Defining Teams and Teamwork

Defining a Team

A team is a group of people who collaborate on related tasks toward a common goal.

Learning Objectives

Define teams, particularly as they pertain to the business environment or organizational workplace

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • In a business setting most work is accomplished by teams of individuals. Because of this, it is important for employees to have the skills necessary to work effectively with others.
  • Organizations use many kinds of teams, some of which are permanent and some of which are temporary.
  • Teams are used to accomplish tasks that are too large or complex to be done by an individual or that require a diverse set of skills and expertise.

Key Terms

  • team: A group of people working toward a common purpose.

A team is a group of people who work together toward a common goal. Teams have defined membership (which can be either large or small) and a set of activities to take part in. People on a team collaborate on sets of related tasks that are required to achieve an objective. Each member is responsible for contributing to the team, but the group as a whole is responsible for the team’s success.

The meaning of TEAM: A team is a group of people who work together toward a common goal.

Teams in the Workplace

Sports teams are a good example of how teams work. For instance, a basketball team has individual players who each contribute toward the goal of winning a game. Similarly, in business settings most work is accomplished by teams of individuals who collaborate on activities with defined outcomes. Because teams are so prevalent in business organizations, it is important for employees to have the skills necessary to work effectively with others.

Organizations typically have many teams, and an individual is frequently a member of more than one team. Some teams are permanent and are responsible for ongoing activities. For instance, a team of nurses in a maternity ward provides medical services to new mothers. While patients come and go, the tasks involved in providing care remain stable. In other cases a team is formed for a temporary purpose: these are called project teams and have a defined beginning and end point linked to achieving a particular one-time goal.

The Purpose of Teams

Organizations form teams to accomplish tasks that are too large or complex for an individual to complete. Teams are also effective for work that requires different types of skills and expertise. For example, the development of new products involves understanding customer needs as well as how to design and build a product that will meet these needs. Accordingly, a new product-development team would include people with customer knowledge as well as designers and engineers.

Defining Teamwork

Teamwork involves a set of interdependent activities performed by individuals who collaborate toward a common goal.

Learning Objectives

Identify the processes and activities by which team work gets done

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Teamwork involves shared responsibility and collaboration toward a common outcome.
  • Teamwork processes can be divided into three categories: the transition process, action processes, and interpersonal processes.
  • Five characteristics of effective teamwork are shared values, mutual trust, inspiring vision, skills, and rewards.

Key Terms

  • teamwork: The cooperative effort of a group of people seeking a common end.
  • conflict resolution: Working to resolve different opinions in a team environment.
  • conflict: Friction, disagreement, or discord arising between individuals or groups.

Teamwork involves a set of tasks and activities performed by individuals who collaborate with each other to achieve a common objective. That objective can be creating a product, delivering a service, writing a report, or making a decision. Teamwork differs from individual work in that it involves shared responsibility for a final outcome.

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Teamwork: Human skill involves the ability to work effectively as a member of a group and to build cooperative effort in a team.

Teamwork Processes

While the substance of the tasks involved in teamwork may vary from team to team, there are three processes that are common to how teamwork gets done: the transition process, action processes, and interpersonal processes. During each of these processes, specific sets of activities occur.

1. The transition process is the phase during which a team is formed. Activities include:

  • Mission analysis: establishing an understanding of the overall objective
  • Goal specification: identifying and prioritizing the tasks and activities needed to achieve the mission
  • Strategy formulation: developing a course of action to reach the goals and achieve the mission

2. Action processes comprise the phase during which a team performs its work. Activities include:

  • Monitoring milestones and goals: tracking progress toward completion of tasks and activities
  • Monitoring systems: tracking the use of resources such as people, technology, and information
  • Coordination: organizing and managing the flow of team activities and tasks
  • Team monitoring and support: assisting individuals with their tasks by, for example, providing feedback and coaching

3. Interpersonal processes include activities that occur during both the transition and action processes. These include:

  • Conflict management: establishing conditions to avoid disagreement and resolving conflict when it occurs
  • Motivation and confidence building: generating the willingness and ability of individuals to work together to achieve the mission
  • Affect management: helping team members to regulate their emotions as they work together

Characteristics of Effective Teamwork

An effective team accomplishes its goals in a way that meets the standards set by those who evaluate its performance. For instance, a team may have a goal of delivering a new product within six months on a budget of $100,000. Even if the team finishes the project on time, it can be considered effective only if it stayed within its expected budget.

