In an article published in Credit Union Management, Kristen GilPatrick suggests that teamwork involves a joint work effort in which employees work together to complete assignments. The real power of teamwork lies in the potential for the individual talents of the participants to be combined to solve problems or to complete tasks. The combined efforts of all of the employees of a company making a deliberate decision to act as a team would be greater than the sum of the individual efforts.
Gilpatrick suggests that one of the types of conflict that could be expected to arise in any team approach to business management involves a scenario in which either the team or the work itself lacks the structure necessary to ensure that the things that need to get done are done correctly, in the right order, and on time. In other words, there is a risk that conflicts within a team over the direction and control of the team’s work. For this reason, teams usually have leaders. In a traditional business setting, the team leader is usually the most experienced or the highest ranking member of the team. It is also possible that a team leader will emerge naturally from the efforts of the team to coordinate its activities.
Another conflict that could be expected to arise in a team approach to management is conflict over who should be selected as the team leader. Even after a team leader has been selected, other members of the group might choose to follow another person rather than the designated leader.
Still another conflict or problem that could be expected to arise in a team approach to management involves the issue of who is really in charge. Individuals outside of the organization are accustomed to interacting with business entities that have a clearly defined organizational hierarchy. Customers, vendors and other third parties may find it disconcerting to learn that the organization with whom they are interacting has no formalized hierarchical organizational structure.
Another potential conflict that could arise in a team approach to management involves a scenario in which the team is being directed in such a way that its activities are in conflict with the goals of the organization. This could involve something as simple as the team’s approach to establishing work rules that are in conflict with the organization’s goals. A team might decide that it is more important to complete a specific task than it is to answer phones and allow incoming calls to go to voicemail. The organization might object to this decision and expect incoming calls to receive the highest possible priority. The conflict that arises is associated with the notion that teams are supposed to be self-directed, self-motivated and self regulated. The employer clearly must retain a veto over activities that it considers to be inappropriate decisions or behavior but must do so without harming significantly the effectiveness of the team.
Another potential source of conflict in a team approach to management involves the fact that building consensus takes time, and that the process is not always successful. Some team members may disagree with the majority of the group about how a particular task should be approached or how a particular problem should be addressed. Nevertheless, as a member of the team they are expected to act in unison with the other team members once a decision has been made. The idea that individuals should follow policies and rules established by the team that they personally disagree with is a potential source of conflict.
Since the team-based approach to management eschews the concept of a hierarchical approach to business decision-making, the dissenting team member may feel that he or she has no viable options for addressing their concerns. In contrast, in a traditional organizational hierarchy, a subordinate would be able to discuss his or her concerns with her immediate supervisor. If the supervisor rejected their recommendation then the subordinate would have the comfort or security of knowing that their actions were consistent with instructions that they were given and therefore they would not be held accountable for the consequences of following those instructions.
Another potential source of conflict involves the possibility that one or more members of the team will have poor interpersonal communication skills. If team members believe that their opinions are not appreciated or valued, they will either cease to offer these opinions or will allow their frustration to become a source of conflict within the team.
Not all conflicts within teams are bad. A certain amount of conflict could actually make the team more productive by helping to ensure that the actions of the team are carefully scrutinized, and that ideas and assumptions are challenged before the team formalizes its team approach to managing the work that must be done.
As a manager, it is possible to capitalize on the beneficial effects of a team approach to management while minimizing the damage from potentially harmful ones. This can be accomplished by ensuring that the team understands that it has limited authority as it relates to establishing work rules and priorities. The trick is to find the proper balance between autonomy and accountability. This is simpler when managing individuals since individuals expect to be reviewed based on specific performance measurements. In contrast, it is more difficult to hold teams accountable for performance shortfalls. More specifically, when the team fails to meet the organization’s performance expectations, each member of the team may believe that he or she is not the source of the problem and that the responsibility for the team’s failure to meet established goals belongs to someone else. The manager must ensure that every member of the team understands in advance that the entire team is responsible for achieving or failing to achieve the performance expectations. More broadly, managers can capitalize on the beneficial effects and minimize the damage from potentially harmful effects of the team approach to management by ensuring that every team member understands and their responsibilities. Also, managers can minimize harmful effects by addressing rather than ignoring conflicts between and among team members.
Conclusion: Teams are particularly valuable in business because teams often have a greater capacity for creative thinking and creative problem solving than the team members would be capable of as individuals. Creative thinking produces new and valuable ideas. Creative problem solving benefits the organization and its customers.