Not all Teams are the Same
Now that we have an understanding of the background of teams and potential strengths of individuals that can be utilized in a team environment, we can begin to explore how these can begin our exploration into what types of teams there are and how they can be best utilized.
This is important, because, just as a cricket team would certainly lose against a baseball team in a game of baseball and vice versa, this concept applies equally to the work place. The different types of teams that exist in the workplace are crucial for achieving organizational goals and maintaining organizational health. And each team has varying roles to accomplish tasks, solving problems, and drive innovation.
“A cricket team would certainly lose against a baseball team in a game of baseball and vice versa.”
This is not to say that employees cannot be on more than one team in the same workplace. Humans are quite versatile, especially when they feel respected. Businesses will always be in competition, and most leaders understand the importance of adapting in order to continually move forward. This is naturally merged with an understanding that there are basic things that are mostly static that must be achieved to maintain the existing system, while there needs to be a certain amount of research and development for the business to remain sustainable in the future.
A well-known example of managing this was Google’s implementation of the ‘20% time’ policy. Google allowed its employees to dedicate 20% of their workweek to pursue self-directed projects of their choice. This policy aimed to provide individuals with the autonomy and freedom to explore their own ideas and passions, even if unrelated to their current job responsibilities. Notably, projects such as Gmail emerged from this initiative, showcasing the potential for breakthrough innovations when employees are given dedicated time for personal exploration.
The employees’ other work hours were spent on existing projects that were either already bringing income into the company, or projects that had been signed off by upper management in the hope that they would become profitable in the future.
We are not advocating that all companies should follow this same formula, but for Google, through combining these two concepts, they were able to create an environment that embraces both structured teamwork and individual autonomy. This balance also helped to foster a culture of collaboration, empowerment, and continuous improvement.
“People can be part of multiple teams with multiple team structures and management goals.”
So following this example, we have categorized teams into two broad groups: Project Teams and Self-managed Teams. Each of which are then delineated into sub-teams.
Project teams are made up of a number of individuals who work together to accomplish a common goal or objective. They enable the organization to work in a precise and quantifiable manner. They make it easier to delegate precise timelines, team roles, and duties. Depending on your team’s goals, you can choose project team members who are informal, self-teaching, and self-mentoring by blending people with and without expertise.
The team categories: functional, cross-functional, matrix, and contract teams all fall under project teams.
Self-managed teams, as the name suggests, are generally self-directed teams or autonomous teams, where a group of individuals within an organization who have the authority and responsibility to manage their own work processes and make decisions collectively. In self-managed teams, traditional hierarchical management structures are minimized, and team members are empowered to take ownership of their tasks and collaborate to achieve shared goals.
Virtual and operational teams fall under this category.
Teams with diverse tasks from the same department form functional teams, which are permanent in nature. Each team member reports to the assigned manager, who is responsible for overseeing the team’s activities. These teams are commonly found in businesses that follow traditional project management practices.
In our ever-evolving and specialized world, project teams often find the need to collaborate. For example, a development team may come up with a groundbreaking concept. However, an R&D team may be required to assess the idea’s feasibility and determine the most effective implementation method. Subsequently, the marketing department is needed to introduce the resulting product to the market. All of these steps must be completed before the sales team can actively promote the product.
The process of functional teams collaborating can be likened to passing a baton in a relay race. A manager plays a crucial role in overseeing the entire process to ensure its smooth operation. The manager ensures that there are no obstacles hindering the transfer of work between teams and that each team is aligned with the same end objective.
“Functional Teams are generally a traditional project management team structure liked to passing a batten in a relay race which requires direct manager oversight.”
- Executes routine tasks
- Projects are under the direction of line management
- Combines professional and technical knowledge
- Difficult communication across areas
- Pushing the decision-making process upwards
Cross-functional teams are formed when individuals from multiple departments collaborate on a single project. These teams are frequently formed to carry out projects that call for various specialties in order to achieve the specified goal. In this increasingly complex world, the necessity for cross-functional teams is growing globally, but not without issues.
Although an outlier, the Manhattan project, which started in 1942 under the management of Oppenheimer illustrates the difficulties in cross-functional teams.
This project was one of the most significant scientific and engineering endeavors in history where the concept of a multidisciplinary teams played a crucial role in its success. In a collaborative effort of scientists, engineers, mathematicians, and various other experts from diverse fields, the project’s objective was to develop the world’s first atomic bomb during World War II.
