The organisational organ known as the team is becoming more and more apparent in today’s dynamic business world. Increasingly managers are searching for a means to improve production and keep their organisation competitive in the global market. A lot of these managers have turned to the team as a means for achieving this improvement. Quality circles were looked at to fulfil this role. However, this form of team is being phased out and may have posed as incubator for the current trend; self – managed work teams (Klein, 1995). These teams are increasingly being looked at today to solve many an organisation’s production problems and inefficiencies, and in the process are both badly failing and greatly succeeding. Therefore, the discussion of teams is a very important contemporary management issue to address. Managers should be aware of such a concept and learn about it so as a means to further their organisation and for when the time comes to implement a team they are armed with enough knowledge to implement the team properly.
As with many management trends or processes, they are often labeled, producing a huge list of “buzzwords”, like total quality management, just in time management, management by objectives, downsizing, rightsizing, etc. The organisational team also pulls a long chain of “buzzwords”; workgroup, work team, project team, project group, task force, committees and so on and so on. What these terms basically refer to is a “collection of two or more individuals who interact with each other, share common beliefs, and perceive themselves as being in a group.” (Vecchio, Hearn, Southey, 1996:846). This is a very basic interpretation of a team and which can be expanded upon. Metropolitan Life Insurance Company defines a team more specifically as “a group of people with specific roles and responsibilities, organised to work together toward common goals or objectives, in which each member depends on others to carry out responsibilities to reach those goals and objectives.” (1986, cited in Denton, 1992:87).
The implementation and operation of a team can either be a great success or a costly failure, both money wise and time wise. Many companies have benefited from teams, as Dumaine (1994) points out, “when teams work, there’s nothing like them for turbocharging productivity.” There are many examples of successful implementation of teams. To name a few, Federal Express and IDS boosted productivity by 40% and Boeing cut its engineering hang-ups on its new 777 passenger jet by more than half. (Dumaine, 1994). The Ford Motor Company in the United States also had great success with teams when producing the new Mustang prototype. Ford produced the Mustang from design concept to the finished product under budget and in record time. (Klein, 1995).
However, many companies and managers are put off by the very mention of the word team. As McGarvey (1996) suggests, are teams just another management fad or are they for real? He also points out that “… many businesses have had bad experiences with teams that flopped.” (McGarvey, 1996:80). As is also pointed out by Magee (1997:26) “… ill – functioning teams can cause disastrous effects on the individuals involved, the organisation’s service delivery and customer service reputation, and the mood of the entire organisation.” So, there is little wonder why many organisations and mangers are disillusioned by teams and apprehensive to implement them. Evidence of this apprehension could be interpreted from a study conducted by the Centre for Effective Organisations at the University of Southern California. The Centre conducted a survey of Fortune 1000 companies and found that 68% of those companies used self – managed work teams. However, on the flip – side, only 10% of total workers are in such teams. (Dumaine, 1994). Not a large percentage of the total workers. These results may suggest that most companies are still learning and piloting work teams and are not ready to throw themselves into committing large chunks of their workforce to work teams.
As organisations and managers hear the success stories of Federal Express, IDS and the Ford Motor Company, they also want in on the action and want the benefits of successful team implementation as well. However, they obviously want to steer clear of the possible problems and costs that unsuccessful team implementation can produce. As Dumaine (1994:86) points out, “teams are the Ferraris of work design. They’re high performance but high maintenance and expensive.” What organisations want is a Ferrari with the costs of a Ford or Holden. Although all teams require maintenance and costs, there are factors that can be fine-tuned to keep these costs to a minimum, which will also maximise a team’s success.
The first factor that should be addressed before the actual team is implemented is, what are the reasons for implementation? As Magee (1997:27) points out, “the decision to form teams involves taking risk. It means that the agency believes that the product of the team will be significantly greater than what can be produced by any one individual.” Therefore, management is risking resources when appointing them to teams. So, the decision to create a team should only be made if there will be an expected improvement in production. To help with this decision, a comprehensive planning and study period should be carried out. This should be done so your knowledge of teams and teamwork is high. This will help facilitate team building and from this the building process can flow smoothly as a result of preplanning. The study process should not be limited to reviewing literature. As Dewar (1999:W3) suggests, the best type of research “…is a visit to other companies and organisations who are involved in team activities.” Here you can get first hand experience of team functioning, which can facilitate your team building process. Failure to adequately plan and study for the team building process can get your very expensive team into strife. This could lead to an unfavourable beginning for the team, which may sabotage the team in the long run and end up costing you big bucks.
