Organizations are typically comprised of a variety of teams that help accomplish company goals and meet projections. While individuals cycle through times of higher and lower productivity, teams hold the potential of offering a more steady level of achievement within the organization as a whole. Depending on company structure, there could be permanent teams, temporary teams, committees, workforce teams, cross-functional teams, self-managed teams, task forces and/or virtual teams. Each type of team has a different team structure and function designed to achieve a certain end.

Complexities of Team Structure

While teams are popular within the business world, not all teams are structured in the same way and some teams qualify for more than one label. For instance, a virtual team might meet through Zoom once a week for the purpose of creating a solution to new product packaging. Because they'll no longer meet once that goal is accomplished, they also qualify as a temporary team. Similarly, a permanent team might include people from a variety of departments or disciplines and therefore also qualify as a cross-functional team.

Like families, each team structure has its own particular mix of dynamics and goals. Recognizing the different types of teams and how they work can assist you in creating teams that best serve the needs of your organization. While you could choose to stick to teams that only fall into one category or another, you can just as easily form teams that are comprised of a mixture of two or more categories that best meet your company's needs.

What Permanent Teams Do

Permanent teams form around a central subject or goal and remain in place from one project to another. If the company structure includes a robust human resources department, there's likely a human resources team that helps determine the department's strategies and protocols. The product division is likely to include a product development team that remains in place from one product to the next.

Just because a team is permanent doesn't mean that team members aren't ever replaced. For instance, a professor on the social justice initiatives team at a university might go out on sabbatical and need someone to take her place. Layoffs or other circumstances could also necessitate finding replacement team members or operating with a smaller team. While team members and projects come and go, the permanent team is always in place.

How Temporary Teams Function

Temporary teams form to accomplish an important goal and then dissolve once that goal is met. For instance, when a company structure is too costly, upper management might organize a restructuring team to evaluate ways to cut costs and increase efficiency. Once the new company structure is implemented, the restructuring team no longer exists.

Temporary teams enable companies to redirect employee time and energy to a new task for a short period of time without making it a permanent part of their job description. It also creates the opportunity to bring in temporary employees or consultants in order to meet a goal without having to create a permanent position to sustain their employment for the long haul.

The Purpose of Committees 

Committees are a type of team where people who share similar interests or values come together to achieve a goal. These teams could be permanent, in the case of government committees on human trafficking or international aid. Or, they can be temporary teams, like when church members unite to put on a one-time 5k walk and vigil to address homelessness in their community.

Typically, committees include a leader who helps to facilitate meetings and members who get to vote or have a say in how the team accomplishes its goals. Committee members might be appointed according to their interests, as is often the case in senate committees, or they could be self-appointed volunteers, as in the case of organizing a small community event.

Workforce Teams

Workforce teams are popular in corporate America where employees often work in certain departments under the leadership of one manager who has the goal of helping them give and become their best on the job. For instance, the product division of a utility company likely has a team of engineers that work under an engineering manager. Or, sales representatives work together to meet team quota goals under the leadership of a sales manager.

Workforce teams operate using a lateral management model where each team member may not hold equal power. The manager has more power than each individual employee under them and has the ultimate say in the direction and daily activities of the team.

How Cross-Functional Teams Operate

Cross-functional teams are comprised of people from different departments and with different areas of expertise. For instance, a disaster relief team could include a physician, nurse, chaplain, food service personnel, housing specialist, mental health professional, reunification specialist and a caseworker. These professionals move into areas and work together in order to organize comprehensive care to help victims get back on their feet.

Within a corporate environment, a cross-functional team could include an administrative employee, communications expert, human resources manager and an engineer from the product division. Their chief aim is to bring each of their areas of expertise together in order to strategically plan the best way to introduce a new product to the marketplace and communicate with vendors. This team could meet for one project as a temporary team or meet over the course of multiple projects as a permanent team.

