Teams have become an inescapable feature
of modern life, whereby productive organisations seemingly cannot function
without grouping individuals into teams that focus on particular products,
problems or customers (Sinding and Waldstom,
2014). This new organisational form, whereby a network of interconnected and
flexible teams is replacing the conventional hierarchy structure, is on the
rise. However, despite the application of teams in organisational structures in
an attempt to become more efficient, teams are not always the most effective structure.

The emphasis in this assignment is on
explaining how although collaborative work may allow organisations to enhance
creativity, productivity and knowledge. These benefits are often hindered by
problems of management, groupthink and conflict. Henceforth, suggesting why all
contemporary organisations do not use them despite their theorised benefits. I
will begin by addressing the argument that team structures are most efficient
for organisations by explaining the difficulties that come with managing teams.
Before moving on to analyse the positive psychological and social benefits of
team work for individuals, and in turn organisations, and how these can benefit
can be often be rendered ineffective due to the potential for conflict within
teams. Finally, I shall discuss how although teams may seem to generate higher
quality ideas than individuals, the phenomenon of groupthink often suggests the
contrary.

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For the purpose of this assignment a
team is defined as “a small number of people with complementary skills who are
committed to a common purpose, performance goals and approach for which they
hold themselves mutually accountable” (Katzebach and Smith, 1993:45).

The implementation of team structures within
the workplace has been one of the most recurrent
organisational changes within the last two decades (Allen and Hecht,
2004), with organisations from GE, Nestlé
and IMB to the US Army and The Cleveland Clinic adopting these methods (Deloitte, 2016). Such organisations are reorganising their networks and staff to focus on
particular areas allowing them to collaborate closely instead of being
separated by speciality and rank, in the hope of greater productivity and
organisational flexibility. Glassop (2002) argues that firms that implement
team structures will have a higher level of labour productivity than firms that
do not have such structures. This is further supported by Oakland (1996) when
he states that team work improves communication and develops interdependence.

Particularly interesting, however, is
that this effect is not always observed as well as this. There is a lack of
empirical evidence in literature to consistently or strongly support such
claims (Allen and Hecht, 2004a). In order for a team to be efficient at all,
let alone more than other working structures, they must firstly be assembled
effectively. Devising the right mix of individuals, taking into consideration
diversity, roles, learning styles etc. can provide challenging and costly for
organisations. For example, when considering the team role framework of Belbin
(1993) it may not be possible to allow for a balance of all nine team roles,
organisations simply may not have access to employees with the specific required
characteristics in order for the team to be successful. A further issue comes
in deciding what the preferred team size is. Organisations need to be able to
create a team that is big enough that allows for members to benefit from shared
ideas and knowledge, but without it becoming too big and thus ineffective. Moreover,
organisations need to consider their aims and decide upon which team structure
is best suited to them. Should teams be left to self-manage, whereby they
perform their own administrative tasks and provide self-direction or should
organisations make use of quality circles, defined as “small teams of
volunteers who meet regularly to solve quality-related problems in the work
area” or virtual teams, defined as “physically dispersed work teams that
conduct their business via modern information technologies.”? (Sinding and Waldstom, 2014:160). Besides this,
even if the correct team-size, the way the mix and management style is formulated
may mean the team could still fail; “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.” (The Economist, 2016:5).

This being said, one understands that there
are psychological benefits for individuals working in teams that become benefits
for the organisation. Research suggests that individuals feel happier working
in a team and thus are more productive workers as a result. Diehl and Strobe
(1987) suggests that individuals perceive working in group activities to be
more fun and enjoyable than working alone. Moreover, evidence from Carter
(2000) reported that greater well-being has been reported by those who work on
teams than those who do not. Individuals experience higher levels of satisfaction
when working in teams as a result of their social needs being met and acquiring
recognition by others, consequently organisations are benefited by lower
employee turnover and less absenteeism (Glassop, 2002a). However, in contrast
to this, Wall et al (1986) suggests that perhaps this is not the case and in
some instances mental health can actually deteriorate over time. Working in
teams can provide organisational benefits but this is only the case if team
members work harmoniously, which is very often rare.