Effective teamwork requires certain conditions to be in place that will increase the likelihood that each member’s contributions—and the effort of the group as a whole—will lead to success. Effective teams share five characteristics:

  • Shared values:a common set of beliefs and principles about how and why the team members will work together
  • Mutual trust: confidence between team members that each puts the best interest of the team ahead of individual priorities
  • Inspiring vision:a clear direction that motivates commitment to a collective effort
  • Skill/talent:the combined abilities and expertise to accomplish the required tasks and work productively with others
  • Rewards:recognition of achievement toward objectives and reinforcement of behavior that supports the team’s work

Effective teamwork requires that people work as a cohesive unit. These five characteristics can help individuals collaborate with others by focusing their efforts in a common direction and achieving an outcome that can only be reached by working together.

The Role of Teams in Organizations

By combining various employees into strategic groups, a team-based organization can create synergies through team processes.

Learning Objectives

Recognize the role of a team in an organization, and illustrate the team process.

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Due to global and technological factors, the importance of combining competencies and building strong teams is increasing.
  • By combining resources (both across management levels and functional disciplines), organizations can create unique synergies and core competencies.
  • Cross-functional teams utilize a wide variety of unique skill sets to build teams capable of achieving complex objectives.
  • When carrying out a process in a team, it’s important to set objectives and strategy, carry out objectives, and build strong interpersonal efficiency.

Key Terms

  • synergy: The ability for a group to accomplish more together than they could accomplish individually.
  • cross-functional teams: Teams with members that have diverse skill sets, enabling synergy across core competencies.

The Modern Organization

Teams are increasingly common and relevant from an organizational perspective, as globalization and technology continue to expand organizational scope and strategy. In organizations, teams can be constructed both vertically (varying levels of management) and horizontally (across functional disciplines). In order to maintain synergy between employees and organize resources, teams are increasingly common across industries and organizational types.

The Role of Teams

The primary role of a team is to combine resources, competencies, skills, and bandwidth to achieve organizational objectives. The underlying assumption of a well-functioning team is one of synergy, which is to say that the output of a team will be greater than the sum of each individual’s contribution without a team architecture in place. As a result, teams are usually highly focused groups of employees, with the role of achieving specific tasks to support organizational success.

Cross-Functional Teams

Some organizations have a need for strong cross-functional teams that enable various functional competencies to align on shared objectives. This is particularly common at technology companies, where a number of specific disciplines are combined to produce complex products and/or services.

Team Processes

When considering the role of a team, it’s important to understand the various processes that teams will carry out over time. At the beginning of a team set up (or when redirecting the efforts of a team), a transitional process is carried out. Once the team has set strategic goals, they can begin progressing towards the completion of those goals operationally. The final team process is one of interpersonal efficiency, or refining the team dynamic for efficiency and success.

More specifically, these processes can be described as follows:

Transitional Process

  • Mission analysis
  • Goal specification
  • Strategy formulation

Action Process

  • Monitoring progress toward goals
  • Systems monitoring
  • Team monitoring and backup behavior
  • Coordination

Interpersonal Process

  • Conflict management
  • Motivation and confidence building
  • Affect management
This chart visualizes data from a study on team-building, and it's impact on team performance. Building a strong organizational culture for successful teams requires commitment to team processes.

The Impact of Team Building: This chart allows you to visualize data from a study on team-building, and its impact on team performance. Building a strong organizational culture for successful teams requires commitment to team processes.

Types of Teams

Depending on its needs and goals, a company can use a project team, a virtual team, or a cross-functional team.

Learning Objectives

Recognize the differences between types of teams and their uses

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • An organization may use different types of teams depending on the work that needs to be accomplished to meet its goals.
  • Common teams include project teams, virtual teams, and cross- functional teams.
  • Project teams are created for a defined period of time to achieve a specific goal.
  • Virtual teams have members who work in separate locations that are often geographically dispersed.
  • Cross-functional teams bring together people with diverse expertise and knowledge from different departments or specialties.

Key Terms

  • cross-functional team: A group of people from different departments in an organization working toward a common goal.

