This essay aims to discuss why teams and groups are seen as essential features of contemporary organisations. Firstly, it will examine what exactly constitutes a group or team, then it will go on to discuss different types of groups and teams which exist within an organisation. Next it will explain why groups and teams are key to contemporary organisations in particular and finally, it will discuss the disadvantages associated with groups within organisations.
Firstly, it is important to distinguish what exactly constitutes a team or a group. As Khan (2010) states, all teams are groups because the individuals in it have some kind of of unifying relationship, but not all groups are teams because the individuals making up a group may have very little or no interdependence and they could just as well work alone. For the purposes of this essay we will assume that the terms team and group are interchangeable. Therefore, a group is a collection of individuals who share a common set of norms, who generally have differentiated roles among themselves, and who interact with one another toward the joint pursuit of common goals (Steers and Black, 1994).
Within an organisation different types of groups exist and are essential for the day to day running of the company. Formal and informal groups are the most common groups found within organisations; where formal groups are the groups brought together by the organisation for a specific purpose – for example, the human resources department – and where informal groups are the social groups formed voluntarily by individuals within the organisation – for example, people who share common interests.
Businesses cannot exist without both formal and informal groups. Informal groups provide individuals with a means of gaining help and support to carry out their particular objectives (which may or may not be the same as the organisation’s objectives) (Handy, 1993 as cited in Kahn, 2010). Informal groups provide employees with the social contact they desire which makes them more agreeable in the work environment and as such more willing to participate actively in their formal groups.
Open and closed groups also exist within organisations; where an open group is one whose membership changes frequently and a closed group is one whose membership is relatively stable. In a closed group status relationships are established among the members, meaning that there will be clear cut high status and low status members. Within an organisation the management can manipulate these different sets of groups in order to achieve their goals. For example, keeping decision making groups as open groups means that leadership roles are more difficult to establish amongst the members and thus high status members of the group will find it hard to establish norms and the team will work to its best potential.
Many contemporary organisations are now spread globally, so it is of utmost importance for them to factor in another type of group, the virtual group. Virtual groups are able to come together regardless of time and space restrictions to work on resolving any issues. Thanks to advances of the world wide web, for the first time teams can virtually collocate all of the information they need to work together and put it all in context (Lipnack and Stamps, 1997). Virtual groups allow the organisation to respond quickly to any market changes, take pressure away from top management and instil a sense of belonging and importance amongst the employees.
The virtual group is an important factor for global organisations as it allows for cultural diversity in the solutions which are proposed. For example, the Chinese office may have a different way of thinking than the American office, but through virtual groups it is easy to transfer this cultural knowledge to other areas of the business. A more and more technology driven marketplace pressurises organisations to respond quickly to changes but thanks to these technological advances, organisations can begin to use the world wide web to their benefit through virtual teams. Virtual teams allow the organisation to easily spread decision making to trusted individuals rather than only to top management.
Groups can be essential to an organisation’s level of productivity. If there is a high level of group cohesiveness the group will experience high morale and will become a desirable entity to be part of within an organisation which means there will be plenty employees willing to compete with each other for a spot in the group, which in turn raises productivity. Managers need to control the size of groups in order to stay at an optimum level of productivity and also offer incentives like bonus pay for good performance to enhance the desirability of the group even further. Groups also relieve some of the responsibility of the manager, as they do not have to keep a constant eye on each individual employee, they can trust that group members will spur on the productivity of the group in order to gain the proposed incentives.
Groups can provide an organisation with more than one solution to a proposed problem because as Maier (1967) states, a group has a greater knowledge store than that of any individual. Monitoring the size of groups here is vital from management, as with a large sized group there may be plenty of ideas generated, but they are not necessarily well formed ideas. Splitting groups into smaller member sizes will ensure the ideas are well thought out and in an extremely competitive marketplace, this is the best strategy for managers to ensure they have a variety high quality solutions to choose from instead of opting for the first good idea that comes to light.
As beneficial as groups are to contemporary organisations, it is also useful to be aware of some of the risks that go along with groups within organisations. Even though it is believed that the quality of ideas or decisions made within a group will be higher than from an individual, people have been known to make riskier decisions within a group context than they would ever have made alone. The reason being people want to conform to group norms as shown in the tests conducted by Milgram (1963). Milgram showed how easily people can be influenced to stray from their initial beliefs for the norms of the group and also how easily people go back to their own beliefs if the group is in support of them through his experiments. This all shows how easily influenced people can be and how they will change their behaviour to that of their peers in order to avoid possible conflict.
One further disadvantage of groups within organisations is the theory ‘Groupthink’ which was developed by Irving Janis (1972) which states that once within groups individuals may lose sight of the end goal and instead only focus on reaching an agreement. If suffering from groupthink people may become over confident and invulnerable, they may view outsiders in negative terms and disregard their views and they may force different thinkers to conform to their ideas. Football fans tend to be affected by groupthink, for example, they get sucked into the group and follow the behaviour of others which is vastly different from the way they would act in their day to day lives. Managers can combat groupthink through a number of ways and thus maintain the effectiveness of the group entity to the organisation.
In conclusion, groups and teams are essential features of contemporary organisations. Groups come in many forms and businesses cannot exist without the merging of all different types of group within the organisation. Virtual groups are key to contemporary organisations as they allow the organisation to stay up to date in the technology stakes and also allows them to merge great minds from the different corners of the globe. Groups with high levels of cohesiveness will increase the productivity of the organisation and can be encouraged and manipulated by management to remain productive. Although groups are essential features of organisations they do also come with their disadvantages, groups can lose their individuality and take even riskier decisions than they would ever do alone. From this essay it is clear that groups and teams are essential features of contemporary organisations as long as the top management understands the complexities of the group and keeps renewing membership so as to gain the most benefits for the organisation.
Kahn, H (2010), “Groups and Conflict Management” (chapter 6), Organisational Behaviour, Heriot Watt University
Steers, R. M and Black, J. S (1994) Organisational Behaviour, Prentice Hall
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Janis, I. L (1972). “Victims of Groupthink: A Psychological Study of Foreign Policy Decisions and Fiascoes” Houghton Miffin.