Dysfunctional behaviours and conflict
tend to violate norms that are necessary for effective team performance (Felps
et al., 2006), most specifically relationship conflict, defined as: “an
awareness of interpersonal incompatibilities, includes affective components
such as feeling tension and friction. Relationship conflict involves personal issues such as dislike
among group members and feelings such as annoyance, frustration, and
irritation” (Jehn and Mannix, 2001:238). Such conflict and dysfunctional
behaviours hold much stronger negative connotations for the team and can hinder
team processes and goals (Robinson & O’Leary-Kelly, 1998). Conflict within
teams can arise due to many reasons, one being due to the diversity of its team
members. If the mix of individuals is wrong and they are not compatible with each
other or all have different levels of expectations for the team, then this
usually leads to members with higher expectations becoming frustrated with
their colleagues and creating an unhealthy team environment eventually leading
to unproductivity. Conflict also arises due to a lack of understanding of what
the team’s purpose is; often individuals do not understand why they are a part
of the team and what they are aiming to achieve. This commonly leads to team
members having hidden agendas, whereby they focus on bettering their own
careers rather than working for the best of the organisation (Sinding and Waldstom, 2014a). The stated reasons for conflict,
along with others, often act as a deterrent to organisations to implement teams
within their structures; as, if after finding individuals who were thought to
be compatible in a team they find that this is not the case and said
individuals are in fact not compatible, the cost of having to having to deal
with the conflicts created worsens the efficiency of the organisation. Research
indicates that the apprehension caused by interpersonal hostility may hinder
cognitive functioning as well as act as a distraction to team members, causing
them to work less effectively. (Jehn and
Mannix, 2001a).

Nonetheless, relationship conflict is
rare and it is more common to see task conflict, defined as: “an awareness of
differences in viewpoints and opinions pertaining to a group task” (Jehn and
Mannix, 2001b:283), which can be beneficial in improving the creativity of the
team. Moderate levels of such conflict have been shown to be useful to teams,
especially when a difficult task has been assigned. This is due to the
difference in opinion allowing for new alternate ideas to be considered amongst
the team, meaning team members are able to benefit from the shared knowledge of
other members which may have not been consider through individual perspectives.
Brainstorming literature suggests that teams benefit from increased levels of
innovation and shared knowledge, arguing that teams are able to generate more,
and better, ideas when compared to individuals. However, this is not as
effective as initially thought. Research indicates that teams can actually work
against innovation and creativity, especially when sharing ideas in a
conventional face-to-face format. In actual fact, many studies provide strong
evidence that teams actually generate fewer and lower quality creative ideas,
when compared with the mutual efforts of several individuals working alone
(Knights and McCabe, 2000). Therefore, elucidating the impression that
organisations don’t benefit in terms of performance and efficiency advantages
by using team structures.

One reason for this is the
‘groupthink’ phenomenon. Groupthink is defined as “a mode of thinking that
people engage in when they are deeply involved in a cohesive in-group, when the
members’ striving for unanimity overrides their motivation to realistically
appraise alterative courses of action” (Whyte, 1989:41). Janis acknowledged
eight key symptoms of groupthink: (a) an illusion of invulnerability, (b) an
illusion of morality, (c) rationalisation, (d) stereotyping, (e)
self-censorship, (f) an illusion of unanimity, (g) direct pressure on
nonconformists, and (h) reliance upon self-appointed mind guards (Whyte,
1989a). By focusing on common or shared information during group discussions
rather than communicating unique or unshared information because of the
pressure felt by the majority consensus, these symptoms give teams a fake sense
of security and as a result they do not appropriately consider other, perhaps
better, alternatives (Wood, Lundgren, Ouellette, Busceme, & Blackstone,
1994). Team members are less likely to express their true views and share ‘out
of the box’ ideas out of fear of upsetting the majority and in doing so and
focusing on the idea of unanimity, teams ultimately
result in making low quality decisions with the most cohesive groups making the
poorest decisions. Therefore, this further supports the idea that team
structures conceivably are not the most efficient structures for contemporary
organisations and they would in fact benefit from more creative idea-generation
through the use of collecting the ideas of individuals together.

Not only do teams result in making lower
quality decisions but research suggests that these decisions are also riskier. Teams,
on the whole, are much more likely to take on high risk decisions compared to
individuals taking medium to low risk decisions. Following experiments Myers and Lamm (1976)
reported that groups were on average riskier than their average individual
member. Team members often become more extreme or polarised when they come
together, often showing enthusiasm for a certain action where the risk the
group is taking is higher than individuals would. This phenomenon of group
polarization and risky shift has the potential to be very damaging to
contemporary organisations.

To conclude, the argument that working
in teams allows individuals to experience higher work satisfaction levels which
in turn provides efficiency benefits to the organisation is valid, however in
terms of allowing the organisation to become more productively efficient the research
suggests that this desired efficiency will not come through implementing team
structures.  It has been demonstrated
that whilst relationship conflict has a limited negative impact on the
productivity of teams, the benefits of increase idea-generation, thought to be
achievable through teams are too limited and there is greater scope for
individuals to not only produce more ideas, but also for these ideas to be more
unique and suffer less, if at all, from the issues associated with groupthink
and group polarisation.

In summary, it is clear to see that
the empirical evidence regarding the efficiency of teams within contemporary organisations
is restricted. This is not to say that teams may not be the most appropriate
structure to use in certain circumstances but to say that, on the whole, the
benefits of using team structures within contemporary organisations are small.
In most cases, using teams may be an ineffective way to complete a task and may
actually lead to more time and resources being committed to them due to the
high potential of the team failing and so as a result are often not used in all
contemporary organisations. 

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