Groups and Teams

Why study Groups and Teams?

It is necessary for organisations to be effective. Effectiveness can be defined differently depending upon the nature of the organisation or indeed the individual stakeholder needs but it is widely accepted that individuals, groups, the organisation and the environment all interact to create the organisation and as such it is these factors and the way in which they interact that determine the effectiveness of the organisation.

Management research and the development of management theory since the early 20th century has led to a growing realisation that groups and teams can play a significant part in the success or otherwise of organisations.

1 The Development of Management Theory

This section will outline the key theoretical views and findings that led to the realisation that groups exerted significant influence within an organisation and as such their importance in understanding organisational behaviour was critical.

1.1 Classical or Scientific Management Theory

As a result of industrialisation in the early 20th century, businesses began to emerge that were far bigger and more complex than had existed previously and managers and theorists set about the task of understanding how best to manage such organisations. The key objective at that time was no different from the objective of most organisations today; the maximisation of productivity.

Classical management theory focussed on work planning, technical requirements, basic management using a command and control style and most importantly the concept of rational and logical behaviour. Taylor (1911) developed the concept that management was a science and the organisation could be managed as though it was a machine. Taylor considered the organisation of work as being critical to minimising waste, efficiency and increasing productivity. He was a pioneer of the time and motion study and his ideas changed the balance of power in organisations from workers to management.

Taylor’s ideas were taken further at the time by Henry Ford in 1913 when he created the assembly line. This helped Taylorism theories gain some favour as the ideas were very similar except in that Ford also tried to put the work into the order of production to make even more efficient.

Both Taylor and Ford believed that workers were motivated in a rational way and that taking a scientific approach to the organisation of work would result in workers being incentivised by the wages they obtained through higher productivity. These ideas were sometimes criticised for ignoring personality factors and creating rigid structures that allowed people very little control over their work environment but despite this there are still many elements of classical theory evident in organisations today. These elements can be clearly seen in the continued hierarchical structure adopted by many companies and in the production line techniques adopted in manufacturing.

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1.2 The Human Relations Approach

During the 1920’s there began to be a growing focus on social factors at work and the behaviour of employees. This is sometime also known as the behavioural approach. The turning point in management theory from classical to behavioural or human relations came about as a result of the Hawthorne studies.

1.2.1 The Hawthorne Studies

The Hawthorne studies were a series of studies conducted in the Western Electric Company that took place over a fifteen-year period from 1924 to 1932. The first experiments were called the illumination experiments and were initially based on classical management theory as the studies were undertaken to ascertain if productivity of the workforce could be improved by improvements to the lighting.

Productivity did increase when the lighting was increased but the interest arose when productivity did not revert to previous levels when the lighting was once again reduced. This led to the conclusion that there must be more factors to consider than simply the lighting and as such further studies were undertaken.

The researchers set up relay assembly test rooms to try to identify the variables that led to the greatest productivity. These tests were based upon the classical theory of the concept of the rational man and assumed that individuals would alter their behaviour based on certain rational criteria such as rest breaks, physical conditions and pay. The results however, showed continuous improvements in productivity even when the various privileges that had been introduced were withdrawn.

When these findings were analysed further it was found that involvement, participation and the attitudes of the workers taking part in the studies were all affected by the group to which they belonged and this led to an interviewing programme.

It was this interviewing programme that revealed the existence of informal groups and it was found that ‘groups were capable of causing profound changes in their members’ perceptions, beliefs, attitudes, and behaviour.

1.2.2 The Implications of the Hawthorne Studies

In 1939 a study by Roethlisberger and Dickson focusing on the presence of informal structure in organisations. The publication ‘Management and Worker’ became a core text for many years and eventually led to a school of thought in the 50’s and 60’s that demonstrated that reliance on formal structures of supervision and standardisation was largely ineffective.

Elton Mayo popularised the Hawthorne studies in his management writing at the time claiming that management could gain a lot from understanding the social dynamics of an organisation. It is considered that this was the beginning of the human relations movement.

