Types of Teams

Learning Outcomes

  • Discuss the types of teams

Organizations use different types of teams in different ways to accomplish their objectives. Some teams have a very simple and specific focus, and others face complex issues with organization-wide ramifications. We can look at teams and classify them in a variety of ways. Let’s first take a look at them based on their task complexity and team member fluidity.

Task complexity is the extent to which a task is intricate and consists of different, interrelated parts. Membership fluidity is the extent to which membership within a team is stable. Low membership fluidity would mean that people are often entering into and leaving the team, and high membership fluidity means they are quite stable, not changing often at all.

Simple Work Teams

Simple work teams have low task complexity and low team fluidity. Their goal is simple problem solving, and often they are a group that supports day-to-day activities, dealing with issues that require input from more than one person or to generate commitment from employees. Usually these are people from a same team or department, so they generally have a similar focus and tend to work together relatively easily.

Administrative Teams

Five people fist bumping over laptops on a deskAn administrative team has high task complexity but low team membership fluidity, meaning that the problems the team deals with are complex but people stream in and out of the group. The goal of an administrative team is to problem solve and then “sell” their ideas to the rest of the organization. Their focus could be internal, external, or both, and the team members are usually management level.

An example of an administrative team might be a relocation committee that’s dedicated to relocating a plant to a new area. Members of the team might flow in and out, but the complexity of the task is rather high and not at all part of their regular routine. Management level members work for a finite period of time to accomplish the strategic objective of moving the plant—all its machinery, all its people, and so on—to a new address.

Cross-Departmental Teams

A cross-departmental team tends to have a low complexity level but a high team membership fluidity, meaning that the work is fairly simple but the teams are committed and fairly unchanging. Their goal is integration in structure and setting ground rules, and their focus is internal and very specific.

A cross-departmental task force is an example of this type of team. Perhaps an organization is installing a new system that will manage all their data, both at the main office and at their plants, in an entirely different way. The task force might come together from different areas of the organization to identify the types of data their departments generate and how that data will be transferred over to the new system, how people will be trained to use the new system and even how change around the system will be managed.

Process Teams

Process teams deal with high complexity tasks and have high team member fluidity, meaning people are assigned to the team and stay. These folks are creative problem solvers and deal with implementation. Their focus is strategic and broad.

Process teams do not have departmental affiliation and function independently to undertake broad, organizational-level process improvements. For instance, the department store Mervyn’s, the now defunct discount department store chain, had a SWAT team that rushes in to solve a store’s critical issues. They were deployed at any time, whenever they’re needed. They even attempted to solve organizational-wide issues like flextime and insurance.

Self-Managed Teams

a group of people in a meetingSelf-managed teams (SMTs) are a commonly used process team used in organizations. Self-managed teams are process teams of employees who have full managerial control over their own work. Volvo is known for having abandoned their typical assembly line structure for one that included only self-managed teams. The teams were charged with assembling their large part of the car, but they could decide how to do it and who was going to work on what parts. The results included significant improvements in product quality and employee satisfaction.

Overall self-managed teams include these characteristics:

  • The power to manage their work
  • Members with different expertise and functional experience
  • No outside manager
  • The power to implement decisions
  • Coordination and cooperation with other teams and individuals impacted by their decisions
  • Internal leadership, based on facilitation. This means that a rotating leader focuses on freeing the team from obstacles as they do their work.

Self-managed teams require a change in structure on behalf of the organization and a high level of commitment on behalf of all parties to ensure their success. Most self-managed teams that fail do so because of a lack of commitment on the part of the organization.

Chart showing the team membership fluidity and task complexity of various teams. Process teams have high team membership fluidity and high task complexity. Administrative teams have low team membership fluidity and high task complexity. Simple work teams have low team membership fluidity and low task complexity. Cross-departmental teams have high team membership fluidity and low task complexity.

Virtual Teams

It’s worth noting that there are now also virtual teams, which are teams that use computer technology to tie together physically dispersed members in order to achieve a common goal. It is true that these virtual teams might be an administrative, cross-functional, simple work or even a process team, but they are distinctive in that they allow people to collaborate online.

Because virtual teams have limited social interaction – many times they have not met in person – they tend to be more task-oriented and exchange less social information. But they’re able to do their work even if the members of the team are thousands of miles apart, and allows people to work together who may not otherwise be able to collaborate.

Practice Question


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