January 16, 2013
Marcia Smart, Ph.D.
Groups and Teams
Cooperation has been an essential tool for humanity throughout its history; people have used teamwork for hunting, gathering, farming, and protection as well as for community and social fulfillment. As industry and technology have reshaped and extended the dynamics and demographics of trade, traditional proprietorships have readily given way to partnerships, in turn gave way to corporations. Within these businesses, cooperation serves again as a driving force toward a common goal—often on a huge scale that operates on the work of smaller groups and teams. This paper will examine different kinds of working groups (supplemented where possible by examples from an organization for which the author has worked), and the importance of the fundamental differences between working groups and teams. It will also address the five stages of team-building, how conflict (a much-maligned term), actually assists this process, and personal experiences of the author with this process. Different Groups
Within an organization, different kinds of groups cooperate on different levels for different reasons. Robbins and Judge (2011) identify six types of groups: formal, informal, command, task, interest and friendship. Organizational structure determines formal groups, which work together to achieve organizational goals (p. 276). All of the associates working in a single Walmart store comprise a formal group. An informal group does not rely on the organization for structure, assembly or goals and gathers instead to satisfy social needs of the people comprising it (p. 276). The Walmart associates chatting at the break-room table constitute such a group—they may not be friends outside of work or even know each other, but they assemble to eat together and banter about their professional or personal exploits. Four subgroups exist within these groups: formal subgroups include command and task, while informal subgroups include interest and friendship (p. 276). Formally classified command groups report to one manager; at Walmart, a single Customer Service Manager supervises and assists up to 16 cashiers in a command group. In a task group, members don’t necessarily report to one manager, but rather transcend different managers, groups, and departments to accomplish a specific task within the organization. When a man ran out of Walmart with a stolen backpack full of other stolen sporting goods equipment, several managers from several departments chased him out the door and tackled him on the concrete in the parking lot. Those managers then had to cooperate with the Loss Prevention associate, the Sporting Goods bullpen associate, and even the police in order to handle the situation and move forward with prosecution. In many cases of crime or other special circumstances, associates of different areas have to come together to complete tasks that affect all of them (and often the store). While all command groups are task groups in some way, task groups are more transcendental and therefore not always command groups (p. 277). Informal interest groups include people gathering for common interests, whether that common interest is quilting caps and blankets for the March of Dimes effort or lobbying for or against organizational or managerial actions or policies (p. 277). Friendship groups, on the other hand, gather for a sense of community; this often transcends the professional sphere and carries into the personal sphere, with people meeting outside of work and building personal relationships with coworkers. Groups vs. Teams
While the terms ‘group’ and ‘team’ seem to be used interchangeably, fundamental divergences separate them. According to Robbins and Judge (2011), work groups take on the responsibilities of formal groups as defined earlier. They mainly work together to make decisions that help them fulfill their responsibilities and meet...