Advantages and disadvantages of working in teams
What are the advantages and disadvantages of working in teams? By reference to relevant theory show how can the disadvantages be reduced or avoided
A team is a group of individuals who work together to produce products or deliver services for which they are mutually accountable. Team members share goals and are mutually held accountable for meeting them, they are interdependent in their accomplishment and they affect the results through their interactions with one another. Because the team is collectively accountable, the work of integrating with one another is included among the responsibilities of each member (Mohrman, Cohen & Mohrman, 1995)
Working in teams is advantageous because, teams are the best way to enact organisational strategy, because of the need for consistency between rapidly changing organisational environments, strategy and structure. Team based organisations, with their flat structures, can respond quickly and effectively in the fast changing environments most organisations now encounter (Cohen & Bailey, 1997).
Teams enable organisations to develop and deliver products and services quickly and cost effectively. Teams can work faster and more effectively with members working in parallel and interdependently whereas individuals working serially are much slower. Teams enable organisations to learn (and retain learning) more effectively. When one team member leaves, the learning of the team is not lost. Team members also learn from each other during the course of working in teams (Effective Teamwork by Michael A. West, 2004).
Cross-functional teams promote improved quality management. By combining team members' diverse perspectives, decision making is comprehensive because team members question ideas decisions about how best to provide products and services to the clients. Diversity, properly processed, leads to high quality decision making and innovation making (M. A. West, 2002).Cross-functional design teams can undertake radical change. The breadth of perspective offered by cross-functional teams produces the questioning and integration of diverse perspectives that enables teams to challenge basic assumptions and make radical changes to improve their products, services and ways of working (Effective Teamwork by Michael A. West, 2004).
Time is saved if activities, formerly performed sequentially by individuals, can be performed concurrently by people working in teams. Innovation is promoted within team based organisations because of cross-fertilisation of ideas. Flat organisations can be coordinated and directed more effectively if the functional unit is the team rather than the individual. (Effective Teamwork by Michael A. West, 2004)
As organisations have grown more complex, so too have their information processing requirement; teams can integrate and link in ways individuals cannot to ensure that information is processed effectively in the complex structures of modern organisations. An analysis of the combined results of 131 studies of organisational change found that interventions with the largest effects upon financial performance were team development interventions or the creation of autonomous work groups (Macy &Izumi, 1993).
Change is effective when multiple elements of change are made simultaneously in technology, human resource management systems, and organisational structure, and team working is already present or a component of the change. Applebaum and Batt (1994) reviewed twelve large scale surveys and 185 case studies of managerial practices. They concluded that team-based working led to improvements in organisational performance on measures both of efficiency and quality.
Staff members who work in teams report higher levels of involvement and commitment, and studies also show that they have lower stress levels than those who do not work in teams. Creativity and innovation are promoted within team based organisations through the cross fertilisation of ideas (West, Tjosvold & Smith, 2003)
Team working is advantageous and effective for above reasons but it is not the case that the introduction of team working is inevitably successful. It has its own set of disadvantages. Simply relabeling a department in an organisation as a team does not lead to team working. It may well lead to decreased effectiveness, innovation and satisfaction (Effective Teamwork by Michael A. West, 2004).
One major disadvantage of working in teams is “social loafing” (Rutte 2003). Individuals sometimes work less hard when their efforts are combined with those of others than when they are considered individually. Those whose work is difficult to identify and evaluate because of their roles in groups make less effort. We cannot singularise those who socially loaf because this is a characteristic of human behaviour that people work less hard in teams than if they alone were responsible for task outcomes, especially if the task is not intrinsically motivating.
“Free riding” (Latane, Williams & Harkins, 1979) is that people exert less effort when they are in a group while compared to when they are alone. The problem with free riding is that when it is discovered, the other team members may feel like “suckers” who are being taken advantage of, and they reduce their effort accordingly.
Steiner (1972) proposed that group effectiveness is understandable if we separate out the potential productivity of groups, their actual productivity and the gap between them. The gap, he asserted, was due to “process loss” such as coordination and communication problems.
Group decision making is sometimes inexplicably flawed. Maier and Solem (1962) presented groups with mathematical questions. They deliberately formed some groups that had an individual in them who knew how to work out the answers. Surprisingly many of the groups failed to come up with the correct answers. Although we tend to think of groups as somehow reasonable and logical they are greatly influenced by hierarchical considerations. This means team leaders have tend to have more influence over decisions regardless of whether their views are correct or in correct. Dominant personalities within groups exert a disproportionate influence over group outcomes.
Studies of jury decision making have shown that it may be the person who talks most who has the most influence over the jury verdict (McGrath, 1984). Overall research suggests that group decision making is superior to that of the average member of the group but often inferior to that of the most competent individual (Effective Teamwork by Michael A. West, 2004).
