Understanding the Types of Employee Teams
During the past decade perhaps one of the more radical changes to how work is done is the introduction of organization teams. Jim Barksdale, president and CEO of Netscape Communications, states, “These days it seems as if every time a task needs to be accomplished within an organization, a team is formed to do it.” This statement simply emphasizes the increasing importance of teams to organizational success in an ever-dynamic business climate.
Employee Teams are an improve contributions technique whereby work functions are structured for groups rather than for individuals and team members are given discretion in matters traditionally considered management prerogatives, such as process improvements, product or service development, and individual work assignments.
At such diverse organizations as Federal Express Opens in new window, Trek Bicycles Opens in new window, Calvin Klein Opens in new window, and LucasFilm Opens in new window, producer of the Star Wars Opens in new window and Indiana Jones Opens in new window films, the benefits of employee teams have included more integration of individual skills, better performance in terms of quality and quantity, solutions to unique and complex problems, reduced delivery time, reduced turnover and absenteeism, and accomplishments among team members.
Employee teams are a logical outgrowth of employee involvement Opens in new window and the philosophy of empowerment. Although many definitions of teams exist, for purpose of this discussion,
- we define a work team as a group of individuals working together toward a common purpose, in which members have complementary skills, members’ work is mutually dependent, and the group has discretion over tasks performed. Furthermore, teams seek to make members of the work group share responsibility and accountability for their group’s performance.
Inherent in the concept of employee teams is that employees, not managers, are in the best position to contribute to workplace performance. With work teams, managers accept the notion that the group is the logical work unit for applying resources to resolve organizational problems and concerns.
Teamwork also embraces the concept of synergy. Synergy Opens in new window occurs when the interaction and outcome of team members is greater than the sum of their individual efforts. Unfortunately, synergy may not automatically happen, but rather, it must be nurtured within the team environment. Exhibit I lists the factors contributing to a synergistic team setting.
Teams can operate in a variety of structures, each with different strategic purposes or functional activities. Exhibit II describes common team forms. One form, self-directed teams, is often championed as being the highest form of team structure.
Self-directed teams, also called autonomous work groups, self-managed teams, or high-performance teams, are groups of employees who are accountable for a “whole” work process or segment that delivers a product or service to an internal or external customer.
For example, in a manufacturing environment, a team might be responsible for a whole product (i.e., a computer screen) or a clearly defined segment of the production process, such as the building of an engine for a passenger car.
Similarly, in a service environment, a team is usually responsible for entire groupings of products and services, often serving clients in a designated geographical area. Typical team functions include setting work schedules, dealing directly with external customers, training team members, setting performance targets, budgeting, inventory management, and purchasing equipment or services. To operate efficiently, team members acquire multiple skills enabling them to perform a variety of job tasks.
To compete in today’s national and international markets, managers increasingly form virtual teams. virtual team is a team with widely dispersed members linked together through computer and telecommunications technology. Virtual teams use advanced computer and telecommunications technology to link team members who are geographically dispersed—often world-wide.
Management may form a project team (see Exhibit II) to develop a new pharmaceutical drug and have the team operate in a virtual environment to achieve its goal. For a major U.S. telecommunication client, IBM used a global team to develop a Web-based tool for launching new services. The team included members from Japan, Brazil, and Britain and delivered a finished product in two months, a considerable reduction in product delivery time.
Although virtual teams have many benefits, they are not without their problem. Paulette Tichenor, president of Organizational Renaissance, a team training organization, notes these concerns with virtual teams: language and cultural barriers, unclear objectives, time conflicts due to diverse geographical locations, and selecting people who can work in a collaborative setting.
Navi Radjou Opens in new window, an expert in network innovations, notes, “One problem with distributing work is that you lose the intimacy of talking things through at the local café.” To reduce this problem, companies such as Nokia are careful to select people who have a collaborative mindset. At Nokia Opens in new window, team members are encouraged to network online and to share pictures and personal biographies.
In another example, Accenture Opens in new window, a worldwide consulting organization, yearly involves 400 managers in virtual team leadership training. The goal is to create team effectiveness and to promote understanding of cross-cultural differences.
Regardless of the structure or purpose of the team, the following characteristics have been identified with successful teams:
- Commitment to shared goals and objectives
- Motivated and energetic team members
- Open and honest communication
- Shared leadership
- Clear role assignments
- Climate of cooperation, collaboration, trust, and accountability
- Recognition of conflict and its positive resolution
Unfortunately, not all teams succeed or operate to their full potential. Therefore, in adopting the work team concept, organizations must address several issues that could present obstacles to effective team function, including overly high expectations group compensation, specialized team training, career movement, and conflict resolution. For example, new team members must be retrained to work outside their primary functional areas, and compensation systems must be constructed to reward individuals for team accomplishments. Importantly, research shows that teams achieve greater effectiveness when team members initially establish team ground rules, or team norms, for operational and behavioral success.
Another difficulty with work teams is that they alter the traditional manager-employee relationship. Managers often find it hard to adapt to the role of leader rather than supervisor and sometimes feel threatened by the growing power of the team and the reduced power of management. Furthermore, some employees may also have difficulty adapting to a role that includes traditional supervisory responsibilities.
Therefore, from our experience in working with teams, extensive attention must be given to training team members as they move through the four stages of team development Opens in new window—forming, storming, norming, and performing. Complete training would cover the importance of skills in (1) team leadership, (2) mission/goal setting, (3) conduct of meetings, (4) team decision-making, (5) conflict resolution, (6) effective communication, and (7) diversity awareness.