Teams are groups of people who share a common purpose, who depend on each other to accomplish their purpose, develop relationships with each other and outsiders and eventually develop roles in the team. These teams can be intact work groups working for the same person, or can be from different functions or organizations. In these times of constant change, it is essential for teams and team members to understand their strengths and weaknesses. Effective teamwork can help a company deal with this ongoing change and can create an environment to find better ways to solve problems, resolve conflicts, and set goals, whether they be to provide the best possible service, to be the top sales district, or to plan exciting company events. Teams have an important place in our professional and personal lives. Working in teams is an inevitable life experience, even for people who prefer to work alone. Working on teams can normally prove very challenging with all of the variations in personalities, strengths, and weaknesses.
An effective teamwork does not happen overnight; it takes a cooperative group of individuals and a talented leader. To avoid a stiff structure in an organization, management must learn to let people do their creative best and optimize their talent. An ideal organization consists of a team-oriented environment where people are being asked to work beyond their disciplines. Departments learn to work together, helping one another, as well as themselves, instead of behaving like rivals, only out for their personal advancement.
Generally, there are three main characteristics for a team to be successful; they must share a common goal, each member must play their own particular role, and each member must be willing to make a few sacrifices (Hambrick, 1994). The most important aspect must be the common goal of the group. Even though the members of the team have different views, even though they come from different backgrounds, even if they have different ambitions, this common goal is what will unite and bind the group together. But this common goal is not enough; something more is needed: the role of the individual team players. If the team is to truly be a success, each member will have to play his or her role properly. Conflict may arise due to specific individuals wanting more credit, power, or glory; however, that is when the importance of sacrifice becomes apparent. Each individual member has to be ready to give up something for the good of the whole team, because for a team to flourish and triumph, the goal is greater than the individual (Hambrick, 1994). When a team works together with these three attributes, there is practically no limit to what they can accomplish.
There are normally four stages that a group will have to go through before they become fully developed. They are: mutual acceptance, communication and decision-making, motivation and productivity, and control and organization (Moorehead & Griffin, 285.) Each stage has its own unique features, but it is difficult to determine where one begins and one ends. There are no clear lines because one stage seems to blend into the next step. Mutual acceptance is the first step where each group member will share certain information about his or herself, in an effort to get to know the other team members. This information has almost nothing to do with the team goals; it is the members’ opportunity to learn something about one another.
Once members begin to feel a little more comfortable together, they may attempt to discuss an overview of what they expect to accomplish within their group. They will begin to discover each other’s differences and similarities, their individual viewpoints on numerous concerns on relevant subject matters become apparent, and conversation about team goals and business become more prevalent. When the conversation starts to take on a more serious tone, the second stage of communication and decision-making has begun, possibly the most important stage in the process.
Communication is an essential part in the development of a group culture. The types of communication structure determine leadership, roles and status within the group, group morale and cohesiveness, and it limits or enhances productivity (Hare, 1992). Different types of communication are needed for different tasks. If a group’s goal is relatively simple, a centralized communication network in which interaction between members is limited tends to increase effectiveness. In a more complex environment, with a focus on problem solving, a decentralized communication network would be more appropriate (Shaw, 1981).
The choice of a communication network might be more effective if decision-making strategies are outlined in advance and if the urge to stabilize the structure too early is resisted, as there is considerable resistance to change once these structures are established. Awareness of these issues is usually low and it is one of the tasks of the group leader or facilitator to bring them to the attention of the group. Communication standards, as well as performance, are raised if the group has clear performance-oriented goals, an appropriate task strategy to accomplish those goals, and a clear set of established rules in order to tolerate inter-member conflicts and to promote feedback to ensure that information is properly interpreted and understood. When it becomes apparent that the group is united upon its goals and tasks, the third stage of motivation and productivity can begin.
Motivation and productivity focus on the overall performance within the group. All groups, however, do not reach this stage. If it has been attained, their capacity, range, and depth of relations expand to true interdependence. Group members can work independently, in sub-groups, or as a total unit, while their roles and authorities dynamically adjust to the changing needs of both the group and the individual. Individual members have become self-assuring and the need for group approval has past; they are both highly task-oriented and highly people-motivated. The group has reached a level of unity, group identity is complete, morale is high, and loyalty is intense. There is a strong focus on both team cooperation and creativity. This stage places a high emphasis on problem solving and productively working towards the most optimal solutions to these problems. If a group is able to accomplish these tasks, they will move on to the final stage of control and organization (Moorehead & Griffin, 287).
The final stage of control and organization in group development involves the termination of task behaviors and the disengagement from group relationships. The group will work towards fully accomplishing all of their goals and tasks to the point of completion. A planned conclusion usually includes recognition for participation and achievements and an opportunity for members to say their personal goodbyes. It may also create some apprehension from group members due to the relinquishing of control and giving up inclusion in the group. The most effective interventions throughout this stage are those that facilitate task termination and the process of disengaging oneself from the group. Members must prove to be flexible and able to adapt to whatever the next step is for the group, whether it be to transform into a mature group, or to disband altogether (Moorehead & Griffin, 288).
Work groups function to perform a particular task. In a work group, the task dimension is emphasized and group members pool their expertise to accomplish the task. Organizations may not realize that different groups will require different kinds of facilitation, meaning its roles, relationships, goals, functions, and capabilities. There are two main types of teams in the workplace: work unit teams and self managed teams (Parks & Sanna, 1999). Work unit teams are where supervisors are retained with drastically altered roles, and employees are given much expanded responsibilities for day-to-day operations, while self managed teams are where managers and supervisors are largely eliminated and employees truly take charge.
