Advantages and Disadvantages of Teamwork

Teamwork is used everyday, everywhere in business organisations. It is an important way of bringing people together, developing stronger bonds between members and quickly tackling large projects. There have been many theorists who have developed conflicting theories regarding the pros and cons of working in teams, thus the ageing problem in hand is firstly being able to identify these advantages and disadvantages, and secondly trying to find solutions to reducing or avoiding these disadvantages.

The ability to do this is of paramount importance for leaders everywhere from business managers to mountain explorers, and applies to any type of group environment. With this ability, productivity can be maximised, and better results achieved. This essay will consist of four sections, each pairing an advantage with a relevant or conflicting disadvantage, supporting both statements with appropriate theory. Furthermore, the essay will then take the disadvantage and discuss an appropriate solution to the problem before moving to the next section.

I hope to shed some light on this highly debateable topic, and leave the reader better informed, and better prepared to use the theory of this essay and the conclusions reached in a practical environment. It could be considered that one important advantage of working in teams is the fact that each member of the team is mutually accountable for the team’s actions as a whole. The theory of Cohen & Morman, 1995 helps us to develop this idea further.

They portray this statement as an advantage of teamwork on the grounds that it is a motivator and encourages each team member to work harder for fear of letting the team down. Turner, 1982 also presents a relevant argument in that competition between groups could be seen as a significant motivator within a team. This ties in with our human nature, and having people to impress within our group brings out our competitive streak. However, the validity of these two statements is governed by limiting factors.

Firstly, it highly depends upon how many members there are in the team. As groups get larger in size, there is a tendency for one person to take on more workload and responsibility than the rest of the group, and therefore certain team members may become isolated from the group and become not only less accountable, but also less motivated. There is also the question of whether the team is indeed working in competition with another group or whether they are just working towards a common goal.

If the latter is the case then it could be argued that Turner’s statement has no relevance in the given scenario, because another competing team has no influence on the first team, and hence no psychological comparisons between the two teams can be made by the team members of either team, and therefore there is no competing team to motivate the first team. There is the possibility of group conflict arising as a product of these two theories. Guirdham, 1995 presented the idea of four group norms; Fairness, Reciprocity, Reasonableness, Role Expectations.

Tuckman, 1965 also presented a theory relating to group formation, saying that every group must go through four phases before they start to work effectively together; Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing. If we examine these two theories together we could see that there is evidence to suggest that in the Forming stage of group activity the group norms encourage every team member to get along with each other, respect and conform to these norms. Therefore in the short run each team member is motivated by these norms.

However, once a team member abuses one of these norms, morale could be lowered in the long run during the storming stage, and only when the group finds its feet and begins the norming stage can the productivity of the team increase again. Allport, 1954 presented contact hypothesis as a solution to this problem. Allport argued that the key to resolving conflict was better interaction between members. The foundation of this argument is that interaction consolidates a feeling of group identity resulting in stronger bonds between group members and encourages friendships.

In this way, if we examine Allport’s theory with reference to Guirdham’s, we could see that team members might be less likely to abuse group norms. However, one problem that could arise as a follow on from encouraging team members to become friendly with one another is the idea of groupthink, which I shall discuss shortly. The second advantage I am going to discuss is that group members all motivate one another. In order to provide evidence for this statement it is necessary to re-examine one of the theories mentioned earlier; Group norms (Guirdham, 1995).

Guirdham suggests that every team member is encouraged to adopt these four norms which encourages stronger bonds between the team members and can convert simple group members into friends. This therefore leads to an environment in which everybody gets along. However, it could be argued that there are two major consequences and disadvantages that may arise through this type of approach. I already touched upon the first one; somebody in the group may abuse the group norms and morale may be lowered. The second is the idea of groupthink (Janis, 1972).

Groupthink is the idea that in an environment where people are too friendly, they do not wish to disagree with their team members for fear of upsetting the social environment. Therefore, poor quality ideas are often adopted through lack of contestation, and productivity falls dramatically. “people apparently will seize upon even the flimsiest information if they are motivated to protect fellow ingroup members and … themselves as part of the ingroup” (Beal et al. 2001) We may take it, therefore, that the solution would be to find a way to prevent groups forming such close social bonds with one another that they lower productivity so much.

