Management MCO101 – Unit 8C – Motivation, Leadership, Groups and Teams

Groups and teams

“two or more people who share a common definition and evaluation of themselves and behave in accordance with such a definition.” (Vaughan & Hogg, 2002, p. 200)

The dictionary gives the word group the meaning of “lump” or “mass.” Another general definition is; “an assemblage of objects standing near together, and forming a collective unity; a knot (of people), a cluster (of things).” The dictionary quotation by the famous British author Walter Bagehot (1826-1877) offers an important and traditional perspective on the necessity of understanding groups: “Man can only make progress in cooperative groups.”

Muzafer Sherif (1916-1982) formulated a more technical definition with the following elements:

Group: A social unit consisting of a number of individuals interacting with each other with respect to:

1. Common motives and goals;
2. An accepted division of labor, i.e. roles,
3. Established status (social rank, dominance) relationships;
4. Accepted norms and values with reference to matters relevant to the group;
5. Development of accepted sanctions (praise and punishment) if and when norms were respected or violated.

This definition is long and complex, but it is also precise. It succeeds at providing a management researcher with the tools required to answer three important questions:

In sociology, a group can be defined as two or more humans that interact with one another, accept expectations and obligations as members of the group, and share a common identity. By this definition, not just organisations and firms, but also society can be viewed as a large group, though most social groups are considerably smaller.

A true group exhibits some degree of social cohesion and is more than a simple collection or aggregate of individuals, such as people waiting at a bus stop. Characteristics shared by members of a group may include interests, values, ethnic or social background, and kinship ties. According to Paul Hare, the defining characteristic of a group is social interaction.

to macro [the world]”]The various social levels from micro [the individual] to macro [the world]

A team comprises a group of people or even animals linked in a common purpose. Teams are especially appropriate for conducting tasks that are high in complexity and have many interdependent subtasks.

Ox team pulling guns

Ox team pulling guns


A group in itself does not necessarily constitute a team. Teams normally have members with complementary skills and generate synergy through a coordinated effort which allows each member to maximize his or her strengths and minimize his or her weaknesses.

Group dynamics
is the study of groups, and also a general term for group processes. As a group is two or more individuals who are connected to each other by social relationships, and because they interact and influence each other, groups develop a number of dynamic processes that separate them from a random collection of individuals.

These processes include norms, roles, relations, development, need to belong, social influence, and effects on behavior. The field of group dynamics is primarily concerned with small group behavior. Groups may be classified as aggregate, primary, secondary and category groups.

A collection of people at a bus station would make up an aggregate.

A primary group has been classified as being a “small intimate, face to face association…” of individuals who share some type of common group identity. Cooley goes on to say that the development of this common group identity lead the members of the primary group to naturally identify themselves as “we or us.” The term secondary group has come into use in sociology to describe any group which lacks one or more of the elements that go together to characterize a primary group. In general, a secondary group is composed of individuals who lacks strong emotional ties one another.

A social category group is a collection of people who are classified together because they all have the same characteristic. White males, native Americans, and females over 65 years of age, would all be examples of social categories.

Other types of groups include reference groups. These are composed of individuals possessing a set of similar characteristics which are used as standards by other individuals in evaluating their own behavior. Reference groups in many cases are not true groups in that the individuals who make up the reference group may not share the common identity characteristic of groups.

A peer group is made up of individuals of relatively equal status with whom the individual interacts frequently.

Groups may also be classified according to how members become members. If an individual selects to become a member of a group then that group can be referred to as a voluntary group. On the other hand, if an individual becomes a member of a group, as a result of factors over which he/she has no control, then the group may be referred to as an involuntary group.

The University of Richmond provides Group Dynamics Resource Page which begins with a quote explaining how 2 are better than one. This is a comprehensive site explaining different types of Group Dynamics based on research and scholarly studies of groups. “To understand people, we must understand their groups” is a powerful statement made on this webpage.

More on groups here

Differences between ‘team’ and ‘group’

Many people used the words team and group interchangeably, but there are actually a number of differences between a team and a group in real world applications. A number of leadership courses designed for the corporate world stress the importance of team building, not group building, for instance. A team’s strength depends on the commonality of purpose and interconnectivity between individual members, whereas a group’s strength may come from sheer volume or willingness to carry out a single leader’s commands. So when does a group become a team? What are the distinguishing characteristics of a team that are different from a group? The behaviors of a real team are decidedly different from a group.