Recognizing the complex nature of nuclear physics, the project leaders understood the need to bring together individuals with a wide range of expertise. Physicists, chemists, metallurgists, and engineers worked collectively, leveraging their respective knowledge and skills to overcome the intricate challenges involved in atomic bomb development. The multidisciplinary approach fostered innovation, as experts from different fields shared insights and perspectives, leading to breakthroughs in scientific understanding and technological advancements. This integrated team structure ensured that the Manhattan Project could draw upon the collective expertise of numerous disciplines, resulting in the successful creation of the atomic bomb and profoundly shaping the course of history.
However, it should be noted that the development of the atomic bomb during the Manhattan Project faced challenges as teams were not always allowed to be fully informed about the progress and projects of other teams. This lack of transparency and information sharing sometimes resulted in slower progress and duplicated efforts within the project.
Though the Manhattan project is an outlier in the extremities in which teams were not always made aware of all available information or the true goal, it still holds true that in all organizations, there is a degree information that cannot be made public for various reasons. Further, each department have their own management or leadership which can result in team members having to work with more than one set of expectations or at least report to multiple persons which can easily lead to frustration or decrease motivation in the work place.
“Cross-functional Teams are formed when individuals from multiple departments are needed to collaborate on a single project.”
There will always be issues to consider and be intentionally aware of when working with cross-functional teams.
- Quicker execution of tasks
- Capable of managing a variety of projects
- Source of unconventional ideas
- Cohesion takes a long time to build
- Management can prove to be challenging
- Conflict can result from diversity
Matrix Teams are an offshoot of the matrix management methodology where team members report to numerous managers for different aspects of the task.
Let’s imagine your company designer was tasked with creating a design for a new product that marketing had come up with and that R&D had determined was possible. By being a part of this project, your designer now has two managers: a project manager who is primarily concerned with getting the design done, and a functional line manager who is in charge of their training, career development, and daily tasks.
Employees frequently experience the difficulties of dual command. Your designer now has to report to two managers, who may give him conflicting instructions, which causes confusion and frustration while management feels they are successful in maintaining control over the project without being involved in day-to-day decisions, employees frequently face these dual command difficulties.
In the iconic film Office Space, there is a scene that resonates with many viewers. The office worker and protagonist, Peter Gibbons, is called to face the two consultants, Bob Slydell and Bob Porter, affectionately known as the Bobs. What follows in this particular moment in the movie, though using hyperbole, perfectly illustrates the frustrations that many of us encounter in our own work lives.
During the interview, Peter is asked about his current work situation, and he responds with refreshing honesty. He reveals that he is burdened with the responsibility of answering to not one, not two, but a staggering eight different bosses. This revelation strikes a chord with anyone who has ever felt overwhelmed by the demands of multiple supervisors, each with their own unique set of expectations.
Peter goes on to explain the detrimental effects of this convoluted management structure. The multitude of bosses leads to confusion and a lack of clarity, making it nearly impossible for him to prioritize tasks and meet everyone’s demands. This lack of efficiency and coordination not only hampers productivity but also dampens job satisfaction.
While this this scene is shown in a comedic fashion, his frustration is relatable to many individuals working in the corporate world, and serves as a reminder of the challenges faced when navigating a complex chain of command, which can often feel overwhelming and demotivating.
“Matrix Teams are an offshoot of the matrix management methodology where team members report to numerous managers for different aspects of the task.”
By highlighting this common workplace issue, Office Space illustrates how having more layers of management can have a negative impact on employees morale and overall organizational effectiveness.
This is not to say that teams should not work in this fashion. Only that managers should be particularly aware of the negative issues that may inadvertently be created.
- Favorable to established managers
- Flexibility for personnel who are assigned
- Operations management oversees projects but stays out of day-to-day operations
- Multi-way reporting
- Team leaders generally have no control over who will work on the project
- Complicated performance review
Contract teams are external teams that are hired to complete a specific portion of a project and are bound by a contract. They are generally specialized or focused clearly on a well defined objective. Once the project is finished and the contract expires, the client has the freedom to sever all relations with the team without any questions asked.
The key to success in project teams lies in the project manager. They are responsible for maintaining constant communication between the client and the team, especially in cases where contract teams are working remotely or on non-visual tasks. Additionally, the project manager must take full accountability for the success or failure of the project.
Gerald M. Weinberg, an American computer scientist, author, and teacher specializing in the psychology and anthropology of computer software development, has provided valuable insights on contract teams. His most renowned books, “The Psychology of Computer Programming” and “Introduction to General Systems Thinking,” are highly recommended for study.
