- Define a team and describe its key characteristics.
- Explain why organizations use teams, and describe different types of teams.
What Is a Team? How Does Teamwork Work?
A team (or a work team) is a group of people with complementary skills who work together to achieve a specific goal (Thompson, 2008). In the case of Motorola’s RAZR team, the specific goal was to develop (and ultimately bring to market) an ultrathin cell phone that would help restore the company’s reputation as a designer of stylistically appealing, high-function phones. The team achieved its goal by integrating specialized but complementary skills in engineering and design and by making the most of its authority to make its own decisions and manage its own operations.
Teams versus Groups
“A group,” suggests Bonnie Edelstein, a consultant in organizational development, “is a bunch of people in an elevator. A team is also a bunch of people in an elevator, but the elevator is broken.” This distinction may be a little oversimplified, but as our tale of teamwork at Motorola reminds us, a team is clearly something more than a mere group of individuals. In particular, members of a group—or, more accurately, a working group—go about their jobs independently and meet primarily to share information. A group of department-store managers, for example, might meet monthly to discuss their progress in cutting plant costs, but each manager is focused on the goals of his or her department because each is held accountable for meeting only those goals. Teams, by contrast, are responsible for achieving specific common goals, and they’re generally empowered to make the decisions needed to complete their authorized tasks.
Some Key Characteristics of Teams
To keep matters in perspective, let’s identify five key characteristics of work teams (Thompson, 2008; Alderfer, et. al., 1977):
- Teams are accountable for achieving specific common goals. Members are collectively responsible for achieving team goals, and if they succeed, they’re rewarded collectively.
- Teams function interdependently. Members cannot achieve goals independently and must rely on each other for information, input, and expertise.
- Teams are stable. Teams remain intact long enough to finish their assigned tasks, and each member remains on board long enough to get to know every other member.
- Teams have authority. Teams possess the decision-making power to pursue their goals and to manage the activities through which they complete their assignments.
- Teams operate in a social context. Teams are assembled to do specific work for larger organizations and have the advantage of access to resources available from other areas of their organizations.