Groups and Teams
Organisational effectiveness is determined by the interaction between the operating environment, individuals, groups, stakeholders and the nature of the business itself. Therefore, developing a more detailed understanding of group and team dynamics will help to understand their role in the success (or otherwise) of an organisation.
As a result of industrialisation, businesses emerged that were bigger and more complex than had existed previously and theorists set about the task of understanding how best to manage such organisations to maximise productivity. Classical management theory focussed on work planning, technical requirements, directed management and the concept of rational and logical behaviour. Taylor (1911) viewed management as a science and that organisations could be managed as machines. Taylor considered the organisation of work as being critical to minimising waste, whilst increasing efficiency and productivity. Taylor’s ideas were further developed by Henry Ford (1923) when he created the assembly line.
Both Taylor and Ford believed that workers were motivated in a rational way and that they would be incentivised to deliver higher production levels through reward levers such as wages. These ideas were criticised for ignoring personality factors and creating rigid structures that allowed people very little control over their work environment. However, their influence is reflected in the hierarchical structure adopted by many companies and in production line manufacturing techniques.
During the 1920’s, more consideration began to be given to the social factors shaping work and employee behaviour of employees. This behavioural approach emerged from a series of studies conducted at the Western Electric Company from 1924 to 1932 (the Hawthorne Studies) (Gillespie, 1991). Originally focussed on classical approaches (such as changing working conditions and pay) to determine what variables were likely to affect productivity, it was noted that outputs remained at higher levels even when the changes that led to these increases were subsequently removed. When these findings were analysed, it emerged that staff attitudes to work were shaped by the groups they belonged to. Follow-up interviews revealed the existence of informal groups that were capable of causing profound changes in their members’ perceptions, beliefs, attitudes, and behaviours.
The presence of these informal structures within organisations led to a perception that relying on formal mechanisms of supervision and standardisation were largely ineffective (Roethlisberger & Dickson, 1974). The focus was therefore on the social dynamics within an organisation, noting how people would prefer to stick to the norms of a group in order to belong rather than make rational decisions which may benefit them personally. Whilst this would necessitate considering the social needs of individuals, it also provided a mechanism by which managers could harness the power of a group by developing convergent interests between the needs of workers and the organisation. However, to do so effectively, different approaches to leadership and management would be required.
Whilst there are significant criticisms of these early approaches, they provide the foundation for the continued focus on the more human aspects of organisational dynamics.
The terms ‘group’ and ‘team’ are used interchangeably but from an academic perspective they are different. Groups exist throughout society and are not just limited to organisations. People are often members of many groups in their lives but these groups are not necessarily the same as being in a team. An essential feature of a group that the individual considers themselves as belonging to it, but whilst all teams are groups, it does not necessarily follow that all groups are teams. Teams will support each other, are focussed on achieving shared goals and generally members hold equal responsibility. In contrast, group members are independent of each other, work to individual goals and may have a leader to provide direction and manage conflicts.
In a business environment people must work together to get things done and companies clearly appreciate that group working and its effectiveness is critical to successful performance. Tuckman and Jensen (1977) described the stages that a team goes through in four phases:
- Forming - the getting to know you phase, when people may not be sure about their roles. As this is an uncertain time for team members, they can display hesitant or defensive behaviour.
- Storming - when the team starts to figure out how to do the task. It is common for conflict to arise at this stage as team members may have different views as to the best way to organise/manage tasks or their role within the team. People feel more confident with each other and so express their views and feelings more openly.
- Norming - people feel more comfortable with each other and are better able to understand the abilities and viewpoints of others. The group is likely to have guidelines in place, procedures, roles and a structure.
- Performing - the team is now an effective group of people. They know what they are doing, who is doing what and trust each other.
- Adjourning - teams may be established for a specific task and as such may have a limited life span. As they disband it is considered important for the group to reflect on their time together and consider the lessons learnt.
Tuckman’s model, along with many subsequent approaches, assumes a linear progression for team formation which has been challenged. Gersick (1983) suggested that teams complete their tasks by ‘punctuated equilibrium’, suggesting that team development was characterised by periods of stability or equilibrium punctuated or disrupted by revolutionary phases where a new form will emerge. Gersick’s model could be more applicable to formal/established working groups, as they are less likely to have a defined end date and are therefore more likely to settle into a period of equilibrium. As a consequence, they will change when faced with disruption such as a new leader, new team member or a change in their operating environment.
If a business accepts that teams develop via a continuous process, then clearly allowing sufficient time for a task is important if the team is to work through each stage of development for the benefit of the end goal. However, Gersick’s observations suggest that creating some disruption in respect of a formal group could help to reinvigorate the dynamics being experienced, supporting creativity and innovation.