Early studies comparing the effectiveness of brainstorming individually or in groups involved creating statisticized (groups consisting of people who never actually work together, but performance is based on the statistical addition of individual efforts) and real groups. They were asked to generate ideas on an object. Result was that the statisticized group proved to be more creative than the real group (Diehl & Stroebe, 1987). Most studies and research indicate that individuals working alone produce superior quality ideas, and there is no research evidence suggesting that groups produce superior quality. Individuals working alone produce a greater quantity of ideas which are of at least good quality as in brain storming groups (Paulus, 2000).
The reason for failing groups to produce the synergistic outcomes expected of them in brainstorming groups is that when one person is speaking in brainstorming groups other individuals are not able to speak and so are less likely to put ideas forward. Moreover they are busy holding their ideas in memories, waiting for a chance to speak, and this reduces their ability to produce more ideas. Furthermore, persons may feel inhibited from offering what they see as a relatively ordinary idea after a particularly creative idea has been offered by another group member (Effective Teamwork by Michael A. West, 2004).
The reason for brainstorming in teams is the importance of participation. Involving all those affected by organisational change in the process of change is vital in order to gain commitment and reduce resistance (Heller, Pusic, Strauss & Wilpert, 1998).
The real truth in working of teams came out in 1993 when Karau and Williams analysed seventy eight studies of individual versus group performance to find if the picture of less effort, poor decision making and low creativity is as bleak in teams as we have seen. They found the social loafing effect in eighty percent of studies but, intriguingly, opposite effect in some. In smaller number of cases group productivity was greater than would have been predicted based on the knowledge of individual group members' capabilities. This phenomenon in contrast to “social loafing” is called “social labouring.” Further analysis reveals that if the team's task is important to them and team members feel the group is significant to them then group displays social labouring effect, demonstrating productivity beyond their calculated potential productivity. More complex team tasks that required coordination or integration of member's contributions seemed to higher levels of team member motivation and process gains.
When team members are told that they are working with a relatively low ability partner on a brainstorming test they often worked harder to make up for the weaker member. There is evidence that the less able members may raise their performance to a level close to that of the highest performing member when the discrepancy between their abilities is not too large (Strobe, Diehl & Abakoumkin, 1996).
The role of culture is also hugely significant, since most of the studies were carried out in individualistic cultures of USA and Western Europe the social loafing is huge. In eastern cultures, which tend to be more collectivist, the social loafing is less marked (Effective Teamwork by Michael A. West, 2004). In 1993, Earley had Israeli and Chinese trainee managers (both collectivist cultures) do an office simulation task in groups and found that they worked harder in groups than they did alone, in contrast to social loafing seen in western research.
The various short comings of working in a team can be overcome by following the guidelines suggested by Guzzo (1996) and Cohen & Bailey (1997) (Effective Teamwork by Michael A. West, 2004).
People will work harder if the tasks they are asked to perform are interesting, motivating challenging and enjoyable. Where teams have an inherently interesting task to perform there is generally high commitment, higher motivation and more cooperative working. This calls for careful designing of objectives of teams.
Social loafing effects are most likely to occur when people believe that their contributions to the team are dispensable. By careful exploration of the roles of each team member, together with the identification of team and individual objectives, team members can experience and demonstrate to other team members the importance of their work to the success of the team overall. Research on social loafing indicates that the effect is significantly reduced where people perceive their work to be indispensable to the performance of the team as a whole (Guzzo (1996) and Cohen & Bailey (1997) in Effective Teamwork by Michael A. West, 2004).
Individual tasks should be meaningful and inherently rewarding. Just as it is important for a team to have an interesting task to perform, so too will individuals work harder, be more committed and creative if the tasks they are performing are engaging and challenging. Equally important is that the individual work should subject to evaluation as per a standard. People have to feel that not only is their work indispensable but also their performance is visible to other members of the team Guzzo (1996) and Cohen & Bailey (1997) (Effective Teamwork by Michael A. West, 2004).
Just as it is important for individuals to have clear goals and performance feedback, so too is it important for the team as a whole to have clear term goals with performance feedback. Research evidence shows very consistently that where people are set clear targets to aim at, their performance is generally improved (Locke & Latham, 1991). However, goals can only function as a motivator of team performance if accurate performance feedback is available. The more precise the indicators of team performance are the more likely is a team is to improve its performance and inhibit the effect of social loafing (Effective Teamwork by Michael A. West, 2004).
Another important factor affecting working in a team is conflict in team. Constructive team conflict can be a source of excellence quality and creativity. At the same time conflict in teams can be interpersonally destructive leading to poor team performance or the breakup of the team altogether (De Dreu & Van de Vliert, 1997).
The three types of conflicts in teams are conflict about tasks, conflict about team processes and interpersonal conflicts. Team diversity and differences of opinion about how best to meet customer needs should be a source of excellence, quality and creativity. But too much conflict can be unpleasant and can destroy relationships and effectiveness of the team (Effective Teamwork by Michael A. West, 2004).Fisher, Ury and Patton, in their book on negotiation (Fisher et al, 1999), described four steps to resolve conflicts. First separate people from the problem. Second, focus on interest not on positions. Third, invent option for mutual gain. And finally insist upon objective criteria to ensure the negotiation reaches a fair conclusion, rather that deciding the outcome by force or will.