Are Teams in contemporary organisations effective

Introduction

Teams are groups of people whose goal is to perform an activity or a number of activities by working together without competing. The members depend to each other to achieve the goals of the team. Teamwork is widely used in modern work environments, but it has its roots back in the 1960’s. It is a necessary tool for the achievement of goals in contemporary organisations. Their usefulness is highlighted by various authors in Work Psychology and Organisational Behaviour. Yet, there are arguments concerning their effectiveness and the modern techniques for achieving team effectiveness. There is also scepticism about whether teams are a good way of organising work, especially when considering the high cost for their formation and function. The main body of the essay comprises of how teams work, analyses the team types and roles, along with the stages of team development. These categories contain essential tools for team success and effectiveness. Finally, both the importance and the disadvantages of teamwork are investigated.

How Teams Work – Input – Process – Output Model

The input-process-output model explains how inputs like team composition and task affect directly and indirectly the team performance through team processes, such as leadership and communication

Inputs

The inputs into the team include the task, the team members and the context the team performs, which is divided in organisational context and cultural context.

Task

The task influences the team performance a great deal. Each of the tasks the team performs has an effect on the team’s performance on the various indicators. (Chmiel, Unsworth, West 2000, pp. 330-336, citing Kent and McGrath, 1969).

Team Composition

A good team consists of members who do not interfere with the roles of others and understand clearly what their role is (Belbin, 1994, p. 21). All members should act as part of the team, not individually and also develop a high level of communication. Additionally, there are rules about the acceptable and the non-acceptable behaviours in order to prevent conflicts between the members that could disturb the group’s equilibrium and efficiency (Buchanan, Huczynski, 2004, pp. 283-284).

The behaviour of the members consists of different elements, such as experience, personality, values, motivation and their abilities.

The composition of a team is of high importance, because members and their skills highly influence the team’s success. Although, having able members does itself not success, because the members may not combine efficiently (Belbin, 1994, p. 93).

Organisational Context

Team effectiveness is highly influenced in many ways by the organisation the team functions within. Some of these influential factors are the rewards the individuals receive as team members and employees of the organisation, the technical assistance provided to the team, the degree of organisational support to teamwork, the level of competition in the organisation and the level of environmental uncertainty (Chmiel, Unsworth, West 2000, pp. 334-335, citing Hackman, 1990, Beard and Salas, 1992).

Cultural Context

The cultural context of each country has four dimensions:

Individualism – Collectivism is the degree that shows whether people consider themselves as individuals or team members.

Power Distance highlights the degree of formality between employees and their superiors.

Uncertainty Avoidance ” is the degree of doubtfulness about the future that can be tolerated”.

Masculinity – Femininity Dimension is about the degree of importance between achievements (masculine) and interpersonal relationships (feminine) at work.

(Chmiel, Unsworth, West 2000, pp. 334-335, citing Hofstede, 1980)

Processes

Team members need to work together, communicate and make common decision in order to to fulfil their team’s tasks and targets. Furthermore, they should determine the team climate and the general atmosphere of the team’s working environment. These five processes convert the inputs to output, which is effectiveness:

Leadership has important influence on the team. Transformational leadership is the first of the two basic leadership types.It motivates the team members to think the team objectives, instead of their personal objectives. It is based on the inspiration of the leader. On the contrary, transactional leadership uses rewards and punishment, aalong with active and passive management by exception to change the behaviour of the team members (Chmiel, 2000, p. 337, Kozlowski and Ilgen 2006, pp. 83-84).

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Communication is the key for the team’s survival. The existence of a facilitator , different than the team leader and the use use of information technology influence the degree of communication between the team members (Chmiel, 2000, p. 338)

Decision Making is divided in four categories: description, identification of possible solutions, evaluation and choice of solutions and implementation of the solution (Chmiel, 2000, p. 339)

Cohesivess refers to the degree of the members’ likeness for their teammates and the team itself.Strong cohesiveness leads to high team effectiveness and motivation (Chmiel, 2000, p. 341, citing Isen and Baron, 1991).

Team Climate is the way members perceive team’s values and beliefs, such as procedures, practices and policies, which have the power to influence performance, productivity and innovation (Chmiel, 2000, p. 341, citing Burke and Litwin, 1992).

