Contemporary management theories and practices stress to importance of work teams to effective and efficient task performance in organizations. Robbins, Coulter, Cox & Cox provide the rationale behind the predominance of team-based organizational structures, by presenting some main empirical findings that support the notion that teams outperform individuals: (2007)
- Well-structured and managed teams provide a way to better use employee talents because they allow each member to focus on what they do best
- Teams are more flexible to changes and respond to them quicker and better
- Teams are rather modular work units in the sense that they be rather easily assembled, deployed, changed and disbanded
- In team-based organizational structures employees are more involved in the work process and empowered
- Cross-functional teams reduce the barriers among functional areas
- Group decision making generates more complete information and knowledge, generates more diverse alternatives and increases acceptance of a solution and legitimacy of decisions.
This paper will examine the issue of teams from two perspectives: First, it will compare and contrast teams and groups in the workplace, highlighting the nature of teams as a comprehensive form of groups and thus as a primary goal of managers. Second, it will examine the role of workforce diversity in teams, explain the advantages and drawbacks of diversified teams and discuss several methods to increase the effectiveness of such team structures.
2 The Differences between Groups and Teams in the Workplace
Generally speaking, groups emerge whenever two or more people are working together towards establishing a common goal. Groups can be formal (i.e. part of the organizational structure, such as departments) or informal (social), and can differ in dynamics, size, etc. However, the common nature of all groups is that it is not necessary to deploy any managerial effort to build a group, as they simply arise due to the circumstances. As such, groups are rather fragile work mechanisms; they resemble social groups, tend to be very responsive to struggles over power and have unique cultural systems such as norms, values and narrative. However, since work groups can be practically almost every professional encounter between individuals, the level of cultural development differs significantly among groups.
Many people tend to confuse groups with teams. As a preface for explaining the difference between the two concepts we can imagine a basketball match between the Bulls and the Celtics: all members of each side (players and supporters) share the same goal, namely to win the match. The supporters on both sides all share this goal and are grouped together to enjoy the game and to show their support. The players, however, must play as a team in order to win; they must “work intensely on a specific common goal using their positive synergy, individual and mutual accountability, and complementary skills” (Robbins et al., 2007).
The concept of teams emerged from the efforts of the science of management to maximize the benefits of joint performance over individual work, while minimizing the negative elements of groups. Broadly speaking, teams represent a higher form of groups, which receives tasks, responsibilities and autonomies as if it was a single body and not a cluster of individuals. As a result, team members tend to share leadership and accountability, show greater openness towards their team members, participate more in discussions, tend to commit, to try out new ideas and to perceive the objectives and performance of their groups as their own. Moreover, some major obstacles for the success of groups, in particular the need to confirm and to protect one’s position are eliminated in a team structure.
Nevertheless, teams must have some degree of consensus or “groupthink,” since a complete absence of generally accepted norms leads to anarchy and fundamentally eliminates the team’s ability to perform. It is thus the members’ responsibility to define a set of norms that will ensure open decision-making and work processes while balancing the need for order in a team.
3 The Importance of Workplace Diversity to Team Performance
A well-diversified workforce contributes to the general wealth of most organizations, as its main advantage is a mixture of different views, expertise and personalities that can join to solve problems, to drive innovation and conduct a more balanced way of working and making decisions. Team-based structure can benefit from a diversification of its members in several ways:
First, by opening the social barriers to some extent, teams enable individuals who underperform in normal circumstances because of differences from the consensus to express themselves without “rocking the boat.”
Second, whereas it may be a burden on the processes of work groups, diversity can bring about greater creativity in group discussions. As clearly stated by Diamond and Diamond:
“The advantage of a team is that it is a mesh of personality types, talents, and experiences. While the differences present challenges, they also present a wide array of solutions. Someone who is a natural debater might be able to see things from many angles, but it takes a negotiator to bring them all together. The idealist and the realist may play some ideological tug of war, but ultimately, you’ll be lucky to have the two working together. The most viable solutions will usually be discovered somewhere between them.” (2007, p. 54)
In addition, managers should pay close attention to the compositions of their working teams in order to avoid stagnant teams and to use the talents an organization has to offer. For example, a group with a diversified workforce in terms of ethnicity is just another group; in a team working on a new market offering, ethically diversified members are a must, as their cultural variability adds to market compliance.
- Diamond, L. E. & Diamond, H. (2007). Teambuilding that Gets Results: Essential Plans and Activities for Creating Effective Teams. Naperville: Sourcebooks.
- Robbins, S. P., Coulter, M. K., Cox, S. M. & Cox, A. (2007). Management (9ed.). Upper Saddle River: Pearson/Prentice Hall.