Mindfulness Sparks Collaboration and Teamwork - Ideas for Leaders
Idea #806

Mindfulness Sparks Collaboration and Teamwork

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Mindfulness helps employees appreciate the benefits of their workplaces, sparking a motivation to help co-workers succeed. The result: greater collaboration and teamwork driving greater organizational success.


Collaboration and teamwork are key elements of successful workplaces. Past studies have shown that gratitude—employees being aware and appreciative of the benefits they receive at work—inspires the generous, helpful behaviour toward other employees that underpins effective collaboration and teamwork.

However, the pressure-packed, high-paced environment of today’s workplaces leaves little time for employees to contemplate and appreciate the benefits they are receiving at work (e.g., opportunities for career development, flexible schedules, or even the helping hand of a co-worker). 

Into the breach steps mindfulness, the deliberate individual effort to step back and focus intention on what is occurring in the present moment. According to a team of researchers from five U.S. universities, mindfulness training helps employees to be grateful for the benefits of their work, and this gratitude in turn generates the helpful behaviour that reinforced collaboration and teamwork. 

The researchers break down the complex relationship between mindfulness and employee helpful behaviour as follows:

  • Mindfulness leads to positive emotions and perspective. Perspective is the ability to see through others’ eyes. 
  • Positive emotions generate an appreciation by employees of the benefits in their work. Perspective leads to an awareness of the cost to others to provide such benefits (e.g., the time that co-workers donate to help them, the generosity of their company to offer flexible schedules).
  • Together, positive emotions and perspective generate employee gratitude.
  • Gratitude, in turn, leads to the desire to expend effort to help others, known as prosocial motivation, which leads to helpful behaviour.

Through a series of studies—two laboratory experiments involving more than 400 participants, a six-week field study built on bi-weekly surveys, and an intense 10-day field study involving four surveys per day—the researchers prove the psychological connections described above.

The two laboratory experiments laid the groundwork. In the first, participants who had undergone a short mindfulness meditation exercise reported nearly 60% more blessings in their lives—when asked to list all the blessings they could think of—than participants who had not done the exercise. 

In a second experiment, participants who had undergone a similar mindfulness meditation exercise expressed a greater sense of gratitude for what they had in their lives (by indicating a higher level of agreement for statements such as “I am grateful to a wide variety of people”), and were more willing to help the researchers with an unpaid task (rating the quality of short videos) than those who had not listened to the mindfulness exercise. 

Thus the two laboratory experiments linked mindfulness to gratitude and mindfulness to gratitude to helpful behaviour respectively.

The researchers then tested their theories in real-world conditions.

During the 6-week study period of the first field study, 99 participants completed surveys twice a week that measured their levels of mindfulness, gratitude and prosocial behaviour (the latter through statements such as “Today, I am feeling like I want to help others through my work”). Three times during the study period, a co-worker of each of the participants completed surveys on the actual helpfulness of the participant in the previous weeks. The results of this field study showed a link between mindfulness and gratitude, and that this gratitude generation prosocial motivation that led to actual helpful behaviour, as recorded by the co-workers. 

In the final field study, 103 participants filled out short surveys four times a day for two full work weeks. The surveys, presenting statements with which the participants indicated their level agreement, measured: mindfulness (conducted in the morning); positive emotions (late morning); perspective (late morning); gratitude (afternoon); prosocial motivation (evening); and helpful behaviour (evening). 

The study further confirmed the researchers’ theoretical framework: mindfulness leads to positive emotions and perspective, which in turn leads to gratitude; such gratitude leads to prosocial motivation, which culminates in helpful behaviour.


With training, mindfulness can become a regular part of people’s work lives. Given the ultimate benefit of having grateful employees helping each other, this research encourages companies to invest in mindfulness training interventions to support effective collaboration and teamwork.

In addition, many companies have employee appreciation programs in place, such as monthly recognition ceremonies or regular emails from company leaders to managers and executives expressing their appreciation. The research indicates that mindfulness training would strengthen and enrich these programs. Through mindfulness, employees are aware of their co-workers’ daily efforts at work, and thus respond to company recognition programs that celebrate these co-workers—as well as their own contributions.



  Katina Sawyer’s profile at George Washington University School of Business
  Christian Thoroughgood’s profile at Villanova University
  Elizabeth Stillwell’s profile at University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management
  Michelle Duffy’s profile at University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management
  Kristin Scott’s profile at Clemson University Wilbur O. and Ann Powers College of Business
  Elizabeth Adair’s profile at California State University Monterey Bay College of Business


Being Present and Thankful: A Multi-Study Investigation of Mindfulness, Gratitude, and Employee Helping Behavior. Katina B. Sawyer, Christian N. Thoroughgood, Elizabeth E. Stillwell, Michelle K. Duffy, Kristin L. Scott & Elizabeth A. Adair. Journal of Applied Psychology (April 2021).


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