Team Types

The success or the failure of a team also depends on the choice of the team type and whether this choice is successful or not. The basic team types are the following:

The Self-managing Team (production and service team) includes individuals with different skills, so the team has all the skills needed within it and becomes self-sufficient. Therefore, the assistance from other parts within the organisation is not required. Self-managing team have the privilege to ask for new members and make the selection, submit their budget and order resources within that budget and organise the team training.

The Functional Team comprises of employees within a function. For example, the Marketing department of an organisation in the UK could be divided in teams according to Geographical division (Southwest, London, Midlands, Northeast, Northwest, Scotland, Wales, etc.). This way each team will manage to understand better the preferences and the needs of the customers of their division.

The Cross Functional Management Team has members who belong to a certain function (marketing, sales, etc.) and also to a project team. They may work exclusively in the project or work both in the project and their function. In cross functional teams, each member provides the special skills of their function. In many circumstances, the members are not physically together thus they form virtual teams, using technology to work closely together.

The Problem-solving Team operates cross-functional or within a certain function. A Cross-functional problem-solving team is formed for a limited period of time to solve a specific problem of the organisation. It stops operating as soon as the problem is solved. “Within-function problem-solving teams” are formed to solve production and quality problems related to their work or to carry out a major development of their function (Torrington, Hall, Taylor, 2005, pp. 283-289, Colenso 1997, pp. 40-43).

Team Roles

”Team role” is a term that refers to the one’s tendency to behave and interrelate with their colleagues in a specific manner. They variety of team roles in a team significantly contributes to its effectiveness. They do not only derive from the position or the managerial level of their members. In many occasions, the team roles of employees are different to their job position roles. This differentiation is likely to cause a conflict between those two roles; hence it should be avoided in many circumstances. The goal of the team should be determined before commencing its formation. (Belbin, 1994, p. 25). The commitment of the members becomes stronger if their personal objectives and the team’s mission and goals have been defined with clarity since the beginning. On the contrary, they should choose the means to achieve the goals without any exterior interference (Gibson, Cohen, 2003, p. 98, Lavengin.P, p. 5).

Furthermore, the leader should be chosen at the same time. Then, the selection of the members and their roles should start and the leader needs to participate in it. A wide number of qualified candidates usually leads to a better outcome (Belbin, 1994, p. 25).

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The team role behaviour consists of the members’ personality, abilities, experience, value and motivation. (Belbin, 1994, p. 30). The nine different team roles are as follows:

The co-ordinator: a disciplined person who motivates the other members in achieving the team objectives.

The shaper: an expert in solving problems who enjoys challenges.

The plant: the most creative team member that provides innovative ideas.

The resource investigator, who has good contacts and brings useful information to the team.

The monitor evaluator sees and examines all the possible options and decides respectively.

The team worker is aware of the other members’ needs.

The implementer converts ideas to feasible tasks.

The completer makes the deadlines and also makes sure they are not exceeded.

The specialist: he has many skills and knowledge in a specific sector only.

(Belbin, 1994, pp. 86-87, Torrington, Hall, Taylor, 2005, pp. 290-291)

Team Development

Team members and their relationship change as time goes by, so do their tasks and targets. Hence, team development is essential to the function and effectiveness of the group. In 1965, the American psychologist Bruce Tuckman, proposed the ”Group Development Model”. It is the procedure of team development and consists of four stages:

Forming: At the beginning of the team formation, trust is being developed and there is confusion about the tasks and the relations between members. Communication is not well-established at this stage. Individuals spend their time in operating routine tasks. Furthermore, they have not developed independence. Finally, they make contact with their teammates and collect information about them, but they also remain focused on themselves.

Storming: At this stage, there are collisions among the team members and the lack of progress makes them irritated. The members propose different ideas and opinions. In addition to that, they suggest solutions for the problems that have occurred. Arguments about the task assignments rise and there may be disputation about the positions of power within the group.

Norming: The members of the team have managed to establish proper communication to each other and accept mutual procedures and ways of communication. The decisions are made through negotiation. The roles of the members are not disputed and the processes for problem solving have been established.

