Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Three conditions that make team participation difficult within an organization.

Another excerpt from my exam paper. I figured all those long hours most be worth more than a grade? Well, if you find it rubbish, please feel free to comment here!

Organizations consist not only of individuals but also to a large extent of groups, formal charged ones and informal - or unofficial - ones. A team could be defined as a tightly knitted group, with the group consisting of interdependent individuals interacting with each other; individuals that share common values and goals (The Association of Business Executives:2008). The key word for the purpose of this paper certainly is ‘individuals’. Individuals might share the team’s vision, they possess however all different cultural backgrounds, levels of education, personal traits, and personal values and goals. In addition, any team is subject to internal and external factors, such as team size, management style, team and individual norms, team tasks and team roles (The Association of Business Executives:2008).

All these factors create potential functional and dysfunctional conflict within not only the team, but also within the whole organization. Research has shown that participation in any form is one underlying cause for conflict (Robbins:1996). Although healthy to a competitive environment (within limits), conflict needs to be accepted as part of human nature, addressed, and resolved in a variety of ways by the organization, the team’s management, or the team’s members in order for the team to be a successful work entity within the organization (Robbins:1996).

McGregor argues that in order to be successful, the teams must be effective and characterizes an effective team by open discussions, with members being prepared to listen and to learn, by reaching decisions by a process of convincing members rather than majority voting, by using situational leadership where different people may lead the group under various circumstances, by accepting healthy conflict as a positive contributor to creativity, by pursuing common goals, and by assessing its own progress (The Association of Business Executives:2008). This paper will highlight some of the issues that arise from a team’s behavior and managerial ways of dealing effectively with it.

Per definition, team members are charged with a common goal that should prevail over their own. The team’s vision most likely is announced to all its members during the early stage of the team’s formation. Tuckman calls this the Forming Stage in his studies (Robbins:1996). In an organizational way of speaking, the team has become a united resource. Of course, no team can interact on its own, neglecting external, organizational, and departmental factors. Teams and its members are pooled interdependent, sequential interdependent, or even reciprocal interdependent (Robbins:1996). Common outputs or inputs, or an exchange of inputs and outputs are shared by teams and individuals. Proper management must therefore be in place to oversee the different entities and to keep their interactions in balance.

Communication, in all its various forms and different quantities, is historically seen as one of the major contributors to conflict in general. This might come from the fact that humans spend a large part of their lives communicating, verbally or non-verbally (Robbins:1996). Wrongly applied, or even wrongly perceived, communication can cause a variety of sources for potential conflict. Goals can be misunderstood, intended meanings can be misinterpreted, especially in written communications or where language barriers exist, and individuals can feel left out of the team, or indeed teams can feel left out of the organization. Research has shown that both too little and too much communication increase the chances for conflict (Robbins:1996). I would argue however that wrongly communicated actions and plans, and wrongly perceived communication contribute as much to misunderstandings and conflict as the sheer quantity does.

Personal - be it individual or team - traits, values and backgrounds also contribute to a large extent to interpersonal or intergroup behavior. Entities, be they individuals or groups, from different ethnic or cultural backgrounds value different standards. These standards may all be very valid, even common, in their respective cultures; they can easily be perceived as unethical, immoral or indeed plain illegal in another society. Equal treatment of staff therefore would hardly result in positive results. Managers and staff need to be made aware of individual differences. However, team members from different backgrounds can complement each other’s thinking when guided properly towards the team’s goals, and should therefore be encouraged to speak out, even when language barriers might restrict proper communication.

Western societies are generally speaking individualistic ones. Western influenced organizations therefore will need to train and raise its employees to become team players. Hiring outside consultants might work if the company’s culture has historically not been one of team work. Setting clear ground rules that commit to open participation is another proven strategy. Roles within the team should always be assigned with a clear scope of work and authority. Arising conflict needs to be turned into win-win situations for the team members by debating and accepting solutions rather than voting by majority. And last, upon achieving the common goal, the team, rather than the individual, needs to be the focus of reward thus eliminating to a large extent the competition factor within the team.

Whatever strategy might work best depends to a large extent on the organization’s structure, its culture and strategy. It is up to the company’s management to find a balance between team play and extreme cohesiveness of the team. The latter could lead to the formation of independent subcultures contradicting, or even denying completely for self-interest reasons, the organization’s vision.

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