Groups and Teams Organisational Analysis

 

Introduction:

It is argued by many that
modern organizations have evolved. What was once a simple collection of
individuals has evolved in to a network of interconnected teams (Kozlowski and
Bell, 2003). In today’s society groups and teams are presented as an
all-encompassing solution to all organizational problems, with many
organizations claiming that their entire structure revolves around teams and
their higher mode of functioning. However, critical management scholars
assert that a more in-depth analysis of this model must be considered. This body
of work agrees, as mainstream scholars present arguments based on shallow
research, and a more substantial argument is needed in order to actually
understand the merit of the groups and teams structure. This must be done
without dismissing the actual merits of the same. In light of this, key terms
will be defined, followed by a detailed analysis of the benefits and
limitations of groups and teams, interlinked with an examination of the perspectives
offered by critical management scholars.

 

Definitions:

For the purposes of this essay a team will be defined as “a small number of people with complementary skills
who are committed to a common purpose, set of performance goals, and approach
for which they hold themselves mutually accountable”, (Kozlowski and Bell,
1993).
Groups often operate in a larger, wider context, consisting of a small number of people working together in an organizational environment (Katzenbach
and Smith, 2005). Moving forward, this essay will use the terms ‘groups’ and ‘teams’
interchangeably, taking either to refer to a collective of individuals, reliant
on one another in pursuit of a singular goal (Clegg, Kornberger and Pitsis,
2011). This will be done for the sake
of clarity because enforcing a distinction here adds no merit to the argument,
as many scholars believe that groups transition in to teams (Huczynski and Buchanan, 2013). The difference
highlighted is that groups are simply still in the ‘forming’ stage of Bruce Tuckman’s
model (1965), whereas a team is a group that has successfully transitioned
through the ‘storming and norming’ phases, arriving at the performing stage
(ibid) essentially making them indistinguishable.

 

 

Mainstream Views:

Moving forward, mainstream scholars
believe that teamwork is an all-encompassing solution to organisational
problems regardless of what sector of the workplace they relate to. Such
theorists argue that the singular means for an organisation to perform
efficiently is through the implementation of teams (Drucker, 1992). Their
research suggests that teams provide multiple, unconditional benefits for both
organisations and the employees (Osterman, 1994), such as higher productivity and
job satisfaction. In this manner, issues relating to learning, motivation and
efficiency can all be resolved through this structure (Yevu and Reedy, 2012).

 

Under this
framework, organizations will arguably see an increase in versatility, as well
as in profit (West and Dawson 2005). They argue
that this is likely a result of different employee skills being brought
together, allowing their now shared expertise to help organizations achieve
complex tasks more efficiently (Huczynski and Buchanan, 2013). Not only this but
employees are made happier by having their social needs met (Mueller 1994) thus
creating a sense of belonging, which must be an unconditional positive for the
business (Learmonth, 2009). This is bolstered by the fact that such a structure
is likely to lead to the division of labor, which ultimately results in the
specialization of members in certain tasks therefore further increasing
productivity (Glassop, 2002).

 

In the eyes of
mainstream scholars, teams exclusively create a host of organizational benefits
such as faster decision making, reduced dependency on certain individuals,
increased commitment and a collective task
responsibility attitude (King and Lawley, 2016). This can lead to the creation
of a ‘lean production’ system which focuses on improving efficiency and reduces
waste to an extent that productivity is improved as a result (Contu
and Willmott 2005). It
is argued that only teamwork can lead to the creation of such a system, as it
encourages employees to work ‘smarter’ rather than ‘harder’ thereby increasing
efficiency and reducing waste, a change attributable to the emotional and
psychological support to be found within a team structure (Glassop, 2002). Nonetheless, despite these numerous
potential advantages, it is the stance of this body of work that teams cannot
be viewed as an all-encompassing, infallible solution to all organizational
problems because different situations require different approaches, and teams
cannot operate at maximum efficiency in all possible scenarios.

