Work teams and group dynamics is a very broad topic, but we will narrow our review to some of the most relevant questions about it: Why is it relevant to study work teams? What are the main group development stages? What is group structure and how does it influence group effectiveness? What are the advantages and disadvantages of group decision making? What is the difference between a work team and a group? What characteristics must a work team have to be effective? If at some point you ever thought about this questions, then by the end of this review you will be in a position to answer some of them with some more confidence and knowledge.
Why studying work teams?
If despite of your experience you are still feeling not sure about this question, here we drop some reasons: 80% of Fortune 500 firms have half or more of their employees working in teams; teams are flexible and can be created and dismantled; teams can be cross-functional and cross-hierarchical, and when they are “true teams”, they can be very motivating for the employees. Teams are also specially indicated for those tasks that are complex and require inter-dependence of different members. We should also notice that individual behavior within groups (and also in teams) is affected by the properties of the group itself (e.g. size) as well as the behavior of other group members.
Stages in group development
When talking about the different stages in group development, we can talk about the forming, storming, norming and performing stages. The first stage, forming, takes place when there is uncertainty concerning the purpose, structure, and leadership in the group and the members of the group get to know each other and clarify expectations. The second stage, storming, takes place when due to an intragroup conflict, some members accept the existence of the group but they resist the constraints the group imposes. There’s conflict over who will control the group and this stage is complete when the group agrees to a hierarchy of leadership. The third stage, norming, takes place when close relationships develop within the group, building higher group cohesion and formal and informal group norms are established. Finally, the fourth stage, performing, takes place when group members can focus on getting the job done and all their energy is concentrated on performing.
The case of temporary groups with deadlines (punctuated equilibrium model)
This model elaborates a bit more on the internal processes that happen within a group that can be working towards meeting certain deadlines for their deliverables. During this process we can distinguish usually the first meeting that sets the direction of the group. This first meeting is crucial because during this meeting the implicit beliefs on the group purpose, the level of effort to be expected, the leadership of the group and other important factors tend to appear. These first assumptions tend to remain stable until half-way before the official deadline. Then, at half-way members realize “how they are performing” and start benchmarking the environment to see how others are doing and what are the external requirements. During this transition period teams can challenge previous assumptions and re-organize. After this, the inertia starts again until the last meeting before delivering, which can take long and requires great effort. At this point, depending on how the transition was done, the group can experience great cohesion or conflict.
As some of the most crucial features of group structure we can name the roles of the members inside of the group, the norms, the size of the group, its composition and group’s cohesion. We will see them more in detail next:
1. Work team roles
(Belbin, R. Meredith, 1996)
2. Work team norms
These are shared expectations about how group members should behave. Some examples that are common in most groups are such as scheduling norms, attendance, decision making norms, new members’ acceptance, ways to deal with conflict, work intensity, etc. This norms can develop externally to the group, by intragroup negotiation or discussion, or spontaneously from experience. This process reminds us about the punctuated equilibrium model and about the relevance of the first meetings, where the first norms are settled.
3. Work team size
In general, larger groups are less effective as there are issues with coordination, as well as there is more possibility for social loafing. Moreover, members in large groups usually tend to be less satisfied and motivated.
4. Work team composition
It is still not clearly determined what is the relationship between diversity in a group in terms of attitudes, gender, personality or experience regarding team performance. Nevertheless, more diverse groups usually tend to have more difficulties in the begining, although in case they manage to work together, they can reach higher levels of performance than less heterogeneous groups. It is also important to think about the type of task that is being carried out as diverse groups tend to work better with more complex and creative tasks.
5. Work team cohesiveness
Work team cohesiveness can be understood in terms of the degree to which group members are attracted to each other and are motivated to stay in the group. In cohesive groups members usually tend to interact more with each other, talk more about themselves, and create their own language codes. The relationship between cohesion and group effectiveness depends on the performance norms that exist within the group. High levels of cohesion can be useful at the beginning of the group life, or during periods of high pressure. However, if new members do not enter the group, excessive familiarity can end up leading to lack of flexibility and less group effectiveness.
In order to increase group cohesion, we can reduce the size of the group, try to agree on group goals, spend more time together, stimulate competition with other groups, make group entrance difficult for members, isolate the group or compensate the group rather than individuals.
Group decision making
Some of the advantages of group decision making are that the group tend to have access to more complete information and knowledge to make the decision. The group also tends the have more diversity of views and creativity and a greater acceptance of the decisions taken.
In terms of disadvantages the main ones are that group decision making takes more time, tends to have ambiguous responsibility and can be under conformity pressures. The discussion can be dominated by few members and although decisions are usually more accurate than the decisions of the average individual in a group, they are still less accurate than the judgments of the most accurate.
Nevertheless, if creativity is important, groups tend to be more effective, however, as groups usually take more time to make decisions, they still can be less efficient.
Work team conformity pressures
In situations of uncertainty, the group always puts pressure on us to conform. These pressures affect us more when we really care about our group membership. To learn more about it and get a better picture based on field research, check Asch experiments that showed the real impact of work team conformity pressures.
Groupthink in a work team and its symptoms
Groupthink is known as the phenomenon that occurs when the norm for consensus in a group overrides the realistic appraisal of alternative courses of action. The illusions of invulnerability can create excessive optimism and encourage risk taking. Also stereotyping can take place against those who are opposed to the group and start being considered as weak, evil, biased, spiteful, impotent, or stupid. Direct pressure to conform can be placed on any member who questions the group, being the member couched in terms of “disloyalty”. Also self-censorship can happen for those ideas that deviate from the apparent group consensus, and finally, illusions of unanimity can appear among group members, viewing silence as a sign of agreement.
What factors can increase the likelihood of groupthink?
To name few of them – group cohesion, depending on how much the members are attracted to the group as well as willing to continue their membership. Faults in the group structure observed through a lack of tradition of impartial leadership, lack of norms requiring methodological procedures or homogeneity of members’ social background and ideology. Finally, a provocative situational context that can be observed through the insulation of the group, high stress from external threats, recent failures, excessive difficulties on the decision-making task or moral dilemmas.