In the literature pertaining to organizations, one may often encounter the term work team. Some experts have claimed that effective modern organizations need to use work teams. In addition, there is an agreement in the literature that, for organizations to compete in the present day business environment, they should embrace the concept of collective entrepreneurship wherein the whole effort is greater the individual contributions. Studies have consistently reported the positive relationship existing between team-based working and organizational outcomes, such as productivity and quality of services and products. Given the increasing significance of teams, firms are structuring their work around self-directed and autonomous work teams. Carte, Abraham, and Becker (2006) argue that organizations of the future will have to depend significantly on the employee self-management through self-regulating work teams. The heightened interest in teams poses the need to explore the organizational requirements for developing effective work teams, which is the focus of this paper.
Two aspects, namely team performance and team viability, characterize successful work teams. Team performance focuses on output, which entails the production of the designated services or products in accordance to the specification (Kimble, 2011). However, when focusing on measuring the success of the team using output only, there is the possibility of the team destroying itself through the cases of divisive interaction and unresolved conflicts. Consequently, it threatens long-term cohesion and the existence of the team in the future (Carte et al., 2006). In particular, aspects not related to the performance of the team comprise the cohesion among team members, team member satisfaction, problem solving, effective communication, coordination, and clarity in terms of team roles and customs (Kimble, 2011). Other aspects associated with the success of work teams include the stability of the team over time. West (2012) emphasized the importance of interrelationships as a feature of effective work teams. It is also critical to note that teams function in a larger social entity (Turner, 2014). Each social entity level, such as a corporation, a business unit, a work team, and an individual, is influenced by other levels found in the larger social entity. In this respect, work teams are perceived to be influenced by the organizations in which they exist. Consequently, the interaction between the organization and the work team plays a crucial role in influencing the success of the team (Purvanova & Bono, 2009). The important role that the organizational context plays in contributing to the success of the team has been affirmed in the literature. As Kimble (2011) points out, the performance of work teams significantly depends on the conditions under which the teams operate. The following paragraphs identify the organizational requirements for establishing a successful work team.
The first organizational requirement for effective work teams is organizational culture, which denotes the collective values and norms within the organization (Carte et al., 2006). The significance of organizational culture in the development of effective work teams stems from the fact that understanding organizational culture assists in the identification of features and dynamics associated with the workplace. The personality and the character of the organization can be used as a tool for fostering team effectiveness through instilling values that foster effective teamwork, such as openness and communication (Kimble, 2011). Through an organizational culture, a shared commitment to the organization can be developed among members of the team.
Two types of organizational cultures have been identified to be essential when developing effective work teams, which include the communal and the networked culture (West & Markiewicz, 2008). The communal organizational culture draws upon the collective paradigm within the organization. West and Markiewicz (2008) point out that the communal organizational culture does not only focus on results but also on people and processes. The communal organizational culture is crucial in the creation of effective work teams since the emphasis is placed on sociability and high levels of commitment to the organization. Kindness and friendship are also valued in the communal organizational culture, wherein the organization considers itself a family (Purvanova & Bono, 2009). In such an organization, work teams develop a sense of belonging, which in turn enhances the cohesion of the team contributing to its effectiveness. The organization can organize social events and company parties with the aim of strengthening work teams. On the other hand, the networked organizational culture is typified by people knowing and liking one another within the organization. Just like the communal culture, a networked organizational culture usually instills a high degree of socialization among the organizational members. In turn, it translates to high levels of commitment and loyalty to the organization and its goals (Turner, 2014). An important feature of the networked organizational culture that makes it essential in developing effective work teams is the attention paid to the acceptance of people expressing themselves freely and valuing the interlined and codependent nature of work. In a networked organizational culture, people value helping others when needed, which is a core requirement for successful work teams.
