The science of self-belief (Part 2): Group Efficacy


In this article, I discuss Group Efficacy – a group’s collective belief in its ability to achieve its goals. I set out the scientific evidence, and consider the implications for work performance.

Andy Milward Ph.D.

Group Efficacy

In The science of self-belief (Part 1), I explored the scientific evidence for the idea that a person’s level of Self Efficacy (belief in ability to succeed in a specific task or domain of activity) affects their motivation at work – how they choose to behave, how much effort they exert and the extent to which they persevere when things get tough.[ref]Bandura, A. (1997). Self Efficacy: The Exercise of Control. New York: W.H. Freeman & Co. p. 477[/ref]

There is clear evidence that people with high Self Efficacy for a specific task or area of activity tend to outperform those with lower Self Efficacy.

However, belief in your own ability to achieve a goal only partially explains motivation and effort.

Working with and through others

As there are few activities in life that one can do without some form of input, support and cooperation from others, belief in the capability of the group or collective of which one is a member, to work together to accomplish a common goal is also an important determinant of motivation.

If people lack belief in their collective ability to achieve a shared outcome, they have little incentive to exert effort.

Collective (Group Efficacy) defined

Social Psychologist Albert Bandura called this belief in collective capability ‘Collective Efficacy’ ‐ an idea that he defined formally as:

a group’s shared belief in its conjoint capabilities to organise and execute the course of action required to produce given levels of attainment’[ref]Bandura, A. (1997). Self Efficacy: The Exercise of Control. New York: W.H. Freeman & Co. p. 477[/ref]

Bandura said that Collective Efficacy applies to various forms of groups ranging from small teams through to larger social groups such as communities, towns, cities and perhaps entire nations.[ref]Bandura, A. (1986a). Social Foundations of Thought and Action: A social cognitive theory. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.:Prentice-Hall[/ref][ref]Bandura, A. (1997). Self Efficacy: The Exercise of Control. New York: W.H. Freeman & Co.p. 477[/ref][ref]Zaccaro, Blair et al. (1995). Collective Efficacy in Maddux, James, E. (Ed) Self Efficacy, Adaptation, and Adjustment: Theory, Research, and Application pp. 305 – 308. New York, Plenum Press[/ref]

The term Collective Efficacy is usually reserved for larger groups such as communities.

In the workplace we use the term Group Efficacy to describe the Efficacy beliefs of workgroups and teams.

Bandura argued that like Self Efficacy, Group Efficacy beliefs influence the motivation of group members to work towards their shared goals.

Allocating, coordinating and integrating resource

Researchers Zaccaro, Gibson et al further developed Bandura’s definition as follows:

‘collective (group) efficacy represents a sense of collective competence shared among individuals when allocating, coordinating and integrating their resources in a successful concerted response to specific situational demands’.[ref]ibid p. 309[/ref]

The two definitions differ in the emphasis that Zaccaro gives to the competence of the group in ‘allocating, coordinating and integrating [group] resources’.

There are two elements involved here, the process of ‘allocating, coordinating and integrating’ and the nature of group ‘resources’.



Self Efficacy beliefs entail individuals making a judgment about their own capability to use their own skills, knowledge and abilities in order to succeed in some performance area.

People develop Group Efficacy beliefs by making a judgment about their own and every other group member’s capabilities (their group resources).

In addition, they must also make a judgment about the group’s overall ability to coordinate, combine and deploy its collective resources.

The coordinative capability of a group includes important functions[ref]Fleishman, E.A., & Zaccaro, S.J., (1992). Toward a Taxonomy of team performance functions. In R. W. Swezey & E. Salas (Eds.), Teams: Their training and performance (pp. 31-56). Norwood, NJ: Ablex.[/ref] such as:

  • Exchange of information between members
  • Pacing of activities
  • Effective timing
  • Defining the problem
  • Dividing of responsibilities

The formation of Group Efficacy beliefs  depends upon the extent to which group members feel that the group has the capability to perform each of these functions.[ref]Zaccaro, Blair et al. 1995 p. 309[/ref]

To evaluate the competence of their group, members must weigh not only their own and others’ specific abilities. They must also consider whether the differences in members’ abilities is right for a particular task.

The mix of skills required by a group is also likely to vary from task to task.

Some group tasks require homogeneity of skill whereas others require a complex mix of skills.

