Why Does Your Organzation Have Teams?

Ever wonder exactly why your organization chooses to use teams to get things done? After all, teams and teamwork are not new concepts. Teams can often be more effective than traditional hierarchical structures for making decisions quickly and efficiently A team is a group of people who are interdependent with respect to information, resources, and skills, and who seek to combine their efforts to achieve a common goal.

According to Leigh Thompson (2008), the five key defining characteristics of a team are:

  1. The team exists to achieve a shared goal.  
  2.  Team members are interdependent regarding a common goal.
  3.  Team members are bound and remain relatively stable over time.  
  4.  Team members have the authority to manage their own work and internal processes.
  5. The team operates with in a larger social system context, typically an organization.

In other words, a team is a working group of people who learn from one another and share ideas.  These people are dependent upon ne one another as they all work together towards a shared goal or objective. In today’s dynamic, and fast-paced business world, there are many business challenges that are better met by teams of folks working together effectively.  These challenges can be focused on an organization’s customers, their competition, the technology they are using and even globalization in general. Sure seems like today’s pace of business doesn’t make it easy to approach getting the job done as a traditional top-down hierarchy kind of company, don’t you agree?

Teams are a great way to have many people working together to assist the organization in achieving its goals and staying competitive. For example, if a team is chartered with proposing an organization’s next course of action, it would have many more people to facilitate the process; some could examine the industry, some could examine international activities, and some could identify what the competition is doing to prepare for the future. By empowering teams and team members, organizations can dramatically increase the flow of information and analysis beyond what just one leader or manager could accomplish in the same amount of time.

There are different types of teams in organizations: manager-led, self-managing, self-directing and self-governing.  Let;s take a look at each type in greater detail.  I am curious, which type of team are you a part of every day at work? How do you like it?

  1. Manager-led teams. The manager acts as the team leader and is responsible for defining the goals, methods, and functioning of the team.
  2. Self-managing or self-regulating teams. The manager or leader determines the overall purpose or goal of the team, but the team is at liberty to manage the methods by which to achieve that goal.
  3. Self-directing or self-designing teams. Such teams determine their own objectives and the methods by which to achieve them; management has responsibility only for the team’s organizational context.
  4. Self-governing teams. These teams are usually responsible for executing a task, managing their own performance processes, designing the group, and designing the organizational context.

Over the years, I have found that there is no exact science to creating an effective team. Team participation and management is varied and depends on multiple variables that need to be considered.  I have also discovered that sometimes teams are not always the answer. Teams may provide insight, creativity, and knowledge in a way that a person working independently cannot, but teamwork may also lead to confusion, delay, and poor decision-making. Our use of global and virtual teams brings additional considerations and some complications to the mix as well.

If you are looking to refine or validate your communication skills on your projects, take a look at Learning Tree’s 4-day course on project team leadership  or their 3-day course on success through teamwork. These courses are certainly a great place to begin or revisit how well you are building and leading your teams  and to learn some new skills and techniques for dealing with your teams even better still.

Susan Weese

Reference:  Thompson, Leigh (2008). Making the Team (3rd ed). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

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