Depending on its needs and goals, a company may use different types of teams. Some efforts are limited in duration and have a well-defined outcome. Other work requires the participation of people from different locations. Still other projects depend on people with a broad and diverse range of knowledge and expertise.

Different Kinds of Teams

Teams may be permanent or temporary, and team members may come from the same department or different ones. Common types of teams found in organizations include project teams, virtual teams, and cross-functional teams.

  • Project teams are created for a defined period of time to achieve a specific goal. Members of a project team often belong to different functional groups and are chosen to participate in the team based on specific skills they can contribute to the project. Software development is most commonly done by project teams.
  • Virtual teams have members located in different places, often geographically dispersed, who come together to achieve a specific purpose. Academic researchers often work on virtual teams with colleagues at other institutions.
  • Cross-functional teams combine people from different areas, such as marketing and engineering, to solve a problem or achieve a goal. Healthcare services are frequently delivered by interdisciplinary teams of nurses, doctors, and other medical specialists.

It is common for an organization to have many teams, including teams of several types. Effective teamwork depends on choosing the type of team best suited to the work that needs to be accomplished.

Advantages of Teamwork

The benefits of teamwork include increased efficiency, the ability to focus different minds on the same problem, and mutual support.

Learning Objectives

Identify the sources of benefits teamwork creates

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • When a team works well together as a unit they are able to accomplish more than the individual members can do alone.
  • Teamwork creates higher quality outcomes that are more efficient, thoughtful, and effective, as well as faster.
  • Individuals benefit from teamwork through mutual support and a great sense of accomplishment.

Key Terms

  • diverse: Consisting of many different elements; various.
  • efficiency: The extent to which a resource, such as electricity, is used for the intended purpose; the ratio of useful work to energy expended.

The primary benefit of teamwork is that it allows an organization to achieve something that an individual working alone cannot. This advantage arises from several factors, each of which accounts for a different aspect of the overall benefit of teams.

Higher Quality Outcomes

Teamwork creates outcomes that make better use of resources and produce richer ideas.

  • Higher efficiency: Since teams combine the efforts of individuals, they can accomplish more than an individual working alone.
  • Faster speed: Because teams draw on the efforts of many contributors, they can often complete tasks and activities in less time.
  • More thoughtful ideas: Each person who works on a problem or set of tasks may bring different information and knowledge to bear, which can result in solutions and approaches an individual would not have identified.
  • Greater effectiveness: When people coordinate their efforts, they can divide up roles and tasks to more thoroughly address an issue. For example, in hospital settings teamwork has been found to increase patient safety more than when only individual efforts are made to avoid mishaps.

Better Context for Individuals

The social aspect of teamwork provides a superior work experience for team members, which can motivate higher performance.

  • Mutual support: Because team members can rely on other people with shared goals, they can receive assistance and encouragement as they work on tasks. Such support can encourage people to achieve goals they may not have had the confidence to have reached on their own.
  • Greater sense of accomplishment: When members of a team collaborate and take collective responsibility for outcomes, they can feel a greater sense of accomplishment when they achieve a goal they could not have achieved if they had worked by themselves.

The total value created by teamwork depends on the overall effectiveness of the team effort. While we might consider simply achieving a goal a benefit of teamwork, by taking advantage of what teamwork has to offer, an organization can gain a broader set of benefits.

Hazards of Teamwork

Teams face challenges to effective collaboration and achieving their goals.

Learning Objectives

Identify the common pitfalls teams can encounter that limit their performance

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The social aspect of collaborative work makes teams vulnerable to pitfalls that can hurt performance.
  • Common pitfalls involve poor group dynamics such as weak norms, lack of trust, and interpersonal conflict.
  • Poor team-design choices such as size, skill sets, and assignment of roles can negatively affect a team’s ability to complete tasks.

Key Terms

  • groupthink: A process of reasoning or decision making by a group, especially one characterized by uncritical acceptance of or conformity to a perceived majority view.

The collaborative nature of teams means they are subject to pitfalls that individuals working alone do not face. Team members may not always work well together, and focusing the efforts of individuals on shared goals presents challenges to completing tasks as efficiently and effectively as possible. The following pitfalls can lead to team dysfunction and failure to achieve important organizational objectives.