In the planning process, team composition and the type of team to be used should be examined. Team composition is very important to team success. As is pointed out in McGarvey’s article (1996:80) “management undermines many teams by failing to clear up personnel problems beforehand.” This is about knowing your employees and choosing the right people for the right job. The type of team should also be thoroughly thought about. As Dumaine (1994:86) points out, the most common trouble with teams is the most common trouble with teams is that, “many companies rush out and form the wrong kind for the job.” He also points out that “too often a CEO will get excited about the idea of teams and order them up as if only one type existed.” This type of thinking can be destructive. You don’t use a hammer to cut a piece of wood in half, and similarly you wouldn’t send a team of carpenters to make electricity connections. Dumaine (1994) has identified the most common types of teams and describes the basic tasks of each. These teams are management teams, work teams, virtual teams, quality circles and problem – solving teams. Management teams consist mainly of managers that coordinate the work among the teams. Work teams are employed to carry out the daily work. Virtual teams communicate by computer and commute in and out as needed. Quality circles are made of workers and supervisors who meet occasionally to air any problems. Problem – solving teams comprise of knowledge workers who are formed into teams to solve a problem and then often disband after the problem has been rectified. With this classification of teams, selection of employees for these teams will be made easier and the choice of team type for a specific role should be made easier as well. A classification of teams and their roles such as that presented by Dumaine will also help ensure the correct team is chosen and increase the likelihood of a successful team resulting. All this may be all well and done, however, as Taraschi (1998:12) states, “when building teams, companies often overlook the amount of support and attention members need to get established and comfortable.” So, nurturing by the organisation and management should be of prime concern when the team is still in its embryonic stage, and as Taraschi (1998:12) suggests, “…paying attention to how the team is settling in.”
Another factor of team building is reminding the team members how important their roles are and the importance of their contribution to the organisation as a whole. As Magee (1997:27) suggests, management should “…help people develop an appreciation of the importance of everyone in accomplishing the ultimate organisational goals.” Reminding the team members know of this will raise their exceptance of the team environment and will make their feeling of importance much better, helping team development. In addition to this, an establishment of a team mission could also increase the feeling of importance and direction among team members. As Kezsbom (1995:40) suggests, the team should “…collectively develop a clear understanding of the end result or the team’s mission.” Kezsbom particularly emphasises the word collectively, to facilitate team cohesion and so every viewpoint can be explored due to the differing understandings and expertise of the team members involved. Kezsbom (1995) then adds that without this mission and a direction in which to head, then planning is difficult and a waste of time. What she suggests is correct because a mission gives you a foundation on which to build, operate and plan for the future. The development of a team mission is therefore an important component to consider when team building. To further invigorate the team members, Custis (1996, cited in McGarvey, 1996) even suggests to “make achieving the objective sound appealing.”
The defining of the team’s mission will then lead to another important factor within teams, that being the clarification of members’ roles. As Denton (1992:88) states, “each member of the team should know exactly what role he or she is to play.” He then further adds to this explaining that it is “only when these roles are clear does the team achieve goals.” What Denton suggests is totally true, because if a team member doesn’t know what he or she are to do, then they can’t achieve any team goals, which is why the team was formed in the first place. Without role clarification, no work will get done and the team members become as useful as empty shelf space in a supermarket. Kezsbom (1995) highlights a method for guiding the role clarification process, called work breakdown structure (WBS). WBS “… analyses the project from top down, and then bottom up, into a mixture of functions, product, processes and activities,” Kezsbom (1995:40). This will eventually spell disaster for the team. In clarifying the roles of team members, each person must be accepting of their roles and responsibilities. Also, workload should be as evenly spread as possible, so no one person is over burdened. A method of limiting this from happening is to give team members the opportunity to participate in the assignment of work, Denton (1992).