We believe the best definition of a team is from the book Wisdom of Teams. “A team is a small group of people with complementary skills and abilities who are committed to a common goal and approach for which they hold each other accountable.” Let’s pick this definition apart. The best size for teams is 7-12 individuals. Larger teams require more structure and support; smaller teams often have difficulty meeting when members are absent. Members have skills and abilities that complement the team’s purpose. Not all members have the same skills, but together they are greater than the sum of their parts. On teams, members share roles and responsibilities and are constantly developing new skills to improve the team’s performance. Teams identify and reach consensus on their common goal and approach, rather than looking to a leader to define the goal and approach. Most importantly, teams hold their members accountable. What does this mean in practical terms? When they experience conflict with a member, they speak to that member directly rather than to a supervisor. When a member isn’t performing to the level required, the team addresses the performance problem.

Diversity in groups

Diversity in groups


Now let’s look at how a group functions. A group can be defined as a small group of people with complementary skills and abilities who are committed to a leader’s goal and approach and are willing to be held accountable by the leader . A group supports the leader’s goals and the leader-dominated approach to goal attainment. A group drives individual accountability rather than shared accountability. Leadership is predominantly held by one person rather than the shared, fluid leadership on a team. In a group, the dominant viewpoint is represented; in a team, multiple, diverse viewpoints are represented. Decisions in a group are made by voting or implied agreement; decisions on a team are typically made by consensus.

So, would it be right to say that teams are good and groups are bad? Absolutely not. A better question to ask is: when do you use a group and when do you make the extra effort to develop a team? Let’s face it, groups are far easier to create than teams, so it makes sense to be a group when the following exist: the decisions and process are already determined, buy-in is not necessary, time is a critical factor and there is split or minimal management support for teaming. To form the group, identify a strong, effective leader and empower the person to recruit group members, formulate the goal and approach and drive decision making. This approach would be practical for short-term projects with outcomes already defined.

Teaming, on the other hand, should be used when you need broad buy-in for the best results, when no one person has the answer and when shared responsibility is important to the success of the goal. To achieve a real team is difficult and time-consuming. There is no magic bullet that will transform a group into a team overnight. It takes time to develop the skills to work well together and understand how to solve problems and make decisions effectively.

Teams

Thus teams of sports players can form (and re-form) to practice their craft. Transport logistics executives can select teams of horses, dogs or oxen for the purpose of conveying goods.

Theorists in business in the late 20th century popularized the concept of constructing teams. Differing opinions exist on the efficacy of this new management fad. Some see “team” as a four-letter word: overused and under-useful. Others see it as a panacea that finally realizes the human relations movement’s desire to integrate what that movement perceives as best for workers and as best for managers. Still others believe in the effectiveness of teams, but also see them as dangerous because of the potential for exploiting workers — in that team effectiveness can rely on peer pressure and peer surveillance.

Compare the more structured/skilled concept of a crew, and the advantages of formal and informal partnerships. Many of today’s leaders underestimate the complexity of team dynamics. Most assume that working with teams is simple and are surprised when unintended consequences arise.

How Do Individuals Become a Team?
Group development generally follows a specific process. The most common model for explaining how individuals form as a group was developed by Tuckman (1965). This model suggests that when developing into a group, individuals go through 4 distinct stages: Forming, Storming, Norming and
Performing. While the progression from one stage to another may be perceived as linear, in many cases teams can waiver back and forth between stages before actually progressing on to the next stage.

Forming. During the forming stage the team members usually come together for
the first time for the season. This is a learning period for old and new members, acquainting and reacquainting themselves with how the group functions, their roles within the group and the group goals. In order to facilitate this stage, coaches often set up time outside of practice for social activities such as movies, picnics, and outings to other sporting events to allow the group to get to know each other better. This is also the time when coaches go over team rules, responsibilities, and roles within the team.

Storming. The storming phase usually occurs a few weeks into the season. The honeymoon period is over and now it’s time to get down to work. This phase is characterized by conflict over who has control and infighting for status positions and the coach’s attention. It is during the storming phase that those athletes with a poor work ethic and/or bad attitude emerge; personality and goal conflict among team members also becomes apparent. While it seems like a counterproductive stage, keep in mind that THE STORMING PHASE IS INEVITABLE AND IF CHANNELED CORRECTLY CAN LEAD TO EFFECTIVE TEAM BUILDING. Coach’s need to be vigilant in identifying conflicts when they emerge and open up communication paths to resolve the conflict in a timely fashion. Successful resolution can lead to increases in team members selfesteem, respect for their teammates similarities and differences, overall trust, and communication skill effectiveness.

