Team autonomy, organizational commitment and company performance – a study in the retail tradeThe International Journal of Human Resource Management


Monika E. von Bonsdorff, Minna Janhonen, Zhiqing E. Zhou, Sinikka Vanhala
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Team autonomy, organizational commitment and company performance – a study in the retail trade

Monika E. von Bonsdorff a*, Minna Janhonenb, Zhiqing E. Zhouc and Sinikka Vanhalad aGerontology Research Centre and Department of Health Sciences, University of Jyva¨skyla¨,

Jyva¨skyla¨, Finland; bFinnish Institute of Occupational Health, Helsinki, Finland; cDepartment of

Psychology, University of South Florida, Tampa, FL, USA; dAalto University School of Business,

Helsinki, Finland

The study focuses on the relationship between perceived team autonomy and company performance through highlighting organizational commitment as a mediating factor in this relationship. Data collected in 2007 came from 25 small-sized companies in the retail trade, covering both the employer and employee levels (n ¼ 369). This study aims to shed light on the following questions: first, is team autonomy associated with organizational commitment and company performance? Second, does commitment mediate the relationship between team autonomy and company performance? Results indicated that team autonomy was both directly and indirectly positively associated with company performance. Furthermore, organizational commitment partially mediated the relationship between team autonomy and company performance.

Theoretical and practical implications of these findings are discussed.

Keywords: company performance; HRM; organizational commitment; team autonomy; teamwork


Several studies show that teamwork has emerged as one of the most important ways to organize work (Delarue, van Hootegem, Procter and Burridge 2008; Kauppinen et al. 2010; Gallie, Zhou, Felstead and Green 2012). The interest in teamwork lies in the belief that there exists a positive relationship between teamwork and organizational performance, which has been noticed in several different labels, such as modern sociotechnical theory, human resource management (HRM), business process reengineering and lean production (Delarue et al. 2008).

Following McGrath’s (1964) input-process-outcome framework, characteristics of individual team members, team-level factors together with organizational and contextual factors jointly affect team processes, which ultimately contribute to organizational outcomes, such as performance and members affective reactions (Mathieu, Maynard,

Rapp and Gilson 2008). Following this seminal work, teamwork (Delarue et al. 2008) and team autonomy (Procter and Burridge 2008) have since been linked to organizational performance.

While studies have consistently showed that teamwork is positively associated with operational outcomes in organizations, the relationship is somewhat less evident in terms of performance outcomes such as financial or team/worker outcomes (Delarue et al. 2008).

In other words, some of the inconsistencies in these empirical findings may partly be explained by the different ways to operationalize performance. Despite a recent metaanalysis indicating that teamwork could be positively associated with attitudinal q 2014 Taylor & Francis *Corresponding author. Email:

The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 2014 outcomes, such as commitment, job satisfaction and empowerment, negative attitudinal experiences cannot be out ruled (Delarue et al. 2008). For instance, Barker (1993) noted that the interaction between team members can bring about a new kind of control, called concertive control. Furthermore, using data from the 1998 UK Workplace Employee

Relations Survey (WERS98), Harley (2001) reported that members and non-members of teams did not differ in terms of stress, commitment and job satisfaction. While this finding speaks against the negative effects of teamwork, it also puts the positive effects of teamwork on attitudinal outcomes into question. Thus, further research in the field of teamwork and different organizational outcomes is warranted.

This study examines the relationship between team autonomy and company performance in the Finnish retail trade. In the retail trade, which is typically shop floor sales work, teamwork is quite common, especially in markets and department stores. At the

European level, two-thirds of employees in thewholesale and retail tradeworked in teams in 2012, and 34%of themworked in autonomous teams (Eurofound 2013). In the Finnish retail trade, the figures seem to be slightly higher: even 81% of the employees worked in teams, either permanently or partially in 2006, while in 2009 the figure was slightly lower, 71% (Work and Health in Finland, Reports From the Years 2006 and 2009). The Finnish

Commerce Federation (Kaupan liitto) highlights the importance of the Finnish retail trade for the economy by reporting that it accounts for 10.6% ofGDP, and the important role of its employers, who represent 12.5% of the total workforce in Finland. The typical assignments in this valued and important field of business are based on customer-orientated teamwork (Angerma-Niittyla¨ 2012).

Despite the fact that teamwork is common in the retail trade, previous research has not addressed the relationship between teamwork and performance in this sector. In general, teamwork research on service sector firms is scarce, and studies on the retail sector are especially rare (see Appelbaum, Bailey and Berg 2000; Jones, Kalmi and Kauhanen 2010).

In their study, Jones et al. (2010, p. 2) argue that: as retail trade is characterized by low pay, a high proportion of part-time employees, and a high proportion of female employees, it has been suggested that the HRM environment in the retail sector would be rather traditional. However, globalization and regulatory changes that have increased competition may have compelled service providers to consider means for improving productivity by the application of more participatory HRM practices. This makes it both important and interesting to study the relationship between teamwork and organizational performance in the retail trade.