Analysing the Importance of ‘Groups & Teams’ in Organisational Success

For the Organisational Behaviour core module’s individual assignment, we had to tackle one of three topics – I choose to analyse the role that Groups and Teams play in organisations, critically evaluating contradicting perspectives. In this article, I will go through the overall structure and key contents of the analysis.

Chapter 1: Introduction

“Tell me about a time you have work well in a team?”

… has become an unavoidable question in any job interview, whether it is recruitment for an entry-level or senior management position. There is an increased emphasis on ‘team-work’, over individuals, to solve modern business problems in today’s volatile, changing and hyper-competitive environment, as teams are thought to enhance the company’s adaptability and competitive advantage by providing a solid foundation for future organisational performance.

Figure 1 highlights some of the key skills that employers look for in a ‘team player’, in order to encourage higher collaboration, coordination and a heightened sense of belonging.

  • 65% of employers put an emphasis on team building and collaborative skills
  • 64% on conflict resolution: emotional intelligence and listening skills
  • 61% on team management: understanding group dynamics, openness and trust

These teamwork skills are linked with increased productivity, innovation and problem-solving, as well as addressing the human need for ‘social interaction’.

Chapter 2: Literature Review

Teams are deemed essential for organisational performance, as it brings about optimum collaboration and leverages each individual’s social sense of belonging. However, a group of people put together cannot be expected to produce outstanding results and function as a ‘high performing team’. The three key frames are analysed in this section, each offering a unique perspective on ‘high performing team’ building.

1. Katzenbach & Smith’s (1993) High Performing Team Theory….

… suggests that an effective team comprises of the right people, right technical skills and the right environment, along with a shared sense of commitment driving the team. The path to a high-performance team comprises of four stages (Figure 2), pseudo team, potential team, real team and finally, high performance team, whereby each stage boosts team productivity. Attaining this ‘ultimate’ team status within an organisation would require substantial effort and a ‘leap of faith’ in each other, along with high levels of commitment, cooperation, shared leadership and deep mutual purpose. Therefore, it is not uncommon for business and/or institutions to implement ‘team building’ events and retreats, in order to encourage these behaviours, which will ultimately result in increased performance and productivity.

2. Tuckman’s (1977) Cycle…

… addresses the limitations in Katzenbach & Smith’s theory, which doesn’t account for conflict management and individual behavioural norms, by laying out the process of achieving a ‘high performance team’ as a cycle, rather a set of ‘utopian’ stages of progress. In reality, there is often individual differences that come into play, and this model addresses the need for these differences to be overcome. It acknowledges that politeness only lasts in the very first stage of team building, often known as the ‘honeymoon stage’, where the freshness of the situation invites enthusiasm and courtesy. Following which, it is common to experience a ‘storm’ as the team adjusts to differences in personality, opinion and approach. The team then establishes a unified norm and shared values, in order to achieve harmony and to progress to high performance. These three stages exist in a cycle, as different types of conflict arise multiple times throughout a team’s journey. This theory of ‘team formation cycle’ is very applicable to practical situations, whereby over time teams see various members come and go, forcing the team to re-adjust to the new dynamics every time.

3. Belbin’s (1991) Team Roles…

… further argues that a team cannot actually reach full potential without a balance of nine team roles. This model puts emphasis on the importance and clarity on each individual role, and its collective contribution to the team. The study argues that although there are nine distinct roles, an individual can play multiple roles. However, the validity and reliability of this theory has been extensively criticised by multiple other studies.

Chapter 3: Critical Evaluation

There is substantial evidence to support the central argument that groups and teams are essential for optimum problem solving in organisations. However, there are various limitations to consider. Many theorists, such Allen and Hecht (2004), criticise the concept of a high performing team, questioning their effectiveness, whereas others have brought forward the importance of individual identity, diversity and contribution in teams, and in organisations as a whole.

CRITICISM 1. Doesn’t address the common challenges of teamwork deeply enough.

The theories supporting the productivity of a ‘high performance team’ have a ‘blind faith’ in the effectiveness of teams, despite contradicting empirical evidence that teams don’t enhance performance, and in fact demonstrate poor team effectivity. Studies show that 1/3 of employees dread going into work because of a toxic team environment, and up to 47% find a lack of organisational support in enabling effective teams. This is mainly due to organisations’ lack of addressing the common challenges faced in teams, such as personality clashes, conflict, social loafing or free-riding, counter-actions – which can lead to a breakdown of trust, common vision and productivity.

Organisations also often disregard the notion of ‘group think’ and group conformity, whereby groups can have a negative influence on individual thinking. Social pressures can lead to abrupt and incorrect group decisions, trying to reach quick consensus without thoroughly considering all options and perspectives.

CRITICISM 2. Does not account for the importance of individual identity in teamwork.

Cha and Roberts (2019) emphasise the benefits of ‘bringing your whole identity to work’, as different individual perspectives and diversity offer their own unique selling points. For example, an individual who is a demographic minority, can provide unique insights on unmet needs in that market. It can also help shape good advertising practices, by ensuring content sensitivity checks on stereotypes and inappropriate depictions. However, many studies report that individuals often feel pigeon-holed because of their identities, therefore Mark de Rond (2012) suggests that organisations need to take the first step in identifying individual differences, and exploit them in the right way. He argues that teams succeed because of their individual qualities and differences, and also acknowledges that organisations need to balance some risks posed by talented individuals, such as arrogance, perfectionism and paranoia, by setting defined limits.

CRITICISM 3. Trying to always achieve ‘harmony’ in teams can actually hurt performance.

Constant harmony doesn’t encourage healthy competition, which is natural human instinct. Competition is key to innovation and productivity, driving new thought processes and critical thinking. Many studies conclude that disagreement needs to be encouraged in teams, and if manifested in a healthy way, it will result in better idea generation and unaddressed risks. It also provides learning and development opportunities, improving relationships through a diverse and inclusive work environment by encouraging different opinions and perspectives. It helps separate disagreement from dislike, and pushes individuals to challenge group conformity.

Chapter 4: Conclusion

There is no doubt that teams are essential to organisational growth and problem-solving, and this central argument is supported by a wealth of evidence and frameworks. Organisations advocate teams because they provide a sense of security and self- preservation, which are important motivational factors for individual performance. Some key principles will remain at the foundation of good team building, over the test of time, such as determining a shared purpose and a common goal, high commitment and trust.

However, recent evidence highlights the important role of individual identity and diversity in the success of teams in organisational problem-solving, which effectively challenges the central argument. It is crucial to exploit individual differences and talent, encourage healthy competition and difference of opinion, for teams to achieve creative solutions and identify risks. Organisations should be looking at leveraging the benefits of a cross-functional team, because it encourages diversity of skill and talent, as well as emphasising the importance of individual identity in high performance and problem-solving.

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