This time, Ford decided too much was at stake and put 700 people, representatives from each group, in the same place, under a toughmanager, to work it out. The concept was Team Taurus. The result was Motor Trend’s Car of the Year in 1986.
In all these cases, teams of diverse individuals, typically working at a distance from the existing hierarchy, sparked major breakthroughs. Well-organized small teams have the ability to produce results that often elude the grasp of large organizations.
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Around the globe, much of the work in organizations gets done in groups or teams. When these units work well, they elevate the performance of ordinary individuals to extraordinary heights. When teams malfunction, as too often happens, they erode the potential contributions of even the most talented members. What determines how well groups perform? As the examples illustrate, the performance of a small group depends heavily on structural design and clarity. A key ingredient of a top-notch team is an appropriate blueprint of roles and relationships aligned with common goals or missions.
In this chapter, we explore the structural features of small groups and teams to show how restructuring can improve group performance.Webegin by describing various design options for teams, accenting the relationship between design and task. Next, using sports as an analogy, we discuss patterns of team con”guration, coordination, and interdependence suited to different situations. Thenwe describe the characteristics of high-performing teams. Finally, we discuss the pros and cons of self-managing teams—a hot topic in recent years.
TASKS AND LINKAGES IN SMALL GROUPS Groups choose among a range of options to develop a structure that maximizes individuals’ contributions while minimizing the chronic problems that plague small groups. The nature of the work or task provides a key to shaping group structure. Tasks vary in complexity, clarity, predictability, and volatility (Hærem, Pentland, and Miller, 2015). The task-structure relationship in small groups is parallel to that in larger organizations.
Contextual Variables As we saw in Chapter 4, simple tasks align with basic structures—clearly de”ned roles, elementary forms of interdependence, and coordination by plan or command. Projects that are more complex or volatile generally require more complicated structural forms: !exible roles, reciprocal give-and-take, and synchronization through lateral dealings and communal feedback. If a situation becomes exceptionally ambiguous and fast paced, particularly when time is a factor, groups may be unable to make decisions quickly enough without centralized authority and tight scripts. Planning a SEAL Team Six mission or transplanting a kidney is not the same as painting a house or setting up a family outing. Performance and morale suffer, and troubles multiply when groups lack an appropriate structure.
Getting structure right requires careful consideration of pertinent contextual variables, some of which are vague or tough to assess:
• What is our mission?
• What actions are required?
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• Who should do what?
• Who is in charge?
• How should we make decisions?
• How do we coordinate efforts?
• What do individual members care about most: time, quality, participation?
• What are the special skills and talents of each group member?
• How does this group relate to others?
• How will we determine success?
Some Fundamental Team Con!gurations A high percentage of employees’ and managers’ time is spent in meetings and working groups of three to twelve people. To illustrate design options, we examine several fundamental structural con”gurations from studies of “ve-member teams. These basic patterns are too simple to apply to larger, more complex systems, but they help to illustrate how different structural forms respond to a variety of challenges.
The “rst is a one-boss arrangement; one person has authority over others (see Exhibit 5.1). Information and decisions !ow from the top. Group members offer
Exhibit 5.1. One Boss.
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Boss has authority over others
Info / dec
1nA / ‘
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information to and communicate primarily with the of”cial leader rather than with one another. This array is ef”cient and fast and works best in relatively simple and straightfor- ward situations when it is easy for the boss to stay on top of things. Circumstances that are more complicated or volatile can overload the boss, producing delays or bad decisions, unless the person in charge has an unusual level of skill, expertise, and energy. Subordinates quickly become frustrated with directives that are late or out of touch.
A second alternative creates a management level below the boss (see Exhibit 5.2). Two individuals have authority over speci”c areas of the group’s work. Information and decisions !ow through them. This arrangement works when a task is divisible; it reduces the boss’s span of control, freeing up time to concentrate on mission, strategy, or relationships with higher-ups. But adding a new layer limits access from the lower levels to the boss. Communication becomes slower and more cumbersome, and may eventually erode morale and performance.
Exhibit 5.2. Dual Authority.
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Exhibit 5.3. Simple Hierarchy.
Another option is a simple hierarchy with a middle manager who reports to the boss and, in turn, supervises and communicates with others (see Exhibit 5.3). A similar arrangement at the White House frees the President to focus on mission and external relations while leaving operational details to the chief of staff. Although this type of hierarchy further limits access to the top, it can be more ef”cient than a dual-manager arrangement. At the same time, friction between operational and top-level managers is commonplace, and number two may be tempted to usurp number one’s position.
A fourth option is a circle network, where information and decisions !ow sequentially from one group member to another (see Exhibit 5.4). Each can add to or modify whatever comes around. This design relies solely on lateral coordination and simpli”es communica- tion. Each person has to deal directly with only two others; transactions are therefore easier to manage. However, one weak link in the chain can undermine the entire enterprise. The circle can bog down with complex tasks that require more reciprocity.
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Middle } reports boos I
Manage supervise I communicate
– Usurp a.)Heir ,
= bog down iv. I resin
reciprocity in. ) exchange .
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Exhibit 5.4. Circle Network.
A “nal possibility sets up what small group researchers call the all-channel, or star, network (see Exhibit 5.5). This design, familiar to Team Six operators, is similar to Helgesen’s web of inclusion. It creates multiple connections so that everyone can talk to anyone else. Information !ows freely; decisions sometimes require touching multiple bases. Morale in an all-channel network is usually high. The arrangement works well if a task is amorphous or complicated, requiring substantial mutual adjustment, particularly if each member brings distinct knowledge or skill. But this structure can be time consuming, and decision making may slow to a crawl, making it cumbersome and inef”cient for simpler undertakings or for groups that have dif”culty coming to agreement. It works best when team members bring well-developed communication skills, enjoy participation, tolerate ambiguity, embrace diversity, are able to manage con!ict, and agree on how the team will make decisions.
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Exhibit 5.5. All-Channel Network.
TEAMWORK AND INTERDEPENDENCE Even in the relatively simple case of “ve-person groups, the formal network is critical to team functioning. In the give-and-take of larger organizations, things get more complicated. We can get a fresh perspective and sharpen our thinking about structure in groups by looking beyond typical work organizations. Making the familiar strange often helps the strange become familiar.