Norming. The calm after the storm. Norming is the period after storming where the team has come to a consensus about what is acceptable and what is not acceptable. Goals, objectives and expectations have been clearly defined by the coach and the athletes. The respect they gain for their teammates unique contribution to the team is the most important realization the athletes come to during the norming phase.

Performing. The performing stage is similar to the peak at the end of the season. During this stage, there is a close bond among the group members and a general want for one another to succeed. The team members begin to truly value each individual’s contribution and the relationships are secure within the team. The group is finally acting as a confident cohesive unit. In this final stage, the team should be able to combine effort towards the group goals.

What kinds of lessons can you pick up from the following case studies on teams and leadership:

Teamwork in a Shock Trauma Unit: New Lessons in Leadership.

Cultivating Total Leadership with Authenticity, Integrity and Creativity

Expedition to Ecuador: Leadership and Teamwork at 19,000 Ft.

Capturing the Spirit of Opportunity: Leadership Lessons from the Mars Missions

Groupthink

Groupthink is an interesting phenomenon which can occur when a group of people gathers to make a decision. Essentially, desires for group cohesiveness and a quick decision cloud the judgment of the people in the group, leading to a decision which is less than ideal. Social psychologists have studied groupthink extensively in an attempt to understand the warning signs of this phenomenon, and to develop methods for avoiding groupthink.

Groupthink occurs when the norms for conforming in a homogeneous group become so strong, and members are highly concerned about maintaining unanimity, that they fail to critically evaluate their options and consequently make a poor decision.

Groupthink occurs when the norms for conforming in a homogeneous group become so strong, and members are highly concerned about maintaining unanimity, that they fail to critically evaluate their options and consequently make a poor decision.

Irving Janis was one of the first social psychologists to delve into groupthink, publishing a study on groupthink in the context of foreign policy decisions in 1972. He argued that groupthink was probably responsible for some of the more unwise decisions made by the United States government, backing up his claim with studies of group dynamics. Many studies of groupthink focus on foreign policy, since the groups who make these kinds of decisions tend to be classically pressured and very cohesive, setting up an ideal situation for groupthink.

Several things characterize groupthink. Members of the group tend to experience illusions of unamity, morality, and invulnerability within the group, meaning that they think everyone agrees, they are under the impression that their decisions are morally based, and they think that the decisions made within the group are always sound. Groupthink is also accompanied by self-censoring, in which members of the group stifle their opinions because they are afraid of controversy. The group often engages in heavy stereotyping of other groups and the situation they are dealing with, and there is often an immense pressure for conformity within the group.

One of the hallmarks of groupthink is collective rationalization, in which the members of the group rationalize thoughts or decisions in flawed ways. This rationalization is often supported by so-called “mindguards,” who prevent contradictory information from entering the group discussion. As the members of the group work with incomplete information, high pressure, and a desire to conform, they come up with an idea which may not be balanced and well considered, like the decision to invade another country on the basis of flimsy evidence.

There are a number of ways to avoid groupthink. Most importantly, the group must start out with no clear expectations and desires, and dissenting opinions must be encouraged, to the point of asking individual members of the group to argue against ideas as they are presented. Many organizations also break groups up into smaller committees which come back to the main group with their ideas, in the hopes of stimulating more discussion and creative ideas. In a situation where discussing decisions with people outside the group is feasible, people are encouraged to talk with people not in the group, to see whether their ideas will hold up in the outside world.

There’s an interesting book about organizations published a few years back called Seeing Organizational Patterns : A New Theory and Language of Organizational Design by Bob Keidel. In it he offers the following diagram for understanding the tradeoffs that must be managed in designing organizations. Typically we tend to think only in terms of the tradeoff between control and autonomy. His, richer, model introduces a third point of cooperation and suggests that organization design problems can be treated as looking for a spot somewhere inside the triangle instead of somewhere along one of its edges. The trend has been northward towards more recognition of cooperation and, hopefully, away from stale debates about control or autonomy.

More resources and examples of group think here.

