Concept of Work Teams 

Teams are getting popular in modern organizations. More and more organizations are restructuring themselves around teams to better utilize employee talents.

Work group and work teams are not the same thing. The following figure shows the comparing Work group and work teams:

A work group is a group that interacts primarily to share information and make decisions to help each member perform. Its performance is summation of what its members perform as individuals.

A   work team is a cooperative group whose individual efforts result in positive synergy through coordinated efforts.

Its performance is greater than the summation of what its members perform as individuals. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Types of Work Teams

The work teams can be of the following types:

  1. Problem-solving teams
  2. Self-managed teams
  3. Cross-functional teams
  4. Virtual teams

1. Problem-solving teams:

These teams discuss ways of improving quality, efficiency and the work environment. They consist of 8 to 10 members from the same department. The team meets for a few hours each week.

  • Quality circle is an example of problem-solving team which is concerned with solving problems related to quality, efficiency and safety at work place.
  • Problem-solving teams share ideas and offer suggestions. However, they lack authority to make and implement decisions.

2. Self-managed work teams:

They are autonomous teams who take on many of the responsibilities of their former supervisors. They solve problems, implement solutions and take full responsibility for outcomes. They are empowered.

  • Typically, Self-managed teams are group of 10 to 15 employees who perform related or interdependent jobs. They select their own members and evaluate each other’s performance. The following figure shows the Self-managed work teams:

The responsibilities self-managed work teams take on are:

  1. Planning and scheduling of team work
  2. Assigning tasks to members
  3. Collective control over the pace of work through performance evaluation and quality control.
  4. Making operating decisions
  5. Taking corrective actions to solve problems
  6. Training of group members for multi-skilling.

3. Cross-functional teams:

These teams are made up of employees of the same hierarchical level, but from different work areas, who came together to accomplish a specific task. The membership cuts across departments and functions. Members are experts in various specialties.

  • Committee and task force are examples of cross-functional teams.
  • Cross-functional teams are effective to:
  1. Coordinate complex projects
  2. Exchange information
  3. Develop new ideas and solve problems

However, these teams take time to build trust and team work. Members need to learn to work with diversity and complexity.

  • Effectiveness of cross-functional team depends on:
  1. Establishment of clear and specific goals
  2. Careful selection and appraisal of members
  3. Equity in rewarding efforts of members

4. Virtual teams:

These teams use information technology and computers to tie together physically dispersed members in order to achieve a common goal. Members collaborate on-line through communication links such as:

  • Wide area networks (WAN)
  • Video conferencing
  • E-mail, Voice-mail, etc.

Virtual teams lack face-to-face communication. They have limited social interaction. But they overcome time and space constraints. They allow people to work together who are miles apart.

Building Effective Work Teams (Factors in Managing Teams)

Effectiveness is doing the right thing. It is concerned with attaining goals. The components needed for building effective work teams are:

  1. Work Design
  2. Composition
  3. Context
  4. Process


1. Work Design:

The following characteristics of work design help build effective teams:

  1. Autonomy: Responsibility for work and freedom in doing work to the team.
  2. Skill variety: Opportunity for use of different skills and abilities by the team.
  3. Task identity: Doing the whole piece of work by the team.
  4. Task significance: Doing work should be worthwhile to the team.

Team should work together with collective responsibility to complete significant tasks.

2. Team Composition:

The following variables in team composition help build effective teams:

  1. Ability: Variety in abilities of team members. The members should have right technical, decision making and interpersonal skills.
  2. Personality: Team members should have traits, such as extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, emotional stability and openness to experience.
  3. Roles: Team members should have diversity to fulfill various roles.
  4. Size: The size of the team should be neither too small and nor too big. Between 6 to 10 members is a good number.
  5. Flexibility: The team members should be adaptable to each other’s tasks.
  6. Member Preference: Team members should have preference for team work.

3. Context:

The following contextual factors help build effective teams:

  1. Adequate Resources: The members should have access to adequate resources outside the team. Management must support teams.
  2. Leadership: Team members should agree on who is to do what. Leadership roles are shared.
  3. Evaluation and Reward: Team members should be individually and collectively accountable for performance. Reward should be based on team performance.

4. Process:

The following process variables help build effective teams:

  1. Common purpose: It provides direction and guidance. It should be accepted by the team. It is a broad vision.
  2. Specific Goals: The purpose should be translated into specific goals. They help teams maintain focus on getting results. Goals should be specific, measurable, realistic, challenging and time bound.
  3. Team Efficacy: Team should believe in success. Members should have collective confidence in themselves. Training should be provided.
  4. Conflict: Functional conflict should be encouraged to improve team effectiveness.
  5. Social Loafing: Teams should discourage the tendency of social loafing. There should be accountability at both the individual and team levels.

Group Decision Making

Decisions are taken either by an individual or by a group. When a decision is taken by an individual in the organization, it is known as individual decision. Group decision refers to the decisions which are taken by a group of organizational members.

There are many situations which suddenly come up as ill-structured problems which are unlikely to be solved by a single individual.

In such situation, the manager may assign the problem to a group of experts for recommendations. It is often argued that group can make higher quality decisions than individuals.

Issues in Managing Work Teams

The key issues in managing work teams are:

1. Issue of Total Quality Management (TQM) in Teams:

The issue is how to make the work teams effective for total quality management.

TQM is continuously improving quality through everyone’s commitment and involvement to satisfy customers. Quality is everyone’s responsibility. TQM requires encouragement to employees by management for quality improvements. Work teams are the vehicles for improving quality.

2. Issue of Workforce Diversity in Teams:

The issues are:

  1. How to manage diversity in work team?
  2. How to develop cohesiveness in work team?
  3. How to minimize conflicts?
  4. How to turn individuals into team players?

Work teams tend to be high in diversity. Such teams take time to develop cohesiveness.

3. Issue of Mature Teams:

The issue is how to reinvigorate mature teams.

The effectiveness of work team can diminish over time. Maturity can retard team creativity. Mature teams suffer from group think. Members assume that they know what everyone is thinking.

4. Issue of Effectiveness of Teams:

The issue is how to increase and maintain team effectiveness in terms of:

  • Common goals and norms: For the team
  • Work design: Autonomy, skill variety, task identity and task significance.
  • Team composition: Team members should be cooperating, coordinating, communicating, comforting and conflict resolving (5Cs).
  • Team context: Team leadership and rewards.
  • Team process: Norms, cohesion, trust and team development.