Whilst formal groups can have documented rules and procedures they can also develop unwritten routines and rules of behaviour that form naturally over time. These group norms are essentially the unwritten set of rules that an individual may need to adopt to be part of a group. They guide behaviours and if the individual wants to belong and potentially gain more power in a group then it is important that they stick to these unwritten rules. They can sometimes however, be used by the group as a mechanism of control, pressurising members to comply with the group even if this does not reflect the individuals thinking. Such group controlled output and behaviour can often go against the interests of both the organisation and the individual.
It is generally considered that teams perform better than individuals in that they find things out faster, make better decisions generating fewer errors, are more productive and can recall information better. The support and encouragement of other team members delivers what has been described as ‘process gain’.
Belbin (2004) developed a framework for understanding roles within teams based on individual personalities and personal preferences. These roles may also be influenced by the framework of group norms that have developed over time, placing individuals in situations that deliver sub-optimal performance and which undermine team effectiveness. Ultimately, if a team member is given a role that they do not prefer, then they are likely to try to take on a different role within the team creating capability gaps, potentially impacting on the role of others and possibly generating conflict.
Belbin’s framework suggests nine team roles, describing both the contribution and allowable weaknesses of each. Whilst a team member can take on more than one role, an ideal team has every role covered and these are aligned to the preferences of each individual. These are resource investigator, specialist, monitor/evaluator, teamworker, implementer, coordinator, shaper, completer/finisher and plant (the creator and innovator).
Belbin’s key message is one of balance and diversity. Diversity in teams generally improves performance with a significant diversity and inclusion agenda now being pursued more pro-actively by many businesses. However, simply being in a team does not guarantee success as there must also be a shared and specific goal, agreement about how to work together, shared accountability as well as relevant and complementary skills.
Creating an effective team is one thing but maintaining it can be more difficult. If the task is of a particularly long duration or it is a working group that are potentially together for a long time, then maintaining effectiveness and energy is more difficult. Group cohesiveness is related to group effectiveness as it considers how attractive the group is to its members and their motivations to remain a part of it. Individuals who form these groups have less work-related anxiety, higher job satisfaction and lower absenteeism. However, such cohesive groups can become defensive or territorial, not working well with other groups or making it difficult for new group members to integrate. Such cohesive groups can be problematic in the modern working environment as they may often be resistant to change.
Poor performance can also lead to something known as process loss. This is where team members either cannot be bothered (motivation loss) or they don’t make the best use of all the skills within the team (co-ordination loss). ‘Social loafing’ can also emerge, where team members do not work as hard or effectively as they could as they are content to let other team members carry the load. The nature of group dynamics and interactions allows this lack of effort and commitment to be hidden.
Groups and teams can also face issues with ‘groupthink’ - highly cohesive groups containing members of similar backgrounds and values are more likely to agree with each other and therefore will not necessarily challenge each other sufficiently or think ‘outside the group’. This can lead to collective decisions that do not reflect the realities of the situation being faced. Generally, it was thought that through a group or team decision, the overall approach to an activity was likely to be conservative or cautious as it would support an average view rather than any one extreme. However, polarisation can occur, whereby the group concerned will take more extreme decisions than may be expected. It is possible that collective/shared responsibility leads to a boldness that would not be found within an individual. Such polarisation can lead to a strengthening of an untested collective belief.
In the modern era, it is also important to consider how technology is changing the way in which organisations manage teams. Virtual teams now exist and their members may never meet but collaborate using methods such as texts, mail, file sharing and video calls. Despite the emergence of dispersed teams, the same basic principles of selection apply. It is also necessary to ensure that the team is established for the right reason and the factors essential for success such as shared goals are in place.
This Chapter has examined a variety of areas in relation to groups and teams ranging from the consideration of their importance to organisations and the research that led to this awareness through to the ways in which groups and teams form and develop as well as outlining some possible models to create a high performing team.
There are many problems associated with groups and team in organisations and some of the challenges have been outlined. It is also clear that in organisations today, staff engagement is a key activity. The modern worker demands a greater personal return from both their work than their employer and this has to be addressed for teams and groups to remain fully effective.
Belbin, R.M. (2004). Management Teams: Why they succeed or fail, 2nd Edition, Oxford: Elsevier Butterworth-Heinemann.
Ford, H. (1923). My Life and Work, London: William Heinemann Ltd.
Gersick, C.J.G. (1983). Life Cycles of Ad Hoc Task Groups, New Haven CT: Yale University - School of Organization and Management.
Gillespie, R. (1991). Manufacturing Knowledge: A History of the Hawthorne Experiments, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Roethlisberger, F.J., Dickson, W.J. (1974). Management and the Worker, 14th Edition, Boston: Harvard University Press.
Taylor, F.W. (1911). The Principles of Scientific Management, Eastford CT: Martino Fine Books.
Tuckman, B.W., Jensen, M.A.C. (1977). Stages of Small Group Development Revisited, Group and Organizational Studies, 2, pp. 419-427.
Brooks, I. (2003). Organisational Behaviour: Individuals, Groups and Organisation. 2nd Edition, Harlow: Pearson Education Limited.
King, D., Lawley, S. (2013). Organizational Behaviour, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
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