Conditions affecting the effectiveness of working groups

Working groups is an effective tool for solving problems that require coordinated actions of employees of different departments. However, in order to fully realize the potential of a working group, it is necessary to approach to issues related to its organizing and coordinating with special attention.

It is generally accepted that the more cohesive the group is, the higher the efficiency of its work. However, this pattern is not always universal. The relationship between group cohesion and productivity of its members is determined also by how the norms of behavior, accepted in the group, aimed at achieving high results of its work. Why do some groups perform better than the others? Consider the basic components that determine the effectiveness of the working groups.

1. External conditions In order to analyze the behavior of people in the group, it is important first to characterize the organization to which the particular group belongs. A group as a subsystem of a more general system – organization – is determined by the following conditions:

  • development strategy of the organization;
  • organizational structure;
  • formally established rules and regulations of the organization ;
  • available resources of the organization;
  • adopted system of recruitment;
  • generated in the organization system of evaluation and promotion of the employees;
  • organizational culture.

The development strategy of the organization identifies its goals and means of achieving them. Among them are: reducing production costs, improving its quality, expansion of sales on the market or alternatively, reorganization and reduction of the production. Naturally, the development strategy of the organization determines the strategy of the operation of each particular group, its member.

Each organization has its own organizational structure that defines who makes decisions and at what level, who reports on their implementation and to whom, moreover, there is an individual or collective responsibility for the implementation of tasks. Organizational structure is usually determined by the place of the particular unit in the organizational hierarchy, the formal leader of the unit and its relationships with other structural units of the organization.

Organizations also have formally established rules (e.g., internal regulations), various provisions and regulations in order to standardize the behavior of the employees of the organization. The greater the number of formally established rules and regulations in the organization is, the more likely that the behavior of the group members will be predetermined by them, i.e. will be relatively constant and predictable.

Available resources of the organization (staff, money, raw materials, equipment etc.) have a significant impact on the specifics of the organization and all its departments. For example, the excess of the workforce is usually accompanied by its irrational use and decrease in the efficiency, while shortage of the workforce may be accompanied by an excessive increase in the intensity of labor, defects in work and premature “deterioration” of the workforce. The lack of other resources – money, modern equipment and raw materials – can often be accompanied by conflict within the organization (either between its departments, or within them), intensification of the struggle for the distribution and redistribution of the limited resources available.

Adopted in the organization system of recruitment also significantly affects the composition of the entire organization and each group separately.

Another factor determining the effectiveness of the group is the generated in the organization system of evaluation and promotion of the employees. Thus, those organizations that emphasize teamwork, consider this factor in recruitment. Preference in the selection of candidates is given to those who can work in a team, have the skills of group decision-making, negotiating and conflict resolution. These factors can also be the basis for personnel evaluation system, their promotion and encouragement.

The behavior of people in the group is often determined by the unwritten rules and regulations prevailing in the organization, i.e. the organizational culture of the organization to which the particular group belongs. Typically, employees perceive the organizational culture of their organization after a few months of working in it. They begin to understand how to behave in the organization to achieve success and avoid unnecessary trouble. Each group, as a subculture in the overall organizational culture, is guided by its laws; however, it can produce its own unwritten rules and regulations that are unique to the particular group.

2. Potential of the group members The effectiveness of the group depends on the potential of its members. We consider their main characteristics:

  • abilities;
  • personal qualities.

Success of the group is determined by the abilities of its members. The potential of the working team shouldn’t be considered only as a sum of the potentials of each member. However, the effectiveness of the group depends on what each member of the group can do individually and how well will he do in the group. Thus, the following consistent patterns exist. Individuals with special, extraordinary abilities needed for solving problems faced by the group, tend to be more actively involved in the work and make the greatest contribution to the solution of these problems; they often become group leaders (formal or informal) and are more satisfied if their abilities are effectively implemented in the group. This dependence is also confirmed by the results of the correlation analysis: the higher the level of intellectual abilities of the group members, directly related to the solution of problems, the better the results of the whole work.

Personal qualities of the group members also help to predict the success or, on the contrary, failure of its work. Such qualities of the group members as sociability combined with independence and autonomy in work tend to lead to high results of the group as a whole, while ambitions, desire to dominate a team, caring only about personal success and benefit of an individual group member paralyze the work of others and has a negative impact on the performance of the whole group.

3. Group Structure

The structure of the group is determined by the following components:

  • formal leadership;
  • roles;
  • norms;
  • status;
  • size;
  • composition.