His renown gained strength after he had been working in the computing industry at IBM in the 1950’s where he later participated as Manager of Operating Systems Development in the Project Mercury with NASA which aimed to put a human in orbit around the Earth. His books now today are still sought for by those interested in systems management, and consulting.
Weinberg’s philosophy regarding contract teams can be summarized by his belief that temporary, well-defined teams with explicit agreements are an effective approach to organizing work. He recognized that traditional team structures often face challenges such as unclear roles, power struggles, and communication issues. In contrast, contract teams operate based on explicit contracts or agreements that clearly outline the team’s purpose, objectives, roles, and responsibilities.
Weinberg advocated for the use of contract teams to leverage the expertise of individuals with specific skills, ensuring that each team member’s contributions align with the project’s goals. By clearly defining the boundaries and expectations of a contract team, he aimed to minimize conflicts, enhance productivity, and drive successful project outcomes.
Furthermore, Weinberg emphasized the significance of effective communication and negotiation within contract teams. Open and transparent communication channels, coupled with a collaborative mindset, were deemed essential for resolving conflicts, clarifying expectations, and fostering a positive working environment.
“Contract teams are external teams that are hired to complete a specific portion of a project and are bound by a contract. They are generally specialized or focused clearly on a well defined objective.”
- Experts’ employment is simple
- A group may utilize the current management structure
- No client education is required
- Client assessment of project progress is challenging
- Difficult to resolve political and organizational issues
- The sole determiner of success is the client
Self-managed teams typically consist of coworkers who work for the same company and, despite having a variety of goals, are united in their pursuit of the same goal. Since there is no manager nor an authority figure, it is up to the members to establish the guidelines and standards, deal with issues as they emerge, and share accountability for the outcomes.
Valve Corporation, which started in 1996 to create games is one of the best examples of this. They made fame world-wide with the release of their first-person shooter game Half-Life in 1998 and quickly realized that if they were to grow while also maintaining the energy and creativity of staff, they were better off sacrificing some positives allowed from a traditional management in order to allow staff to flourish.
By 2012 Valve employed approximately 300 people who do not have established job descriptions or superiors. Instead, they were required to work together on individual or group projects and are responsible for providing their own customer support.
In their publicly available Employee Handbook (see bibliography), they explain that “In 1996 we set out to make great games, but we knew back then that we had to first create a place that was designed to foster that greatness. A place where incredibly talented individuals are empowered to put their best work into the hands of millions of people, with very little in their way… Although the goals in this book are important, it’s really your ideas, talent, and energy that will keep Valve shining in the years ahead. Thanks for being here. Let’s make great things.”
On following pages, and most importantly, “When you’re an entertainment company that’s spent the last decade going out of its way to recruit the most intelligent, innovative, talented people on Earth, telling them to sit at a desk and do what they’re told obliterates 99 percent of their value. We want innovators, and that means maintaining an environment where they’ll flourish. That’s why Valve is flat. It’s our shorthand way of saying that we don’t have any management, and nobody ‘reports to’ anybody else. We do have a founder/president, but even he isn’t your manager. This company is yours to steer—toward opportunities and away from risks. You have the power to green-light projects. You have the power to ship products.”
It’s important to note that Valve is not a publicly listed company which allows them their own autonomy outside of share holders or investors etc., which has probably allowed them to create this mantra company wide. For organizations that have stake holders, it may only be possible to create autonomous teams in specific areas rather than across the entire spectrum.
However, Valve’s ability to do this does show that it can be done with positive results. Because they are a private company, there is also is no evidence that self-managed teams are necessarily more productive, however, research has found that members of autonomous teams feel more valued at work and regard their jobs to be more gratifying.
When creating a self-managed team, you must consider the level of accountability required, and how much independence should be granted to them.
“Autonomous Teams are self-managed teams which typically consists of coworkers who despite having a variety of goals, are united in their pursuit of that goal with no manager or designated authority figure.”
- Employee motivation is enhanced by autonomy
- Team members have the ability to manage their own time and complete work as they see fit
- An office is not always necessary
- Pride in a team’s accomplishments is engendered by shared accountability
- When hierarchical authority is lacking, personal relationships may take precedence over sound judgment
- It may result in uniformity, which stifles imagination and critical thinking
- Taking on an additional level of responsibility takes time and demands abilities that some people just don’t have
- Due to a wider range of responsibilities, training time and expenses are higher
Virtual teams are made up of members that work remotely and mainly rely on communication tools to accomplish their goals. Virtual teams enable business owners to hire the greatest subject matter experts, even if they are located on another continent, and give team members a better life-work balance.
