What is a Team?

The word “team” derives from the old English, Frisian and Norse word for a bridle and thence to a set of draught animals harnessed together and, by analogy, to a number of persons involved in a joint action. — Annett and Stanton (2001, p. 1045)

The word team is used to describe a wide assortment of human aggregations. For example, in business settings, work units are sometimes referred to as production teams or management teams. At a university, professors and graduate students may form a research team to conduct experiments cooperatively.

In the military, a small squad of soldiers train as a special operations team. In schools, a teaching team may be responsible for the education of 500 students. In multiplayer games, people use computers to join carefully composed teams to attempt challenges (“instances”) that require the skills of many types of characters.

Despite this diversity in terms of focus, composition, and design, teams are fundamentally groups, and so they possess the basic characteristics of any group:

  • interaction,
  • goals,
  • interdependence,
  • structure, and
  • unity.

But what sets teams apart from other groups is the intensity of each of these attributes within teams.

What Distinguishes Teams from Groups?

The level of interaction in teams is concentrated and continuous, and it includes both task-oriented action as well as relationship-sustaining interactions (e.g., social support, self-disclosure, mutual aid).

The sine qua non of teams is their pursuit of goals, and collective ones at that. With a team, success and failure occurs at the group level, with all members sharing in the outcome irrespective of their own personal performances.

Teams stress outcomes to such an extent that their very existence is threatened should they fail to achieve their agreed-upon goals. All group members are interdependent to a degree, but members of teams are so tightly coupled that each other member’s outcomes are inextricably tied to each other member’s outcomes. Each member is assumed to have specialized knowledge, skill, and ability that he or she contributes to the team and the team’s success depends on combining these individuals’ inputs effectively.

Teams are also relatively well-structured groups. The members of an athletic team, such as soccer or baseball, all know what their role is within the group because of the specific position they occupy on the team. Similarly, in work teams each member’s role in the group is defined, as are norms, status, and communication relations. The membership of teams also tends to be clearly defined, as does its duration.

Last, the close coupling of the members of teams means that they have a high degree of unity; teams are typically cohesive, particularly in the sense that their members are united in their efforts to pursue a common goal. External pressures may magnify this unity, for teams usually work under some kind of pressure, such as a heavy workload, limited time, or competition with other groups.

Teams, then, are hypergroups: They possess all the basic qualities of any group, but to a more extreme degree.

Types of Teams

Teams come in a wide variety of forms, and they fulfill many different functions in military, educational, industrial, corporate, research, and leisure settings.

A general distinction, however, can be made between teams that process information and teams that plan, practice, and perform activities (Devine 20020).

The table below offers an even more fine-grained analysis of teams within these two general categories, distinguishing between management, project, and advisory teams within the information cluster and service, production, and action teams within the performance cluster.

Table 1.1 Types of Teams
Type and SubtypesFunctionExamples
ExecutivePlan, directBoard of directors, city council
CommandIntegrate, coordinateControl tower, combat center
NegotiationDeal, persuadeLabor management, international treaty
CommissionChoose, investigateSearch committee, jury
DesignCreate, developResearch and development team, marketing group
AdvisoryDiagnose, suggestQuality circle, steering committee
ServiceProvide, repairFast food, auto service team
ProductionBuild, assembleHome construction, automotive assembly
MedicalTreat, healSurvey, emergency room
ResponseProtect, rescueFire station, paramedics
MilitaryNeutralize, protectInfantry squad, tank crew
Transportation Convey, haulAirline cockpit, train crew
SportsComplete, winBaseball, soccer
Source: Adapted from D.J. Devine, 2002

Types of Teams and Their Specialties

1.   Executive Teams

Executive teams and command teams such as administrative units, review panels, boards of directors, and corporate executive teams, are management teams. They identify and solve problems, make decisions about day-to-day operations and production, and set the goals for the organization’s future.

2.   Project Teams

Project teams, or cross-functional teams, include individuals with different backgrounds and areas of expertise who join together to develop innovative products and identify new solutions to existing problems. These teams are extremely common in organizational settings, for they often are composed of individuals from a variety of departments and are deliberately organized to reduce the lack of communication that isolates units within the overall organization.

Negotiation teams represent their constituencies; commissions are special task forces that make judgments, in some cases about sensitive matters; and design teams are charged with developing plans and strategies.

3.   Advisory Teams

Advisory teams, such as review panels, quality circles, and steering committees are sometimes called parallel teams because they work outside the usual supervisory structures of the company.

Work teams, such as assembly lines, manufacturing teams, and maintenance crews, are responsible for the organization’s tangible output; they create products (production teams) or deliver services (service teams). Some of these teams can also be considered action teams.

4.   Action Teams

Action teams include sports teams, surgery teams, police squads, military units, and orchestras. All are specialized teams that generate a product or a service through highly coordinated actions (Devine, 2002; Sundstrom et al., 2000).

Task Forces and Crews

Distinctions can also be drawn between teams and other task-focused groups, such as crews and task forces. These work groups differ in longevity and the scope of their tasks.

  • Task forces have a specific, well-defined purpose, and they exist for only as long as the project.
  • Crews are teams that use specialized tools or equipment to accomplish their appointed tasks. The staff of an emergency room and the men and women piloting a jumbo jet would be crews (Arrow & McGrath, 1995; McGrath, 1984).

Teams also differ in terms of their source or origin. Some teams, such as the young engineers building a prototype of a computer in garage, a highly organized study tea, or an expedition would be member-founded teams

Other teams, in contrast, are begun by individuals or authorities outside the team. The team that pulls the tarp over the baseball field when the rains starts and the teams that play on that field during the game would be mandated teams (or concocted teams), because those who created them are not actually members of the team (Arrow, McGrath, & Berdahl, 2000). Complex organizations, such as large corporations, usually include both types of teams.

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  • References
    • Group Dynamics What Is a Team? (p. 353-5) By Donelson R. Forsyth

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