There are many specific implications that could also be drawn from the studies.

  • People would prefer to stick to norms of a group in order to belong than make rational decisions which may benefit them personally and as such the social side of the individual must be considered.
  • Management can potentially harness the power of a group
  • It is possible to develop harmony of interest between management and workers
  • The nature of leadership and management needs to change

There are various flaws in the Hawthorne research and conclusions but in general this is not relevant. The studies and their interpretation at the time are part of the reason that management theory has continued to evolve and recognise that human relations are clearly relevant in an organisation and so theories of how best to handle this aspect of organisations are paramount.

2 Groups and Teams

This section outlines the difference between a group and a team before outlining some of the models that help to explain group formation before discussing group norms and offering some frameworks to help establish an effective. Finally the section will look at the challenges of team working.

2.1 A Group versus a Team

It is common for people to use the word ‘group’ and ‘team’ interchangeably but from an academic perspective they are different. Groups exist throughout society and are not only pertinent to organisations. People are often members of many groups in their lives but these groups are not necessarily the same as being in a team.

Firstly, think about how many groups you belong to and then think about whether you belong to a team. Do you play a sport, take part in a regular quiz night or are part of a student committee?

Now, can you identify the similarities and differences between the groups you belong to versus the teams?

It is considered an essential feature of a group that the individual considers themselves as belonging to the group. There are social groups and work groups but the features that define a group are the same for both. The list below shows some of the core features of groups and teams compared to each other.

GROUPS

TEAMS

Independent of each other

Support each other

Work to individual goals

Focus on achieving shared goals

May have a leader that provides direction and deals with conflicts

Hold equal responsibility

Share information with each other

Share information with each other

Any size

Smaller numbers of people

By definition, all teams are groups but it does not necessarily follow that all groups are teams.

If you think about your group of friends, would you consider these to be a team as well as a group? Probably not. But what about when you are taking part in a fundraising challenge event or a quiz? Would you then be a group and a team? If you look at the comparison above you can see that as a group of friends you would generally be independent and have your own goals but if you enter a quiz at the local pub, then for a while you become focused on supporting each other by combining your knowledge and you have a shared goal.

You elect to belong to your group of friends and do not have a similar conscious decision to make in regards to work groups but this does not make the group any less valid. Groups in an organisation can be found throughout.

The various groups indicated by the diagram above are all formal groups in that they are groups because the business is organised in this manner to achieve their purpose. There are also informal groups which develop as a result of the informal interaction of the members of the formal organisation.

In a business environment people must work together to get things done. For example, producing the accounts for a multi-million-pound business would be an impossible task for one person to do alone and as so an accounting department in created which becomes a formal group. It is easy to understand that some things are easier to do with more people involved in the task. Businesses are fully aware that group working and the effectiveness of group working is critical to successful performance.

2.2 Group Formation

In this section, we will look at several models and theories that have been developed to explain how groups and teams form and develop.

2.2.1 Tuckman’s Stages of Group Formation (1965) and Tuckman & Jenson (1977)

Tuckman described the stages that a team goes through in four phases: forming, storming, norming and performing. There was eventually a fifth phase added call adjourning. The words provide an obvious indication as to what these stages mean for team development and performance.

Forming - This is the getting to know you phase. The team may have just been put together and gathered for the first time. Everyone introduces themselves and largely tend to be polite and non-confrontational while they get to know each other a little and they may not even be sure about their roles at this time with the exception of the team leader.

The forming stage can be an uncertain time for team members and can generate some anxiety as team members try to make an impression and feel a certain amount of uncertainty about the task ahead. These feelings can lead to hesitant or defensive behaviour.

It is worth noting that if team members leave and have to be replaced frequently then a team may have to go through this stage more than once.

Storming- This is when the team starts to figure out how to do the task and it is common for conflict to arise at this stage as team members may have different views as to the best way to organise or manage the tasks or they may have personal desires for specific roles within the team. This happens because the team has been through the forming stage, so they feel more confident with each other and therefore express their views and feelings more openly.

