Every human being is unique. Not even identical twins share much beyond their physical appearance. The implication of this uniqueness is that people usually have a set of innate abilities that are unique to them. Additionally, each individual usually exhibits a variation in tastes and preferences. In other words, if an analysis of the tastes and preferences of a group of people is conducted, a wide variation will be established. Similarly, an analysis of the innate abilities of a group of people will reveal an explicit distinction in the skill sets of everyone. These differences have been a subject of debate for a long time. To some, individual differences are a limiting factor because they are often the reason behind the conflicts that occur among people (Long, Zhong-Ming, & Wei, 2011). To others, they are a blessing because they ensure that there are enough people with the different sets of skills required to accomplish different tasks.
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This latter perception seems to be the reason behind the development of teamwork. Research shows that well constituted teams that work in harmony yield a synergistic effect that multiplies their productivity (Paris, Salas & Cannon-Bowers, 2000). Their productivity surpasses the sum total of the results of each individual working alone (Paris, Salas & Cannon-Bowers, 2000). As a result, teamwork is fostered among schoolchildren, college students, and employees alike. The overwhelming attention that the concept of teamwork receives forms the basis of this assessment.
It is imperative to understand what a team is prior to assessing the concept of teamwork or team behavior. According to Paris, Salas & Cannon-Bowers (2000) a team is a group of people with complementary skills and are united by a common purpose. The efficacy of a team is usually evaluated based on its ability to achieve its purpose. The complementary skills possessed by team members allow them to work in a coordinated and mutually supportive fashion towards their common purpose (Paris, Salas & Cannon-Bowers, 2000). Based on this description, not every group meets the criteria of becoming a team. There is a notable distinction between the two. Whereas every team is a group, not every group is a team.
Several salient features characterize teams. Paris, Salas & Cannon-Bowers (2000) note that some of the features that define teams are as follows. They are constituted by at least two people, every member of a team usually has a specific role to discharge towards the common goal, each team member usually has specialized knowledge and skills, the members depend on one another to accomplish the overall goal, and they often form part of a larger system such as an organization. Based on these defining features, each team member is important and needs to be highly esteemed since the absence of any of them has the potential to cripple the team. Incidentally, the pillars of successful teams include mutual respect, trust, team spirit, helpfulness, and friendliness among the members (Goldstone & Gureckis, 2009).
Paris, Salas & Cannon-Bowers (2000) note that teams can be classified into several categories. These include project and developmental teams, parallel teams, independent and interdependent teams, and virtual teams. This classification is dictated by a team’s purpose and composition. For example, project and developmental teams are constituted and used for a specific period after which they become irrelevant. Virtual teams on the other hand are teams that are constituted with the aid of electronic technology. In other words, although teams may be constituted to accomplish similar tasks, their composition and mode of operation may place them in different categories.
Notwithstanding a team’s composition and purpose, there are crosscutting principles that guide the operations of each of them. These include cohesiveness, norms, and team energy (Paris, Salas & Cannon-Bowers, 2000). Just like individuals, teams also have underlying beliefs and values that define them. As such, they have unique identities that result from the collective style of the individuals who form them. Further, teams have strengths, weaknesses, ambition, as well as ego.
As hinted earlier, the effectiveness of teams is gauged by their ability to accomplish their goals. This evaluation is a critical measure for any team since it shows how focused and determined a team is. Its critical nature stems from the fact that teams are often constituted to handle complex tasks that involve many interdependent subtasks (Mesmer-Magnus & DeChurch, 2009). Therefore, the focus and determination of a team towards achieving its uniting purpose is the ultimate yardstick for measuring its efficacy. Most importantly, the idea of evaluating the efficacy of a team brings forth the concept of teamwork. In simple terms, teamwork denotes the ability of a team to function as a single cohesive unit.
