2.1.3: Why Teamwork Works
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Now that we know a little bit about how teams work, we need to ask ourselves why they work. Not surprisingly, this is a fairly complex issue. In this section, we’ll explore why teams are often effective and when they ineffective.
Factors in Effective Teamwork
First, let’s begin by identifying several factors that contribute to effective teamwork. Teams are most effective when the following factors are met:
- Members depend on each other. When team members rely on each other to get the job done, team productivity and efficiency tend to be high.
- Members trust one another.
- Members work better together than individually. When team members perform better as a group than alone, collective performance exceeds individual performance.
- Members become boosters. When each member is encouraged by other team members to do his or her best, collective results improve.
- Team members enjoy being on the team.
- Leadership rotates.
Some of these factors may seem intuitive. Because such issues are rarely clear-cut, we need to examine the issue of group effectiveness from another perspective—one that considers the effects of factors that aren’t quite so straightforward.
The idea of group cohesiveness refers to the attractiveness of a team to its members. If a group is high in cohesiveness, membership is quite satisfying to its members. If it’s low in cohesiveness, members are unhappy with it and may try to leave it.15
What Makes a Team Cohesive?
Numerous factors may contribute to team cohesiveness, but in this section, we’ll focus on five of the most important:
- Size. The bigger the team, the less satisfied members tend to be. When teams get too large, members find it harder to interact closely with other members; a few members tend to dominate team activities, and conflict becomes more likely.
- Similarity. People usually get along better with people like themselves, and teams are generally more cohesive when members perceive fellow members as people who share their own attitudes and experience.
- Success. When teams are successful, members are satisfied, and other people are more likely to be attracted to their teams.
- Exclusiveness. The harder it is to get into a group, the happier the people who are already in it. Team status also increases members’ satisfaction.
- Competition. Membership is valued more highly when there is motivation to achieve common goals and outperform other teams.
Maintaining team focus on broad organizational goals is crucial. If members get too wrapped up in immediate team goals, the whole team may lose sight of the larger organizational goals toward which it’s supposed to be working. Let’s look at some factors that can erode team performance.
It’s easy for leaders to direct members toward team goals when members are all on the same page—when there’s a basic willingness to conform to the team’s rules. When there’s too much conformity, however, the group can become ineffective: it may resist fresh ideas and, what’s worse, may end up adopting its own dysfunctional tendencies as its way of doing things. Such tendencies may also encourage a phenomenon known as groupthink—the tendency to conform to group pressure in making decisions, while failing to think critically or to consider outside influences.
Groupthink is often cited as a factor in the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger in January 1986: engineers from a supplier of components for the rocket booster warned that the launch might be risky because of the weather but were persuaded to set aside their warning by NASA officials who wanted the launch to proceed as scheduled.16
Motivation and Frustration
Remember that teams are composed of people, and whatever the roles they happen to be playing at a given time, people are subject to psychological ups and downs. As members of workplace teams, they need motivation, and when motivation is low, so are effectiveness and productivity. The difficulty of maintaining a high level of motivation is the chief cause of frustration among members of teams. As such, it’s also a chief cause of ineffective teamwork, and that’s one reason why more employers now look for the ability to develop and sustain motivation when they’re hiring new managers.17
Other Factors that Erode Performance
Let’s take a quick look at three other obstacles to success in introducing teams into an organization:18
- Unwillingness to cooperate. Failure to cooperate can occur when members don’t or won’t commit to a common goal or set of activities. What if, for example, half the members of a product-development team want to create a brand-new product and half want to improve an existing product? The entire team may get stuck on this point of contention for weeks or even months. Lack of cooperation between teams can also be problematic to an organization.
- Lack of managerial support. Every team requires organizational resources to achieve its goals, and if management isn’t willing to commit the needed resources— say, funding or key personnel—a team will probably fall short of those goals.
- Failure of managers to delegate authority. Team leaders are often chosen from the ranks of successful supervisors—first-line managers give instructions on a day-to-day basis and expect to have them carried out. This approach to workplace activities may not work very well in leading a team—a position in which success depends on building a consensus and letting people make their own decisions.
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