Business Team Building: Types of Teams

When it comes to team building, most people understand that it is not enough to just throw a bunch of people together and call it a team. While this might meet the definition of a team, it is unlikely for any group of people, no matter how individually talented and gifted they are, to be able to work cohesively as a unified team. The fact is that great teams are made, not born. Proper guidance is important, both on an individual level (like any form of management), but also within the context of the larger, full group. Because teamwork is so critical to the success of a wide range of endeavors, and the development of each team so complex, it is vital that those in management positions invest the time and effort necessary to learn how to develop a team properly.

Depending on any given individual's situation, what type of team you wish to build may be tremendously different from the team someone else is working to develop. For some, the team they want to build is an athletic one; from peewee sports to professional leagues, the best coaches understand that it is not enough merely to put together a bunch of gifted athletes, those athletes have to learn how to operate as a cohesive team. For others, teamwork may be geared towards working together to achieve the most sales or some other business activity designed to net the most income for the business (or members of the team). For some people, working as a team means many people performing the same tasks or type of tasks using team spirit and established methods to achieve success. Other teams might alternatively rely on the individual strengths of each team member, building a team that works towards the same goal but with each individual taking on a different role. Thankfully, successful team building often uses the same tactics and psychological design for one type of team as any other type; team building is built upon psychological and sociological theories and methods. While the specific activities a team undertakes may differ wildly, the elements of successful team building stay much the same.

Types of teams

Most people have heard the story of how Ford Motor Company revolutionized manufacturing by developing the first known moving assembly line. Prior to the industrial revolution, most products were handcrafted, from start to finish, by a single person. Obviously, this resulted in limited production and restricted employment opportunities as not everyone was equally able to produce completed projects from start to finish. However, this does not mean there were not still teams; many manufacturers would have a number of employees producing the same objects or items at the same time; instead, these workers operated simultaneously but through teamwork were still able to identify and utilize the best methods, the cheapest suppliers, the best materials, and so on. With a moving assembly line, teams could produce more products in the same period and employ a wider range of people as they would only have to perform one or two select tasks rather than complete the entire project from start to finish. It is worth noting that this technique has limited usefulness, depending on the activities of the team involved.

It is imperative for successful team building that you have established what type of team you are hoping to build. While this may sound obvious, the reality is that what works best may not always be the norm or what you assume you need. Whether you manage a team of 3 or 30,000, it is a good idea to review periodically whether you are using the best type of team for your goals and strategy.

Independent teams

Independent teams typically involve scenarios where each individual member of the team acts or performs complete projects individually but their performance still affects or influences, to varying degrees, the rest of the team. This typically occurs in one of two ways:

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Independent members perform the same tasks but the success or failure of the entire team can still hinge upon the success or failure of each independent member. For example, a bowling team might compete against another bowling team and will frequently determine a winner based on the sum total of the scores of each member of the team. Team A consists of four players who scored 140, 173, 195, and 145 for a total of 653 points. Members of Team B, alternatively, scored 92, 160, 197, and 179 for a total of 628 points. Team members played as an individual, with each of them performing the same activity in approximately the same period. However, the entirety of team B lost because one member scored so low that the rest of the team's efforts, including having the highest individual score, were not enough to win. Although this represents an individual composition of a team, the success of the team nevertheless depends upon each member's actions and is thus, consequently, an independent team.

Alternatively, there are completely independent teams where the success (or failure) of one member does not necessarily determine or dictate the success or failure of other members. For example, imagine a school wide spelling bee for third graders. Each third grade teacher works with their class to study the words, practice spelling the words together, and similar shared activities. In this way, each class represents a team who work to encourage each other, share ideas about ways to remember spelling, and so on. When the day of the spelling bee arrives, only one student is going to win. The student who spells the most words correctly would still win even if every other member of their classroom were unable to spell a single word. In this way, these students are considered completely independent team members as they work together as a team but perform independently.

Interdependent teams

When many of us think of a team, we most frequently imagine an interdependent team. In an interdependent team, the success of each member is, to some degree, reliant upon the success of other team members. To distinguish this from independent teams that share the same end result, interdependent teams frequently allow for different team members to perform different activities (the extent to which may vary). For example, a football team is a perfect example of an interdependent style team. No matter how talented a player may be, he or she cannot win on their own. Moreover, while there are utility players, most members have some special position; different team members perform different tasks.

The right type of team for you

Again, many people do not necessarily consider all of the options available when it comes to designing the structure of their team. For a long time, all football players essentially played every position, the same way that item production occurred from start to finish by one individual. These two types of teams were similar in relying upon each member of the team being able to do every activity equally well, whether they achieved it on their own or with the team as a whole.
Moreover, these two examples are perfect to show the reasoning behind considering a different way of approaching your team construction than whatever has been done in the past or is assumed to be the best way to do it. While many professions extol the virtues of "thinking outside the box," many are still resistant to actually doing so, even though it has consistently been shown to be critical to the achievement of virtually any type of team.

If you take the time to assess what your needs are when it comes to your team, there are a few questions that will be pivotal in your decision making, and how will I define success? For the activities I need performed, what level of specialization is needed? What are my goals for this team? What is my ultimate goal? Who else shares this type of goal? What are my obligations to the teams I am on myself? Setting clear, realistic, and measurable goals for your team will be the single most important task you undertake when it comes to team building and achieving success.

