Nowadays teamwork has become a fashion. It draws us a very attractive picture where “empowered workers work autonomously and collaboratively” (Fulop and Linstead, 1999:209) with high efficiency and output. Just examine the recent popular approaches in management (such as total quality management, lean production and business process reengineering etc. ), we can find that teamwork is not only “a central pillar of each one”, but “each is also seen as a radical departure from ways of organizing that have dominated the twentieth century” (idib:218).
This gives organizations a signal that Embracing teamwork can get rid of all the problems associated with traditional management approaches, and “it is absolutely imperative for the formal organization of work to revolve around a collective form”(ibid). As presented in many management texts, teamwork has many obvious advantages, such as, high employee motivation, high efficiency, high flexibility etc. However, the actual utilization of teamwork in some contemporary organizations shows that what actually happens is not always the same as what we thought it should be.
Like other management approaches, teamwork has pitfalls as well as advantages. So organizations, instead of rushing into teamwork for a quick relief from various problems they are facing, should take time to consider the question “is teamwork all that good, what are the negative aspects of it? ” In order to answer this question, I think it is important for us to look at aspects that will potentially influence the performance of teamwork. In the following part of my essay, I will discuss teamwork from two aspects: control and pressure within teams and danger of group thinking.
Both of them, I think, will have a potential influence on the performance of teamwork, and should be paid attention to. Control and Pressure within Teams Different from those working in the traditional management structures, people working in teams have great autonomy. Instead of being told what to do, teams make all decisions on the detailed work arrangement in them. They fire and hire their own members. They coordinate directly with other teams for needed support and coordinate directly with outside suppliers and customers etc.
While at the same time managers exercise less direct control. What they do instead is to “get on with developing the “strategic vision””(Fulop and Linstead, 1999:220). The result of this change is a flatter organizational structure with fewer layers between top management and shop floor, thus create a more flexible and loosened “macro-environment ” for teams in the organization. The above description of teamwork naturally leads us to the assumption that people working in teams are more “relaxed ‘ than those working in traditional management structures.
However, contrary to this assumption, as put forward by Barker (1993) that “a detailed study of an organization which introduced such teams indicates that members of self-managing teams can experience control just as tightly as if they were subject to the traditional management-determined rule” (cited in Boddy and Paton, 1998: 297). Here people will ask if there is no direct management control, where is the control from then? The answer is that it is from team itself, from the way team forms and functions.
From the basic stages of group development developed by Bruce Tuckman (1965), we can see that at the second stage (the forming stage) team members first ” fall into an easy consensus” (Fulop and Linstead, 1999:232) on what should be done while what should not be done, what works while what doesn’t work. And then at the stage of norming (the fourth stage), the “easy consensus” as described by Boddy and Paton “gradually evolved into a set of relatively formal rules, with the additional force that they were backed up by peer pressure.
” (1998: 297). “The set of relatively formal rules” referred to by Boddy and Paton are called norms in some management texts, which are established standards, goals and acceptable behaviour everyone in teams has to conform to (Fulop and Linstead, 1999: 232), People working in teams always have the feeling that they are always “watched” by other people, while at the same time they all “watch “other people.
The interdependent relationship within teams makes everyone become a supervisor, and thus create a net of discipline force, which keeps everyone in line with the established norms and working collectively to the benefit of the team. Fulop and Linstead call it “unobtrusive or invisible form of control, which enables managers to give workers a sense of autonomy without the manager actually surrendering much control” (1998:230). This kind of “invisible” control as defined by Fulop and Linstead is more powerful and oppressive compared with direct management control, as it is “backed up by peer pressure” as mentioned above.