Working with Teams


More organizations are moving away from traditional organizational strategy to working with teams. Collins (2012) cite firms like Nike, Motorola having adopted team strategy. Research studies confirm the benefits of working with teams in organizations. Collins (2012) however cautions, “Team member interactions are like a dance, sometimes you waltz along smoothly, sometimes you step on each other’s toes” (p.376). Let’s explore the difference between groups and teams, and the Ringelmann Effect in working with teams.

Difference Between Groups and Teams

            Arnold (2012) distinguishes groups from teams by the following factors:

  1. Groups share some commonality like reporting to same manager, belonging to same department, etc.
  2. Group members work independently with individual accountability
  3. Group members pursue individual performance goals
  4. Teams share commonality
  5. Teams pursue common performance goal
  6. They work cooperatively with team accountability
  7. Teams have positive synergy
  8. Team success derives from collective success factors

Groups and Team Examples

Salesforce members working independently and pursuing individual goals constitute a group. Members coming together for new product development constitute a team. Team members cannot achieve goals independently, as they need complementary expertise and, information sharing for success. The teams can be cross-functional, problem-solving, virtual or self-managed teams (Robbins & Judge, 2013). Both groups and team have interaction. Groups interact to share information with neutral synergy, while teams interact for collaborative effort with positive synergy. Collins (2012) also identifies teams with stability and enduring long enough to accomplish goals; the need for authority to make decisions, manage tasks and pursue collective goals.

Organizations can pursue a group or team organization strategy. This depends on their context and task characteristics, as not all contexts are conducive for either strategy.

The Ringelmann Effect in Working with Teams

            The Ringelmann Effect is the group phenomenon discovered by Maximillian Ringelmann. It suggests that group members to become less productive as the size of the group increases (Mueller, 2006 cited in “Knowledge@Wharton, 2006”). The studies involved people pulling a rope and measuring the effort. The studies found that individual effort diminished with more people pulling the rope as a result of social loafing and free riders. Teams bigger than 5 reduce productivity due to process losses (Mueller, 2006). The process losses include errors, delays and losses from increased communication links and breakdown. Considering the above summation, one can infer that big teams have complex social dynamics which increase time spent in dealing with social issues than goal focus. Research seems to suggest that dysfunctional team behavior increases with group size. Notable such behaviors are social loafing, personality conflicts, lack of motivation, unidentifiability, lack of coordination and task conflicts.

Lack of motivation can arise when members feel unidentifiable within the team, and their contribution unnoticed. They thus engage in social loafing and free rider behaviors, leading to loss of team productivity.  The Ringelmann Effect has led some theorists to look for a magical team size. However research findings suggest the multi-variable nature of group phenomenon make it difficult to arrive at such a number.

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