Teams and groups


Twenty-five years ago, when companies like WL Gore, Volvo, and General Foods introduced teams into their production processes, it made news because no one else was doing it. Today, it’s just the opposite. It’s the organization that doesn’t use the teams that has become newsworthy. Approximately 80 percent of Fortune 500 companies now have half or more of their employees on teams. And 68 percent of small US manufacturers are using teams in their production areas.

How do we explain the current popularity of team? The evidence suggests that teams typically outperform individuals when the tasks being done require multiple skills, judgment, and experience. As organizations have restructured themselves to compete more effectively and efficiently, they have turned to teams as a better way to use employee talents. Managements has found that teams are more flexible and responsive to changing events than are traditional departments or others forms of permanent groupings. Teams have the capability to quickly assemble, deploy, refocus, and the disband.

But don’t overlook the motivational properties of teams. Consistent with the role of employment involvement as a motivator, teams facilitate employee participation in operating decisions. For instance, some assembly-line workers at John Deere are part of sale teams that call on customers. These workers know the products better than any traditional salesperson; and by traveling and speaking with farmers, these hourly workers develop new skills and become more involved in their jobs. So another explanation for the popularity of teams is that that are an effective means for management to democratize their organizations and increase employee motivation.

Differences between Groups and Teams

Groups and teams are not the same thing. In this article, we want to define and clarify the difference between work group and work team.

We have defined a group as two or more individuals, interacting and interdependent, who have come together to achieve particular objectives. A work group is a group that interacts primarily to share information and to make decisions to help each member perform within his or her area of responsibility.

Work groups have no need or opportunity to engage in collective work that requires joint effort. So, their performance is merely the summation of each group member’s individual contribution. There is no positive synergy that would create an overall level of performance that is greater than the sum of the inputs.

A work team generates positive synergy through, coordinated effort. Their individual efforts results in a level of performance that is greater than the sum of those individual inputs.

These definitions help clarify why so many organizations have recently restructures work processes around teams Management is looking for positive synergy that will increase the company performance. The extensive use of teams creates the potential for an organization to generate greater output with no increase in inputs. Notice, however, we said “Potential�. There is nothing inherently magical in the creation of teams that ensures the achievement of this positive synergy. Merely calling a group a team doesn’t automatically increase its performance. If management hopes to gain increases in organizational performance through the use of teams, it will need to ensure that its teams possess these characteristics.