The nature of teams and groups

The essay begins with an attempt to define the nature of teams and groups and considers the differences between the two. This is followed by a discussion of why teamwork is important to contemporary organisations. After which, the conditions necessary for effective team working is discussed drawing on Tuckman (1965) model of group development. Then a discussion of group processes that lead to ineffective teamwork are considered. Finally, the impact of technology is considered on the effect of teams and the rise of virtual teams before a conclusion is made.

Defining Groups and Teams

A definition of a team may assume that the team has, or is working towards a common goal (Pynadeth and Tambe, 2002). A team can be defined as “groups of people embedded in organisations, performing tasks that contribute to achieving the organisation’s goals. They share overall work objectives. They have the necessary authority, autonomy and resources to achieve these objectives” (West, 2004, p.18). The difference between a group and a team is that members of a team “share a common goal they are pursuing collaboratively. Moreover, they can only succeed or fail as a whole, and the members of that team share the benefits and costs of success or failure. In contrast, the members of a (psychological) group may share a number of common features….but each has his or her own individual goals” (Buchanan and Hyczynski, 2007, p.379).

Importance of Teamwork

In a contemporary organisations, “what were once competitors are now collaborators, what were once outsiders are now stakeholders, what were once stark boundaries are now fuzzy fences. Organisations have now discovered the value of collaboration, both inside and outside” (Brooks, 2006, p.115).

Teamwork has been linked to economic advantages, higher output, lower absenteeism and increased employee satisfaction (Steijn, 2001; Brooks, 2006; Buchanan and Hyczynski, 2007). It has also been shown to lead to less stressful work, reduced alienation and improved working relationships (Katzenback and Smith).

Effective Team Working

Certain conditions are necessary for effective teamwork (Buchanan and Hyczsynski, 2007). Several models of team working have been developed, however Tuckman’s Model of Group Development (1965) is one of the most widely used (Murray et al., 2006, Buchanan and Hyczynski, 2007).

Tuckman (1965) model depicts four stages of group development, which represents a logical sequence of stages of group development of which every team must go through in order to work as a cohesive and effective team (Tuckman, 1965; Murray et al., 2006).

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The first stage is forming. Forming is about orientation, socialisation and developing relationships. Discovering what is acceptable behaviour, focusing on objectives. Discovering the nature and boundaries of the task, developing team behaviours

The second stage is storming this is about confrontation and conflict and the struggle for power and influence. At this stage the “group structure shifts towards hostility and conflict, as members express their individuality and resistance” (Murray et al., 2006, p.314). During this stage there is conflict over individuals desires to express their own opinions, which often results in the polarisation of opinions (Buchanan and Hyczynski, 2007).

The third stage is norming, in this stage groups develop a cohesive approach, whereby harmonious relations replace conflict and disagreement. During this stage, communication becomes more open and people are more comfortable with expressing their opinions, even if it is different to others without fear of repercussions or thoughts of deviant behaviour (Buchanan and Hyczynski, 2007). Members begin to develop social interactions that enhance the overall performance of the group (Murray et al., 2006).

Performing is the final stage of group development, in which teams are finally able to work as a cohesive unit. This is about team collaboration and the focus is on getting the task at hand completed and reaching the shared goals of the team. By this stage, the team should have a thorough understanding of what is required of them, the problems, challenges and issues they face in reaching their goals and will have established norms of behaviour that will facilitate the team in meeting its goals (Tuckman, 1965; Murray et al., 2006).

The team which emerges as a result of these group development stages is a mature group, capable and willing to complete the tasks as defined by the organisation (Tuckman, 1965; Murray et al., 2006, Buchanan and Hyczynski, 2007). Arguably, if the team is not able, for whatever reason to complete the stages of group development, then the team will be ineffective (Murray et al., 2006). As a result, this has important implications for managers and team leaders. Group processes and behaviour cannot be separated from the pursuit of effective team working. Therefore, leaders and managers must develop and emotional awareness of the influence of the psychological group on the overall performance of the team (Steijn, 2001; Buchanan and Hyczynski, 2007)

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Factors which Threaten the Success of the Team

Buchanan and Hyczynski (2007) point out that “teamwork of all kinds is fraught with tensions, conflicts, obstacles and problems. If these are not managed effectively, rather than surpassing the best members’ capabilities, the total group output may actually equal less than the weakest members efforts” (p.351). This is known as negative synergy. This can be caused by factors such as negative equity, whereby other members of the group underperform so the other person thinks ‘why should I?’, shirking of responsibility, negative effort of group reward whereby everyone is rewarded the same regardless of effort and finally, problems of coordination, so people are obstructing others ability to get on with a task (Buchanan and Hyczynski, 20007). Collectively, this phenomenon has come to be known as social loafing (Ingham et al., 1974).

In addition to social loafing, problems of group think can have a negative impact on the performance of teams. Whilst the development of group norms and behaviour can be beneficial to the team, in its extreme form this can lead to the problem of group think (Buchanan and Hyczynski, 2007). Group think occurs whereby members of the group fail to critically analyse, test and evaluate problems, issues and challenges which face the group (Murray et al., 2006). This may be caused as a subconscious desire for members to avoid deviating from the prescribed norms of behaviour and group consensus (Buchanan and Hyczynski, 2007). However, this leads to ineffective team working, which is not beneficial to the organisation (West, 2004).

Managers and team leaders play a pivotal role in ensuring that the problems of social loafing and group think does not occur. In addition managers should recognise team leaders who may advertently or inadvertently encourage the onset of negative synergy, social loafing and group think and take steps to minimise the impact of their ineffective team leadership.

Impact of Technology on Team Functioning

Technology plays an increasingly important role on the way in which teams function (Brooks, 2006). This is because “organisations are becoming increasingly distributed across geographical boundaries and across industries” (Brooks, 2006, p.115). There are many different types of technologies that have emerged which facilitate the development of teamwork both in a virtual and non-virtual teamwork environment. The rise in computer mediated technology, which facilitates communication, planning and organisation, has broken down barriers and can contribute towards making the team more effective (West, 2004; Brooks, 2006). Virtual teams are becoming an increasingly common extension of traditional organisational structures. Brooks (2006) describes the process as the following: “virtual organisations, workplaces and teams are becoming increasingly common place. In a virtual team the member’s primary interaction is through some combination of electronic communications systems, which allows members of the team to cross time, space and cultural boundaries (Brooks, 2006, p.110).

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The type of technology which facilitates both physical and virtual teams includes the reduction in costs in recent years of portable PC’s and consumer electronics and of communications devices. For example, laptops have seen a reduction in price and the majority of modern laptops come with in-built microphones, speakers and web cams for video conferencing. The cost of international calls has reduced and can even be made for free using VOIP (voice over internet protocol) technologies, such as Skype and Google Voice.


Teamwork is becoming increasingly important in contemporary organisations, and as long as teams are formed, managed and implemented effectively, can provide a source of competitive advantage in terms of increased employee satisfaction, creativity and innovation. However, if teams are assigned to inappropriate tasks, are managed ineffectively or not provided with adequate support, resources and autonomy to carry out their tasks then the effect of teamwork can be counterproductive. Teams are formal groups assigned by management that have shared goals. There is a difference between teams and groups; groups can exist without teams but teams cannot exist without groups. Therefore, the impact of group behaviour and group dynamics will have a significant impact on the overall performance of the team. Therefore, management must be awareness of the presence of groups that create their own norms and personal goals, which may deviate from the objectives of the team. Therefore, teamwork can be is a complex management area, yet if carried out effectively, the results can be very rewarding.

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