Individuals Shirking Their Duties

Since team members share responsibility for outcomes, some individuals may need to do additional work to make up for those not contributing their share of effort. This can breed resentment and foster other negative feelings that can make the team less effective. One cause of this is the failure of the team to establish clear norms of accountability for individual contributions to the group effort.

Skewed Influence over Decisions

Sometimes an individual or small number of team members can come to dominate the rest of the group. This could be due to strong personalities, greater abilities, or differences in status among members. When individuals either do not feel listened to or believe their ideas are not welcome, they may reduce their efforts.

Lack of Trust

Effective collaboration requires team members to have confidence that everyone shares a set of goals. When that belief is missing, some individuals may not feel comfortable sharing their ideas with the group. Lack of trust can also lead to miscommunication and misunderstandings, which can undermine the group’s efforts.

Conflicts Hamper Progress

While conflicts are a common aspect of working together and can even be beneficial to a team, they can also negatively affect team performance. For instance, conflict can delay progress on tasks or create other inefficiencies in getting work done.

Lack of Teaming Skills

When team members do not have the collaboration skills needed to work well with others, the overall ability of the team to function can be limited. As a result, conflicts may be more likely to arise and more difficult to resolve.

Missing Task Skills

A team that does not have the expertise and knowledge needed to complete all its tasks and activities will have trouble achieving its goals. Poor team composition can lead to delays, higher costs, and increased risk.

Stuck in Formation

Sometimes the group cannot move from defining goals and outlining tasks to executing its work plan. This may be due to poor specification of roles, tasks, and priorities.

Too Many Members

The size of the team can sometimes affect its ability to function effectively. Coordination and communication are more complex in a larger team than in a smaller one. This complexity can mean that decisions must take into account greater amounts of information, meetings are more challenging to schedule, and tasks can take longer to complete.

Groupthink

Outcomes can suffer if team members value conflict avoidance and consensus over making the best decisions. People can feel uncomfortable challenging the group’s direction or otherwise speaking up for fear of breaking a team norm. This phenomenon is known as “groupthink.” Groupthink can limit creativity, lead to poor choices, or result in mistakes that might otherwise have been avoidable.

While teams offer many benefits, their effectiveness rests on how well members can avoid common pitfalls or minimize their negative consequences when they occur.

Differences Between Groups and Teams

All teams are groups of individuals, but not all groups are teams.

Learning Objectives

Differentiate between a group and a team

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • A group is two or more individuals who share common interests or characteristics and whose members identify with each other due to similar traits.
  • Teams and groups differ in five key ways: task orientation, purpose, interdependence, formal structure, and familiarity among members.

Key Terms

  • team: Any group of people involved in the same activity, especially referring to sports and work.
  • group: A number of things or persons that have some relationship to one another. A subset of a culture or of a society.

While all teams are groups of individuals, not all groups are teams. Team members work together toward a common goal and share responsibility for the team’s success. A group is comprised of two or more individuals that share common interests or characteristics, and its members identify with each other due to similar traits. Groups can range greatly in size and scope. For example, members of the millennial generation are a group, but so is a small book club formed by neighbors who enjoy reading.

Groups differ from teams in several ways:

  • Task orientation: Teams require coordination of tasks and activities to achieve a shared aim. Groups do not need to focus on specific outcomes or a common purpose.
  • Degree of interdependence: Team members are interdependent since they bring to bear a set of resources to produce a common outcome. Individuals in a group can be entirely disconnected from one another and not rely on fellow members at all.
  • Purpose: Teams are formed for a particular reason and can be short- or long-lived. Groups can exist as a matter of fact; for example, a group can be comprised of people of the same race or ethnic background.
  • Degree of formal structure: Team members’ individual roles and duties are specified and their ways of working together are defined. Groups are generally much more informal; roles do not need to be assigned and norms of behavior do not need to develop.
  • Familiarity among members: Team members are aware of the set of people they collaborate with, since they interact to complete tasks and activities. Members of a group may have personal relationships or they may have little knowledge of each other and no interactions whatsoever.

Sometimes it is difficult to draw a distinction between a team and a group. For instance, a set of coworkers might meet on occasion to discuss an issue or provide input on a decision. While such meetings typically have an agenda and thus a purpose and some structure, we would not necessarily think of those in attendance as a team. The activity scope and duration is just too small to involve the amount of coordination of resources and effort that teamwork requires.