Work-unit teams and self-managed teams both shift traditional managerial and supervisory responsibilities for controlling performance and solving performance problems to employees. All employees are required to attend team meetings, work on performance improvement projects and participate in other team activities by virtue of their employment. Where these two types of teams differ is in respect to the effect of the teams on organizational structure and the role, or even existence, of managers and supervisors (Parks & Sanna, 1999).
The organizational chart with work-unit teams looks very much like that of a traditional organization, with perhaps some flattening of the traditional pyramid into fewer levels. Additionally, there may be no radical restructuring of the work process flow, at least initially. There is a much sharper definition of the unit’s responsibilities and objectives, however. Work-unit team members develop a few key performance measures for the team that are linked back to company objectives and they help establish targets for performance on these measures. Also, team members meet on a regular basis with their manager or supervisor to review performance on these measures, identify performance problems or areas needing improvement, and develop action plans or projects to solve performance problems they identify.
Under work-unit teams, managers and supervisors may be reduced in number, but that position is not eliminated. They continue to perform traditional functions such as planning, budgeting, hiring, disciplining, and firing, although they may be required to seek greater employee input into these decisions. The team itself is responsible for the work group’s performance. The manager or supervisor’s role is to provide the team with information and resources, facilitate team meetings, and coach employees in problem-solving efforts (Parks & Sanna, 1999).
Self-managed teams operate in a similar fashion to work-unit teams, but with employees assuming greatly expanded responsibilities. Additionally, the traditional organizational structure is drastically altered because divisions, departments, and sections drawn along functional lines may cease to exist; in its place are teams of five to fifteen employees. Each team has the responsibility, equipment, and other resources necessary to produce an entire product, deliver a service, or produce or deliver a major part of a product or service. Self-managed teams are structured to operate almost as small, independent business units. Where the work-unit team has a clearly defined set of performance objectives, the self-managed team has a mission to serve a customer or group of customers either internally or externally.
Perhaps the most striking difference between self-managed teams and work-unit teams is the absence of managers and supervisors in the self-managed unit. Instead, employees in self-managed teams elect a team leader who facilitates team meetings and performs administrative functions for the team. Frequently, team leadership responsibilities rotate among team members so that eventually most, if not all, team members serve a term as team leader. Team members assume responsibility for monitoring performance and solving performance problems, planning, scheduling, budgeting, and hiring and discipline of team members. The few remaining formal managers in an organization composed of self-managed teams coordinate activities of the various teams, ensure that teams have the resources they require, advise the teams on technical, operational, and human resource issues, and help resolve disputes that might occur within or between teams (Parks & Sanna, 1999).
The transition to a team-based high-performance organization is established on a basic set of six guiding principles. The first principle is to develop the support of top managers. Top managers need to learn as much as they can about the structure and management operating system of a high performance design and operating system before deciding whether or not they can support implementing a model. Without the understanding of top management and their support for a change to a team-based organization, high-performance is not possible (Wheelan, 1994).
The second thing that needs to be done is to determine how a team-based organization can address company improvement needs. Organizations must identify the opportunities for improvement where teams can help with the performance in the organization. Without a defined need, there will be little or no serious motivation to establish the resources and changes required to install a high performance model (Wheelan, 1994).
The third principle is to involve everyone within the organization so that they will feel a part of the surrounding changes. Since team-based high performance requires revising the organization’s structure and operating system, everyone has a role to play in the transition. When senior management makes a commitment to convert to the new system, department managers, section heads, and employees all need to be involved, no one can afford to be left out. Employment groups who are not informed and involved in the process of change are likely to resist the tough changes that are needed. Calming everyone’s’ fears about change is a very important factor in making a successful transition (Wheelan, 1994).
The fourth principle is to invest in establishing a learning organization. With technology and information driving change at an unprecedented pace, organizations need employees at all levels who are continually learning. Education and training must be seen as a top priority in high-performance workplaces, with a payoff in improved leadership, worker flexibility, effectiveness, and improved product and service quality (Wheelan, 1994).
The fifth principle is to measure and keep track of how the changes are taking place and the affects of the changes. Measurement is a core element of high-performance management. A measurement system must be developed and maintained to evaluate the team and company performance, and there must be a way to monitor employee feedback, as well. The improvement measures should be incorporated into team performance evaluations, promotions, and compensation plans, so as to emphasize the extreme importance of this step (Wheelan, 1994).
The sixth and final principle is to get the necessary help to install a high-performance design. Teams and team-based organizations with self-managed teams are not new. Adequate information is documented and available to show that team-based operating systems consistently outperform traditional systems. The hiring of an experienced consulting and training firm to provide model design guidance, consultation, and training will reduce trial and error costs and help ensure a smooth transition and the achievement of the desired outcomes (Wheelan, 1994).
Team-based high-performance involves management providing teams with the following five thing: identifying defined areas of responsibility where teams can be delegated some degree of management control, granting the authority to teams to make decisions about their group’s work, providing teams with the resources and tools to continually improve their work, providing the training needed to install and maintain the new system, and providing the resources and education needed to enable employees to continually improve their job skills (Wheelan, 1994). While this sounds easy enough in practice, it is not. Most companies operate in certain well-established, traditional ways.
Team-based high performance requires changes in virtually every arena of corporate life. Top management may not want to commit resources to prepare everyone for their new responsibilities. Managers, and sometimes workers, are reluctant to have decision-making authority shared between management and employees. However, there is a new frontier available for executives interested in capturing the spirit and intellect of the total workforce for dramatic improvements in operating effectiveness. The experience of companies that are making the change to a high-performance workplace, and seeing an extraordinary return on their investment, provides compelling motivation to take the plunge.
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