To What Extent Do Teams Outperform Individuals Essay

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 4 November 2016

To What Extent Do Teams Outperform Individuals


In recent decades, as with the development of the economic globalization, the information technology has been updating constantly and the industries in the marketplace are faced with more and more stronger competition. In order to adapt to this severe situation, many enterprises, especially some hi-tech companies, are all trying to seek a new special organizational form, which in turn gives rise to the concept of ‘work team’ to restructure the work and organization process[1]. And nowadays employee teams’ integral in many business operations has been more and more common and normal. Besides, the student team projects are also becoming popular in the school curriculum such as Organizational Behavior, Management Economics and so on. Obviously there are many advantages using teamwork compared with individuals or group. By adopting the team work, the employees can develop every member’s potential, make up for each other, thus working more effectively.

In contrast, as to the student team projects, students could learn lots of other expertise in addition to textbook knowledge such as enhancement of students’ learning experiences and realistic preparation of students for their role as future business team members. Team is really extensively applied to many fields [2]. There have existed many different researches about team hitherto which offer many different conceptualizations and research fields. For example, Katzenbach and Smith have discussed the four elements- common commitment and purpose, performance goals, complementary skills, and mutual accountability- that make teams function [3]. There are many advantages to setting up work teams, such as increased productivity, innovation, and employee satisfaction [4]. And some other researches are about the implementation of work teams does not always result in success for the organization [5].

By reviewing these literatures about team, we can arrive at a conclusion that team is so vital not just for business but also in our daily life and generally speaking teams outperform individuals. In addition, the existing body of literature on teamwork’s conflicts and disadvantages is also substantial and provides us many other perspectives [6]. One purpose of this paper is to enrich our understanding of the concept and effectiveness of teams in the process of work or study by distinguishing and comparing ‘team’, ‘group’ and ‘individuals’. What’s more, as to the phenomenon that teams are playing an increasingly important role in business work replacing individuals or groups in many cases, the more important objective is to illustrate to what extent teams perform individuals thus to explain why people always prefer to teamwork than individuals.

Theoretical background

Within the extant organizational behavior literatures, the theory of team and its relevant researches has evolved. Teams have had a long history in the workplace especially in Japan and US but there are some differences between them, for example, work teams in Japan tend to work towards the objectives that will benefit the organization as a whole while in US work teams prefer to work based on their objectives that will reap the most individual benefits in the organization [7]. And people are always confused with ‘group’ and ‘team’ and often use these words interchangeably on different occasions and contexts [8], so what is team? Many scholars have given the definitions of ‘team’ and ‘group’ from different perspectives. Katzenbach and Smith (1993) define work group as a small number of people working in a collaborative style with individual input and accountability and team is defined as a small number of interdependent people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, performance goals and approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable[3].

It is important to differentiate the two concepts. From the definitions above, we can know that team must be a group but a group is not necessarily a team, that is to say, when a group of people work together, team work might happen and not happen. To conclude, team work is a synergy of a group of people which aims for a coordination and cooperation of individuals contributions within the team rather than simple plus of their respective efforts. Because the main goal of this paper is to discuss the circumstances of teams outperforming individuals, it’s obviously essential to show how to measure ‘outperform’ and make it to be operational and comparable. So what’s ‘outperform’? The definition in the dictionary is to be or do something to a greater degree.

From the perspective of business or economic areas, it is defined as ‘to have better sales, earnings, or stock price appreciation than investors expected or than the competition’ and it is often used to describe a stock that is doing better than other stocks within the same industry. But in terms of management science, ‘teams outperform individuals’ always means that teams achieve a better organization performance than individuals such as shorter time of accomplishing work, better quality of ultimate output, more effective communication and the like[9]. Then we can know that ‘outperform’ covers a wide field and simply refers to achieving better performance or better consequences of some project, some work or some task [10].