This phase is considered very important for creating energy in the group as this leads to innovation and creativity.

Norming- At this point you should be more comfortable with each other and have a better understanding of each other’s abilities and viewpoint. The group at this stage is likely to have guidelines in place, procedures, roles and a structure. This is the stage that group norms are developed and established.

The team at this stage will begin to feel a strong commitment to the objective although it is possible that storming and norming can overlap for a while if new task or challenges arise during this time.

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Performing - as expected at this stage the team is now an effective group of people. They know what they are doing, who is doing what, they have trust in each other and everyone is supportive to get the job done.

It is at this stage that the group should be performing at their most effective.

Adjourning - Often teams are established for a specific task and as such have a limited life span. As a consequence of this consideration Tuckman and Jensen (1977) added this further stage to Tuckman’s original model. This stage may see the team disbanded. It is considered important that the group reflect on the time together as a team and consider the lessons learnt.

Think about a team that you may have been involved in either in work or as part of a study group or assignment group.

Can you recognise the stages of Tuckman’s model?

2.2.2 Bass and Ryterband (1979), Woodcock (1979) and Glass (1996)

Bass and Ryterband (1979) identified four stages in the development of groups.

Woodcock (1979) also viewed the development of teams as a four-stage process

Glass (1996) created another four-stage process

2.2.3 Discussion

The model presented by Tuckman is the most often used model possibly because it has a rhythm that makes it easy to remember.

There are clearly huge similarities between the above two models and the original Tucker model. All four models referred to above assume a linear progression through formation which some studies have challenged.

Gersick (1988) suggested that teams complete their task by something called ‘punctuated equilibrium’ which is a biological term based on the observation of fossils. She suggested that rather than team development being a process of continual development it was in fact characterised by periods of stability or equilibrium punctuated or disrupted by revolutionary periods where a new form will emerge.

This idea is not necessarily at odds with the above models as it is possible that each stage can be reached and gain a steady state before a team moves onto the next stage.

Could it also be possible that Gersick’s model is more applicable to formal working groups than teams? Formal working groups do not have an end date. Teams tend to be created to solve a specific problem or undertake a specific task. Formal working groups are more likely to settle into a period of equilibrium and then change if something disruptive occurs. This could be a new leader or team member, a change in their environment or anything else that possible changes their equilibrium. However, with a team created to achieve a task the emphasis on progression and achievement to the end goal is more likely to be prevalent leading to continuous development of the team.

2.2.4 Business Application

If a business accepts that teams develop via a continuous process, then clearly allowing sufficient time for a task is important if the team is to have sufficient time to work through each stage of development for the benefit of the end goal.

If Gersick’s theory resonates in respect of formal groups, then a business may consider whether it should create a disruption within a group to ‘shake things up a little’ and inject some energy and creativity back into the group.

Think of a hypothetical business situation that could justify a business creating a disruptor to improve performance.

Is there a better way that this could have been approached?

Hint: Think about tackling problems in a business using a different approach potentially through teamwork

2.3 Group Norms

Whilst formal groups can have documented rules and procedures they can also develop unwritten routines and rules of behaviour that form naturally over time. This was clearly demonstrated by the Hawthorne Studies.

Group norms are extremely important as they are effectively the unwritten set of rules that an individual may need to adopt to be part of a group. They are a guide to behaviour and if the individual wants to belong and potentially gain more power in a group then it is important that they stick to the rules. They can sometimes however, be controlling by the group and be a way of applying pressure to group members to go along with the group thinking even if this is not the individuals thinking. Possibly the best example of this is the last 50 years has been the reaction of union members to those members that do not strike.

It has also been found that group controlled output and behaviour can often go against the interests of the organisation and the individual.

