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Teams in Organizations (Part I)

Facts and Myths

Ed Johnson's chain of team effort is only one of several examples of how people can unite with a sense of purpose under pressure. Johnson team had a single goal, and everyone had a role to fill that goal to be achieved. These elements a shared goal and an interdependent group of people are the defining characteristics of teams. Virtually everyone who has worked in an organizations has been a member of a team at one time or another. Good team are not a matter of luck; they result from hard work, careful planning, and commitment from the sponsoring organization. Designing effective team is a skill that requires a thorough understanding of team to ensure that the team works as designed. Although there are no guarantees, we believe that understanding that what makes teams work will naturally lead to better and leaders, managers executives, trainers and professionals to build and maintain excellent teams in their organizations.

Our systematic approach is based upon scientific principles of learning and change. Implementing change requires that managers audit their own behavior to see where mistakes are being made, consider and implement new techniques and practices and then examine their effects. Unfortunately, accomplishing these tasks in a typical organizational setting is not easy. This chapter sets the stage for effective learning by defining what a team is it not always clear! We distinguish four types of teams in organizations in terms of their authority. We expose the most common myths about teamwork and share some observations from team leaders. We provide the results of our survey on how teams are used in organizations and the problems with which managers are most concerned. The problems cited by these managers cut across industries, form doughnut companies to high tech firms. These problems and concerns are examined in the chapters that follow.

What is a team?

A work team is an interdependent collection of individuals who share responsibility for specific outcomes for their organizations? Not everyone who works together or in proximity belongs to a team. A team is a group of people who are interdependent with respect to information, resources, and skill and who seek to combine their efforts to achieve a common goal. As is summarized in Exhibit 1, teams have five key defining characteristics. First, teams exits to achieve a share goal. Simply put, teams have work to do. Teams produce outcomes for which members have collective responsibility and reap some form of collective reward. Second, team members are interdependent regarding some common goal. Interdependent is the hallmark of teamwork. Interdependence mean that team members cannot achieve their goal single handedly, but instead, must rely on each other to meet shared objectives. There are several kinds of interdependencies, as team members must rely on others for information, expertise, resources, and so on. Third, teams are bounded and remain relatively stable over time.

Boundedness means the team has an identifiable membership; members as well as nonmembers, know who is on the team. Stability refers to the tenure of membership. Most teams work together for a meaning full length of time long enough to accomplish their goal. Fourth, Team members have the authority to manage their own work and internal processes. We focus on teams in which individual members can, to some extent, determine how their work gets done. Thus, although a prison chain gang may be a team in some sense, the prisoners have little authority in term of managing their own work. Finally, teams operate in a larger social system context. Teams are not island unto themselves. They do their work in a larger organization, often alongside other teams. Furthermore, teams often need to draw upon resources from outside the team and vice versa-something we discuss in part III of this book.

A working group, by contrast, consist of people who learn from one another and share ideas but are not interdependent in an important fashion and are not working toward a shared goal. Working groups share information, perspectives, and insights, make decision, and help people do their jobs better, but the focus is on individual goals and accountability. For example, consider a group or researchers who meet each month to discuss their new ideas.


Teams and teamwork are not novel concepts. In fact, teams and team thinking have been around for years at companies such as Procter & Gamble and Boeing. In the 1980s, the manufacturing and auto industries strongly embraced a new, team oriented approach when U.S. firms retooled to compete with Japanese companies that were quickly gaining market share. During collaborations on the B-2 stealth bomber between the U.S. Air force, Northrop, and 4,000 subcontractors and suppliers tin the early 1980s, teams were employed to handle different parts of the project. A new developments occurred or new problems were encountered during the program, the Air Force/Northrop team formed ad hoc teams made up of [their] own experts and specialists from other companies and scientific institutions.

Managers discovered the large body of research indicating that teams can be more effective than the traditional corporate hierarchical structure for making decisions quickly and efficiently. Even simple changes such as encouraging input and feedback from workers on the line can make a dramatic improvement. For instance, quality control (QC) circles and employee involvement groups are often vehicles for employee participation. It is a mark of these programs success that this kind of thinking is considered conventional wisdom nowadays. But, although these QC teams were worthy efforts at fostering the use of teams in organizations, the teams needed for the restructuring and reengineering processes of the future may be quite different. This point is brought home even more clearly in light of research findings that 70 percent of all teams and team based initiatives fail to produce the desired results.

At least four challenges suggest that building and maintaining effective teams is of paramount importance

Customer Service Focus

The first challenge has to do with customer service. Businesses and companies all over the world have moved from a transactional, economic view of customers and clients to a relational view of customers Transactional models of teamwork are characterized by discrete exchanges, are short term in nature, and contain little interaction between the customer and the vendor. In contrast, relational models of teamwork occur over time, are more intense, and are built upon a relationship between the people involved. There is good reason to care about the customer from a relational point of view given that 85 percent of customers who stop buying from a company do so because they behave the company does not care about them or their business. Moreover, acquiring new customers costs five to 10 times more than keeping existing customers happy.

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