Smells like team spirit: opening a paradoxical black box

Tânia Silva, Miguel Pina e Cunha, Stewart Clegg, Pedro Neves, Arménio Rego, Ricardo A. Rodrigues

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Citations (Scopus)


Despite the common usage of the term, researchers and practitioners have not been able properly to explain what team spirit is and what benefits and drawbacks it might bring to teams. Several definitions have been proposed, but not in a consistent manner. Using a qualitative approach, we worked with one football team to shed light on how individuals experience and characterize team spirit. Our results suggest that team spirit is built around four paradoxes: these are a paradox of selfless egoism; a paradox of results; a paradox of conflict, and a paradox of relationships. Essentially, team spirit can be viewed as an inter-subjectively shared facility with which individual members of a team can balance opposing tensions in a consistent way, managing to maintain a healthy synthesis between individual and collective needs and expectations, preventing the team from dominating the individuals, as well as specific individuals from capturing the team.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)287-310
Number of pages24
JournalHuman Relations
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2014


  • groups
  • paradoxes
  • sport teams
  • team spirit
  • teams


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