Work teams are very prevalent in today’s organizations. The reliance on teams is due partially to increasingly complex tasks, more globalization, and the flattening of organizational structures. A team is a type of organizational group that is composed of members who are interdependent, who share common goals, and who must coordinate their activities to accomplish these goals. Team members must work collectively to achieve their goals. Examples of organizational teams include senior executive teams, project management teams, task forces, work units, standing committees, quality teams, and improvement teams. Teams can be located in the same place meeting face-to-face, or they can be geographically dispersed “virtual” teams meeting across time and distance via various forms of communication technology. Teams can also be hybrids of face-to-face and virtual teams with some members being co-located and some being dispersed. The exact definition of which organizational group is a team or not is constantly evolving as organizations confront the many new forms of contemporary collaboration (Wageman, Gardner, & Mortensen, 2012).
The study of organizational teams has focused on strategies for maintaining a competitive advantage. Team-based organizations have faster response capability because of their flatter organizational structures, which rely on teams and new technology to enable communication across time and space (Porter & Beyerlein, 2000). These newer organizational structures have been referred to as “team-based and technology-enabled” (Mankin, Cohen, & Bikson, 1996). A majority of multinational companies are depending on virtual teams, or teams that are geographically dispersed and rely on technology to interact and collaborate (Muethel, Gehrlein, & Hoegl, 2012). Such teams allow companies to (1) use the best talent across the globe, (2) facilitate collaboration across time and space, and (3) reduce travel costs (Paul, Drake, & Liang, 2016). These virtual teams face more difficulty with members separated by time, distance, and culture. They often have less trust, more conflict, and more subgroup formation. In virtual teams, face-to-face communication is rare, with decisions and scheduling taking more time. With the development of social media, new communication technologies, and software applications for meeting management, virtual teams have richer and more realistic communication environments where collaboration is facilitated (Schmidt, 2014; Schouten, van den Hooff, & Feldberg, 2016; Scott, 2013).
The organizational team-based structure is an important way for organizations to remain competitive by responding quickly and adapting to constant, rapid changes. Studies of both face-to-face and virtual teams have increasingly become focused on team processes and team outcomes (Ilgen, Hollenbeck, Johnson, & Jundt, 2005; Thomas, Martin, & Riggio, 2013). Also, researchers focused on the problems work teams confront as well as how to make these work teams more effective (Ilgen, Major, Hollenbeck, & Sego, 1993). Effective organizational teams lead to many desirable outcomes, such as
· greater productivity,
· more effective use of resources,
· better decisions and problem solving,
· better-quality products and services, and
· greater innovation and creativity (Parker, 1990).
However, for teams to be successful, the organizational culture needs to support member involvement. The traditional authority structure of many organizations does not support decision making at lower levels, and this can lead to the failure of many teams. Teamwork is an example of lateral decision making as opposed to the traditional vertical decision making that occurs in the organizational hierarchy based on rank or position in the organization. The dynamic and fluid power shifting in teams has been referred to as heterarchy (Aime, Humphrey, DeRue, & Paul, 2014). Such power shifting within teams can lead to positive outcomes as long as team members see these shifting sources of power as legitimate. Teams will have great difficulty in organizational cultures that are not supportive of such collaborative work and decision making. Changing an organizational culture to one that is more supportive of teams is possible, but it takes time and effort (Levi, 2011).
Leadership of teams has also become an important area of study. The ideas of “team leadership” are quite different from leadership within the organizational vertical structure. Many theories of leadership, such as situational (discussed in Chapter 5) and transformational (discussed in Chapter 8), can be applied in the team setting. However, team leadership is a unique setting for leadership, and it is very process oriented. How do teams develop their “critical capabilities”? How do team leaders shift their actions over time to deal with contingencies as they arise? How do leader actions promote task and interpersonal development (Kozlowski, Watola, Jensen, Kim, & Botero, 2009)? Effective team leadership facilitates team success and helps teams to avoid team failure (Stagl, Salas, & Burke, 2007; Stewart & Manz, 1995). Effective leadership processes are the most critical factor in team success (Zaccaro, Rittman, & Marks, 2001, p. 452).