Recent Trends in Human Resource Management

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Is Teamwork Always Productive?

When team work can be counterproductive.......

Key learnings:

Working in teams has its benefits

However, team work is not always the best thing for organizations

High-performing teams are a boon. That is why organisations spend fortunes on team-building activities. Even to suggest that businesses can survive without efficient work teams sounds blasphemous. But are teams always important? Is performing in teams the only approach to smooth organisational functioning? This article looks at when working in teams becomes counterproductive.

Absence of environment

Teams exist within an organisational context; and processes, regulations and infrastructure support team work and encourage it. The presence of certain factors or elements lays the foundation for effective team work. The following factors will have a direct bearing on the outcome of a team effort:

Rigid hierarchy: All organisations have hierarchical structures, only the degree of their flexibility differs. A flexible structure encourages delegation, open communication, participation in decision-making, and ensures that both individuals and teams have some leeway in what they do. A rigid structure would mean centralised decision-making, limited autonomy and strictly streamlined communication. A rigid structure limits the functioning of a team outside of it. Though a team is effective 'internally', its operations in the larger context will be difficult. For instance, if a team needs access to certain information, the management's rigidity will limit information sharing; thus hampering team functioning. Investment in team-building will be futile if the hierarchical structure prevents managements from being generous with permits, approvals and allotments.

Independence: There are individuals who thrive in teams; and for those whose success depends on their level of isolation, the less the interaction at work the better their performance will be. When an organisation is flushed with such individuals, then a largely team-based approach will be counterproductive. As one executive says, "Not everyone wants to be a team member. What this means is that an attempt to force them into a team structure imposed upon them will affect their performance and morale."

Nature of tasks: Some tasks require team work and some can be done by individuals with little intervention from others. Some call for both. If the prevalence of 'individual' tasks is high, forcing individuals into teams is a wasted effort. Furthermore, expecting individuals to function as a team when their jobs are linked remotely will affect individual performance. But how do organisations decide whether a task requires team work or not? Tasks do not need team work when they:

• Require little communication or interaction with others
• Are simple and repetitive-an old style assembly line for instance, where a set of simple yet discrete tasks can be performed by an individual
• When information needed for task completion is available with the individual himself

Autocratic leadership: When autocratic leaders like an idea, they insist on implementing it without analysing implications at different levels of the organisation. So when such leaders are 'convinced' about the need for team work, they will make it mandatory for employees to form and work in teams. This imposition of team work will have adverse consequences. Such teams do not perform as successfully as participative teams. Use of autocratic power to create teams results in:

• Mistrust in the management as information sharing will be limited
• Frustrated team members
• Difficulty in maintaining harmony even when performing simple, repetitive tasks

Stability factor: As dynamic as businesses are, stability is the quality that keeps organisations going. This stability results from streamlined procedures and a good corporate culture. In the absence of either, even a small change in the business environment will provoke a major overhaul within the organisation. Organisations which are shaken constantly by what happens in the market cannot support effective team functioning.

Teams need an ideal environment to perform ideally. When the requisite conditions are absent, asking individuals to form and work in teams will be a bad idea.

Ref: TheManageMentor.

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