Clegg & Fitter, 1978 suggested that rotation of group membership is the solution as people are encouraged to make new social bonds with one another and Tuckman’s theory of group formation must be repeated. As a result, groupthink is discouraged through the repetition of the storming phase, and with new people comes new ideas, an important factor in the encouragement of higher productivity. Group identity cannot be ignored as an advantage of teamwork. Tajfel, 1978; Turner, 1991; Brewer and Miller, 1996 presented that staying together in a group for a length of time encouraged a powerful group identity which became stronger with time.

This was seen as a motivator as the group members did not wish to jeopardize the entire group’s identity through the actions of one individual, and the stronger social bond is between the team members, the more this argument applies. Conversely, a subsequent disadvantage of this theory is the presence of social loafing (West, 1996): Members become too sociable with one another and treat group sessions as a sociable event at the sacrifice of group productivity. This encourages group meetings to go on for longer resulting in a fall in the ratio between work achieved and hours worked.

This leads to falls in efficiency. Linking this theoretical basis with the others previously discussed, we may begin to question where the balance lies between the number of group members and the productive outcome of having this many members. Put simply, how many group members are needed to ensure the best productivity ratio is achieved? Synergies (Hall, 1971) is the idea that groups have the ability to outperform their best member. In essence this is achieved by group members “bouncing off each other’s ideas”. In this way, each person in the group delivers more than if they were working alone.

Such advantages include more alternatives, better solutions, fewer errors and more creativity. This is well portrayed in the example of Hall’s “Lost on the moon” scenario (Hall, 1971) This was a team exercise in which members were asked to imagine themselves lost on the moon and having to decide on the priority of items he or she would include on a journey back to the mother-ship. Once the group members reached a consensus of opinion on the ranking of these items, individual and group rankings were compared to those produced by NASA experts.

The group’s rankings were generally superior to the individual rankings. However, the Ringleman effect (West, 1996) is a somewhat contradictory argument to that of synergies because it takes the exact same group characteristics and position in Tuckman’s theory, yet generates the opposite result. The theory highlights the disadvantage of working in groups, suggesting that the more people in a group the less work each individual does. In this way there is a negative correlation between number of people in a group and individual productivity, although productivity as a whole continues to increase.

West argued that the Ringleman effect would occur as a consequence of social loafing assuming that the more people there are in a group, the more sociable the team members will want to be hence the less work each individual will do. The solution to the problems posed by social loafing and the Ringleman effect might be found in setting groups Super Ordinate Goals (Sherif, M. , Harvey, O. J. , White, B. J. , Hood, W. R. , & Sherif, C. W. , 1961). The general theory is that each person in the group is given an individual goal to achieve and is responsible for achieving only that one goal.

In this way, we could see that individuals are pressured into working to their max: when an entire group is working on the same section of a project, seeing exactly who has produced what is ambiguous: when each individual makes their own contribution it is not. When each person in a group is forced to work on their own they are removed from their sociable group environment and therefore social loafing can be minimized. Some concluding remarks: the topic of solutions to combat the disadvantages of teamwork are very subjective as there are many different solutions, all perfectly valid but all in conflict with each other.

I believe much depends on the context and the conditions under which the group is operating. Many conditions that a manager could put a team under would have different effects depending on the group’s size and whether or not they are in competition with another group. This impacts hugely on group identity to which we could conclude that smaller groups or those groups which do not contain many members are less influenced and less motivated by a group identity or social group aspects, and the opposite is true of larger or competing groups.

We must not forget that people all possess different personalities, and therefore whilst introducing super-ordinate goals into a team of extroverts to discourage too much sociable behaviour, in the scenario of a group of introverts it may be more feasible to encourage more group interaction and making the team members work together, rather than on individual projects or objectives. The compatibility of some theories to different group scenarios depends upon the objectives of the group.

For example, a group of people working for a newspaper company might perform better by all having individual objectives to interview different people and compile their findings individually and only combine all their information at the end of the project to write the article. On the other hand, setting individual super-ordinate goals would not work in a raft building scenario in the outdoors due to its hands on nature, requiring many people to work on one objective rather than individuals working on multiple objectives. In the end, the correct solution to choose to combat the disadvantages of teamwork depends on the extent to which the solutions can be instigated, and how compatible they are with the specific problem or scenario. There are no right or wrong answers.

References

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