Formal leadership. Almost every group has its formal leader. Typical formal group leaders are the heads of the departments, project managers, chairmen. The leader is very important for the success of the group. Leaders determine the moral climate in the group and ultimately its effectiveness.

Each member of the group has a certain role, i.e. behavior expected of the group member in accordance with the place, which he occupies in the group. There is no problem if a group member is constantly playing a single role. But in fact, everything is much more complicated. Each of us has to play several roles every day. In some cases, these roles may be incompatible and contradict each another. If the employee’s behavior is contrary to what is expected of him, the role conflict occurs.

To achieve success, different people who can perform various roles and functions must be included into the group. Meredith Belbin identified 9 Team Roles that are widely used in thousands of organizations all over the world today.

  1. PLANT (PL)
    The role is so-called because one such individual is “planted” in each team. They tend to be highly creative and good at solving problems in unconventional ways.

 

1

 

  1. MONITOR EVALUATOR (ME)
    The Monitor Evaluator is needed to provide a logical eye, make impartial judgements where required and to weigh up the team’s options in a dispassionate way.

2

 

  1. CO-ORDINATOR (CO)
    Co-ordinators are needed to focus on the team’s objectives, draw out team members and delegate work appropriately.

3

 

  1. RESOURCE INVESTIGATOR (RI)
    When the team is at risk of becoming isolated and inwardly-focused, Resource Investigators provide inside knowledge on the opposition and make sure that the team’s idea would carry to the world outside the team.

4

 

  1. IMPLEMENTER (IMP)
    Implementers are needed to plan a practical, workable strategy and carry it out as efficiently as possible.

5

 

  1. COMPLETER FINISHER (CF)
    Completer Finishers are most effectively used at the end of a task, to “polish” and scrutinize the work for errors, subjecting it to the highest standards of quality control.

6

 

  1. TEAMWORKER (TW)
    Teamworkers help the team to gel, using their versatility to identify the work required and complete it on behalf of the team.

7

 

  1. SHAPER (SH)
    Challenging individuals, known as Shapers, provide the necessary drive to ensure that the team keeps moving and do not lose focus or momentum.

8

 

  1. SPECIALIST (SP)
    It is only after the initial research has been completed that the ninth Team Role, Specialist emerge. In the real world, the value of an individual with in-depth knowledge of a key area comes to be recognized as yet another essential team contribution.

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Team Role Summary Descriptions* 

Team Role 

Contribution Allowable Weaknesses
Plant

Creative, imaginative, free-thinking. Generates ideas and solves difficult problems.

Ignores incidentals. Too preoccupied to communicate effectively.

Resource Investigator

Outgoing, enthusiastic, communicative. Explores opportunities and develops contacts.

Over-optimistic. Loses interest once initial enthusiasm has passed.

Co-ordinator

Mature, confident, identifies talent. Clarifies goals. Delegates effectively.

Can be seen as manipulative. Offloads own share of the work.
Shaper Challenging, dynamic, thrives on pressure.Has the drive and courage to overcome obstacles.

Prone to provocation. Offends people’s feelings.

Monitor Evaluator Sober, strategic and discerning. Sees all options and judges accurately.

Lacks drive and ability to inspire others. Can be overly critical.

Team worker

Co-operative, perceptive and diplomatic. Listens and averts friction.

Indecisive in crunch situations. Avoids confrontations.
Implementer Practical, reliable, efficient. Turns ideas into actions and organizes work that needs to be done.

Somewhat inflexible. Slow to respond to new possibilities.

Completer Finisher Painstaking, conscientious, anxious. Searches out errors. Polishes and perfects.

Inclined to worry unduly. Reluctant to delegate.

Specialist Single-minded, self-starting, dedicated. Provides knowledge and skills in rare supply.

Contributes only on a narrow front. Dwells on technicalities.

* Read more about Team Roles at http://www.belbin.com/rte.asp?id=8

Norms. In order to work successfully, all groups develop certain standards of behavior, i.e. adopted rituals of behavior within a group that must be met by all its members. Norms can be formalized in certain documents: standards, regulations and procedures. However, most of the rules that govern the group are informal. At the same time they may have the most significant effect on the relationship in a group and its efficiancy. Three sets of rules can be contingently allocated:

  1. The first set of rules relates directly to the quality of work (its intensity, how tolerant the group refers to defects and miscalculations, not meetin deadlines etc.).
  2. The second set of rules concerns external factors, such as uniform (some organizations regulate the uniform of employees rather strictly to maintain a certain image), attitude towar the overtime work (in some cases it is encouraged, but may be regarded as a failure to organize your own work and the work of subordinates at the proper level) etc.
  3. The third set of rules governs the allocation of resources within the group. In some groups, for example, all members have the same access to computers and other office equipment, in other groups that access depends on the duration of work and position in the particular group.