Advantages and disadvantages of work teams over individuals

Because team work is a synergy of a group of people, which implies that work team refers to a group whose individual efforts are toward a single performance greater than individual performance, obviously teams have many advantages [11]. In the first place, teams can provide more minds set on a specific objective, as the saying ‘two heads are better than one’, thus to increase the opportunity of work innovation which can be well-illustrated by brainstorm. Secondly, teams offer an atmosphere to share their respective expertise, knowledge and other information, which is really a large fortune and resource. Besides, Teams create an environment of support and propel people toward implementation. A team environment can boost the confidence of individuals, allowing them to do their best work [12].

Despite of these advantages, there is the flip side. Firstly, it’s difficult to control and manage the team because more minds and more ideas mean more people. Hence it will take more time to come to an agreement and achieve a good result. In addition, more people and more opinions will result in conflicts easily, which may even cause the lower efficiency than individuals. Thirdly, teams tend to have some malign phenomena such as ‘social loafing’ or ‘free riding’ more easily [13]. The comparison of advantages and disadvantage of team can us understand that teams are advantageous but not always more effective than individuals. Therefore we should focus on the problem to what extent teams outperform individuals.


As we have mentioned in the preceding section, in spite of teams’ benefits, teams do not necessarily outperform individuals in some cases. It is largely a misunderstanding that using a team for work done must be better than individuals. It’s a fact that there are some tasks that only a team can do, such as performing a string quartet or carrying out a multiparty negotiation. There are other tasks, however, that are inimical to team work. One such task is creative writing. Many great novels, symphonic scores, or epic poems not only haven’t been written by teams, but teamwork will produce negative effects due to the different thinking and working style.

Similarly, there exist many other cases that individuals are better [14]. If so then to what extent teams outperform individuals? We reviewed the multidimensional literature related to team and will concentrate on the problem to what extent teams outperform individuals. In the following sections, we develop hypotheses about the circumstances that teams outperform individuals and discuss each of its components. Based on the relevant theory of team above, some hypotheses are proposed as follows: H1: The type of task is related to whether teams outperform individuals. H2: Goal congruence of team members affects team performance greatly. H3: Leadership determines whether teams outperform individuals to a large degree.

Analysis and conclusions

First and foremost, as to H1, it’s true that the category of task is a very important factor. Generally speaking, team is more favorable than individuals, but various types of tasks or work are suited to use different work forms and some kinds of work only relate to the specific form of organization or will acquire better efficiency by individuals. So we need to divide two aspects to demonstrate this hypothesis. For one thing, if the type of task involves some special type, the best example is creative thinking we have mentioned above, which type of work is not suitable to work team. And there are other particular kinds of tasks that are better done by individuals than by teams such as leadership in teams. As a whole, if we adopt the work team to do the creative jobs which are inappropriate to use work team, no matter how talented the team members are, the efficiency will be lower, time is longer and the achievements are not so good as individuals as well, and vice versa, emergency surgery is a good illustration for team cooperation. For another the degree of complexity of task is the other determinant.

The simple type of work always prefers to be accomplished by individuals since it will cost more time and resources if done by team. Hence work team is more often than not used in complex type of tasks. So H1can be validated by some specific examples or an empirical study (for the limitation of time and resource, I haven’t conducted a survey to prove it), if the task is more complicate ore one that is fully appropriate for performance by a team, teams usually outperform individuals. Secondly, goal congruence is another important element to determine whether teams outperform individuals. Clear objective, explicit responsibility and accountability and mutual cooperation are the prerequisite to team’s high performance. Obviously team is more difficult to manage due to its bigger scale and more thoughts than individual and conflicts among teams are easier to produce.

As opposed to the target specificity of individuals’ work, team members are always confused with their ultimate objective because everyone’s assignments are not for the final goal directly and the commitment every team member undertake is also different and may be a little unfair for someone does more work, which can result in anarchy or in a team heading off in an inappropriate direction. If so, teams don’t outperform individuals, either. Take students’ team work for example, if every student in one team haven’t an explicit and common goal for assignments, everyone will do the work without direction and aimless and someone even doesn’t know how to start this work. In this situation, team performance may be lower than individual.