2.4 Building an Effective Team

There is significant research looking at high performing teams and the consideration of how to develop high performing teams. Team decisions tend to have more commitment to them than if the same decision had been made unilaterally by management although making all decisions in this manner can be costly and time consuming. It therefore follows that teams may be better than individuals in some circumstances but not necessarily in all circumstances.

It is however generally considered that teams perform better in the following ways: -

  • They find things out faster
  • Make better decisions
  • Make fewer errors
  • Are more productive
  • Recall things better

All the above things are called process gain. The support and encouragement of other team members also contributes process gain. However, whilst all the above is true there is evidence to suggest that teams often do not perform as well as they could.

Katzenbach and Smith proposed several steps that a team leader should follow to get teams performing to the best of their ability.

2.4.1 Belbin’s Team Role Inventory

Belbin (1986) developed a framework for understanding roles in teams following research conducted on administrative staff at Henley College. According to Belbin, team roles are based on individual’s personalities and their own preferences. These roles may also have been developed through the framework of norms that the group have developed and as such to try to put an individual into a role that is not the norm for them or the group to which they belong may be counterproductive to the success of the team.

If a team member is given a role that they do not prefer, then they are likely to try to take on a different role within the team and as such create gaps in representation and overlap another member potentially leading to conflict.

There are nine team roles in Belbin’s framework and the framework describes the contribution that each member makes and what Belbin describes as the ‘allowable weaknesses’ of each role. It should be noted that one member can do more than one role but Belbin claims that in an ideal team, every role is present and these align to the preferred roles of individuals.

The titles given to each role are mostly intuitive in respect of the competence brought by each role with the exception possibly of the plant role. This is a creator and innovator. Someone who generates lots of ideas and is good at solving difficult problems.

2.4.2 Discussion

There are many criticisms of Belbin’s theory as writers claim that there is little evidence to support Belbin’s assertions and that the research did not take account of the influence of the roles that the individuals normally hold nor did it consider other dynamics such as strategy and leadership.

Belbin also created a questionnaire to help evaluate individuals in creating teams but he did stress that this was only a guide and his key message was based on balance and diversity. This was reiterated by Higgs (1996) although it could also be considered that the management of a truly diverse teams must be very difficult. True diversity will mean that team members can have very different values, norms and beliefs and so although they have the potential to be extremely effective because of the diversity of outlook this could equally be the downfall of the team if some common ground cannot be established.

It is well established today that diversity in teams generally improves performance with a significant diversity and inclusion agenda now being pursued more pro-actively by many businesses. For example, it has long been established that the inclusion of females on a board improves the company performance.

One final consideration is that simply being in a team does not guarantee success in achieving the goal. All the correct players can be on the team but to be effective teams must also have the following:

  • A shared and specific goal
  • Agreement about how to work together
  • Skills that are relevant to the task and complementary
  • More than two members
  • Shared accountability

It is also possible that effective teams can develop spontaneously as a result of circumstances.

Can you think of any examples where this could happen or has happened to your knowledge?

Hint: It may be worth considering fictional events from movies or books to get you started.

Now consider whether the group or team you have in mind show evidence of each of the roles promoted by Belbin.

2.4.3 Business Application

Clearly Belbin’s model can be used to identify individuals to take on the various roles within a team and his questionnaire can be used as a start point for the selection of team members however, organisations should be careful not to make the questionnaire the only determinant of team members.

The best application is to ensure that teams selected are diverse in nature and that the roles allocated to the members match their norms and the norms of those around them. Remember that leopards cannot change their spots but the determination on cats of spots and stripes and the differences across all big cats are determined by several things. Just like the individual’s norms and allocated role within a group will be determined by things around them.

Once again, think about a team that you may have been involved in either in work or as part of a study group or assignment group.

Did the team have all of the roles outlined by Belbin?

In your opinion was the team successful or as successful as it could have been?

What factors contributed to this outcome?