In order to be accepted into the group and feel its support, you must be able to adapt to its norms. Typically, the group itself somehow exert pressure and tries to correct the behavior of those of its members who act contrary to the rules and regulations that exist in it.

  1. Under status in the group, we understand the position or rank that is assigned to a member of this group by the other members. Status can also be formal (e.g., winner of the competition “Best in Profession”) and informal (respect, appropriate to merit, knowledge etc.).
  2. Along with other factors the effectiveness of the group is determined by its size. Studies show that when performing a specific task small groups (about 7 people) are more productive, while the discussion and collective decision-making is better to conduct in groups of 12 or more.
  3. The work done in groups, usually requires different knowledge, skills and personal qualities. In this regard, it is assumed that the heterogeneous composition of the group (by sex, age, duration of work in the organization) is more effective than relatively homogeneous composition. However, in heterogeneous groups conflicts may occur due to misunderstanding among their members, struggle for power, higher staff turnover. But skilful management can help to successfully overcome these problems.

4. Challenges faced by the group An important factor determining the specificity of the group and the organization of working process in a group is the specification of the tasks addressed to the group. Herewith such characteristics as interconnection and complexity of these problems are of special importance. For example, in dealing with non-standard complex tasks the best result can be achieved as a result of discussion of different approaches to solving problems and using effective group decision-making. And in dealing with simple routine tasks the necessity to discuss alternative solutions disappears, while the focus should be on the standardizing and formalizing of the working process. In addition, if the performance of the tasks addressed to the group requires close interrelation and interdependence of the members of the working process, the good information exchange process is necessary for the successful implementation of the task.

5. Cohesion of a group and its efficiency Under cohesion of a group we understand the level of satisfaction with joint work and prospect to continue to work together. The following factors determine the cohesion of the group:

  • time spent together;
  • difficulty in joining the group;
  • group size;
  • external conditions;
  • previous successes or failures.

It is noticed that the more time people spend together, the more cohesive they become: there are more opportunities for friendship, mutual understanding, common interests and needs. The opportunity for group members to spend time together depends on a variety of circumstances, and especially on the nature of work, tasks and even on the location of their workplace (at the same room or different).

Difficulty in joining the group also affects the solidarity of its members. The harder it is to join a particular group, the more united its members become.

Group size. As the number of the group members increases, the opportunities for interactions of the group members with each other reduce. In addition, the emergence of subgroups within larger group can adversely affect the cohesion of a large group.

External factors. Most studies show that under the threat of external factors the cohesion of people in groups usually increases. This is especially true when the group supports, provides a sense of security and helps to overcome difficulties.

Previous successes or failures of the group also affect the solidarity of its members, for example, successful employment and promotion of graduates of a higher education institution can serve as an attractive factor strong enough to attract a significant number of applicants for admission to the institution. It is generally accepted that the more cohesive the group is, the higher is the efficiency of its work. However, this pattern is not always universal. The relationship between group cohesion and productivity of its members is also determined by how norms of behavior accepted in the group, aimed at achieving high results of its work. Thus, managers need to take care not only of solidarity of the group, but also of the development of such standards of behavior that are most conducive to ensure its efficiency.

Summary

  • A group is an alliance of two or more people united together to achieve specific goals.
  • Most often people come together in groups to meet their needs to strengthen the power, security, self-esteem, communication, receiving a certain status.
  • Groups can be formal or informal. Formal groups perform specific tasks of the organization. Informal groups are created to meet social needs and human communication. They have a significant impact on the people’s behavior in the organization and efficiency of its work.
  • Each group is formed and developed on its own. However, some common patterns can be found in the development of various groups. A group as a subsystem of a more general system – organization – is defined by its characteristics: development strategy, organizational structure, formally established rules and regulations, organizational culture, adopted system of recruitment, available resources of the organization.
  • The effectiveness of a group depends on the capabilities, abilities and personal qualities of its employees. While analysing and forecasting work efficiency in the group, it is necessary to consider its structure (formal leadership, roles, norms, status, group size and composition) and the specific tasks addressed to the group.

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