WordPress developer Automattic is one of the companies that has had the most success with utilizing a virtual staff environment. P2, one of their WordPress plugins that enables real-time communication between employees, is used by hundreds of people world-wide to work on open source code to continually develop and create new initiatives for the company. Due to the cost savings in office space and furniture etc., new hires receive the newest MacBook, a $2,000 stipend to upgrade his home office, and an open ‘time off’ policy that they can use if or when they need to.
Although it might seem improbable, this philosophy is one of the main reasons Automatic has been successful. Today, WordPress powers a significantly large portion of websites worldwide.
Most may consider virtual teams to be a recent phenomena, but Automattic has been working with these conditions since the early 2000’s. And even more staggering is that this concept actually began the 1970’s. Called telework at the time, and was later adopted by many technology based industries (though not company wide like Automattic) in the 80’s and 90’s, including Dell, IBM, Xerox, AT&T, Sun Microsystems, and Accenture Solutions.
It’s important to understand that remote employee monitoring is so different from monitoring staff in a traditional office environment. It demands greater trust, the ability of staff to intentionally have efficient communication channels set up. And lastly, it can often be more difficult to read a person’s emotions or level of confidence.
Further, the main characteristics of virtual teams that should be considered when trying to work in this environment are the times people work due to time zones for instance, where the location of workers are that may restrict in-person meetings or delivery of items etc., and finally, the culture of those working. Race, language, occupation, education, country, as well as political, social, religious, and economic elements can all influence how workers communicate with each other.
“Virtual Teams consist of members who work remotely and mainly rely on communication tools to accomplish their goals.”
- Global talent pool allows firms to hire the finest candidates for certain tasks regardless of location.
Lower office, utility, and infrastructure costs since team members work remotely.
- Improved work-life balance for team members, who can choose their own schedules and work from home or remotely.
- Reduced workplace interruptions and the freedom to work during their most productive hours can make virtual teams more productive.
- Team members in different time zones can work around the clock, enabling continuous operation and faster turnaround times.
- Having diverse team members can generate more ideas and creative solutions.
- Lack of face-to-face engagement can cause misinterpretation, misunderstandings, and problems forming team relationships.
- Coordinating team meetings and activities across time zones might delay decision-making.
- Internet connectivity and software issues might impair teamwork and production.
- Team members may lose trust and feel less accountable when absent.
- Isolation can reduce morale and teamwork.
- Cultures and languages can hamper communication and collaboration.
- Virtual teams depend on technology, so system failures or cyber attacks can disrupt work and endanger data security.
- Virtual teams often struggle to build team spirit and culture.
Operational teams play a crucial role in translating strategic objectives into actionable plans and ensuring their successful implementation. These teams are responsible for coordinating various operational functions, including human resources (HR), production, logistics, customer service, and quality control. The specific functions may vary depending on the industry and nature of the organization’s operations. By working together, these teams strive to optimize processes, improve efficiency, and meet operational targets.
Typically, these teams are involved in back-office processes that tend to remain fairly static. For example, the HR department is not assigned specific projects but is responsible for tasks such as candidate vetting, interviews, and hiring. However, in a dynamic environment, HR may need to quickly identify a replacement for a key team member who departs to ensure uninterrupted workflow.
Moreover, operational teams, with their well-defined roles and responsibilities, can also function as project teams. For instance, the accounting department may create a timetable, assign tasks, and track deadlines if tasked with producing an annual financial report by a specific date.
Given the need to manage accounts, staff, and other core business needs, operational teams are indispensable in all organizations. While we will discuss the advantages and disadvantages below, it is highly likely that operational teams will be a necessary component of your organizational structure.
“Operational Teams are typically for those involved in back-office processes and tend to remain fairly static.”
- Operational teams streamline and simplify repetitious duties.
- Team members’ role-specific talents improve output.
- Standardization ensures consistency and reduces errors.
- Operational teams have clear goals and KPIs, making progress and success easy to track.
- Team members’ strengths determine task distribution, optimizing resource use.
- Daily collaboration builds teamwork.
- Repetitive jobs enable opportunities for skill growth.
- Task repetition can bore and demotivate team members.
- Operational staff may be less creative, impeding innovation.
- Burnout or dissatisfaction can result from repetitious duties.