Performing: The team has decided how to function and can now concentrate its attention to the team’s goals. Should the previous stages were successful; it should now be creative, effective and supportive. Their knowledge and motivation are at the highest level and they are able to work independently without the need of guidance. The team members work collaboratively and care about each other. Finally, the group identity has been established.

The team has finished its task, hence it has to disband. The individuals should reflect their time within the group and prepare themselves for their following assignments.

(Tuckman, 1965, cited by Buchanan and Huczynski 2004, pp. 304-306)

Team Effectiveness

Building Effective Teams

Successful team building is one of the keys to team success and it is determined by a number of criteria: Members should understand their assignments and team roles and have a clear vision about the group’s goals. The team’s structure and results should be consistent with its tasks and goals. Trust and support, along with good communication are also of great importance. Furthermore, all members should participate in decision making and accept the decisions. Finally, leaders should be supportive recognise and handle each member’s differences instead of just ignoring them. (Dyer, 1995, pp. 15-16)

The Importance of Teamwork

Teamwork is one of the most important values of Western society. Teams help persons increase their performance and self-esteem and also achieve things they wouldn’t be able to achieve individually. A high proportion of an organisation’s work in all industries is performed in teams thus its performance is directly based in their effectiveness (Buchanan, Huczynski, 2004, p. 283).

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According to the American psychologist Rensis Likert, organisations should be viewed as a composition of groups, not individuals. This view would increase the organisations’ productivity and performance. Individuals receive satisfaction by participating in work groups. In order to achieve that, managers need to develop supportive relations within each work group, characterised by mutual respect. (Likert, 1961, cited by Buchanan, Huczynski, 2004, p. 291).

The importance of teamwork within organisations is reflected in the recruiting process: candidates who are valuated as good team players fulfil an essential criterion in getting appointed. On one hand, in many companies, the importance of teams is included in the policy statement and managers encourage their staff to work in groups. One the other hand, there are critics concerning the extent of group-management conflict. (Buchanan, Huczynski, 2004, p. 284). Additionally, in contemporary organisations projects tend to overcome the traditional functional structure, thus teams have become more useful than they were in the past. (Arnold, et. al., 2005, p.435)

Teams need to have members with different roles and skills. That way, they reduce the production and distribution time, while achieving lower costs without any downgrades in quality. Moreover, teams produce innovative ideas that would not come up if their members simply worked as individuals (Mohrman, 1995, cited by Buchanan, Huczynski, 2004, p. 287).

Group and Individual Decision Making

In work organisations the majority of the important decisions and many secondary decisions are made by groups of people instead of individuals. This way, it is easier for group members to accept those decisions, because more people feel they have influenced the decision making through their participation in the group. However, this strategy in decision making requires more time and money and causes problems of communication and rivalry (Arnold, et. al., 2005, p.435). Individual decisions are usually based on rationality and each person’s values and circumstances. Therefore, they are subjected and influenced by individual perception (Arnold, et. al., 2005, p.430).

Disadvantages of Teamwork

Frequently, team members experience peer pressure: they are forced to change their behaviour, values, attitudes and adopt the norms of the team. They also feel that if they do not perform well, other team members will be obliged to do their own work. Finally, they get stressed because they try to be more productive so as not to dissapoint their colleagues. All these stress factors are enhanced by the pressure of managers, team leaders or even regular team members who have the tendency to act as supervisors, on occasions where “the team performance is related to rewards” (Torrington, Hall, Taylor, 2005, p. 286).

Furthermore, the team leader may not be appropriate for this position, because different kind of people need a different type of leaders. However, leadership rotation is only permitted in some teams (Robbins, Finley, 2000, p. 109).

Conclusion

Teams have become essential to organisations. Their structure and activities are highly based in the use of teams. They are also a way of monitoring work and achieve higher work commitment. Their effectiveness should be not taken for granted, though. It is very hard to accomplish and based in various factors. Team performance is one of them and it can only be achieved with the selection of members that combine well to each other and who have the right leader. The clarity of the group’s objectives and tasks is also important. The effectiveness of the team is also depended on its structure: the type of the team, the roles and the leadership type are connected to its effectivess. Finally, the team effectivess is influenced by factors within the work environment. In conclusion, team effectivess is not an easy task and requires good planning, skillful members and a high amount of organisational resources.

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