While the behavior of teams may appear normal to a superficial observer, analysts have dedicated a substantial amount of resources to study it. An issue of immediate concern to these people is to understand the dynamics of team behavior and the factors that influence them (Goldstone & Gureckis, 2009). Apparently, the behavior of individuals seems to change significantly when they come together to form teams. As noted earlier, teams are a special type of groups. As such, group behavior and team behavior go hand in hand. Unfortunately, much of the focus on group behavior has been directed towards studying its negative aspects (Goldstone & Gureckis, 2009).
Consequently, literature on positive group behavior is scanty. The notion that groups influence the behavior of individuals in a negative sense seems to have been successfully propagated. Nonetheless, there are outstanding aspects of team behavior that characterize most teams and are considerably positive since they seem to bring forth desired outcomes. These include coordination, cooperation, and information sharing (Goldstone & Gureckis, 2009). Alongside these three elements of team behavior, phenomena such as conflicts and ‘group think’ also feature prominently within teams quite often (Goldstone & Gureckis, 2009). An analysis of these elements and their influencing factors follows below.
Coordination is a crucial aspect of teamwork. According to King & Sueur (2011), the moment the discretion to make decisions moves from an individual to a group, coordination becomes a key to the success of the group. Mostly, making collective decisions is challenging because individuals usually have preferences for different courses of action (King & Sueur, 2011). However, the undesired outcomes that result from making the wrong collective choices bring groups to a point where they strive to make the right choices every time they are faced with a choice to make. It was pointed out that the effectiveness of a team is evaluated by the team’s ability to function as a single unit and achieve its overall goal. With this need in mind, team members always strive to suppress their individual preferences especially in cases where those preferences tend to be in conflict with the overall goal of the group.
Based on this established trend, it is arguable that once an individual becomes part of a group, the desire to act in accordance with the groups norms takes preeminence (Goldstone & Gureckis, 2009). In the case of informal groups that do not have any meaningful sense of purpose, the group members’ desire to observe group norms often stems from the need for approval from other group members and leaders (Goldstone & Gureckis, 2009). However, the case is different with teams. A team always has a meaningful unifying purpose, which is eventually used to evaluate the effectiveness its mode of operation. As such, a team member’s desire to observe team norms overrides their individual preferences not because they seek the approval of anyone, but because they understand that as part of the team, they have to play their role to ensure team success.
The tendency to coordinate that is observed among team members is, therefore, a prerequisite for the success of the team. Therefore, there is a strong underlying factor that calls for the coordination that is observed among team members. Even if the team members do not enjoy cordial interpersonal relationships, when grouped together as one team, they have to lay their differences aside and focus on team success first.
Like coordination, cooperation is a key ingredient in the success of teams. Although some organizations compensate individual initiative with handsome rewards, studies show that cooperation often has better rewards for organizations (Paris, Salas & Cannon-Bowers, 2000). Cooperation requires that workers in an organization or players in a football team work together towards the common goal. In a team setting, cooperation cannot be isolated because without it, there ceases to be a team (Chieh-Wen, Yi-Fang & Ming-Chia, 2010).
The defining characteristics of a team pitch it as an entity that has uniform sense of purpose and includes members with complementary skills. Therefore, the aim of a team is to achieve a common goal, which can only be accomplished if all members contribute. Each member’s contribution moves a team’s activity a step closer to the overall goal. In most cases, the information that is required to facilitate a subsequent step comes from the preceding step (Mesmer-Magnus & DeChurch, 2009). With all these factors to consider, it becomes inevitable that members of a team have to cooperate with each other from the start of a task to its completion. Even if a member has completed their part, they have to remain with the team until a task is complete since their expertise and knowledge may be required again at any stage of the task.
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Therefore, cooperation as an aspect of team operation is inevitable just like coordination. Team members are always aware of this state of affairs. As such, they always exhibit cooperation whenever they are called upon to be part of a team. In other words, it is a requirement that every team member cooperates with others to achieve the team’s overall goal.