2.5 Maintaining an effective Team

Creating an effective team is one thing but maintaining it can be more difficult. Often this is not of such a concern on a genuine team created to tackle a specific issue or activity as the team are unlikely to be together so long that they become ineffective through lethargy or familiarity. However, if the task is of a particularly long duration or it is a working group that are potentially together for a long time, then maintaining effectiveness and energy is more difficult.

It was noted earlier that creating a disruptor could alter the dynamics but there are other considerations also. Group cohesiveness is related to group effectiveness. Group cohesiveness describes how attractive the group is to its members and their motivations to remain a part of it. Individuals who form these groups have less work-related anxiety, higher job satisfaction and lower absenteeism. There are disadvantages of cohesive groups though in that they may become defensive or almost territorial, they may not work well with other groups and it can be difficult for new group members to integrate.

In the modern world of business today that operate in an ever-changing environment due to technology and globalisation, cohesive groups can be problematic as they may often be resistant to change.

2.6 Challenges of Team Working

When group and teams work well together, it is possible to achieve great things in an organisation. However, a poorly performing team can have serious consequences for an organisation.

2.6.1 Process Loss

Poor performance can lead to something known as process loss. This is where team members either cannot be bothered which is known as motivation loss or they don’t make the best use of all the skills within the team leading to co-ordination loss.

2.6.2 Social Loafing

It is also possible to suffer process loss due to a concept call social loafing. Social loafing is considered be some to be human nature. It is the idea that you don’t pull your weight in the activities of the team because you think someone else will do it and no-one will be able to see that you are not doing your bit. You can hide within the group.

2.6.3 Groupthink

Another serious issue with groups and teams is the concept of groupthink. Psychologist Irving Janis first identified groupthink and found in his studies that highly cohesive groups which contained members of similar backgrounds and values would quite often want to agree with each other and so would not necessarily challenge each other sufficiently or think ‘outside the group’. This can lead to a group making fantastic decisions or disastrous decisions.

2.6.4 Polarisation

Polarisation is another issue that occurs within groups. Generally, it was thought that through a group or team decision, the overall approach to an activity was likely to be conservative or cautious as it would tend towards an average view rather than any one extreme. However, research has suggested that groups will actually make more extreme decisions than may be expected. It is possible that the ability to share the responsibility leads to a boldness that would not be forthcoming from an individual. However, polarisation can lead to a strengthening of a belief within a group or team.

In your earlier team examples, did any members of your team display any of the above behaviours?

What was the impact on the task?

2.7 Modern Team Management

Organisations ever increasing awareness of the criticality of staff engagement combined with modern technology is changing the way in which organisations manage teams in the 21st century.

Team members may now be spread across the globe as distance is no longer the barrier that it once was. Virtual teams now exist and these team members may never meet but collaborate using texts, mail, phone calls and file sharing amongst other methods.

Despite these changes in the ways in which teams work the same basic principles of team selection apply alongside the requirement to ensure that the team is established for the right reason and the factors essential for success such as a shared goal are in place.

Consider the types of issues that could arise in a globally diverse team.

Do you think that such teams can be as successful as any other?

3 Summary and Issues in Groups and Teams

We have looked at a variety of areas in relation to groups and teams ranging from the consideration of their importance to organisations and the research that led to this awareness through to the ways in which groups and teams form and develop as well as outlining some possible models to create a high performing team.

We can see plenty of evidence in businesses today that the theories are still relevant and in use although it is also clear that the continued development of human relations management has gone much further.

There are many problems associated with groups and team in organisations and some of the challenges have been outlined but it is also clear that in organisations today, staff engagement is a key activity as organisations recognise that the modern worker is looking for more from work and his employer than may have previously been considered. In fairness, the Hawthorne studies identified this but the nettle was not grasped quite so firmly by management at that time as it is today.

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Recommended Textbooks

Brooks, I., 2003. Organisational Behaviour: Individuals, Groups and Organisation. 2nd ed. Harlow: Pearson Education Limited.

King, D. & Lawley, S., 2013. Organizational Behaviour. 1st ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


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