top of page


The interest in Teamship that underpinned the England Rugby success in 2003 inspired this study.  However, the concept lacks empirical examination or peer-reviewed definition.


1.1       “Teamship”




“Teamship” is a term which is becoming increasingly commonplace in colloquial and practitioner descriptions of group processes and activities associated with team performance (Woodward, 2004, 2019; Dallaglio, 2008; Wilkinson, 2012; Mohla, 2020).  Chapter 1 explains the author’s interest in the term, and Chapter 2 highlights some of the multiple - and confusing - definitions being used.  The lack of consistency in the conceptual understanding of “teamship” extends beyond the colloquial; as shown in this review, not only is there a dearth of empirical or theoretical research relating to understanding and defining the concept, that which does exist offers diverse interpretations of what the word may represent to both practitioners and scholars.  This section focuses only on the scholarly understanding of “teamship”, and its presence in research literature.

The phenomenon that inspired this research study (England winning the RWC in 2003) was ascribed by its head coach to be based upon a concept of “teamship”.  Subsequent interest in the term as it relates to high performance teams has resulted in a growing body of popular literature and comment, some of which includes leadership and team training organisations specifically focused on the term (Hood, 2020; Taylor, 2021).  It could be argued that academia has a responsibility to provide a consistent theoretical foundation for the concept, and either align the term with existing defined theory and constructs, or to recognise and determine its uniqueness, and contribute to a gap in existing knowledge. 

Seminal Contributions

As detailed previously, there are no seminal empirical or literature-based theoretical contributions regarding “teamship”.  Scholarly literature of any type referring to the term is minimal.  EBSCO lists only nineteen academic articles referring to the word [1]  Of these, only one focuses on the concept of “teamship” (Townsend and Gebhardt, 2003), offering a theoretical construction in respect to their proposed dyadic continuum between leadership and followership in group environments.  The remaining articles use the concept in different ways to describe different aspects of group and team processes.  

Review of available literature

The nineteen peer-reviewed articles have been analysed to understand the context in which “teamship” has been used in the research.  Of the nineteen results, four have been excluded from this review based on the use of “teamship” in the articles, where the context has no relevance to group behaviours or where the article is a book review of popular literature.  The analysis of the remaining fifteen articles is provided in Appendix E.  Three articles are briefly discussed here as they represent a) the only theoretical definition of “teamship” (Townsend, 2002; Townsend and Gebhardt, 2003), and b) reference to “teamship” in a study of resilience within the England Rugby 2003 squad.

The analysis of literature highlights the problem with “teamship” as a concept; the term is used with an assumed meaning across a diverse set of environments and contexts, extending from construction and healthcare, to military, education and tourism, to sport and biotechnology.  Only Townsend (2002, 2003) offers a theoretical conceptualisation of “teamship”, summarised in Figure 3.2.1.  However, his theoretical concept lacks rigor, context, validity or reference to literature or previous research.  The interpretated application of followership in the proposed “teamship” continuum shows lack of understanding of the scholarly examination of the term.  Indeed, Townsend’s description of “teamship” is consistent with that of shared leadership (Pearce and Sims, 2001) but contains no reference to this, or distributed leadership (a similar concept).  It is therefore challenging to rely on the credibility of Townsend’s theory, particularly when compared to the empirical studies and essays in the literature reviewed in detail in Appendix E, that position “teamship” in a very different context.



Figure 3.2.1       The Leadership-Teamship-Followership (LTF) Continuum (Source: Townsend and Gebhardt 2003:19)


In their reference to “teamship”, Morgan et al (2015) explored the psychosocial processes associated with resilience in elite sports teams, examining England Rugby in 2003, and several autobiographies from participants of that squad.  Their research has significance in consideration of the catalyst for this author’s research study as it focuses on the same sample and participants that inspired this study and also seeks insight into group social processes and behaviours.  They suggest the importance of transformational leadership behaviours from the team coach, as well as leadership within the team between players.  Whilst their investigations did relate their observations to SIT (Tajfel, 1974; Hogg and Abrams, 2006; Hogg, Abrams and Brewer, 2017) they did not examine other underlying sociological mechanisms that may be associated with these observations and assertions, for example the dyadic relationship between leader and follower (Leader-Member Exchange Theory; (Dansereau, Graen and Haga, 1975; Graen, Novak and Sommerkamp, 1982; Graen and Uhl-Bien, 1995)) and how this might manifest in vertical interpersonal group cohesiveness (Feldman, 1968; Severt and Estrada, 2015), or the dyadic interactions between group members examined in Social Exchange Theory (Thibaut and Kelley, 1959; Emerson, 1976) and the supportive or coercive impacts on horizontal interpersonal group cohesiveness and instrumental task cohesiveness (Festinger, Schachter and Back, 1950; Feldman, 1968; Severt and Estrada, 2015).  The narrative analysis from Morgan et al (2015) supports the findings of this author’s critical incident case analysis (Lees, 2015) of the same event, with both studies identifying antecedents and symptoms consistent with Groupthink (Janis, 1972, 1983), specifically insulation of the group, homogeneity of members, high external stress, temporary low self-esteem from recent failures, lack of impartial leadership, oppression of dissenters, illusion of unanimity, invulnerability, stereotypes of out-groups and self-appointed mind-guards.

Summary and Discussion of “Teamship” Literature

A dearth of scholarly literature, and the absence of any empirical studies indicates a clear gap in knowledge.  The lack of academic interest could indicate that “teamship” has no relevance in the understanding of groups and teams, and that the concepts that are implicit in the colloquial and popular use of the term are captured under different descriptors in other areas of group theory.  However, the counterargument to this perspective is that the colloquial use of “teamship” is increasing and significant.  A Google search of the term provides 42,900 results [2].  In the first 50 results, twenty-one of them referred to Sir Clive Woodward’s definitions and the RWC2003.  Twelve of the results were from companies offering “teamship” training.  The combination of increasing practitioner interest, increasing popular usage and non-existent stance or empirical research from the academic community suggests a clear and important gap in knowledge. The identification in the England Rugby 2003 team members of antecedents and symptoms consistent with groupthink offers the researcher a potential starting point to design an empirical exploratory study into the concept.


[1] “Teamship” as search term with unlimited “field” constraints, limited to Scholarly (Peer Reviewed) Journals published at any time (Search date 11.02.21)

[2] “Teamship” as search term in Google (search date 12.02.21)

bottom of page