Once roles and responsibilities have been specified, someone has to act as leader or facilitator. Leaders are a very important component of any team. As Klein (1995:36) points out from the results of a study he conducted, “the key difference between the groups where the competition seemed to occur and those where it didn’t was a direct consequence of the behaviour of the supervisory manager of the group,” or the behaviour of the team leader. So, as you can see, team leadership can affect the team’s performance and solidarity. To help keep these two things to a maximum, Denton (1992) suggests that leaders should be able to supply information and clarify issues, encourage participation and protect individuals from being singled out, and they should be able to keep the team on track. Klein (1995) also found that high cohesiveness resulted when leaders were supportive of positive group dynamics and treated the group as a team. Another quality of a good leader is to be approachable with suggestions and complaints. This can greatly help to facilitate interdependence and communication among team members. As Denton (1992:89) points out, “interpersonal communication is the key to teamwork.”
Another factor that should be looked at is the extent to which a team gels. The more a team gels the better. The best way to get a team to gel is to encourage team bonding. As Denton (1992:87) states, “to unify a team, members must…work out relationships with other team members.” However, he then points out that there no magical formula to make this happen, stating that “sometimes it takes something special for a team to bond,” (Denton, 1992:87). Although there is a lack of method to achieve this, Magee suggests a few things that can foster team bonding. She suggests to, “urge team members to spend time together to get to know and share with one another; create a team identity; to share in and take ownership of team successes and failures; and to resolve their internal and external conflicts,” (Magee, 1997:28). Although simplicity is not the go when considering how the team should bond, (for example, going to a football match or attending a confidence course), it still acts as an important factor that should be attempted to create cohesion and trust.
Another factor to consider is one of the reasons why most people go to work, and that is to receive compensation. The balance between offering compensation for individual work and teamwork is difficult to gauge. As Dumaine (1994) points out, some argue that paying the team as a group is the way to go. However, as he then goes on to say, your best performers will feel cheated and not justly compensated. On the other end of the spectrum, Ray says “…companies maintain their individual oriented pay programs, then wonder why teams fail,” (1996,cited in McGarvey, 1996:80). So, the question is where should the balance be struck? Maybe Klein has found a solution. He suggests that, “…devising reward schemes that meaningfully reward group performance without giving up the power of individual recognition and accountability,” (Klein, 1995:38), is the way to go. Although this does not provide a crystal clear solution, it does however, act as a guide to help design reward systems. The most important fact to keep in mind though is that compensation should be based on both teamwork and individual work.
Also of importance is evaluation of the team’s performance, follow – up and continual support. A continual evaluation of how the team is going should be carried out. Here you should evaluate the work of individual members and also the work of the team. As Magee (1997:28) states, “incorporate both peer and supervisor evaluations.” Through this evaluation, any inefficiencies or conflicts can be identified and worked on for improvement. Management should also continually follow – up on the team’s progress and performance, and continue to support their teams in their work.
To sum it all up, I will quote a passage from Magee’s article that I believe greatly expresses the importance of teams in today’s world of flatter and more flexible organisations. “Employees, not employers, really do make the world go round. More often than not, staffs have their fingers on the pulse of problems that management may not even be aware of or may have been trying endlessly to resolve. Because staffs often are so close to the problem, they also may be more capable of identifying the most viable solutions. And as authors of the solutions, they have a vested interest in their success. Even without a role in developing solutions, staffs are critical to implementation,” (Magee, 1997:26).
Denton, D.K. (1992). Building a team. Quality Progress, October, 87 – 91.
Dewar, D. (1999). 13 keys to successful teamwork. Workforce, 78 (2), W3.
Dumaine, B. (1994). The trouble with teams. Fortune, 130 (5), 86 – 90.
Kezsbom, D.S. (1995). Making a team work: techniques for building successful cross – functional teams. Industrial Engineering, January, 39 – 41.
Klein, S. (1995). Teams under stress: the effects of work pressures and management action. IIE Solutions, May, 34 – 38.
Magee, Y.S. (1997). Teams: avoiding the pitfalls. Public Management, 79 (7), 26 – 28.
McGarvey, R. (1996). Joining forces: 12 steps to creating winning teams. Entrepreneur, 24 (9), 80 – 82.
Taraschi R. (1998). Cutting the ties that bind. Training and Development, 52 (11), 12 – 14.
Vecchio, R.P., Hearn, G., & Southey G. (1996). Organisational behaviour. 2nd edition. Marrickville: Harcourt Brace.