There was a time when just about all employees had their own office and had to do their work on their own, but these days, companies are relying on teamwork more and more frequently. In fact, many offices don't just have an open-floor plan but also have a handful of long tables so employees don't even have their own desks anymore in the hopes that this will increase teamwork.
While healthy teams can increase productivity and provide more creative ideas to solve problems, teams that operate poorly can be problematic to the point where they are less effective than even a single employee working on his own. That is why it's important to keep in mind both the advantages and disadvantages of teamwork before deciding how to organize your employees.
Communication Disadvantages of Teamwork
In order to be effective, the members of a team must be able to effectively communicate with one another. That often means more meetings, which take time even when ran effectively but are often ineffective and can result in a major waste of time and productivity.
Outside of meetings, employees must effectively communicate with one another whether in person, over the phone, via email or by any other communication method preferred by the team. Unfortunately, the larger the group and the more complex the project, the more likely you are to have misunderstandings or communication breakdowns, which can further decrease productivity and even result in conflict.
Modern tools that allow team members to share their desktops and files more easily have alleviated some of these problems (though not all), but there are many disadvantages of Teamviewer, Zoom and similar programs as well, most notably the cost.
The Weakest Link
Remember when you were in high school, and you had to work in a group? Remember how one of your group members would inevitably always slack off because she knew that the rest of the members of the team would want a good grade enough to do her portion of the work for her? Sometimes, it was so bad that you may have even asked the teacher if you had to have a group or if you could just do the work alone. That still happens to some extent in the workplace.
Usually slackers in the workplace aren't so drastically lazy as that team member you had in high school or else they would probably get fired after only a few people called them out, but there are still always people who don't put in their fair share of the work. In office situations, it's sometimes not even the employee's fault that she isn't doing as much; she might simply be slower or less talented than the rest of the group. Even if it's not her choice to be less effective than the other team members, the old saying about a chain being only as strong as its weakest link is true, and when one person doesn't carry her weight, other employees may become resentful or start slacking off, making your team less effective overall.
Just like in high school, sometimes one person on the team working at full capacity on her own might actually be more effective than the full team, and your investment in employee wages would certainly be a lot lower. This is particularly true if you find that your most productive employees prefer to work on their own.
Evaluating Problems in Teams
It can be difficult to evaluate each member's contribution in a team, so finding and eliminating the weakest link is sometimes quite a challenge unless your other employees actually complain, which they usually won't do when things are going well.
Conversely, when things are going wrong, it can be easy to find out each team member's weaknesses because finger pointing is a common problem when things are falling apart with a group. Unfortunately, at this point, each person is often just trying to shift the blame from himself, so it can be hard to find out what is actually causing the problem.
Conflicts Between Team Members
One of the biggest disadvantages of a team organization structure is that conflicts are frequent problems in teams.
Aside from conflicts related to communication, people are likely to end up in disagreements when they have different ideas for how to solve a problem, when they each have competing skills, when one person feels another isn't pulling his weight, when two people are vying to be the leader of the group, when everyone is stressed and tired after working too hard or even when two people just have naturally clashing personality types. With so many potential reasons for conflicts to arise, it almost seems amazing that groups can unify to do anything together.
Some employers try to work around these problems by operating teamwork seminars and training programs to get everyone to work better together and learn how to work past conflicts, but these don't always prevent problems, and they can be very expensive as well.
Some Groups Are Too Homogeneous
Groups that are too diverse can result in conflicts and lost productivity when a dozen different people offer a dozen different solutions to a problem, so some managers seek to remedy the problem by hiring groups of people who are very similar to one another.
While this can be beneficial when it comes to productivity, it can be highly detrimental when your group needs to solve problems. That's because if everyone has similar backgrounds, opinions and ideas, they aren't likely to approach situations from different angles and find more than one solution.
Even if the group doesn't seem too homogeneous, you might end up with the same result if members of your team value group harmony so much that they are afraid to speak out when they disagree with the group. If people are afraid of rocking the boat, it can sometimes be just as problematic as having a group full of conflict.
Everything Takes Longer
Meetings, emails, phone calls, organizing, problem solving, decision making, feedback – almost everything associated with working in a team takes time, even if the team works well together without the added time associated with conflicts and ineffective employees. In the end, this might result in a project taking drastically longer than having each person in the group work on her own, and it could cost you more in wages as well.
Of course, the results you get from a cohesive team can often be far greater than those you get from a bunch of individuals working on their own, as the team will be more likely to be on the same page and will usually offer multiple viewpoints when decisions need to be made. Ultimately, the project itself should be considered when deciding whether a team or a bunch of individuals working on their own would be more effective at creating the desired end result.