Team Autonomy

In recent years, many organizations have made use of teams in the workplace, many of which operate autonomously. Self-managed work teams are those in which a supervisor gives little direction to the team, and the team members manage themselves. The success of such teams depends greatly on the team members, including their professional capabilities and their ability to work together. Oftentimes, such autonomous teams can greatly enhance an organization’s ability to be creative, flexible, and innovative. However, as with individuals, too much autonomy in a team can reduce productivity. When individuals work too independently, their lack of communication and monitoring of one another may result in poor team performance. Additionally, without supervision the team may pursue goals that are different from those of the organization. Thus, periodic meetings and supervision from a manager may be necessary to avoid problems associated with too much autonomy.

The trade-offs in organsational design

The trade-offs in organsational design

Autonomy and the organisation

The autonomy of employees and managers is often dictated by an organization’s structure and culture; traditional, bureaucratic organizations often have little autonomy, but newer, more organic structures rely on autonomy, empowerment, and participation to succeed. Employee autonomy is believed to have minimized some of the relational barriers between superiors and subordinates. Therefore, autonomy may improve workplace functions through the ideas and suggestions of employees, and foster relationships with a greater degree of trust between management and employees. However, increased autonomy in the organization also may create disparity among units through different work practices and rules. In the worst case, increased autonomy may allow some employees to engage in unethical behavior. Thus, a certain amount of oversight is necessary in organizations to prevent wrongdoing that may go unnoticed when there are high levels of autonomy.

In conclusion, autonomy generally is a positive attribute for employees, managers, teams, and organizations as a whole. Employees typically desire autonomy, and its introduction can increase motivation and satisfaction. However, because too much autonomy can have organizational drawbacks, care should be taken when increasing it.

More on social networking here.

A case study of autonomy, teams and the financial sector here.

Team cohesivenss

The first opportunity for building a cohesive team is to start with a clear goal. “Clarity implies that there is a specific performance objective, phrased in such concrete language that it is possible to tell, unequivocally, whether or not that performance objective has been attained” (Larson & LaFasto 1989: 28). Simply stated, the team needs to understand what the goal is and be confident that their success will be measurable. Though it seems obvious, it is extremely important to state the goal in terms of the team as opposed to the individual team members. Ensuring the individual team members understand the goal and acknowledge that the goal would not be achievable without the other members is a powerful way to establish early buy-in.

The level of difficulty of the goal is another important element. Larson & LaFasto describe ways in which a goal can be elevating such as personal challenges and the importance of the result (1989). When individuals and groups are challenged they often give more effort, thus challenges can be viewed as a form of motivation. How the team views the importance of the task at hand is also an important factor. For example, if the individuals believe that the success of the team will have a significant impact on the department, organization, community, etc., there is likely to be an increased sense of urgency and focus. “The focus is squarely on the result the team is pursuing and the progress that is being made, because whether or not the team succeeds clearly makes a difference” (Larson & LaFasto 1989: 33).

In order to achieve team cohesion, managers must establish a cohesive environment. Getting the team involved in early decision making and giving the team autonomy can help foster this type of atmosphere. “Trust and collaboration come from being involved in planning the attack, working out the strategy for accomplishing the goal, and knowing what the team’s approach is going to be and how it all fits together” (Larson & LaFasto 1989: 93). Trust is one of the most important elements of cohesion.

Team communication

Another important element is communication. Managers must create an environment that promotes effective communication within the group. Despite the technological improvements that enable teams to correspond through various channels, it is important not to lose the “human moment” in our communication. E.M. Hallowell describes this “human moment” as “the powerful impact of face-to-face, immediate interaction in real time and space” (1999: 58-66). When possible, managers should encourage these face-to-face communications either by physically placing the teams in a centralized location or at least by providing the means for the team members to meet in person. Friedley and Manchester agree that this “human moment” of communication has a powerful influence on creating team synergy and team cohesion (2005).

In addition to establishing appropriate goals and effective communication lines, other unique approaches can also be explored. For example, Paul McGhee makes a strong case for the value that humor can have in building more cohesive groups. According to McGhee, “Shared laughter and the spirit of fun generates a bonding process in which people feel closer together – especially when laughing in the midst of adversity” (…..). McGhee argues that humor can improve open communication, trust and morale while also reducing stress and increasing creativity. It can also help remove the barriers that separate management from employees. Other scholars agree including W.J. Duncan who states “Managers in a variety of work settings who initiate humor have been shown to be more likely to become an integral part of a socially cohesive group” (1984: 895). Obviously, it is important to avoid negative forms of humor as the negativity can have the opposite effect on any of these elements. Nevertheless, humor is another tool at the disposal of today’s innovative managers.

