Teams & Team Building
Increasingly, teams are the foundation of the 21st century workplace. The philosophy behind this widespread use of teams is that their use can create an environment in which synergy is achieved and the final outcome is greater than that which would have been achieved by individuals alone. Team development comprises several stages. However, this process is not always linear, and teams may experience multiple stages simultaneously or revert to previous stages. Team building efforts conducted by an outside party can help teams acquire the knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary for functional teamwork and achieving synergy, and to avoid pitfalls of team situations such as group-think. Team building efforts usually focus on defining the roles of team members, setting team goals, problem solving, and interpersonal processes.
Groups vs. Teams
At one time or another, most people in the twenty-first-century workplace will find themselves working as part of a team. Teams in an organizational setting can be as simple as two people working together to write a white paper or technical document or as complex as multiple businesses working together to bid a proposal or build the next-generation destroyer for the navy. However, not every group of people who work together can be considered a team. In general, groups in the workplace comprise two or more individuals who are interdependent and who interact over time. So, for example, the sales staff of a retail store might be considered a group. They interact with each other, ask each other for help (e.g., ring up a customer, find an item in stock or inventory), and support each other in accomplishing the tasks necessary for running a successful retail store. In general, a group can be defined as a configuration of two or more interdependent individuals who interact over time. Groups work toward a common goal, are accountable to a manager, and may (ideally) accomplish their goals. Leadership of a group is held by a single individual. However, groups do not have a clear, stable culture, so conflict is frequent.
Teams, on the other hand, are a special type of group. In a team, there is a differentiation of skills where one individual does a specific part of the task and other individuals do other specific parts of the task. Another way teams are differentiated from groups is that the members of a team perform their work in the context of a common fate. For example, although the members of the retail staff may help each other in the context of doing their jobs, they also all tend to do the same job. For the most part, dealing with one salesperson in a retail store should be the same as dealing with another person in the retail store. Further, members of a sales group typically do not share a common fate. For example, if Harvey does not do his job adequately, it will be Harvey -- and not the rest of the sales staff -- who will be reprimanded or fired.
On the other hand, some sales and marketing staffs are truly teams where there is differentiation of skill among the team members. For example, when trying to sell a learning management system for a computer-based training system, one member of the marketing team may specialize in comparing the business's system with that of the competition, while another team member might specialize in answering technical questions regarding the programmability of the system. If the remuneration of the team members is based in part on commission for making the sale, then the fate of the individual members of the team depends on the fate of the team as a whole (i.e., whether or not they sell the system). Leadership of a team is shared, and members are mutually accountable to each other. Because of these team characteristics, team members are committed to the goal and mission of the team, trust each other, and have a more collaborative culture than groups in general. As a result, teamwork often leads to a situation of synergy (Nahavandi, 2000).
Types of Teams
In general, four types of teams can be found in the workplace:
- Manager-led teams,
- Self-managing teams,
- Self-designing teams, and
- Self-governing teams (Hackman, 1987).
In manager-led teams, the design of the organizational context, the design of the team as a performing unit, and the monitoring and managing of the performance processes of the team is all a responsibility of the team manager. In self-managing teams, the design of the organizational context in which the team works as well as the design of the group as a performing unit are both done by management. However, the self-managing team not only executes the task, but also monitors and manages the performance processes used in the performance of the task. In a self-designing team, the organizational context in which the team operates is designed by management. However, all other aspects of the team functioning (i.e., design of the group as a performing unit, monitoring and managing of performance processes, and executing the task) are the responsibility of the team. In self-governing teams, all aspects of the team -- including its design within the context of the organization -- are the responsibility of the team.
Although organizations sometimes act as though teams can be created by fiat, team development is in fact a multistage process (Robbins, 1996). As illustrated in Figure 1, before a team is formed, it is a collection of individual entities. They may be part of a group (e.g., a sales staff), or they may not even know each other (e.g., individuals from two or more business who will write a proposal together). Once it is decided that a team will be formed (Stage 1), the team members still have a great deal of uncertainty concerning the nature of the team such as its mission and purpose, the capabilities of the other team members, what processes will best result in synergy, and the leadership of the team. During the forming stage of team development, members of the team try to determine the answers to these and other questions. Members learn to know each other better, determine each other's areas of expertise and experience, and try to determine what types of behavior is acceptable within the group. The forming stage is completed once the members no longer consider themselves to be a random collection of individuals, but as part of a team.
According to this theory, the second stage in team development is storming. This is often a stage of conflict within the team as members struggle with the constraints placed on them as individuals. For example, every semester, a teacher requires her students to do a team research project. Within these broad parameters, they are allowed to divide the tasks of the group in any way they want, are able to establish individual or team leadership, and, in general, perform the tasks of the team...
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