Teams vs. Individuals
Individual and Team Contribution
The question that will be examined in this project is: “Does team membership benefit output relative to individual contribution.”
The history of management attempts to maximize productivity is a constant and ongoing study in which one of the earliest was Elton Mayo who early on postulated that psychological and social factors played a larger role in productivity than physical elements. The so-called Hawthorne Experiments were conducted in the plant of Western Electric in Cicero, Illinois in the middle to late 1920s. Dr. Mayo determined that the workers’ improved productivity during the experiments was not the result of changes in physical conditions – specifically, in the early stages of the experiments, light levels. Rather, they resulted from the interest the researchers were showing in the workers as human beings. Elton Mayo and his research group determined that the workers were not responding to changes in lighting conditions. They were reacting to the fact that the experimenters were observing them working in groups. This phenomenon became known as the “Hawthorne Effect.” The workers’ awareness that researchers were measuring their productivity was in itself sufficient to increase productivity. Also, the workers were in smaller numbers and ‘teams’ rather than a ‘faceless’ production line, and this seemed to increase their productivity too.
In further experimentation, they found that peer group, and other social forces, as well supervisory style influenced output greatly. This work still forms the basis of the understanding of the relationships between motivation, job satisfaction, change, and leadership. The experiments were the basis of the concept that work is a social environment where psychological factors such as interaction, self-esteem, and cooperation are important for high productivity. This serves as the foundation with management’s fascination with team management. (Mind tools, 2010)
Teams: Good, Bad or Indifferent?
Teamwork is so often the basis of contemporary progressive organizational configurations that it is almost a symbol of enlightened management. There are jobs that can only be done by teams working together. The first example is the placement of roof beams in construction work. It would be virtually impossible for a single individual to do this job, and incredibly inefficient if there were no alternative. Conversely, laying floor tiles is a job that one man can do as efficiently as a team of workmen. These are examples of extremes taken from a single type of work, but make the point that there is no simple answer that is universal for all situations.
Dr. J. R. Meindl makes the point that leadership is the centrepiece for any understanding of the varying levels of performance for organisations and groups. This has evolved into the concept of teams and team leadership and team management. He states that: “These have been the glory days for the ideology of teams. Teamwork is often the centrepiece of progressive organizational configurations and emblematic of enlightened management systems.” (Meindl, 2004). He then points out that there is a dearth of hard evidence to support the superior effectiveness of teams. This, however, does not, according to Dr. Meindl, discourage the enthusiasm for teams or the desire of otherwise practical minded people to embrace and utilize them as their chosen manner of getting things done. A major component of the problem is the difficulty in defining teams, teamwork, and the how to distinguish it from a group. In the earlier example, are the carpenters installing the roof beams really a team, or just individuals cooperating that will tomorrow be individually installing window frames? Is the whole group of carpenters a team building a house at all?
Dr. Meindl goes on to compare the psychology behind the difference between the romance with leadership and the team concept. There is a bias among individuals to attribute the performance of organisations, good or bad, negative or positive, to leadership. Conversely, the underlying perceptions of teams is positive so, “…the romance of teams seems more about the goodness of teams, and their positive effects, with the implicit comparison being teamwork versus individual work.” It is somehow assumed that teams perform well so any good performance serves as an explanation and validation of the expectations regarding teams. The result is that teams get the credit for good performance and the team is ignored when performance is poor; there is a clear team preference bias. (Meindl, 2004) This is not intended as a condemnation of teams, only to pose questions concerning their ability to achieve as much as it claimed.
The basis of the belief in the team concept
A study by Allen and Hecht examines the psychological basis for the “romance” of the academic management community. Their work shows that the actual effectiveness is not as positive as many observers apparently believe. The positive element is the psychological experience of the team members resulting from group activity. They relate the positive elements of the team as resulting in large part from social-emotional and competence related benefits. These individual psychological benefits within the team environment to assume that teams are “high-performance”, and that is the basis of the “romance” of teams.
One of the areas that supposedly benefits most from the team approach is the development of creativity and idea generation. The term “brain storming” was one of the early iterations of the team concept. However, several researchers have demonstrated that only on rare occasions do teams outperform the same individuals or the same number of participants working individually. They cite several studies that demonstrate that working individually usually produces more ideas and creative solutions than teams, or at best a similar number. (Allen & Hecht, 2004).
The same authors, Allen and Hecht cite studies that argue that teams are no more productive, and in many cases less productive, than individuals. They do admit that there is some evidence that teams have psychological and social-emotional benefits: humans are social animals, after all. Refine the concept and in many situations many people (though not all) will find working in teams fun or more pleasant than working alone. They conclude that there are two benefits to team participation, an increase in personal satisfaction and a gain in personal confidence.
West, Brodbeck and Richter offer what is in reality a literature review of the question of the efficacy of teams in business situations. They are critical of those that question the validity of team utilization by management and pose instead the question, “How can we work most effectively in teams to accomplish a task.” They also propose that there are jobs that are more effectively or only can be accomplished by teams working in concert. This was introduced at the beginning of this paper concerning building a roof. The paper offers little incremental insight into the value or application of the team concept for management. (West, Brodbeck, Richter, 2004)
In a further work, Allen and Hecht defend their initial positions concerning the usefulness of teams in management situations. They support the contention that in some situations, such as health care, a team approach is vital and irreplaceable, much like installing roof beams. Of course, no one is really arguing that teams are never appropriate and are counterproductive in all cases, only that like any tool or management approach, they have their place. A hammer is highly effective at driving nails and breaking rocks; it is not an appropriate tool for digging a hole. Similarly, teams have their place, but may well not be the answer to all situations. “Ours was not a call for the demise of teams, but rather an attempt to understand our reactions to them and to highlight the potential implications of these reactions.” (Allen & Hecht, 2004)
Allen, N. J. Hecht, T.D. (2004) The Romance of teams’: Toward an understanding of its psychologicalunderpinnings and implications. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology vol 77 pp. 463-466
Allen, N. J. Hecht, T.D. (2004) “Further thoughts of the romance of teams: A reaction to the commentaries.” Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology vol 77 pp. 485-491
Meindl, J. R. (2004) “The romance of teams: Is the honeymoon over?” Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology vol 74 pp. 463-466
Mind tools, (2010) “Elton Mayo’s Hawthorne Experiments” Mindtools.com, Recovered 12/11/2010 from: http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newTMM_Mayo.htm
West, M. Brodvck, F. Richter, A. (2004) ‘Does the “romancee of teams’s exist? The errectiveness of teams in experimental and field settings. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology vol 77 pp. 467-473