Lastly, it is important to remember that making a decision about your team structure will have long term consequences. Nevertheless, that does not mean that you cannot ever change how your team is structured. If a particular style of team does not seem to be working for you and your goals, you can ease into a new team construction without necessarily damaging or negatively influencing your business, clientele, and so forth.

Hierarchy of Needs

Understanding how a team can be developed and managed first requires an understanding of the psychological dynamics of the concept of teamwork. Although any group of people working towards a common interest or goal might be considered a team, this is not entirely accurate when it really comes to building a strong and cohesive team unit. Part of the difference between being a member of a group and a member of a team depends upon each team member developing a psychological response to the team environment. After all, most people appreciate that society exists for a reason; social interaction is craved and needed for the psychological well being of the vast majority of humans.

Many people are familiar with Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, a psychological theory proposed by Abraham Maslow in the 1940s. The theory was further developed and expanded through the ongoing work of Maslow as well as others who came after him. To this day, it is considered one of the best theories of basic human psychological (and physiological) needs. In essence, Maslow developed different levels of need that worked from the most basic needs (such as food, water, sleep, and so on) to more complex needs such as feeling safe, friendship, family relationships, self- esteem, creativity, and far, far more. Within this hierarchy lie many aspects that are the basis for the psychological understanding of teamwork.

After the first level of basic physiological needs, the second level consists of needs regarding safety, including security of employment and resources. Many of us have some level of distrust or have some level of suspicion that those who are in charge of securing our safety are doing so successfully and we grant people or organizations our trust based on our sense of security regarding them. In some ways, this can be easy to see; a successful Fortune 500 company, for example, will automatically generate a stronger feeling of safety because it has so many financial resources. A small business, however, may not always offer the same level of job security; it naturally follows that employees will feel more empowered and have more of their psychological needs met when they have some level of ownership or at least awareness of what the company is doing.
By operating in teams, employees are often able to better assess the capabilities (or lack thereof) of their coworkers and possibly supervisors. They are also then in a position perhaps to provide some information or skills that were lacking in a particular department or through a particular activity. In this way, each staff member is able to gain more of a sense of job security, which in turn helps them feel secure, not only with regards to their job but consequently with regards to other resources and requisite materials to ensure the health and safety of their family.
In the third level of needs according to Maslow, friendship and family are discussed. In addition to a level of security regarding your family based upon job security as outlined earlier, the need for friendship and family also affects the forming and usage of teams in a workplace environment. In reality, as adults we spend an incredible amount of time at work. Even when we have friends outside of work, close family, and so on, most people are nevertheless drawn towards relationships with those around them. For many of us, that means coworkers, supervisors, and even clients or customers may fulfill many of our social needs. Developing those relationships can be tremendously important when it comes to lowering employee turnover and creating a more positive and productive work environment.
Of course, this is not without its concerns. It can often become increasingly complex when friends would work together, especially if they are not on the same level in the organization's hierarchy. Nevertheless, many people are most inclined to identify and develop their friendships based on whom they work with. When a company is able to effectively use a team of employees to achieve particular goals, the sense of belonging that stems from an increased closeness such as a friendship can, when handled correctly, be incredibly positive and effective both for personal development and happiness as well as productive for the good of the entire team.

The fourth level of the hierarchy of needs is known as theesteem level. While people are generally aware of the importance of self-esteem in our psychological development, many people are not always as aware of how critical it is to be held in esteem by others, especially peers. The respect of others as well as a sense of achievement is incredibly important from a psychological perspective. Workplace psychology (also known as organizational psychology) as well as social psychology has well established just how important these issues are to fostering a productive and safe working environment. When coworkers have different positions and are not expected to act as a team, it is very common to find some employees that have no idea what their coworker actually does, even when their own job is dependent upon these unknown activities of their coworkers. When people do not understand the activities or expertise of the people with whom they work, it is difficult to create a sense of security.

It is even more difficult to create a sense of appreciation on the part of each employee for the tasks undertaken by the other employees. When this is the case, it may be virtually impossible for an employee to feel a tremendous amount of respect for their peers and similarly, to feel much respect directed towards themselves on behalf of their peers. Likewise, self-esteem, confidence, and a sense of achievement are all likely to stem, to some degree, from the work that someone does. While doing a good job may be able to foster some level of these elements, it is difficult for them to be as fully fleshed out, as they could be if the others in their work environment are unaware of their achievements. Creating a team gives employees the opportunity to prove, both to themselves and to their peers, that they are capable and competent. As that occurs more regularly, confidence and respect are bolstered and employees become more productive as they have more of their emotional and psychological needs met.

Some of us know an individual or two (or perhaps many) who genuinely do not work in a team setting at all. If you are asking whether they have the same hierarchy of needs, the answer is usually, yes. However, for certain jobs it simply is not feasible for a person to work as part of a team. This can sometimes be circumvented by participating in independent teams where team members work primarily to share ideas, feedback, and so forth. Of course, some people have limited interest in participating in a team for a variety of reasons. However, even most of those individuals have the same needs; they simply have those needs met in other ways.
Sometimes that can be highly effective; other times it becomes problematic. Consider the classic example of the volatile artist. Most visual artists, such as painters, work independently of almost anyone and thus spend a tremendous amount of time alone and, during that time, are not having any of their psychological needs met. Consequently, when it comes to selling their work, they can oftentimes become emotionally needy for intense recognition of their achievements to fill the psychological needs that have not been met through team participation. In turn, if that artist does not receive recognition of their work on a frequent basis, they often will become despondent or unproductive because their creative juices will not flow when the artist is not having their emotional and psychological needs met.