Work Groups (Teams)

views updated Jun 11 2018


Competition in business today has created a desire and need for work groups. The delegation of duties is occurring through this redesign of the work process. The delegation process is in turn creating team environments in organizations. The redesign of the work process is also due to downsizing, a collapsing of the organization's ranks, and the retiring of employees. David Cleland (1996) states that "the traditional model of organizational design is an endangered species" (p. vii). As teams are more readily seen as an effective way to involve employees and solve problems, they have modified the organizational design of many businesses. Consequently, teams are noted as the "common denominator of organizational change" (Cleland, 1996, p. 9).

The team philosophy has become prevalent throughout business. Teams, which began as social-technical-business experiments as part of the total quality management concept, have become an accepted norm in a majority of organizations. Teams can be categorized as steering teams, project teams, task forces, cross-functional teams, and so forth. Villis Ozols (1996) notes that 51 percent of all employees are on teams of one sort or another.

The role of a team is to improve a situation or solve a problem. Teams were initiated because it was believed that "employees will best respond (be productive) when they have a high feeling of self-worth and of identification with the success of the organization" (Ketchum and Trist, 1992, p. 18). Reengineering, empowerment, and restructuring strategies can all give employees more control or hands-on involvement in dealing with their changing jobs. Traditional jobs do still exist, but "jobs are increasingly a patchwork of responsibility fitting into an overall mosaic" (Cleland, 1996, p. 21). Jobs are becoming a collection of responsibilities, and employees need to be more flexible and responsive to changing demands. As individual jobs are changing, so is the manager's role. The manager is not only becoming more of a coach or facilitator but is also charged with developing the self-motivation of employees. These employees should not only set goals for themselves but also evaluate their efforts. Employees are still individually important, but they are more important when they contribute to the wholeto the team.

Elisa Mendzela (1997) notes that although groups and teams are not necessarily synonymous, many people refer to almost any work group as a team. Teams have many definitions, including the following:

  1. A unified, interdependent, cohesive group of people working together to achieve common objectives.
  2. People with complementary skills, committed to a common purpose approach, who work together effectively and hold themselves mutually accountable.
  3. A number of persons associated together in work or activity.

Not all individuals necessarily possess team skills. Because American society is an individualistic one, individuals will need to suppress traditional communication methods and learn new ways to function effectively within a team. When team members receive the necessary training to learn needed skills, the team becomes more effective and the individual employee wins as well.


"Team development is the process of unifying a group of people with a common objective into an effectively functioning unit" (Shonk, 1982, p. 1). The team development process includes defining, analyzing, planning, acting, and evaluating. A combination of these stages will help to produce a productive team.

An organization must first define the team and decide whether the team format is the way to proceed. Analyzing team performance and planning for improvement are essential steps in the team development process. Planning for improvements, implementing actions, evaluation, and follow-up should be designed to work in a circular pattern so as to achieve team improvement and productivity. (See Figure 1.)


Teams are helpful in dividing and organizing work. Advantages include breaking down departmental or branch barriers, improving service, providing more time for other duties, identifying issues, obtaining feedback from others, and, of course, dividing work duties and responsibilities. These are all obviously advantageous to any company.

Teams have also been known to decrease error rates, cut order-processing time, increase manufacturing productivity, and decrease theft and absenteeism. However, even with all these benefits, Mendzela (1997) notes that 60 percent of teams fail.


Reasons for team failure include internal competition, companies' failure to recognize team performance, lack of clear goals or common cause, a team being inappropriate for a situation, and negativity. The team should not be in competition with the individual; the team works through individuals toward a common goal.

When team members are confused about the team's goal or objective, they are basically saying the following three things:

  1. They do not believe in the outcome.
  2. They do not believe the outcome is reachable.
  3. They cannot figure out what the boss really wants as an outcome.

Several myths, noted by Harvey Robbins and Michael Finley (1995), lead to unsuccessful teams. The

idea that people enjoy working together is not necessarily true. Many people need their own space and feel confined when assigned to a specific group. It is also untrue that a team can solve any problem. This is not the case if the team is not focused on and knowledgeable about the problem. Just because a manager or the company president is overzealous about teams does not mean that a team approach can immediately or totally solve a problem. Assigning everything to teams and assuming "the more the merrier" does not work in all situations.

Ozols (1996) states that the major reason for team failure is that teams are set up only to achieve management results, not to answer the employee question "What's in it for me?" Employee job satisfaction, recognition, and so forth are essential in reducing team failure.


Characteristics of successful teams include open-mindedness, involvement, ability to deal with conflict, responsibility, trust, respect for others, effective listening, and full participation. Rob Heselbarth (1997) notes that "a strong team is built by distributing responsibility, authority, and information" (p. 5). The individuals working as a team, as well as the team itself, must possess these characteristics. These characteristics can be evaluated through Pollar's (1997) five categories of team evaluation:

  1. Purpose and direction
  2. Problem solving and decision making
  3. Communication
  4. Participation
  5. Leadership

A major advantage of the team approach is that employees are happier and more productive when they are grouped and, in turn, have input into or control over a certain problem in their organization. The result of the team's work has a direct impact on the individuals and their jobs; therefore, they are more interested in their work. Teams are successful when their individual members are successful.