Group members are also likely to form efficacy judgments based upon their observation of other group members’ behaviour – their willingness to cooperate and make a full contribution to the group effort.

Self and Group Efficacy: a performance spiral



To make the idea clearer, I return to the example I gave in The science of self-belief: Part (1): Self Efficacy.

An employee who has to give a presentation must rely on other people to prepare presentation materials, to ensure that audio‐visual equipment is functioning well and that those who have organised the presentation have made the arrangements efficiently.

The extent to which the presenter has confidence in the ability of others involved will influence their own Self Efficacy. This will affect the quality of their presentation.

Group Efficacy and Self Efficacy therefore interact with one another in a reinforcing spiral.

The lower the Self Efficacy beliefs of group members, the less able they are to perform their group roles successfully.

This will lessen their fellow group members’ beliefs in the group’s ability.[ref]Lindsley, D., H, D. Brass, J, et al. (1995). “Efficacy Performance Spirals: A Multilevel Perspective.” Academy of Management Review 20(5): 645‐678.[/ref]

Conversely, if group members have strong Self Efficacy beliefs in respect of their own roles, this will strengthen everyone’s belief in the capabilities of the group.

It is therefore possible that in groups where members have low Self Efficacy beliefs, this will lead to a downward spiral in Efficacy beliefs for both individuals and the group overall.

Conversely, efforts to raise Self and Group Efficacy beliefs can lead to a virtuous cycle of performance.

Group-Efficacy and Performance: the scientific evidence



Group Efficacy has received attention from researchers in fields as diverse as:

  • Sports Psychology.[ref]Feltz, D. and C. D. Lirgg (1998). “Perceived team and Player Efficacy in Hockey.” Journal of Applied Psychology 8(4): 557‐564.[/ref][ref]Feltz, D., M. Chase, et al. (1999).”A Conceptual Model of Coaching Efficacy: Preliminary Investigation and Instrument Development.” Journal of Educational Psychology 91(4): 765‐776.[/ref][ref]Kozub, S., A and J. McDonnell, F (2000). “Exploring the Relationship Between Cohesion and Collective Efficacy in Rugby Teams.” Journal of Sport Behaviour 23(2): 120‐129.[/ref]
  • Education.[ref]Goddard, R. D. and Y. L. Goddard (2001).[ref] “A Multi Level Analysis of the Relationship between Teacher and Collective Efficacy in Urban Schools.” Teaching and Teacher Education(17): 807‐818.[/ref]
  • Military.[ref]Shamir, B., E. Brainin, et al. (2000). “Perceived Combat Readiness as Collective Efficacy: Individual and Group Level Analysis.” Military Psychology 12(2): 105‐119.[/ref]
  • Work organisations.[ref]Little, B. L. and R. M. Madigan (1997). “Motivation in Work teams: A Qualitative and Quantitative Exploration of the Construct of Collective Efficacy.” Small Group Research 28: 517‐534.[/ref][ref]Gibson, C. B., A. Randel, et al. (2000). “Understanding Group Efficacy: An empirical test of multiple assessment methods.” Group & Organization Management 25: 67‐97.[/ref]

Research therefore suggests that Group Efficacy is predictive of performance in groups in a variety of settings.

A recent analysis based on sixty‐seven studies involving 2,042 groups estimated that the correlation between Group Efficacy and performance at the team level across these studies is (ρ = 0.41) and (ρ = 0.45) where interdependence among team members is high.

These are significant findings suggesting a strong relationship between Group Efficacy and performance.[ref]Gully, S. M., K. A. Incalcaterra, et al. (2002). “A Meta Analysis of Team Efficacy, Potency and Performance: Interdependence and Level of Analysis as Moderators of Observed Relationships.” Journal of Applied Psychology 87(5): 819‐832.[/ref]

The message for leaders is clear: if you want to improve workplace performance, commit to initiatives that raise the Self and Group Efficacy beliefs of your workforce.

Andy Milward

Andy Milward Ph.D. is founder and principal of Milward, a consulting and research firm specialising in Strategic Leadership.

©Andy Milward and Milward: Consulting in Strategic Leadership: Latest Thinking, 2014-2015.

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Andy Milward PhD and Milward: Consulting in Strategic Leadership: Latest Thinking with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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