Of note is the whole notion of social networking and collective intelligence which is popular riught now. see here for more details.

Diversity: Bad for Cohesion?

Klein’s recent research has looked at another confusing area when it comes to teams — the value of diversity. Various theories suggest that diversity represented by gender, race and age leads to conflict and poor social integration — while various other studies suggest just the opposite. “The general assumption is that people like people who are similar to themselves, so there is a theory to suggest that a lot of diversity is bad for cohesion,” says Klein. “But there is also a theory that says diversity is great, that it creates more ideas, more perspectives and more creativity for better solutions.”

In their own research, Klein and Lim find a distinct value in having some similarity between team members. The authors describe how “team mental models – defined as team members’ shared, organized understanding and mental representation of knowledge about key elements of the team’s relevant environment – may enhance coordination and effectiveness in performing tasks that are complex, unpredictable, urgent, and/or novel. Team members who share similar mental models can, theorists suggest, anticipate each other’s responses and coordinate effectively when time is of the essence and opportunities for overt communication and debate are limited. Our findings suggest that team mental models do matter. Numerous questions remain, but the current findings advance understanding of shared cognition in teams, and suggest that continuing research on team mental models is likely to yield new theoretical insights as well as practical interventions to enhance team performance,” the researchers write.

Wharton management professor Nancy P. Rothbard has a similar theory on what she calls “numerical minorities” — including gender, race, age and ethnic groups. “Often times, a numerical minority can appear to be less threatening because it’s not unexpected that someone who is different from you has different viewpoints. But if they are more similar to you and they disagree with you, some groups find that more upsetting. It can raise the level of conflict on a team. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, if the conflict doesn’t get in the way of being able to think through a problem and do what needs to be done.”

Klein has also looked into what factors determine who becomes important to a team. The single most powerful predictor? Emotional stability. “And the flip side is neuroticism. If someone is neurotic, easily agitated, worries a lot, has a strong temper — that is bad for the team.”

Within a company, individual teams often begin to compete against each other, which Wittenberg finds can be troublesome. “One of the problems is the in-group, out-group problem,” he says. “Depending on how we identify ourselves, we can be part of a group or separate from a group. At many companies, the engineering group and the marketing group are very much at odds. But at the same time, if you talked about that company vs. another company, the teams are together, they are more alike than the people at the other company. Teams are sometimes more siloed within a company and they think they are competing with each other instead of being incentivized to work together.”

When it comes to creating a successful team, “teams that rely solely on electronic communication are less successful than those that understand why communication in person is important,” says Wittenberg. “Email is a terrible medium… . It doesn’t relate sarcasm or emotion very well, and misunderstandings can arise. There is something very important and very different about talking to someone face-to-face.”

While teams are hard to create, they are also hard to fix when they don’t function properly. So how does one mend a broken team? “You go back to your basics,” says Mueller. “Does the team have a clear goal? Are the right members assigned to the right task? Is the team task focused? We had a class on the ‘no-no’s of team building, and having vague, not clearly defined goals is a very, very clear no-no. Another no-no would be a leader who has difficulty taking the reins and structuring the process. Leadership in a group is very important. And third? The team goals cannot be arbitrary. The task has to be meaningful in order for people to feel good about doing it, to commit to the task.”

Team Size

When it comes to athletics, sports teams have a specific number of team players: A basketball team needs five, baseball nine, and soccer 11. But when it comes to the workplace, where teamwork is increasingly widespread throughout complex and expanding organizations, there is no hard-and-fast rule to determine the optimal number to have on each team.

Team size vs. performance

Team size vs. performance

Should the most productive team have 4.6 team members, as suggested in a recent article on “How to Build a Great Team” in Fortune magazine? What about naming five or six individuals to each team, which is the number of MBA students chosen each year by Wharton for its 144 separate learning teams? Is it true that larger teams simply break down, reflecting a tendency towards “social loafing” and loss of coordination? Or is there simply no magic team number, a recognition of the fact that the best number of people is driven by the team’s task and by the roles each person plays?

“The size question has been asked since the dawn of social psychology,” says Wharton management professor Jennifer S. Mueller, recalling the early work of Maximilian Ringelmann, a French agricultural engineer born in 1861 who discovered that the more people who pulled on a rope, the less effort each individual contributed. Today, “teams are prolific in organizations. From a managerial perspective, there is this rising recognition that teams can function to monitor individuals more effectively than managers can control them. The teams function as a social unit; you don’t need to hand-hold as much. And I think tasks are becoming more complex and global, which contributes to the need for perspective that teams provide.”