 

Mainstream
Criticisms, A More Critical Approach:

In-depth research has shown that while teams
apparently have a positive impact on organizational performance in a general
sense, this does not denote a positive correlation between the two. In
actuality, there are a host of variables and factors that must be taken in to
account when measuring the successes of teams and their impacts on an
organization on an almost case by case basis (Huczynski and Buchanan, 2013).
Mainstream scholars do indeed cite some of these ‘potential’ issues that can
negate the positive impacts of the team structure, but not in a critical manner
and only in an attempt to belittle them. Some of these more significant issues include
group conformity, social loafing, group think and social facilitation, each of
which will be critically assessed in order to showcase the potential danger of
team structures.

 

Group conformity and group think are
rather similar. Group conformity occurs where members develop a ‘team identity,
thus creating a psychological pressure for them to conform with the majority
decision regardless of whether or not they believe it is correct. It is quite literally birthed from the strive for acceptance and the psychological
yearning to belong (Diamond and Allcorn, 1987). Group think on the other hand,
arises wherein a group attempts to achieve an immediate agreement due to the
aforementioned team mentality. As a result, they fail to sufficiently consider
possible alternatives which may have been superior solutions (Janis, 1971).
What these phenomena prove is that groups put pressure on individuals to think
a certain way, therefore curbing the argument that they create innovation. When
operating alone, an individual establishes their own frame of reference to act
upon, but in a group scenario, individual perspectives are numbed and subtly
adapted to fit in line with group norms leading to conformity (Sherif, 1936). Their desire to reach a unanimous decision
overrides their ability to critically assess the best course of action (Janis,
1982). The work done by such a team is likely to be of less quality and
originality than that of each member acting alone. This, for obvious reasons,
is bad for organizational performance. Mainstream theorists contest that this
can all be avoided by creating groups featuring members of various genders,
backgrounds and ethnicities in order to increase diversity of perspectives, however, as this essay will now address, diversity of race and gender
is does not equate to diversity of thought (Noon, 2014). In fact, the argument
of diversity directly contradicts another organizational necessity, culture.

 

Culture in this
context refers to “the collective programming of mind”, (Hofstede, 2001), the
‘glue’ that holds an organization together through a shared pattern of meaning
(Siehl and Martin, 1984). Such culture is essential in a group setting as the
culture of any given group will be a product of their reason for being, i.e.
the task at hand. As a result, members must attain and conform to social
knowledge required to function in this new context in order to participate
effectively within the group
(Levine et al, 1991). This directly counters the argument for diversity as, Hurley
(1995) found that there exists a direct link between group innovation and
culture, but despite this potential advantage, individuals find it difficult to
conform to group culture due to differing perspectives wrought from diversity.
In essence, the solution proposed to the issue of one problem simply generates
another, showcasing that groups and teams are indeed inherently flawed, and
that mainstream theorists ultimately contradict themselves in an effort to
prove otherwise.

 

Moving forward, social loafers are those
workers who are content to reduce the amount of effort put in to work when put
on team (Karau
and Williams, 1993). Such workers essentially
exert themselves less and rely on others to complete the task assigned (Harkins
et al). Ringelmann (1927) conducted an experiment which suggested that in tug
of war, the person positioned in the front put in less effort when he was led
to believe that those behind him were able and willing to do the majority of
the work (Kravitz and Martin,
1986). Social loafers such as this are less willing to engage, formulate and
innovate, as they are of the belief that their work will have a minimal effect
on the final outcome of the team (Harkins and Petty,
1982), or that their efforts simply will not be recognised (Karau and Williams
1993).

 

Another, less ‘mainstream’ phenomenon
with similarly negative connotations is called social facilitation. This is
when group members feign efficiency by working harder on simple tasks because they are being watched (Norman
Triplett, 1898). This could easily result in time wastage and an inefficient
use of resources as well as friction between hard working team members and
those that are slacking. Both this and social loafing are catastrophic for the
integrity of the groups and teams structure, as they demonstrate how employees
within this system may over or underwork, wasting time, resources and reducing
company productivity overall. Mainstream theorists occasionally acknowledge
this, but assert that such issues will only occur when teams are not
implemented with ‘wisdom’ (Katzenbach and Smith, 1993). In reality, most
mainstream research is lacking in critical analysis and is biased. Yes, some research has
demonstrated a link between teams and productivity, but other research has not (Wall et al., 1986), thus proving that such a link is
ambiguous at best and cannot be hailed as an unconditional and absolute truth.

