Tyranny of Teams

Topics: Organizational studies, Organizational studies and human resource management, Organization Pages: 39 (7107 words) Published: October 23, 2012
Organization Studies
http://oss.sagepub.com The Tyranny of a Team Ideology
Amanda Sinclair Organization Studies 1992; 13; 611 DOI: 10.1177/017084069201300405 The online version of this article can be found at: http://oss.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/13/4/611

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Amanda Sinclair Graduate School of Management, University of


People at work have been tyrannized by a team ideology based on the use of work groups as a key to effective organizational performance. The hegemony of this ideology has created an obsession with teams in workplaces governed by oppressive stereotypes of what teams should be like and how they should behave. This paper examines four elements of the prevailing team ideology — the way work in groups is defined, links between individual motivation and organizational performance, views of leadership, and the effects of power, conflict and emotion in work groups. Some alternative perspectives on team behaviour elucidate the ways in which the prevailing paradigm ultimately hinders groups and tyrannizes the individual team member — by camouflaging coercion and conflict with the appearance of consultation and cohesion. Examination of the limits and effects of the ideology provide the basis for an alternative understanding of the strengths, constraints and complexities of group work.

Teams in various forms have become ubiquitous ways of working. As task forces, committees, work groups and quality circles, they are used to provide leadership, accomplish research, maximize creativity and operationalize structural flexibility (Peters and Waterman 1982; Payne The

1988) . prescriptions of much contemporary management thinking are based on a dominant ideology of teamwork. While teams have been narrowly construed as a tool of the Organization Development Model, the ideology is much more pervasive. Teams are embraced as tools of diverse models of organizational reform from organization development (Dunphy 1976) to work restructuring (Poza and Markus 1980), from quality management to industrial democracy and from corporate culture and Japanese management approaches to complex contingency prescriptions.


Beliefs about the benefits of teams occupy a central and unquestioned place in organizational reform. It is all the more surprising that, despite some differences in context, the team ideology has been espoused with such consistency. The hegemony of this ideology has been supported by researchers who offer the ’team’ as a tantalizingly simple solution to some of the intracDownloaded from http://oss.sagepub.com at Massey University Library on June 28, 2010


problems of organizational life. Teams appear to satisfy everything individual needs (for sociability, self-actualization, participative management), organizational needs (for productivity, organizational development, effectiveness) and even society’s needs for alleviating the malaise of alienation and other by-products of modern industrial society (Johnson and Johnson 1987). However, do work groups deserve the status they have acquired as multipurpose panaceas for organizational problems? As has been powerfully argued in organizational analysis (Burrell and Morgan 1979; Astley and Van de Ven 1983; Reed 1985; Alvesson 1987), the dominance of a particular paradigm has substantial costs in the...
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