A team can be defined as two or more individuals who work in an interdependent and collaborative manner to achieve specified goals. Teams can be differentiated from groups primarily through the psychological contract that is assumed to exist between each of the members. This psychological contract establishes a sense of responsibility and accountability on the part of each member to the final outcome achieved. Unlike groups, teams create a coordinated positive synergy that ensures that the overall performance level is greater than the sum of the individual inputs.
Teams can be differentiated on the basis of four key dimensions. The first is the degree of permanence, or the temporal life, of the team. The duration of time that teams remain together can vary from short-term assignments that last only a few hours, to long-term, ongoing relationships that span several years. Another point of differentiation is the level of skill and competency possessed by the team. While some teams may possess a high level of technical know-how and are composed of highly qualified technical experts who are required to keep up to date with the latest knowledge and technologies, others may require only knowledge and skills relating to a specific area.
The extent of autonomy and influence exercised by the team is another differentiating factor. Here, the concern is with the real power held by the collective, in terms of decision-making discretion and the extent to which the team is able to exercise authority to implement decisions and change. This is related to the last point of differentiation, which relates to the level at which tasks are completed. On one hand, teams may occupy lower levels of the organizational hierarchy and be involved in relatively routine tasks. On the other hand, however, teams can occupy the top managerial ranks of organizations and be involved in decisions relating to the overall strategy and direction of the company.
Types of Teams
The most prominent types of teams visible in contemporary organizations are problem-solving teams, self-managing teams, cross-functional teams, and virtual teams. Problem-solving teams typically comprise a group of up to 12 individuals from the same department who come together to share ideas and discuss methods for improving the efficiency of work processes and methods. While these teams have the capacity to produce new ideas, they lack the authority to implement their decisions.
Self-managing teams represent a relatively recent variation on the traditional command work group. Also known as an autonomous group—self-managed teams go beyond problem-solving teams in their capacity to implement decisions and to accept accountability for the outcomes of their decisions. These teams manage themselves on account of the organization’s objectives, and rather than having a formally appointed supervisor, these teams often nominate their own informal leaders. Fully self-managed teams also select their own members and have their members evaluate eachothers’ performance. Comprising members with diverse skills and competencies, self-managed teams can represent an effective means of organizing skilled workers. Nevertheless, these arrangements may not be suitable for all organizations, with research showing that the advantages are situationally dependent.
The cross-functional team is a team structure that has been used for many years. However, their number and popularity has increased significantly over recent years. Cross-functional teams comprise members from the same hierarchical level, but from different work areas and units in the organization. Creativity is increased as information is shared and dispersed among people with diverse areas of expertise in the organization. Although the outcomes associated with these teams can be highly beneficial for organizations, these teams do take longer to develop because of the diversity and complexity associated with working with people from different experiences and backgrounds. Levels of conflict tend to be high and if not managed appropriately, can prove counterproductive to the organization’s goals.
While the aforementioned team structures are based on face-to-face communication, the virtual team represents a group composed of geographically dispersed individuals who are brought together through the use of information and computer technologies to achieve a common goal. Virtual teams are an effective way of bringing together the knowledge and expertise of those not located in close proximity, and can allow for increased speed of communication and decreased costs, as well as overcoming time and space constraints. On the other hand, the lack of face-to-face interaction restricts rapport development between members, making it difficult to establish trust and social connection. There is also far greater room for incomplete information and misinterpretation, due to the absence of paraverbal and nonverbal cues.
- Al Czarnecki, Crisis Communications: A Primer for Teams: Roles, Resources, Processes, Principles (iUniverse, 2007);
- Amy C. Edmondson and Ingrid M. Nembhard, Product Development and Learning in Project Teams: The Challenges Are the Benefits (Harvard Business School Publishing, 2008);
- Howard M. Guttman, Great Business Teams: Cracking the Code for Standout Performance (John Wiley & Sons, 2008);
- Harvard Business School, Leading Virtual Teams (Harvard Business School Publishing, 2009);
- Douglas Miller, Brilliant Teams: What to Know, Do, and Say to Make a Brilliant Team (Pearson Prentice Hall Business, 2008);
- Holger Patzelt et al., “Top Management Teams, Business Models, and Performance of Biotechnology Ventures: An Upper Echelon Perspective,” British Journal of Management (v.19/3, 2008).
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