Each Person Counts

While the study of team size of concentration, management experts acknowledge that size is not necessarily the first consideration when putting together an effective team. It is important to ask what type of task the team will engage in. Answering that question defines whom you want to hire, what type of skills you are looking for. A sub-category to this is the degree of coordination required. If it’s a sales team, the only real coordination comes at the end. It’s all individual, and people are not interdependent. The interdependence matters, because it is one of the mechanisms that you use to determine if people are getting along.

2. What are the skills of the people needed to be translated into action? That would include everything from work style to personal style to knowledge base and making sure that they are appropriate to the task.

3. The study of optimal team size seems to fascinate a lot of businesses and academics, primarily due to the fact that “in the past decade, research on team effectiveness has burgeoned as teams have become increasingly common in organizations of all kinds,” writes Wharton management professor Katherine J. Klein, in a paper titled, “Team Mental Models and Team Performance.” The paper, co-authored with Beng-Chong Lim, a professor at Nanyang Business School, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, was published in January 2006 in the Journal of Organizational Behavior.

Klein acknowledges that when it comes to team size, each person counts:

“When you have two people, is that a team or a dyad? With three, you suddenly have the opportunity to have power battles, two to one. There is some notion that three is dramatically different from two, and there is some sense that even numbers may be different from odd numbers, for the same reason. My intuition is that by the time you are over eight or nine people, it is cumbersome and you will have a team that breaks down into sub-teams. Depending on the group’s task, that could be a good thing or that could not be right. There is a sense that as a team gets larger, there is a tendency for social loafing, where someone gets to slide, to hide.”

Ringelmann’s famous study on pulling a rope – often called the Ringelmann effect – analyzed people alone and in groups as they pulled on a rope. Ringelmann then measured the pull force. As he added more and more people to the rope, Ringelmann discovered that the total force generated by the group rose, but the average force exerted by each group member declined, thereby discrediting the theory that a group team effort results in increased effort. Ringelmann attributed this to what was then called “social loafing” – a condition where a group or team tends to “hide” the lack of individual effort.

“After about five people, there are diminishing returns on how much people will pull,” says Mueller. “But people, unless they are not motivated or the task is arbitrary, will not want to show social loafing. If the task is boring and mundane, they are more likely to loaf. If you tell executives this, they say, ‘One of the things I’m worried about is loafing and free riding.’ Whereas social loafing is decreased effort in a group context relative to individual context, free riding is rational and self-interested. If a person is not going to be rewarded, they say, ‘I’m going to free ride’ and they don’t participate as much. The two concepts are hard to distinguish, but they are just different ways to measure similar outcomes.”

The Number Six

Evan Wittenberg, director of the Wharton Graduate Leadership Program, notes that team size is “not necessarily an issue people think about immediately, but it is important.” According to Wittenberg, while the research on optimal team numbers is “not conclusive, it does tend to fall into the five to 12 range, though some say five to nine is best, and the number six has come up a few times.”

But having a good team depends on more than optimal size, Wittenberg adds. For instance, when Wharton assigns five to six MBA students to individual teams, “we don’t just assign those teams. We make sure they can be effective. We have a ‘learning team retreat’ where we take all 800 students out to a camp in the woods in upstate New York and spend two days doing team building and trust building exercises. I think this is what people forget to do when they create a team in a business – spend a lot of time upfront to structure how they will work together. We get to know each other and share individual core values so we can come up with team values. But most importantly, we have the students work on their team goals, their team norms and their operating principles. Essentially, what are we going to do and how are we going to do it?”

In the work world, says Wittenberg, it has been “reinforced that five or six is the right number (on a team). At least for us, it gives everyone a real work out. But frankly, I think it depends on the task.”

Recent research by Mueller would seem to support Wittenberg’s notion that preparation for team success is vital. In a recent paper, “Why Individuals in Larger Teams Perform Worse,” Mueller channeled Ringelmann’s theories on large group efforts and tried to explain why the title of her paper is true. For decades, researchers have noted that mere changes in team size can change work-group processes and resulting performance. By studying 238 workers within 26 teams, ranging from three to 20 members in size, Mueller’s research replicates the general assertion that individuals in larger teams do perform worse, but she also offers an explanation for this conclusion.

