Leveraging employees' collective skill sets through team-centered work has become increasingly popular in American businesses, with many companies hoping to capitalize on synergies created by groups in which the "whole is greater than the sum of its parts." While groups can be effective at times, many companies have found that they have achieved less-than-expected success through teamwork. Research illustrates there are both significant benefits of and challenges arising from working in teams.
One benefit of teamwork is its ability to promote unity within an organization. Many teams are cross-functional, bringing in individuals from several different departments. Additionally, many teams have members of varying levels of seniority and authority, sometimes without a corresponding hierarchy within the team. This kind of collaboration can help create a sense of unity within an organization that can help individual contributors work together more effectively on subsequent projects.
Many teams are insightful and creative because they draw on a variety of backgrounds in terms of expertise, experience and cultural factors. This diversity can lend itself to innovative ideas and cutting-edge solutions that would not be possible without the combined skills and experiences of the team.
Many organizations use teams because they hope that a group of five people will be able to work more efficiently than five individuals working separately. By sharing tasks and capitalizing on the different strengths of various individuals, teams can often accomplish a great deal of work in a relatively short period of time.
At the same time, many organizations have found that teams often fail to work as efficiently as they had hoped. Sometimes the decision making process within a team is such that there is a lack of quick and responsive action. This may occur when the team hasn't established protocol or a process for decision making, or when there is lack of clarity about team leadership. Additionally, many teams fall into the trap of spending too much time planning action and not enough time carrying out those actions.
Communication among team members often is difficult. This might be especially true of teams that have not had much experience working together in the past. Assigned tasks, overall goals and feedback can be misinterpreted, meaning that intended messages are lost and the outcome of the team's work becomes something very different from what had been planned.
While bringing together people from a variety of departments and viewpoints can help foster a sense of unity in an organization, it can also lead to substantial team conflict that can damage the morale of the organization and derail the team's success toward achieving its assigned task.