On the contrary, if the team clarifies the future goal and makes a reasonable allocation of assignments, team members sharing the common aim will complete their respective tasks, which is apparent to be superior to individuals’ work. Thus, whether team members are consistent in goal affects team’s performance to a great extent. Teams outperform individuals under the circumstance that team members work towards a clear common objective and everyone has an explicit responsibility about their own assignments. Thirdly, leadership plays a by-no-means negligible role in team’s performance [15]. People who work in an intimate and harmonious environment will be more efficient and productive but the work atmosphere is generally more impacted by team leadership, apparently which couldn’t be weighty evidence in that it just can be regarded as a kind of subjective perception of people.

Huahengzhixin, a service agency which specializes in human resource management research and consulting has ever conducted a survey about the leadership style’s influence on team performance, the research finding of which showed that the H3 above is reliable, that is to say, team leadership affects team performance vastly. Generally leadership style mainly contains autocratic and participative styles. The two styles have their own merits and weaknesses. Too arbitrary team leader will damage team’s harmony and can’t make the most of team members’ talents while team members will be very easygoing and it is not easy to reach an agreement on some goal, which clearly reduce team effectiveness that may even not do better than individuals. So the opposite is that teams outperform individuals if autocratic and participative leadership styles could be integrated relatively perfectly thus to create a favorable work environment.


This paper firstly introduces some theoretical background about team and its relevant fields, puts forward 3 hypotheses based on the theories and literature reviews, then makes an elaborate analysis for every hypothesis and finally draws some conclusions. Whether teams outperform individuals is related to many team attributes, and this paper focuses on the type of task, team’s goal congruence and team leadership. Teams outperform individuals under these circumstances that the type of task relates to work team, team members keep high consistent in team goal or team leadership is in a good integrating state between autocratic and participative styles.

[1].Janz, B.D., J.A. Colquitt and R.A. Noe, Knowledge worker team effectiveness: The role of autonomy, interdependence, team development, and contextual support variables. Personnel Psychology, 2006. 50(4): p. 877-904. [2].Woodman, R.W. and J.J. Sherwood, The role of team development in organizational effectiveness: A critical review. Psychological Bulletin, 1980. 88(1): p. 166. [3].Katzenbach, J.R. and D.K. Smith, The discipline of teams. Harvard business review, 1993. 71: p. 111-111. [4].West, M.A., Sparkling fountains or stagnant ponds: An integrative model of creativity and innovation implementation in work groups. Applied Psychology, 2002. 51(3): p. 355-387. [5].Rousseau, V., C. Aubé and A. Savoie, Teamwork Behaviors A Review and an Integration of Frameworks. Small Group Research, 2006. 37(5): p. 540-570. [6].Lowe, J.I. and M. Herranen, Conflict in teamwork. Social Work in Health Care, 1978. 3(3): p. 323-330.
[7].Nahavandi, A. and E.K. Aranda, Restructuring teams for the re-engineered organization. The Academy of Management Executive, 1994. 8(4): p. 58-68. [8].Fisher, S.G., T.A. Hunter and W.D.K. Macrosson, Team or group? Managers’ perceptions of the differences. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 1997. 12(4): p. 232-242. [9].Glynn, S.J. and R.A. Henning. Can teams outperform individuals in a simulated dynamic control task? in Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society Annual Meeting. 2000: SAGE Publications. [10].Deeter-Schmelz, D.R., K.N. Kennedy and R.P. Ramsey, Enriching our understanding of student team effectiveness. Journal of Marketing Education, 2002. 24(2): p. 114-124. [11].Ford, R.C. and F.S. McLaughlin, Successful project teams: a study of MIS managers. Engineering Management, IEEE Transactions on, 1992. 39(4): p. 312-317. [12].DuFour, R., et al., Learning by doing: A handbook for professional learning communities at work. 2010: Solution Tree Press. [13].Hardingham, A., Working in teams. 1998: CIPD Publishing. [14].Hackman, J., Why teams don’t work. Theory and research on small groups, 2002: p. 245-267. [15].Bensimon, E.M. and A. Neumann, Redesigning Collegiate Leadership: Teams and Teamwork in Higher Education. 1992.

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