Many companies have had success with teams. A few examples are noted by Cleland (1996).

  • Federal Express and IDS : 40 percent boost in production
  • Motorola Corporation : Teams dedicated to improving quality, cutting costs, and reducing cycle time
  • IBM : Technology assessment teams to review current and emerging technologies
  • General Electric Company : Best-practices assessment to determine the basis of the success of competitors

Marilyn Manning and Patricia Haddock (1996) note seven steps to help manage teams:

  1. Communicate the mission of the company.
  2. Make sure each team member knows what is expected.
  3. Encourage open communication among team members.
  4. Resolve conflicts quickly and fairly.
  5. Encourage interaction among teams.
  6. Support your teams.
  7. Motivate and reward.

These steps work well in the management of teams and can be incorporated into the team development process.


Disadvantages of teams are not always acknowledged. However, when a company is deciding whether to develop teams, the disadvantages, such as potential internal conflict and individual loss, must be weighed against the advantages. (Individual loss refers to individual team members' giving up personal gain; they must share the success.) Power struggles are likely to arise from internal conflict disagreements.

Common problems that may arise include overbearing, dominating, or reluctant participants; floundering; a rush to accomplish goals; digression; acceptance of opinions as facts; and feuding members. The result will be a lack of focus on the common goal.


Because weighing the advantages and disadvantages of teams is important, specific questions must be asked. Certain situations do not call for a team and may be better served by another work mode. Mendzela (1997) offers four specific and demanding questions to help companies determine whether a team approach is best:

  1. Why would a team approach be helpful?
  2. What is unsatisfactory about the current situation?
  3. What are possible causes and solutions?
  4. Will your organization really support a team approach?

If a team is deemed beneficial and worth implementing, a mission or purpose statement must be carefully developed. It is important that the team be clear and knowledgeable about its purpose to be able to meet the team goal and, in turn, the objectives and goals of the organization.


Teams can be effective or ineffective depending on the team environment. Minda Zetlin (1996) notes the following helpful and hindering habits for teams. Helpful habits include open-mindedness, open and immediately dealing with conflict, respect for others' time, listening, low defensiveness, and full participation. Hindering habits include negative body language, false participation, complaining about other team members rather than discussing problems with them directly (triangling), two-way arguments (crosstalk), accumulating grievances (stamp collecting), speaking at length in too much detail (going deep), and destructive humor.

Whether to use teams is an important organizational decision. Advantages and disadvantages in developing and utilizing teams must be researched. Team outcomes are dependent on an effective design and efficient work with recognition of the teams' efforts.


Cleland, D. I. (1996). Strategic Management of Teams. New York: Wiley.

Heselbarth, R. (1997). "Strong Business Teams Share More Than Matching Hats." Contractor, 44(3), 5, 29.

Ketchum, L. D., and Trist, E. (1992). All Teams Are Not Created Equal. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Manning, M., and Haddock, P. (1996). The NAFE Guide to Starting Your Own Business: A Handbook for Entrepreneurial Women. Chicago: Irwin Professional Publishing.

Mendzela, E. (1997). "Effective teams." CPA Journal, 67(9), 62-63.

Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 1999.

Ozols, V. (1996). "Why Teams Don't Work." Rocky Mountain Quality Conference, Denver, CO.

Pollar, O. (1997). "Effective Teams." Executive Excellence, 14(7), 18.

Pucel, D. J., and Fruehling, R. T. (1997). Working in Teams: Interaction and Communication. St. Paul, MN: EMC Paradigm.

Recardo, R. (1996). Teams: Who Needs Them and Why? Houston: Gulf Publishing Co.

Robbins, H., and Finley, M. (2000). The New Why Teams Don't Work. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Sashkin, M., and Sashkin, M. G. (1994). The New Teamwork: Developing and Using Cross-Function Teams. New York: American Management Association.

Scholtes, P. R. (1988). The Team Handbook: How to Use Teams to Improve Quality. Madison, WI: Joiner Associates.

Shonk, J. H. (1982). Working in Teams. New York: AMACOM: A Division of American Management Association.

Zenger, J. H., Musselwhite, E., Hurson, K., and Perrin, C. (1992). "Managing: Leadership in a Team Environment." Security Management, 36(9), 28-33.

Zetlin, M. (1996). "Helps and Hinders: The Habits of Successful Teams." Getting Resultsfor Hands-on Manager, 41(9), 5.

Tena B. Crews

work groups

views updated May 23 2018

work groups Formal and informal groups in the workplace that collaborate as a team on work tasks, for short or for indefinite periods of time. The quality circles movement makes work groups central to the production system, with responsibility to study and resolve production problems.