Keeping up team spirit or motivation within an organisation’s workgroups is also a continuous effort; team members may witnesses problems arising while working together, such as ‘social loafing’7 – that is a team member reduces his/her effort at the expense of others -, ‘free riding’ – that is a team member cuts back because s/he considers his/her contribution as irrelevant -, or ‘sucker effect’ – that is a team member diminishes his/her effort because of injustice or lack of fairness in the team. Such behaviour is dysfunctional for the morale of the whole team.

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Appropriate actions have to be taken for building up the team motivation by having regular feed back rounds, clear expectations, an appreciation of each individual contribution, a good task structuring to reduce redundancies as well as specific actions for cohesion and team orientation. Other factors are equally as important for maintaining good work performance such as the avoidance of conflict8 which can arise under circumstances such as scarce resources, goal incompatibility, communication failure, individual group member differences and poorly designed reward systems.

All of which can cause individuals or groups to become hostile, withhold information and interfere with each others efforts. It is thus imperative to maintain certain conditions in order for the group to reach its optimal potential. Beginning with the Hawthorne studies, and continuing for a century, efforts have been underway to determine the elements of team effectiveness through formulating interrelated theories and frameworks of team effectiveness.

Campion, Guzzo and Hackman, among many others,9 have models of effectiveness that are moderately different; however, the following characteristics are found or are inferred in all three models, and could be used as a checklist of sorts to ensure all of the vital pieces are in place, allowing for a group to become a team and to be highly successful. The group itself is a determinant of group effectiveness10; the social environment a group should be open and supportive, without authority directed problem solving.

Group members should feel that they are equals with others on the team, satisfying the psychological and social needs of belonging, identity, pride and esteem11, and there should be an underlying commitment to team performance rather than individual performance. However, this does not mean members should all have the same abilities; this is referred to as the ‘synergy principle’. A group is more effective when there is a variety of people with different experiences and areas of expertise. Strong interpersonal relationships should be a focus, so the group can function more openly, sharing knowledge and experience.

The environment of the group should also be supportive, with a focus on learning. A variety of educational tools, including experts in the field should be readily available to the team to assist in problem solving. Obviously, communication is also very important between group members and those outside the group. An underlying feeling that the team will be successful in accomplishing the goals they have set is an essential part of the social surrounding. This element of potency is defined ‘group ideology’ and is considered critical in all three models of effectiveness.

Participation should be emphasized and all ideas should be listened to without domination by a strong group member or by a supervisor. Some groups find it helpful to have a devil’s advocate, who constantly reminds the group of how things could go wrong, thereby keeping the group open to creativity and thinking everything through thoroughly. Leadership, direction and management style based on absolute standards of honesty and integrity are vital. The team should have clearly defined goals to which all team members are committed.

The group itself should set the goals; they should not be imposed upon the group by a supervisor. The individuals in the group should also have goals, which are linked to the group’s goals so the members work together in achieving. This is referred to as goal interdependence. An underlying theme is that the team has the ability and desire to accomplish these goals. Leadership should be a shared group responsibility, not a delegated position. Each member should feel responsible for the team goals and they should also feel that the task at hand is important and will have an impact outside of the team.

Because team members have different skills and abilities, the leadership role will likely change as the goals and dynamics of the team changes. Also, it is critical that the team is self-managed; management may act as a facilitator, but should not undermine the goals and direction the group has made for itself. In light of the many contributing factors which impair group functionality and the considerable amount of research into group effectiveness covered by dozens of models and frameworks, one can only surmise that ‘getting it right’ is a complicated and overestimated task.

History has repeatedly illustrated that effective teamwork is not the automatic result of just bringing team members together to accomplish interdependent tasks. Failure to master an understanding of the factors that influence and are influenced by team effectiveness can result in catastrophic events12 including plane crashes, plant explosions, and failed military engagements that could have been prevented or contained had the group members in those events been able to overcome the effects of stress to act in the most productive fashion.

The destruction of NASA’s Challenger spacecraft in 198613 without the ability to account for the disaster despite teams of brilliant scientists also draws attention to the fallibility of teams. To return to the original question; ‘Are groups a fashion or a necessity? ‘ I must conclude that the advantages that accrue from team-orientated workgroups exceed the inevitable expense and organisational structure changes that follow from team working strategies.

In the face of globalisation and ‘information overload’14, fierce competition between organisations and an accelerating rate of change to operating environments and learning requirements has ensued. The substantial levels of change which are ongoing in organisations and nations seeking to adapt and prosper has eventuated the reduction of traditional, hierarchical structures in favour of teams and multi-team systems.

Thus, it is only natural that teams have become the norm within business environments and the continued use of team strategies is motivated by the business community’s value of teams, and not for ‘fashionable purposes’. Whilst business trends are often imitated due to the ‘everybody’s doing it’ principle, the underlying factor behind such imitation is often the desire to remain competitive and follow organisational practises which appear to generate productive results.