Self-Managed Teams in the Workplace

Self-managed teams are teams that are comprised of equals working together to achieve a common goal. There's no manager or person of authority within the team. Instead, the team functions in an egalitarian way where each member has an equal voice and an equal vote about the direction of the team and the assignment of tasks.

Self-managed teams operate well when they are based on compromise, respect and clear communication. Each team member must be willing to take responsibility for themselves, their own work and be flexible in response to the needs of others on the team. In the psychological services industry, a self-managed team could be responsible for providing mental health care to their client population. While the team as a whole reports to a managing director, all of the mental health professionals on the team are equals.

The Structure of Task Forces

Task forces are formed in order to address a specific problem or concern within a set amount of time. For instance, the North Carolina Institute of Medicine (NCIOM) formed a task force around the perinatal system of care in response to a high infant death rate in the state. The task force is charged with investigating the problem, coming up with solutions and implementing a regional perinatal system by 2020.

In order for task forces to be successful, they need to be comprised of the right people and assigned a clear task and a stated deadline. Some task forces are put into place in order to research inconsistencies within an organization or to address ethical concerns. This could be the case when a CEO or president is accused of money mismanagement or improper relationships with their subordinates.

Virtual Teams in Action

Almost any team can operate in person or on a virtual basis. Gone are the days when a worker had to find a job in an office in order to make a living. These days, many companies offer telecommuting positions and these workers operate as a team, just like teams in an office would. Instead of meeting in a conference room, they meet via conferencing software. Instead of walking to a coworker's office to ask a question, they simply send an instant message.

Virtual teams can be temporary, in the case of a team that meets to update blog posts and articles for a website. They can also be permanent, in the case of call center representatives who meet team quotas from home. Virtual teams enable individuals who live all over the country or the world to work together as if they were sharing a physical office space.

The success of virtual teams depends largely on systems of communication and protocol. When done well, team members are able to work on projects using a shared platform that gives each person access to what they alone are responsible for while allowing them to communicate freely with others. Training can be done using web conferencing, and occasional in-person meetings or conferences gives everyone a chance to connect in a more personal way.

Advantages of Teams 

There's a famous saying, "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together." When companies are trying to go the distance in achieving their big goals and vision, it's often easier to do that with a solid team than by relying on one or two individuals or solitary workers. Teams boast several advantages:

  • Employees work to their strengths: Not everyone is a born public speaker, writer or mathematician. Teams allow each member to focus on what they're most gifted in. 

  • Community: Instead of working in isolation, team members have a sense of community and shared purpose around achieving a shared goal. They get to know one another and form relationships that can increase job satisfaction.

  • Innovation: Two heads are better than one. While an individual could have two or three ideas about how to solve a problem, a team might have 15 or 20. It's easier to come up with fresh solutions when everyone works together.

  • Efficiency: When a team is run well, each member gets to focus on what's most essential for their role in the team while tuning out everything else that's white noise. This means that efficiency can increase while costs decrease. 

  • Accountability: Personal and professional growth are more possible in a supportive team environment with others who are working on the same things. Employees who tend to be less productive when working in isolation are more likely to fulfill job responsibilities when they know their team members are counting on them. 

  • Momentum and celebration: It's nice to complete a task or project when you're working alone, but it's an all-out celebration when your entire team completes a project. This feeling of celebration creates a sense of momentum and healthy competition that carries from project to project. 

Disadvantages of Teams

There's no such thing as a perfect team. While it's true that teamwork often carries people farther than individual work, it's equally true that sometimes an individual just needs to work quickly on a solitary task like checking email or returning phone calls. These tasks aren't well suited to teamwork.

In addition, sometimes the workload is uneven and one or two team members end up picking up a disproportionate amount of work. Personalities can clash and lack of clarity about individual tasks, team structure and purpose can bog things down. Clear team structure, carefully chosen team members and a purpose that resonates helps ensure that the team has more advantages than disadvantages and contributes to the overall growth of your organization.