 

Therefore, mainstream approach is not in depth nor accurate
enough and as such cannot, the analysis it would present on the statement in
question, ‘whether or not groups and teams can be an all-encompassing solution’
cannot be trusted. This essay will now directly consider the claims of critical
scholars who assert that a more analytical look must be taken to understand the
effects of groups and teams on organizational function.

 

Critical research has shown that the results of practical
experiments with teamwork have not always been as positive as what mainstream
reports would lead one to believe (Parker & Slaughter, 1988). Critical
perspective scholars disagree with much of what mainstream theorists have to
say about groups and teams. For instance, the critical management perspective
disagrees almost entirely with the aforementioned mainstream interpretation of
lean production, in fact, this is one of its central criticisms (Ezzamel and Willmott, 1998). In actuality, lean production leads to work
intensification. Workers are made to work both harder and smarter, as opposed
to the ‘win-win’ ideology presented by the mainstream media, due to higher levels of responsibility and autonomy (Adler, 1993). They are correct in labelling lean production
the more efficient option, but critical management scholars point out that
efficiency for teams means exerting more effort utilizing less resources (Klein, 1989). In most company
settings, human labour is the main resource. This means that teams do not
necessarily benefit workers as they do firms. In fact, some may say that this
structure is exploitative of the staff.

 

Furthermore, teams create a prison of consent for employees,
forcing them to work longer, harder hours, but doing so in a manner that makes
it almost impossible to resist. It is argued that any worker who wishes to
openly resist peer surveillance is shamed in to silence, as to speak up would
mean being made to feel unworthy as a teammate. As such the team becomes a cage
of sorts for them (Barker, 1993). There is a great degree of evidence that
working in teams is stressful for most people, as they are forced to continually
forced to perform at their optimum capacity lest they be marked inadequate by
their teammates which can lead to high tensions in the work place (Sinclair
1992). While this may improve business efficiency in the short term, in the
long term, employees are sure to break down or start making errors due to the
sustained high degree of stress thus negatively affecting organizational
productivity as well as worker satisfaction. What’s worse is that there is a
clear correlation between physical and psychological work injuries and job
intensity. Increasing one means increasing the other (Landsberger, Cahill and
Schnall, 1998) which essentially means that teams are an unsuitable model for
long term organizational problems as the longer they exist, the higher the chance
of one’s workforce being incapacitated.

 

The problem with
mainstream organisational analysis is simple: there is not enough critical
thought put in to the less savoury elements of the current subject and so the
study of groups and teams has become divided in to what some might call a light
and dark side. What must be realised is that considering this ‘dark side’ does not
negate the ‘light side’, but instead gives it more credibility as a fully
fleshed out area of study (Clegg, Kornberger and Pitsis, 2011). There should be
no division between these two sides. The mainstream and critical perspectives
should complement each other in a ‘yin-yang’ relationship (Hanlon,
2015; Linstead et al., 2014), as neither is truly conclusive on their own. This
essay has focused heavily on the reasons why mainstream ideals cannot be taken
at face value, but the alternative presented in the critical approach is not
without fault either. For instance, many of the assumptions made under the
critical approach take agency away from employees (Contu and Willmott 2005).
One must believe that workers are oblivious to the organisational agenda to
justify many of the critical arguments which in most cases is not true.

 

Conclusion:

In closing, mainstream approaches have not challenged the
idea of groups teams to a reasonable degree and as such their arguments cannot
be taken at face value when asserting that they are an ‘all-encompassing’
solution to organizational problems. Not only is their success tied to various
situational factors such as culture, but they have their disadvantages such as
group conformity, groupthink, social loafing and social facilitation which
cannot be ignored. While it is true that certain steps can be taken at times to
reduce the likelihood and effect of these issues arising, there is enough
evidence to prove that teams cannot be taken as a solution to all
organizational problems. Each situation must be critically analyzed to
determine whether it would be better handled by a team or by individual
employees, as teams are not always the best option but are not entirely
obsolete either.