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When we think of the word team, individually many different ideas may come to mind about what a team really is. Some may think of an NFL team (Tennessee Titans), an NBA team (Sacramento Kings), or a NASA astronaut team with such pioneers as Edwin Aldrin, Jr. and Neil Armstrong as members. You might even think of the U.S. Navy, Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, or Marines as teams. In fact they all are, and they have a great deal in common as teams. However, for the purposes of this paper I will examine the characteristics of work teams, as they apply to organizations and I will supply answers to the following questions: What is a team? Where did the team concept come from? What are the types of teams? What are the advantages and disadvantages of having teams in organizations? What does it take to make a team effective?
A work team will be defined for the purposes of this paper by a definition borrowed from Bateman and Snell (2004). A team is formed of people (usually a small number) with complementary skills who trust one another and are committed to a common purpose, common performance goals, and a common approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable. Teams generally see themselves and are seen by others as a social entity, which is interdependent because of the tasks performed as members of a group.
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Groups became a new focus of attention in the 1940s after the Hawthorne studies were published, which indicated that workers inside classic Theory X organizations form informal work groups (Yancey, 1988). However, Japan is the first country credited for successfully implementing teams in the workplace. The process began in the 1960's when the Japanese designed quality circles in an effort to overcome their reputation for poorly made goods. The idea was unique, combining statistical quality control with quality management, but putting responsibility for those tasks in the hands of the worker. Due to their phenomenal success, by 1988 over one million quality circles existed in Japan, with over ten million members. Much of the Japanese reputation for quality and productivity has been attributed to these groups. In 1970 Lockheed Aircraft extended the Japanese concept to the United States. The successful implementation of quality circles in an American plant was widely publicized and praised. Gradually the participative process appeared in manufacturing firms throughout the United States. However, widespread use was not seen until the early 1980s when the Japanese threat on the auto and steel industries intensified (The Team Concept, 2004). In recent years the use of work teams in organizations has been increasing substantially, and this trend is expected to continue.
Depending on whom you talk to or which references you use, there are several types of teams, such as advice teams (help broaden information base for managerial systems), production teams (perform day-to-day operations), project teams (apply specialized knowledge for creative problem-solving), or action teams (collection of highly coordinated specialists who exhibit peak performance on demand). Generally, they can be narrowed down to either problem-solving or self-directed (self-managed) work teams as the most common types. Problem-solving teams have members from different parts of an organization. The purpose is to solve a problem and disband at task completion. They usually employ a leader or facilitator. Conversely, the trend today is towards self-managed teams, in which workers are trained to do all or most of the jobs in the unit, they have no immediate supervisor, and the make decisions previously made by first-line supervisors (Bateman and Snell, 2004). The self-managed work team is perhaps the most powerful organization concept since the Roman Legions. They motivate, coordinate, solve problems, and make decision better than individuals. This performance comes at a price: decisions are slow; work teams require extensive training and months to mature. These work teams are usually found in manufacturing environments and are often resisted by people, but compared to problem-solving work teams, the benefits far outweigh the difficulties and frustrations.
Teams develop the feeling of a collective identity in addition to the individual identity. This co-existence offers participants both great advantages and disadvantages.
One of the greatest advantages of teams is the consideration of multiple perspective and inputs on the issues at hand by the team members. Coherent, focused teams can provide better solutions to problems than a single individual by tapping the collective knowledge, experience and creativity. Also, teams provide a less threatening environment for people who are reluctant to take on responsibility by themselves. They offer the ability to evaluate the impact of an idea before it is implemented, thus avoiding costly mistakes. As a result, team members exhibit greater commitment to the collective decisions reached, because they can identify with them. An interesting effect of teamwork is the risky shift phenomenon. This is a situation when after a discussion among team members; a collective decision is made containing more risk, than decisions reached by people working alone. In other words, team members are willing to take on higher risk together than they would individually. Military researchers have observed that people will do things as a group or team that they would probably not do as individuals (Dimov, 2004).
Groups also present a plethora of disadvantages. For one, group decision-making takes longer. As a result, time constraints on teamwork can diminish their decision-making quality. Team membership requires the surrender of some individuality in order for the team to function as a whole. This is difficult for some individuals. On the other hand, giving up individuality can lead to "groupthink". Groupthink is a blind commitment by team members to group decisions at the expense of careful analysis. To avoid groupthink, teams should actively seek information that challenges the emerging concurrence. Developing norms of group behavior legitimizing disagreement will help avoid the danger of groupthink. Another pitfall to watch for is excessive optimism and idealized believe that the team cannot be wrong. This is known as Pollyanna-Nietzsche effect. The term is derived from Pollyanna, meaning excessive optimism and nietzshistic, or idealized belief. The team also provides a cover for individual member's performance, which causes some members of the team to work less then they would individually. The phenomenon is known as Social Loafing (Dimov, 2004). When the individual feels that his or her own contribution to the group cannot be measured his or her output tends to slacken.
In the development of an effective team there are several key requirements. Without a doubt, a shared vision is most important a vision that is easily understood and one to which people can easily commit. Next you need to have management understanding and support to the entire process by providing the encouragement and needed resources over time. You have to be able to answer "what's in it for me?" for the business leader, for middle management and supervisors and for all team members. Managers recognize effective teams as people who are energized and excited about what they are doing. Everyone will be contributing and making improvements in everything that they do. Productivity will be steadily increasing. Customer satisfaction whether internal or external, and quality will also be improving and will eventually become the key drivers and key measures of success (Harrison, 2000).
This paper should give you better insight into the general characteristics and dynamics of work teams. You should also understand that some teams are more successful than others. There are some solid reasons for this. Reasons that are not mysterious in nature, but merely founded in the strength or lack of leadership, quality, human (team) relationship and the team's attainment and cooperation of the said goals, missions, requirements, and delivery of the products or services. All teams, whether related to sports, military, or space travel bare distinct similarities. In business, as in other team environments, there are some clear-cut ways to build a successful team. You should realize that the generation of ideas, the right attitudes and character, and solid leadership make a team successful, not merely adherence to some principles. Since teams are composed of people, only solid leadership will ensure the quality and success of the team.
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Harrison, Lars G. On Building a Successful Team. 2000. Accessed 12 Jul 2004. .
Kane, Mary J. How to Distinguish Important Differences Between Work Teams and Work Groups. 1998. Accessed 15 Jul 2004. .
Yancey, Margaret. Work Teams: Three Models of Effectiveness. 1988. Accessed 15 Jul 2004. .
Unknown. The Team Concept. White Paper. 2004. Accessed 15 Jul 2004. .