What are the advantages and disadvantages of working in teams? By reference to relevant theory show how can the disadvantages be reduced or avoided.
A team is a group of people working together to achieve the same objectives. Katzenbach and Smith state in their report The Discipline of Teams (1993) that ‘the essence of a team is common commitment. Without it, groups perform as individuals; with it, they become a powerful unit of collective performance.’ Throughout this study, I will analyse the many different advantages and disadvantages of working in teams and its effects on team members and their performance and commitment within the team. I will consider many different aspects of team work and refer to certain established theories in attempt to find ways of reducing or avoiding some of the disadvantages that will be discussed. These ideas will be further developed throughout the study.
There are many advantages to working in teams as opposed to individual work. Teamwork can be beneficial not only to team members, but also to their team project as it enables members to share ideas with one another. It is suggested by Fincham and Rhodes (2005) that synergy occurs because discussion within groups generates more alternatives than individuals, tends to eliminate inferior contributions, averages out errors, and supports creative thinking. This indicates that team members can brainstorm ideas together and analyse what are the best decisions to make in order to improve the results of their task. Each member may have very different ideas to share with the rest of the team, this means that the team project will be scrutinised more closely and any parts of the work which may not have been clear can be improved. As team members strive to come to some sort of consensus about what action to take, there must be a thorough decision process taking place in order for everyone to share their views and opinions.
Another advantage that team work generates is the opportunity to build relationships with team members. Teamwork fulfils the affiliative needs of individuals as discovered by Sheldon and Bettencourt (2002). These affiliative needs are the need to be included and the need for relatedness as described by Fincham and Rhodes (2005). In establishing relationships with team members, individuals may begin to feel more comfortable in sharing ideas with the group. It creates a sense of unity amongst team members as they all aim to achieve the same result. This can be more interesting for individuals as the social aspect of team working can make the task seem like less work. Peter Levin suggests in his book Successful Teamwork! (2005) that, you can get the same kind of bonding, exhilaration and mutual support and appreciation in an academic team as in a sports team. This therefore indicates that by having positive ‘’collaborative’’ relationships within the team, team members can help each other with the work and can also make the experience more enjoyable. When members enjoy the work, they are more motivated to be involved in the team work which will ultimately, hopefully improve the final result of the team project.
Team work also develops the skills of its members. It allows team members to expand their ability to debate ideas, work with others and delegate certain tasks. Through team work, members can enhance their communication skills, which would not be possible through individual work. It is vital to have interaction with one another in teamwork, without this, the team will not be effective. Another benefit that you’ll get from working in a team is that it will give you a wider appreciation of ‘learning’. You’ll see that the ability to work creatively and effectively in a team is a ‘skill for learning’ as well as a ‘skill for employability.’ Levin (2005) He suggests here that by improving these vital skills through teamwork, one may become more employable, simply because employers value such skills and often require employees to work in teams. This can make the recruitment process more efficient as employers will not need to spend as much time and money on training employees to improve these vital skills.
Of course with the many advantages of teamwork, one can find several disadvantages of working in teams. A disadvantage of teamwork may be the fact that it is very time consuming and may take members a long time to make decisions, as all viewpoints of team members need to be considered. It may take a while for team members to come to an agreement of what should be done or where to meet and when. To some members, meetings become a chore as suggested by Katzenbach and Smith (1993). During the decision process, there is a threat that not all members are fully participating in the group work or may agree with the rest of the team. Fincham and Rhodes (2005) imply that sometimes an individual’s personal goals conflict with the group’s goals; and if he or she is not prepared to modify his or her personal goals, dissatisfaction with the group becomes almost inevitable.
The individual is then identified as a deviate. This ‘deviate’ member may cause problems in the dynamics of the group, such as conflict between group members or lack of participation from others. If there is conflict in the team or if there are not good relations between team members, individuals may be reluctant to share ideas as they may be intimidated or may fear being judged by others in the group. This is known as Groupthink discovered by Janis (1972). For these team members, team work may not be enjoyable and therefore, they may feel demotivated to do the work and at times may feel estranged from the group.
Theorists such as Belbin (1981, 1993) have discovered that in teams, one can find many different personality types and therefore different roles of team members. In this case it is possible that a member of the team may show more leader like qualities, this could become disadvantageous to the team as the leader may attempt to dominate the group work and not consider the needs or views of other team members. This again could create conflict and unease amongst group members and will ultimately affect the collaboration of the group project.
Levin (2005) suggests that the idea of a team is to share the same objectives. This may not always be the case if team members have never met before and are not fully clear of the task set. This can lead to confusion between members and may mean that some team members are unwilling to be told by their peers what to do. This is an example on ineffective team work.
A further disadvantage of teamwork may be that the team has existed too long and inspiration of new ideas has expired. This idea is discussed in Fincham and Rhodes (2005). There is a risk of team members becoming too friendly with each other and that friendships and professional relationships may be difficult to distinguish. If this occurs, team work is affected as it may be easy for team members to become distracted by personal issues rather than focussing on the task set. In this way team work may become less effective. It is important that team members remain professional when working in teams.
