doi:10.1123/tsp.2013-0141