Organizational cultures that favor shared expectations associated with success and innovation have been reported to foster the effectiveness of work teams (Sargeant, Loney, & Murphy, 2008). Kimble (2011) profiled the organizational culture of companies that have effective work teams and outlined the core aspects of their culture, which included support for innovation, attention to detail, and excellent service and quality. Organizational culture is a significant determinant of team performance, which can be utilized in instilling some important attributes among work team members, such as commitment. According to Sargeant, Loney, and Murphy (2008), firms seeking to move towards self-managed work teams should set values that are consistent with team autonomy. In general, organizations can adopt the networked and the communal organizational culture to develop successful work teams. Self-managed work teams are likened to mini-organizations that mimic the larger organizations in relation to various aspects, including the prevailing organizational culture, values, and communication styles among others (Turner, 2014). Moreover, organizations can create an environment wherein work teams flourish through support for innovation, emphasis on detail, and outstanding service and product quality. Essentially, the organizational culture should support cooperation and communication between teams within the organization, value teams and teamwork, and support the integration of work teams into the whole organization.
In the literature regarding teams, authors agree on the importance associated with the task. Tasks differ between various work types of work teams. For example, surgery teams spend much time together executing well-sequenced operations, whereas committees tend to spend the majority of their time solving problems (Carton & Cummings, 2012). The underlying inference is that team tasks vary in relation to the activity categories such as tasks demanding interpersonal skills versus tasks demanding technical skills or tasks focused on devising solutions versus tasks focused on the execution of the action plans. Moreover, tasks differ in terms of difficulty, the communication requirements among team members, requirements for coordination, divisibility of the job, and dependence of the outcomes for the team based on the performance of all members (Kimble, 2011). According to Carton and Cummings (2012), the social organization of the team and the design largely depend on the level of technology. For instance, the invention of mechanized coal cutters and conveyors changed the process of coal mining. Previously, miners worked independently; however, the advent of new technology resulted in the creation of novel, specialized tasks that posed the need for miners to synchronize their work in a team-based manner. Some technologies permit members of the team to develop mastery of all tasks, whereas other technologies perform complex tasks to an extent that members of the team are only required to master one task, such as the case of space shuttle crews and music bands (Turner, 2014). In this way, technology determines the social organization associated with the individual roles.
For organizations to develop effective work teams, a fit between social organization, technology and task design is needed. It requires the partitioning of the technical tasks into subtasks of reasonable size that are partly independent (Carton & Cummings, 2012). In an ideal world, teams develop whole products or services and perform tasks designed for member interdependence and collective responsibility for the outcome. In this respect, technology can play a crucial role in determining the aspects associated with the performance of work teams. For teams that repetitively perform the same work such as in manufacturing, the degree to which the team can predict the inputs determines the difficulty of the task. However, for work teams that encounter unpredictable inputs coupled with uncertain outcomes, organizational contents typified by flexible internal coordination and decentralized communication can be ideal (Sargeant, Loney, & Murphy, 2008). Technology also facilitates the co-location of teams across space and time. An example is virtual teams facilitated by the dawn of the Internet era. Moreover, broadband communication technologies are also linking multi-cultural teams across the globe. In addition, in work teams, organizations ensure optimal task distribution between human operators and teams while at the same time taking into consideration the flow of tasks among team members.
The effectiveness of work teams also depends on the existence of a clearly defined purpose or mission in the organizations, which requires setting clear expectations concerning pacing, timing, quality, and output. Therefore, communication of the mission for the team plays a crucial role in helping closely-linked work teams or teams that work in sync with other work units within the organization (Kimble, 2011). According to Turner (2014), the manner in which the team purpose is apportioned significantly determines the level of synergy within the team. Successful work teams tend to leverage different roles of individuals against collective team outcomes. As a result, it is imperative to ensure that members of the team clearly differentiate between their roles and those of other members. Roles focus on the deployment, subdivision, and design of task among members of the team (Sargeant et al., 2008).
Many teams face difficulties when trying to clarify the role of the team members and the team’s mission. Turner (2014) points out a tendency of taking role clarity to extreme levels. In some teams, roles are not clearly defined, resulting in role ambiguities and conflicts among work team members. If the work team cooperates because of its purpose, then clarifying the role and the team mission plays a critical role in fostering the needed cooperation. When tasks are divided among team members, interdependence is created. However, for the interdependence to result in positive outcomes through synergism, collaboration is a prerequisite (Carte et al., 2006). Furthermore, for the interdependence to function effectively, clarity of the mission and the roles of team members is needed. Overall, organizations should seek to clarify the mission of the team as well as the roles of the team members to create effective work teams.