“Understanding the reasons why individuals in larger teams in real work settings perform worse may be one key to implementing successful team management tactics in organizations, since research shows that managers tend to bias their team size toward overstaffing,” she writes. In addition, “individual performance losses are less about coordination activities and more about individuals on project teams developing quality relationships with one another as a means of increasing individual performance. Because research on teams in organizations has not examined team social support as an important intra-team process, future research should examine how team social support fits in with classic models of job design to buffer teams from negative influences and difficulties caused by larger team size.”

But is there an optimal team size? Mueller has concluded, again, that it depends on the task. “If you have a group of janitors cleaning a stadium, there is no limit to that team; 30 will clean faster than five.” But, says Mueller, if companies are dealing with coordination tasks and motivational issues, and you ask, ‘What is your team size and what is optimal?’ that correlates to a team of six. “Above and beyond five, and you begin to see diminishing motivation,” says Mueller. “After the fifth person, you look for cliques. And the number of people who speak at any one time? That’s harder to manage in a group of five or more.”

Team Conflict

Team conflict is typically seen as negative. We tend to think of it as team members disagreeing, arguing and yelling. Dealing openly with group conflict seems uncomfortable for most individuals, but these derailments are a normal part of every team’s functioning. Dealing with a team conflict head-on can assist the team in finding better solutions and developing a solid foundation of trust in the long run.

Esquivel and Kleiner (1996) identify two types of conflict that impact work team performance. C-type conflict or cognitive conflict is displayed when team members are able to stay focused on objectives while evaluating and settling differences (Esquivel & Kleiner). Open and honest communication is facilitated by members who recognize the skills and abilities of others in the team.

A-type conflict, or affective conflict, on the other hand, reduces effectiveness of team performance by allowing personal agenda to impede completion of work objectives (Esquivel & Kleiner, 1996). When A-type conflict is present, members will be less committed to the decision making process. If this type of conflict persists, it may detract members from participating in future project teams due to the personal nature of the conflict.

Every team has internal conflicts from time to time. Many leaders avoid team conflict, and others handle disagreements inappropriately. But leaders who handle problems constructively can improve productivity, generate new ideas and personally develop team members.

“At first blush, team conflict seems to be negative and something that needs the team leader’s immediate involvement to rectify,” says Jon Warren, assistant division director of education with the Missouri Department of Corrections. “Sometimes conflict among team players is very important in developing new thinking and actually moving the team forward.”

Stages of Team Development

Teams go through definite stages as they develop. Bruce Tuckman, in his often-cited 1965 Psychological Bulletin article “Developmental Sequence in Small Groups,” took existing theories and boiled them down to four stages of team development: Forming, storming, norming and performing. Determining which stage of development the team is in will help a leader decide how to handle the conflict.

“Team conflict can be resolved quickly and effectively and only requires one key ingredient,” says Warren. “That key ingredient is a team leader who can diagnose a team within stages of team development and choose from an array of effective team leadership skills necessary for appropriate intervention at the moment.”

As the team members are getting to know each other in the forming stage, a leader needs to be more directive. In the storming stage when conflict arises, the leader needs to be both directive and supportive. In the norming stage, as team members work out their differences, the leader needs to be more supportive and less directive. Finally in the performing stage, when the team is moving easily ahead, the leader should be supportive.

Tools to Overcome Conflict

There are many ways to handle conflict constructively. “Using situational leadership with teams is an excellent way to overcome conflict and move forward,” says Warren. Here are some additional steps you can teach your team members:

1. Attack the problem, not the person.
2. Focus on what can be done, not on what can’t be done.
3. Encourage different points of view and honest dialogue.
4. Express your feelings in a way that does not blame.
5. Accept ownership for your part of the problem.
6. Listen to understand the other person’s point of view before giving your own.
7. Show respect for the other person’s point of view.
8. Solve the problem while building the relationship.

When conflict arises during a team meeting, it is important to address it as soon as possible. If the conflict has nothing to do with the topic at hand, defer it to a later time. If conflict gets extremely overheated, take a break and let everyone cool off.

Getting Back on Track

A team derailment can be disconcerting to most team members. To ensure your team gets back on track and stays there, do the following:

1. Hold a debriefing meeting/team intervention and discuss what happened and how it can be avoided again.
2. Create a contract between the team members stating the team rules.
3. Have a celebration with all the team members.

