This article will focus on the complexities of managing teams in today's contemporary organizations. With organizations shifting from tall hierarchical functional structures to flatter team and network structures, managers are faced with some new challenges. These challenges include how to manage team types, team stages, communication strategies, and team leadership strategies and styles. The manager is faced with juggling between advocating change and controlling/evaluating team performance. It appears that the new manager should emphasize transformation rather than transaction when managing a team environment.
Keywords Cross-Functional Teams; Leading Change; Organizational Structure; Self-Managed Teams; Team Leadership; Team Stages; Team Types
Management: Team Management
Role of Teams in Contemporary Organizations
Many environmental forces, such as information, technology, and new decision-making strategies, have caused organizations to move towards integrating employee work teams into their structural makeup. One such environmental force is the shift from the industrial worker to the knowledge worker as a result of the information boom (Drucker, as cited in LaRue, Childs, & Larson, 2004). With the speed, availability, and accessibility of information, a need to share knowledge within organizations has been a prime driving force for creating an atmosphere of teamwork. Technology advancements make it possible for social capital to be as strategically important to organizations as intellectual capital. Never in history has the technological infrastructure made it so easy to implement collaborative strategies such as cross-functional teams, self-managed teams, committees, and virtual work groups. The way decisions are made transformed from a top management activity to a responsibility of all employees (LaRue et al., 2004). These forces, among others, have created a need for employees to work together, formally or informally, in order to share information and employ interdependency as a means for accomplishing organizational objectives. The use of teams, groups, committees, and other collaborative work structures are gaining in use as organizations attempt to adjust to these environmental changes. As such, leaders and managers must consider their approach to teams (their style, behaviors, strategies, role, and their disposition towards the team structure) as part of their leadership and management framework.
Team Formation Decision Factors for Managers
The decision to implement a team within the confines of an organization should not be taken lightly. Creating work teams is an investment in people, time, energy, resources, and workspace. As such, the conditions that favor the creation of organizational teams should be well understood before making the risky leap into team implementation. Steps should be taken to ensure that the conditions are right; the decision to implement a team structure is often considered a crucial strategic decision.
Several conditions should exist before creating a team. First, a clear and concise team vision and mission should be defined and closely aligned with the overall organizational strategy (Caplan et al., 1992). Second, the business needs goals and objectives that are complex and require high quality decisions (Pitman, 1994). Third, the benefits of pooling knowledge must outweigh the efficiency lost because of group engagement (MacNeil, 2003). Fourth, mutual commitment by those recruited to the team is possible and desired (Pitman, 1994). Fifth, the organization must have a trusting environment that allows for mutually effective collaboration between team members (Politis, 2003). Finally, the team needs to have the full support from the management and leaders of the organization (Jones & Schilling, 2000). Organizational managers and leaders need to engage in a research phase to ensure that these conditions exist. Otherwise, the organization may simply be setting the team up for subsequent and unanticipated failure.
In a team environment, an organizational manager/leader should consider two things; (1) the type of team, and (2) the stage of development in which the team resides.
Different team types include cross-functional teams, self-managed teams, virtual teams, task forces, committees, ad hoc groups, quality circles, and process improvement teams, among others. Managers should consider team type as part of their management style. For example, the management required for a cross-functional product development team, for example, would likely be more directive than the leadership and management required for a virtual self-managed team, where the leadership roles are shared between the members. Using the wrong leadership or management behavior while interacting in a particular team type can be catastrophic — such as the manager recruited to participate in a self-managed team who behaves in a directive and authoritarian manner. Understanding the team stage is also important. Beck and Yeager (1996) described four team stages: team orientation, clarifying roles and responsibilities, doing the actual work or project, and solving problems. Depending on the stage that the team is in, the leader should be directing, delegating, empowering, or developing, or some combination thereof.
In addition to leadership/management behaviors and style, a manager's communication strategy should also be based on team stage. The most widely recognized model for organizational team stages was developed by Tuckman (Kinicki, 2003), and consisted of five stages; (1) forming, (2)storming, (3) norming, (4) performing, and (5) adjourning. The forming stage is the initial break-in stage of the team members. Members try to determine where they fit in, what the team focus is, and what their individual role will be. In the storming stage, the power within the group is ironed out, and individuals start to understand what their roles and influences on the team will be. In the norming stage, teams begin to come together as a cohesive group. Cooperative group discussions replace bids for power. In the performing stage, the group has matured, and is operating in a tight-knit committed group that holds each other mutually accountable. The project goal becomes the main task at hand, rather than relationships and leadership concerns. Once complete, the team adjourns, where an evaluation and "post mortem" analysis can often lead to the dismantling of the team.
Ranney and Deck (1995) developed a useful matrix for a communication strategy when leading teams — a strategy that is dependent on the team stage. Their examples included (1) being a coach and promoter in the forming stage, (2) being a coach, giving frequent feedback, reinforcing vision, and reviewing boundaries in the storming stage, (3) managing team membership and coaching in the performing stage, (4) being encouraging, recognizing achievement, and being supportive in the high performance stage, and (5) expressing appreciation in the completing stage. Successful management and leadership approaches often emphasize the importance of being conscious of team type and process stage in order to apply the most effective leadership/management methodology.
A manager's strengths and weaknesses should also be considered when managing teams. For example, a manager's strengths might be his or her ability to be rational, pragmatic, logical, practical, and emotionally stabile. His or her weaknesses might be a need for perfection, micromanaging, and lack of delegation. Strengths and weaknesses such as these take on an entirely new meaning when evaluating management and leadership from a team perspective. As such, there are additional considerations that should be modified and included in this plan.
Team Member Perspective
A manager who is pragmatic and focused on logic can easily conflict with a fellow team member's style on a self-managed team. A team member who is creative, works at a quick pace and is outgoing, may have difficulty with the aforementioned behavior. The manager's need for perfection might be an excellent style to use in a quality circle, but is likely very ineffective in a new product think tank. A manager should create a process in which he or she is always conscious of the team type, team stage, and his or her own leadership strengths and weaknesses and how they match with the team needs.
Team Leader Perspective
Conger (1999) presented nine leadership styles that portray a convergence of three main leadership theories. The leadership dimensions were: Creating vision, providing inspiration, role modeling, intellectual stimulation, meaning -making, appealing to higher-order needs, empowering, setting high expectations, and fostering collective identity. These particular dimensions of leadership seem even more appropriate for the team environment. In particular, creating vision and fostering collective identity will be extremely beneficial to a team leader. In creating and implementing an organizational team, a clear and concise team vision and mission should be defined and closely aligned with the overall...
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