Team Building and Group Dynamics

The purpose of this essay is to consider the various approaches to team building and group dynamics as well as to consider both conventional and virtual team building concepts. According to Maddux and Wingfield (2003), “groups provide the basis for family living, protection, warfare, government, recreation and work, (p. 4). Borkowski (2011) explains that individuals join groups to fulfill basic needs of belonging as described in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Yet, it is apparent that group members realize greater success and satisfaction when formed into productive team units. As team members, individuals feel a sense of ownership rather than on merely the group’s periphery of planning, involvement and decision making, (Maddux & Wingfield, 2003).

Because organizations have progressively sought goal accomplishment through groups and teams, gaining an understanding of the concepts and principles underlying group effectiveness is essential. Within the healthcare sector, critical decisions affecting both healthcare outcomes and patient quality of life result from group processes in the areas of patient safety and risk management. Hence, in order to succeed at managing groups, managers must have a solid working knowledge of team formation both within and outside of the formal group boundaries.

Groups have four basic characteristics, including: 1) being comprised of at least two people; 2) having structural stability; 3) possessing a common goal or interest; and 4) having group member perceptions of belonging within the group. Together, the members interact through verbal, (i.e., talking, listening, providing feedback), and non-verbal, (i.e., body language and gestures), communication.

Occurring across various mediums, (i.e., in person within the same physical space, electronically by phone and computer, and via mail), group member communication attempts to influence one another in achievement of the group mission or goal. It is important to note that during communication, each member individually perceives the meaning and intent of the message differently, and some members are more skillful in delivering their messages than others.

Within groups, members assume specific roles, (i.e., task-oriented roles that facilitate goal accomplishment, maintenance roles that foster and support group member relationships, and individual roles that often promote one’s own agenda at the risk of harming the group).

While all groups possess written or unwritten norms with an inherent code of conduct to guide acceptable and unacceptable group behavior, most are learned through ongoing group interactions and serve as behavior standards for the members.

Thus, in time, group member behaviors become aligned through the socialization process that ensues. Ultimately, factors negatively impacting group cohesion include group size, (i.e., larger numbers limit interaction), social loafing, (i.e., larger numbers decrease effort), lack of group successes, and perceptions of poor group status.

Moreover, powerful group norms and high group cohesiveness often hinder group performance as a result of conformity pressures that influence members perceptions and behaviors toward those desired by other members. Groups often develop within five ordered stages, however, they progress at different rates of speed—with some faltering and failing to fully progress.

Specifically, groups begin by experiencing a forming stage in which members strive to learn the group purpose and norms as well as their place within the group’s social order. Next, groups often engage in storming behavior beset with intense emotion as members struggle for power and position and endure criticism and scapegoating.

Subsequently, the norming stage occurs wherein members experience cohesion and group membership through acceptance of norms, values, behavior standards, and position ranking. Then, in the performing stage, member activities become task-oriented and issues are addressed to further the goal of the group. Finally, the adjournment stage of group development formally terminates the group activities and its membership, (Borkowski, 2011).

Maddux and Wingfield (2003) describe various approaches to building teams. First, effective managers promote training, (i.e., classroom, on-the-job, or online), to enhance team functioning and cohesion. As a result, they provide members with the tools and resources needed to efficiently and effectively perform their roles. Second, successful managers promote team building and goal accomplishment through effective use of their management style.

This involves establishing realistic goals, giving fair evaluation of performance, and serving as a resource to the team. Third, high performing managers utilize effective, two-way communication to establish and maintain strong, collaborative teams. These managers understand the importance of providing needed information to enhance team processes and outcomes. Fourth, effective managers foster team commitment through collaboration. They understand the need for delegating intelligently to maximize the talents employees.

Moreover, they motivate team members toward goal accomplishment through cultivating a sense of ownership within the team. In this way, team members take charge of designing team processes, and the resulting feelings of empowerment and accomplishment satisfy their individual participative needs. Just as important, managers maintain effective teams through facilitating conflict resolution when needed. While conflict can be helpful in promoting exploration of new ideas and concepts, unhealthy conflict within teams must be addressed.

Providing conflict management education and training to team members, (i.e., problem solving, compromise, avoidance, accommodating and win/lose approaches), is very effective in guiding teams through difficult issues that threaten the integrity and cohesion of the team.

While virtual teams have become prominent today throughout the business sector for enhancing productivity and outcomes, they introduce new obstacles and challenges that also require careful attention by managers. Specifically, virtual teams face multiple issues related to their different patterns and types of communication, including “greater propensity for miscommunication,…new trust dynamics,…greater conflict,…and cultural differences,” (Rice, Davidson, Dannenhoffer, & Gay, 2007, p. 568).

Toward improving virtual team outcomes, incorporating formal procedures and structured processes has proven effective. Additionally, in facilitating the healthy formation of virtual teams, targeted technology trainings as well as brainstorming and consensus building are helpful.

For the past several years, the Veterans Health Administration, (VHA), has increased its use of internet technology to host virtual meetings amongst staff employed in over 150 medical centers throughout the nation. The use of this technology has increased team productivity and collaboration while reducing costly travel expenses.

New programs, such as the Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom Program, have been more efficiently developed at the national level through direct input acquired from field level teams of experts providing direct care services to particular populations of Veterans.

In summary, teams are an instrumental medium for goal accomplishment within the healthcare sector. Groups and teams differ slightly in terms of the perceptions of those members involved, however, the team-based perspective is superior from the both the ownership and cohesion perspectives.

The ever increasing use of computer technology has expanded the concept of the physical teams to that of virtual, and both team modalities will experience stages from forming to adjournment. Yet special attention in overcoming the added complications inherent in virtual teams is essential to avoid team derailment.

References:

Borkowski, Nancy (2011). Organizational Behavior in Health Care. Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett Publishers

Maddux, Robert & Wingfield, Barb. (2003). Team Building: An Exercise in Leadership (4th ed.). United States of America: Axzo Press

Rice, Daniel, Davidson, Barry, Danenhoffer, John, & Gay, Geri. (2007). Improving the Effectiveness of Virtual Teams by Adapting Team Processes. Computer Supported Cooperative Work, 16, 567-594