Information sharing is another conspicuous behavior that is observable among team members. Today, teams and groups are prevalent in almost all activities that need critical decision-making. From juries to homicide investigation teams, the utilization of group decisions is evident. According to Mesmer-Magnus & DeChurch (2009), the primary reason behind this trend is that a team or group enjoys a large pool of information on which it can base its decisions. The decisions are, therefore, likely to be of better merit than if they were made by a single individuals.
Group members share information because it enhances their productivity and efficiency (Mesmer-Magnus & DeChurch, 2009). By its definition, a team is constituted by a number of people with different sets of skills. They are, therefore, in a position to brainstorm on alternative ways of dealing with a particular issue and select the best way forward. In this respect, information sharing forms the basis of a team’s activities. Team members do not share information to please their peers. Rather, they do so because it is a requirement within the framework of effective team operation. Like coordination and cooperation, team members do not have any other option but to share information with their peers to ensure the success of their teams.
Disagreements among team members form an important negative aspect of team behavior. Intra-group conflicts are a common phenomenon in all forms of groups constituted by human beings (Long, Zhong-Ming & Wei, 2011). The reason behind these conflicts has been widely researched. The results vary in some cases, but the bottom line is that group members usually come from different backgrounds, which affect their perception of the issues around them (Long, Zhong-Ming & Wei, 2011).
Therefore, the prevalence of conflicts in groups is a normal phenomenon that has a bearing on the group’s performance. Paris, Salas & Cannon-Bowers (2000) note that teams undergo various phases of development from the time they are formed to the time they are disbanded. As a team moves through its developmental phases, conflicts are bound to manifest especially during the initial stages of its operation. This trend is attributable to the idea that before team members get to understand each other well, conflicts characterize their interaction. It is, however, important that conflicts be handled prudently to allow the team to proceed with its activities.
In some cases, teams lose focus and develop conceit. As a result, they become victims of negative group influence, which is referred to as ‘group think’ (Goldstone & Gureckis, 2009). This phenomenon can be occasioned by different factors. Key among them is initial success, which can cause team members to develop a false sense of satisfaction. The results of group think are unending conflicts that can easily derail a team and ‘social loafing,’ which means that some members of the team start opting out of some tasks (Goldstone & Gureckis, 2009). They end up leaving the activities of the team to a few members and considering that each member of a team is supposed perform a specific task that requires their expert knowledge, the overall performance of the team suffers.
In conclusion, team or group behavior is real and more attention needs to be directed towards understanding it. Individuals significantly change their behavior when they join teams or groups. Although much attention has been on the negative aspects of team behavior, it also has some positive aspects that can facilitate the achievement of better results. To realize these positive elements of team behavior, team members need to develop trust and mutual respect in their interpersonal relationships as well as commitment towards the common purpose of the team. When all these aspects are coupled with the spirit of camaraderie and sense of belonging that characterizes teams, no challenge can be insurmountable them.
Chieh-Wen, S., Yi-Fang, T., & Ming-Chia, C. (2010). Relationships among teamwork behavior, trust, perceived team support, and team commitment. Social Behavior & Personality: An International Journal, 38(10), 1297-1306. Web.
Goldstone, R. L., & Gureckis, T. M. (2009). Collective Behavior. Topics in Cognitive Science, 1(3), 412-438. Web.
King, A., & Sueur, C. (2011). Where next? Group coordination and collective decision making by primates. International Journal of Primatology, 32(6), 1245-1267. Web.
Long, C., Zhong-Ming, W., & Wei, Z. (2011). The effects of conflict on team decision-making. Social Behavior & Personality: An International Journal, 39(2), 189-198. Web.
Mesmer-Magnus, J., & DeChurch, L. (2009). Information sharing and team performance: A meta-analysis. Journal of Applied Psychology, 94(2), 535. Web.
Paris, C., Salas, E., & Cannon-Bowers, J. (2000). Teamwork in multi-person systems: A review and analysis. Ergonomics, 43(8), 1052-1075. Web.