By Shirley J. Caruso, M.A., Human Resource Development
There was a time when “team building” was all the rage. Each team spent a great deal of time, energy and effort clarifying goals, developing a team charter and establishing operating principles — that is, working on the process of being a team as much as any task itself.
Frankly, there is much less time for this in today’s work world. While most work is still accomplished by groups of people, these groups do not have luxury for as much self-examination.
It remains essential however, that each member clearly understands the goal. Teams also need a designated leader to ensure that progress is timely and that the goals are achieved.
Is It a Team or a Work Group?
Teams used to have one leader that directed the collective work of the group. Now, more teams are cross-functional, short-lived and project-based. There is not always an appointed team leader.
The team leaders are less certain of their roles, as various team members contribute their area of expertise. The important task of team facilitation now falls to the team leader.
Whenever a group of people work or play together, they form a team.
Purposes of teams:
- Solve a problem
- Improve a process
- Design or create something
- Perform one or more tasks
ASTD Executive Survey
Of 230 companies surveyed by the American Society for Training and Development’s Executive Survey (ASTD) (Work Teams That Work,” Training and Development. Anthony R. Montbello and Victor Buzzotta. March 1993, pp. 59-64):
- Seventy-seven percent agreed that teams increased productivity.
- Seventy-two percent agreed that teams improved quality.
- Fifty-five percent agreed that teams reduced waste.
- Sixty-five percent agreed that teams improved job satisfaction.
- Fifty-seven percent agreed that teams improved customer satisfaction.
Definition of Team
In the new economy of information, work groups have heightened interdependence and the need for outside knowledge, input, and help. This means that individuals need to work together effectively to get things done.
A team is two or more people working jointly to accomplish a task(s).
In a team all members:
- Are aware of the “unity” and striving to achieve the same thing together.
- Have the chance to learn, contribute and work with others.
- Have the ability to act together toward a common goal.
Reasons to Implement Teams
- Enhance information processing
- Increase sense of ownership and commitment to quality and output
- Improve feeling of morale
- Learn how to work together better
- Gain a broader perspective of the company’s purpose and how day-to-day tasks support this purpose
- Provide solutions and ideas from the front line
- Complete projects more swiftly
- Solve problems that affect more than one area
- Anticipate problems before they arise
- Develop solutions that benefit the company as a whole
- Increase the ability of team members to solve their own problems
Humans have an innate need to belong and be a part of something, as evidenced in Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs (in which belonging is the 2nd item in the hierarchy after basics of food and water). As long as formal structure doesn’t fulfill these needs, informal teams will exist.
In some cases, informal groups can make a positive impact. However, in other cases they can be counterproductive, such as when group behaviors undermine company goals.
Why Informal Teams Form
Doing a job is only one part of people’s needs and offerings. There are also social and emotional needs and informal groups develop to meet these needs. The level of influence (i.e., control) an informal group has on an individual is directly proportional to how well the group meets that individual’s social and emotional needs.
Team members today barely have time to complete their work, let alone spend extra time on things such as defining a group process. This makes it even more important for individual contributors to know how to participate fully on a team right from the start.
Whether teams are officially put in place or not, groups will form. It is human nature. It is better for the manager, department, or company to control the forming of groups (by establishing teams) and to provide a clear purpose and focus for each group.