Autonomy is another important organizational requirement for establishing successful work teams. When designing and managing work teams, autonomy usually denotes three categories, including semi-autonomous, self-regulating, and self-designing teams. Semi-autonomous work teams are under the leadership of a supervisor. On the contrary, self-managing or self-regulating teams choose their leaders and control how tasks are divided among team members (Kimble, 2011). Self-designing teams are described as having control with respect to their definitions as work units and external relations. The role of the leader and the manner of the distribution of authority influence the autonomy of the team. A work team can have a chairperson, a spokesperson, a coordinator, a director, a facilitator, a supervisor, a leader, or a manager. Studies have shown that dividing leadership among manager and team members is linked to the maturity and longevity of the team (Turner, 2014). Some authors such as Kimble (2011) recommend that team leaders and managers foster self-management in work teams by not acting as leaders. The result is that the team will build its leadership capabilities when the leader plays a less prominent role. In this respect, organizations should create self-managing teams for the work teams to be successful in the long run.
There is an agreement in the literature, indicating that the effectiveness of the work teams depends significantly on the provision of timely and accurate feedback regarding the performance of the team (Purvanova & Bono, 2009). For instance, positive relationship between product quality and the introduction of systematic performance feedback has been reported (Turner, 2014). With respect to this, Turner (2014) recommended that organizations should use goal setting together with feedback to enhance the team performance satisfaction. Providing feedback regarding the performance of the team requires the use of dependable measurement instruments. Based on the findings of the feedback, organizations can use recognition, rewards, and team training to increase the effectiveness of work teams.
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It is imperative to note that team performance depends on outcome interdependence. Although the performance of teams may be tied to individual efforts, a general recommendation for organizations is to reward and recognize the whole team using various methods such as preferred work tasks, flexible schedules, or monetary rewards (Carton & Cummings, 2012). Rewarding and recognizing team efforts have been linked to increased team performance and satisfaction of team members. Feedback on team performance can also be used to plan training of team members (Purvanova & Bono, 2009). Organizations can adopt team training programs to address areas that need improvement in the team such as technical skills and offering incentives and training for team members to learn new skills for purposes of rotating jobs.
The level of cohesion and communication between team members depends on the degree to which informal face-to-face interactions are fostered through close workstations and open places (Carton & Cummings, 2012). Territories in the work environment have been established to reinforce boundaries among teams and hamper external exchange, detrimental to the development of effective work teams. When work team tasks demand external coordination, conference rooms can be used to facilitate external exchange. In scenarios whereby interruptions to team processes can hamper their effectiveness, enclosed working areas can be used (Carton & Cummings, 2012). Generally, depending on the nature of the task handled by the work team, the design of the physical environment plays a crucial role in ensuring the success of the team.
At MDC, the only requirements available are autonomy, performance feedback, and the physical work environment. With respect to autonomy, teams at MDC work autonomously with minimal supervision. A typical feature of teams at MDC is that they appear leaderless, which means that work teams at MDC are self-designing. Performance feedback on teams is another approach that MDC uses to enhance the effectiveness of teams. Teams are frequently evaluated with respect to the achievement of their purpose and the progress of their assigned tasks. In relation to the physical working environment, the working environment at MDC is characterized by open spaces to foster collaboration and open communication among team members. Moreover, conference rooms exist to facilitate meetings between teams.
With regard to organizational culture, the communal and the network organizational cultures have been identified as playing a crucial role in the development of effective work teams. It is also imperative to build an organizational culture that fosters innovation, cooperation, and communication between team members and teams. The organizational culture should also value and support teams and teamwork. Technology should also be incorporated into the team processes to enhance their effectiveness through ensuring a fit between social organization, technology, and task design. Furthermore, partitioning of the technical tasks into subtasks of reasonable size that are partly independent can help enhance the performance of work teams. Team mission and role of team members should be clarified. Another recommendation for organizations is to use self-deigning teams. Such teams constantly evaluate their performance, work on areas that need improvement, reward members, acknowledge areas of exceptional performance, and design the physical work environment in a manner that encourages openness, communication, and external exchange.
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