Teamwork effectiveness: benefits and challenges
Teamwork has many benefits for both organisations and individual employees – but there can also be drawbacks. In this article, Andrea North-Samardzic outlines how to deal with some common team challenges.
Research has taught us some important things about teams and there are many different models to illustrate team effectiveness.
One of the up-to-date approaches is the ‘Open systems model of work-team effectiveness’. It gives you a roadmap of what to consider when creating, managing or working in a team.
Source: Adapted from Schermerhorn et al. (2014). ‘Teams and teamwork’, Management (5th ed.). Asia-Pacific, Wiley and Sons.
The inputs show everything you need to consider when building a team: all of these factors come into play and impact on the throughputs (or processes) and outputs (or outcomes) of the teams.
There is no exact rule about how a team should be structured because as you can see, there are so many factors that make each team different.
These show all of the tasks you as a team need to agree upon to ensure you are working effectively together. For example:
- what communication channels do we use?
- how do we go about making decisions?
- what are our team’s norms?
- how do we promote cohesion in the group?
- how will we manage conflict when it occurs?
And finally, you will know have an effective team when three things are in place:
- you meet your task goals
- team members are satisfied with the process
- and most importantly, you would like to work together again.
Team-based organisations report many benefits arising from teamwork (McShane et al 2008), including:
- increased responsiveness through a more energised workforce
- increased innovation through more effective decision-making and problem solving
- sustained performance through better products and services
- fewer levels of hierarchy, less middle management, and devolving some responsibilities to the team
- opportunities for multi-skilling team members, providing flexibility to the organisation and more variety to team members
- opportunities for empowerment and autonomy.
As individuals we can derive benefits from team membership too. For example, teamwork fulfils key human needs, such as affiliation (ie the need to belong), social interaction and social support.
There are also many challenges associated with teamwork. For example, modern knowledge workers are less likely to accept traditional hierarchical and authoritarian methods of managing people.
Other challenges that we’ll look at next are social loafing, groupthink and risky-shift phenomenon.
One challenge of teamwork that we are probably all-too-familiar with is social loafing.
Social loafing refers to the tendency of group members to exert less individual effort on an additive task as the size of the group increases.
It is caused by several factors, including low motivation, disinterest, apathy, and even dominant team members taking over, which can often make others in the team lazy.
The extent of loafing rests heavily on the extent to which individual performance can be identified. The more you can isolate individual performance through discrete tasks and responsibilities, the less likely this challenge will occur in your team.
Other ways to combat social loafing include:
- trying to keep teams as small as possible to give team members fewer places to hide
- taking the time to establish team norms where everyone agrees to give maximum effort and participation
- having team members engage in peer review to keep each other accountable
- rotating team leadership and other roles to keep responsibility alive
- pointing out social loafing when it occurs – some people may not even know they are doing it!
Another challenge of teamwork to be aware of is groupthink.
Groupthink occurs when a team starts to think and behave in the same way or when individual members feel reluctant to go against the rest of the team. In both cases, groupthink diminishes the diversity and creative conflict required to make teams successful.
Groupthink is an unfortunate side-effect of overly cohesive teams, which goes to show that some level of healthy conflict is required for effective decision-making. In other words, if people don’t feel confident and comfortable challenging each other, then it is not an effective team.
Groupthink is also caused by time pressures and stress, isolation from other sources of information and a directive, authoritative style of leadership.
It is also characterised by:
- in-group favouritism
- making little effort to search for new information
- a belief in morality of the team
- a pressure on dissenters to conform.
To prevent groupthink:
- be aware of its symptoms
- encourage members to express doubts/question decisions
- rotate the role of devil’s advocate
- show you are willing to accept criticism
- periodically bring in outsiders to break up unanimity and enhance critical reflection.
Risky-shift (choice-shift) phenomenon
A third challenge that you should be aware of is the risky-shift phenomenon.
This is a tendency in group decision-making for members to adopt a more extreme position because there is safety in numbers.
Originally thought to involve the making of more daring, riskier decisions, this phenomenon can also involve greater risk avoidance, so it can be seen as a special case of groupthink.
Either way, team discussions tend to amplify prevailing attitudes so having steps in place to manage team discussions is important. Some ways to do this include:
- encouraging open decision-making
- capturing as much info as possible before making decisions
- seeking out questions and dissenting views
- protecting those who question choices.
Based on this article and drawing on your own experience, what do you think about the ideas raised in this article?
Have you ever experienced social loafing, groupthink or risky-shift phenomenon?
Share and discuss your thoughts in the comments.
© Deakin University