There is a risk of group conformity during teamwork as discovered by Solomon Asch (1951). He found that when giving people a choice many will choose what other team members have decided, even if they know that it is not the right choice. Reasons for group conformity may be that team members do not want to contradict other’s viewpoints, or simply do not want to be seen as making the wrong choice. This is not beneficial to the team work as ideas and decisions are not truly examined and may mean that the wrong choices are made.
In order to reduce or even avoid these disadvantages I will now continue by referring to relevant theories to find suggestions of dealing with these disadvantages of team work.
Firstly, a way to avoid team members wasting time and discouragement during team work is to establish ‘group norms’. These represent the expectations within the group for appropriate behaviour of group members (Fincham & Rhodes 2005). This means that if the group collaboratively decide to adopt a positive and thorough work ethic, each member will hopefully have this attitude to the group task. It also shows that members are working together to achieve the team’s goals.
Team members could focus of the reflexivity of the group to overcome conflict. Fincham and Rhodes (2005) describe reflexivity as the ability of the team to reflect critically on the way it tackles tasks or members relate to one another. Basically, if the team discover that there is too much social cohesion, they may decide to reshuffle allocated jobs to certain members in order to keep the team focussed on the job. It can also make the work more interesting.
In order to have the most effective and compatible team, employers may consider analysing team members according to Belbin’s team model (1982, 1993) as previously mentioned. It was his idea to select members for skill and potential, not personality. (Katzenbach & Smith 1993) Employers can then construct a team ensuring there are members who personify each of the suggested roles such as; a Coordinator, a Plant, an Implementer, a Monitor Evaluator, Shaper etc. This could mean that team members are able to work well together and enhance the project through all the different skills and expertise of each member and role. It also reduces the threat of conflict between members who may portray similar roles such as leadership characteristics; where there could be a struggle of power. On the other hand, there may be a slight risk of members feeling that they need to fulfil the expectations of their roles. This may make them feel under pressure and may distract them from fully participating in the team work.
Another way to overcome conflict may be to carry out ‘Step Laddering’ (S. G. Rogelberg, J. L. Bames-Farrell, & C. A. Lowe, 1992), a technique which enables team members to discuss any issues they may have with the team and any solutions they have to problems which have been raised. For example one could suggest delegating certain tasks to team members in order to take advantage of each other’s expertise. This technique encourages communication between the team members and helps them highlight their problems and find solutions together. A result of Step Laddering is improved relations between team members and developed analytical skills as well as motivation to work hard on the task.
The Ringelmann effect (Ingham et al. 1927) suggests that group performance is dependant on the size of a team. He found that the more people in a team, the less effective the team was. This is because team members relied on others to take control of the task, instead of participating fully themselves. In order to have optimum participation, employers could compile effective teams by using fewer members. If a team of 4 members were created, each of them could take great responsibility in the task and carry out the work thoroughly. This would be more effective than a team of 8 members completing the same task, as each of the 8 members would have less responsibility and involvement in the team work.
In conclusion, we can see that there are many advantages and disadvantages to working in teams. Team work brings many social attributes which one would not find in individual work. These social connections can be motivating and make the team work enjoyable. But, on the other hand, it may put pressure on team members to cooperate and try to work together. At times this may create conflict and a lack of motivation. Team work is also a good way for members to share ideas and create a more detailed piece of work as members come up with suggestions that others may not have considered.
It is an opportunity for team members to develop their communication and learning skills. This is very attractive to employers as it shows individuals are capable of working together to achieve the same objectives. It may not be favourable that team work may be more time consuming, but through work of positive ‘group norms’ and motivation of team members, this problem may be reduced. All in all, teamwork is essentially beneficial, as many things could never be achieved without the work of teams. For example buildings could never be constructed by just one person and a pilot could not safely fly a plane without team work with an air traffic controller. It is in our human nature and at times our desire to work with others, so therefore we should be willing to overcome the disadvantages discussed by considering the suggested theories.
Katzenbach, J. and Smith, D. (1993) The Discipline of Teams, USA: Harvard Business Review
Fincham, R. and Rhodes, P. (2005) Principles of Organizational Behaviour, 4th Ed, United States: Oxford University Press Inc
Levin, P. (2005) Successful Teamwork!, England: Open University Press
Sheldon, K. M. and Bettencourt, B. A.(2002) Psychological need-satisfaction and subjective well-being within social groups, London: British Journal of Social Psychology
Belbin, R. M. (1981) Management Teams: Why they succeed or fail, London: Heinemann
Asch, S. E. (1951) Effects of group pressure upon the modification and distortion of judgment, Pittsburgh, USA: Carnegie Press
Rogelberg, S. G., Barnes-Farrell, J. L. and Lowe, C. A. (1992) The Stepladder Technique: an alternative group structure facilitating effective group decision-making: Journal of Applied Psychology
Janis, I. L. (1972) Victims of Groupthink, Boston: Houghton Mifflin
Ingham, A. G., Levinger, G., Graves, J. and Peckham, V. (1974) The Ringelmann Effect: Studies of group size and performance: Journal of Experimental Psychology