- Dependency on a few experts can leave the team vulnerable if they’re absent.
- Due to their focus on processes, operational teams may resist new approaches or technologies.
- Process rigidity may slow the team’s capacity to adjust.
- Teamwork can be disrupted by absence or skill gaps.
Not all teams can be identical, as the diversity of tasks, goals, and challenges in the workplace necessitates varying team structures and approaches to successfully accomplish organizational objectives.
In order to effectively achieve the goals of an organization, it is crucial to recognize that teams cannot be uniform. The tasks, goals, and challenges faced in the workplace are diverse and demand different team structures and approaches.
Each team within an organization must be tailored to suit the specific requirements of its assigned tasks. By acknowledging the unique nature of these tasks, goals, and challenges, teams can be structured and approached in a manner that optimizes their effectiveness.
Furthermore, the success of an organization relies on the ability of its teams to adapt and respond to the ever-changing demands of the workplace. By embracing diversity in team structures and approaches, organizations can ensure that they remain agile and capable of meeting their objectives.
In conclusion, it is imperative to understand that not all teams can be the same. The dynamic nature of tasks, goals, and challenges necessitates diverse team structures and approaches to effectively achieve organizational objectives. By recognizing and embracing this diversity, organizations can enhance their performance and ensure long-term success.
“Not all teams can be identical, as the diversity of tasks, goals, and challenges in the workplace necessitates varying team structures and approaches to successfully accomplish organizational objectives.
Choosing your team types
There number of things should be taken into account when choosing the appropriate team for a certain work. The selection process can be aided by considering some of the following things.
What is the team’s objective? The greater your ability to pinpoint the knowledge and abilities necessary to properly complete an objective will always help to increase the speed and quality of the project. So remember to keep clear definitions.
How many individuals are required, and who will play what roles?
Tasks are allocated more efficiently when team members are aware of their respective roles and duties as well as the right team size.
Do the members of the group need a strong leader or are they able to rule themselves? While some teams benefit from self-governance and collaborative decision-making, others could gain from having a designated leader to offer leadership and direction.
Is the team’s concentration in one place essential? The need for physical proximity or the capacity for remote work may affect team makeup depending on the nature of the assignment.
Is the relationship a permanent one or just passing? Take into account if the group will collaborate on continuous tasks or just one particular project. Team dynamics and the degree of familiarity among team members may be affected by this.
Choosing your preferred team based on emotional preferences or the above variables, is also often insufficient. Identifying a team’s effectiveness is also crucial. Key traits in your team should try to include other subtlest. Through important, they can be difficult to track or access.
For instance, team members should be receptive to teaching one another and supporting one another’s development to create a learning environment.
Teams who clearly express ideas, help the team to function cohesively, and collaborate successfully. The better the team can effectively communicate openly with a degree of trust and transparency, the more likely that workflows will run more smoothly.
Motivation amongst peers is also incredibly important in order to maintain high morale and to keep inspiration flowing. Especially on complex projects. These are essential for maintaining momentum and overcoming obstacles.
Team members who are willing to complete gaps for others is a huge benefit to the project. When members support and enhance one another’s abilities in terms of skills, time management, and the ability for the team to adapt to diverse situations greatly increases the likelihood for success in a timely manner.
While all persons have individual power and abilities, more will always be achieved as a collective force. It’s recognized that each team member should be proficient in their specialized fields, but understand that team’s overall power is greatly increased with better synergy and thus increases its effectiveness.
Ultimately, the ideal team will be determined by the particulars of the task at hand, the abilities required, the interactions among the team members, and the environment in which they will be working. Though these points through research indicate that they may be universal truths, we understand that it is impossible to create a perfect team. Considering that humanity wishes to be free and the speed of which humanity changes in language, culture, and business, most businesses will find that they need to use a hybrid of some sort when developing teams. However, those who are involved in developing teams will be able to achieve higher performing teams if they have knowledge of the underlying factors as described in this chapter.
- What type of team(s) are you currently part of?
- Do you feel the team is the right setup to achieve the current objectives?
- Do you have a preference for what sort of team you like to work in? Can you provide reasons?
- If you are, or would like to be a leader, what team would you prefer to lead? Can you provide reasons?
- Though many are aware of Google’s 20% time policy; they were not the innovator of this concept. 3M for instance has been implementing similar policies for decades.
- Developed and utilized in the space race in U.S. aerospace in the 1950’s, and later achieved wider adoption in the 1970’s when Japan made great strides in quality industrialization.