Don’t let a team conflict stop you in your tracks. Handle the conflict with skill and confidence, and your team will achieve its goal.

Conflict will always be present in project teams that include more than one individual. It seems impossible to think that every person would agree wholeheartedly to every decision made by the team. Thus, the leader must be able to manage effectively conflict among team members. By using the techniques within this article, project leaders can enhance their leadership skills and increase team productivity. Above all though, the successful project leader should demonstrate patience and discernment in knowing how to handle issues during project meetings.
A white paper on team conflict can be found here.

Task Allocation

Picking the right player for the right job. In any team sport, a lot of time is spent choosing the players who will play in each game. The selection process also involves deciding the position where each team member will play, based on the player’s skill, form (current ability to perform well) and the likely opposition that the team will face.

Just as this is true in sport, it is true in business. Leaders need to select the right people for the right jobs, and assign them tasks that fit with their skills and proficiencies. This provides structure.

So how do you do this? To field a match-winning team, first you need to understand the game that has to be played and the skills and abilities required to play it: There’s no point asking a football team to play baseball if you want to win at the top level.

Then you have to place the correct player in the correct position. Mere common sense, you would think – but then, as the old quip goes, “common sense is often quite uncommon”.

How to Use the Tool:

Here we give you the four-step “BALM” method to achieve correct role allocation:

Break down the broader team goals into specific, individual tasks. List all tasks, and then rank each task in terms of importance;
Analyze and list the competencies required to perform each task;
List the competencies of each team member;
Match individuals to task competencies.

Tip:
An easy way of doing this is to write down the competencies needed for each task on one color of Post-It® Note, and the competencies of each team member on another color of Post-It Note. You can then move these around as you match people to roles.

Post-It® is a trademark of 3M Corporation.

This is great as a starting point, but in the real world you’ll most-likely find lots of overlaps and lots of gaps. In such cases you have to take considered decisions.

Overlaps and Gaps:

Where you have overlaps, you have two choices: Either allotting better qualified individuals to more important tasks, or allocating the task to the person at the lowest organizational level who is qualified to do the job. Both approaches have their virtues, but in different situations: One allows you to do the job with a higher level of certainty, the other allows you to do it more efficiently and at a lower cost.

Where you have a gap, you may need to train existing team members, or recruit to fill the gap. Often, training is the best option: Not only is it usually cheaper, you also know more about the individual’s talents and working methods. On the downside, a newly trained person usually has plenty of theory, but lacks the experience of putting that training into practice.

Tip 1:
Recruitment often takes a very long time (time to agree the role internally, advertise it, screen resumes, interview candidates, select, wait for notice periods to be served, train the individual in organizational methods, and so on) and can be very expensive. It is also risky: Even using the best interviewing and testing methods, it’s possible for candidates to cover up failings that only become obvious once someone’s been in a role for several months.

Tip 2:
A useful piece of advice handed down from generation to generation of manager is to “never underestimate the value of team spirit, motivation and hard work”. (This advice usually also concludes “And never over-estimate people’s knowledge and understanding”.)

Tip 3:
However if someone is letting the team down, you need to be active in managing this. Non-performers set a poor example to the team, and block performance of activities that are essential for success.

Make sure that you talk to the person who is failing to perform to make them aware of the situation. And make sure that you quickly understand and remove any blocks on performance. Give a controlled number of short but fair opportunities to perform as required (being “hard nosed” about this, correcting a situation bears results much more quickly than recruiting new team members). However, if performance doesn’t improve to satisfactory levels, then the non-performer needs to be moved off the team.

Briefing Each Team Member:

Having decided which team member will fill each role, you have to communicate the decision to your team.

Each team member should know his or her position within the team. The roles of each person should be clearly defined, with individual responsibilities, authority and accountability clearly spelled out (it’s often best to do this in writing).

A hint to remember is that no member of your team should be thinking:

* What are we here for?
* What are we supposed to do?
* What part can I play?

Tip 4:
Keep your team lean, but make sure you have back-ups or substitutes for key roles. It is important to have ‘a few good people’ rather than have ‘too many people’. But remember to have back-ups in case you lose key people.

Tip 5:
Research shows that diverse teams can be more successful than teams with a very similar background. People in diverse teams bring different experiences, are less prone to “group-think” and tend to suffer less from the conflicts that can arise when similar people work together.

(That said, be careful with some of the team design schemes in common use – the research base for some them is quite weak).

To view slides full page or to download them click HERE.

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