Teams and Teamwork as the Basis of Effectiveness / Developing Business Knowledge: an independent learning approach

A Literature Review

Bachelor Thesis, 2005

21 Pages, Grade: 1.7








Teams and teamwork can be found in every organisation. A criticai literature review on teams and team building is given. Assumptions concerning defining, evaluating and building teams are stated. Understandings of the topic vary significantly. Teams are seen as co-operations of individuals which are working together to accomplish given tasks. Also advantages and disadvantages differ within the topic depending on the philosophical approach. Advantages of teams are well understood but less proved. Team building is highlighted by two different frameworks. Statements about effective teamwork are reviewed an evaluated. Additionally, the system model as a framework for effective teamwork is iilustrated and discussed. Core components like communication, shared beliefs, leadership and shared decision-making, training, and selection are explained. Arguments about teams and teamwork are mainly based on secondary research and narratives rather than primary research. The contrariness of the topic can be explained by a lack of research. Furthermore, methods and methodologies as well as suggestions for further research and limitations are iilustrated


Nowadays, teams are seen in every organisations and the majority agrees to the advantageous position of teams rather than individuals. The term team is mentioned in the same sense like effectiveness, efficiency, problem-solving and success. Referring to numerous authors, during the last 30 years the utilisation of teams and teamwork increased dramatically. (Gustafson & Kleiner, 1994; Guzzo & Dickinson, 1996; Salas, Burke & Cannon-Bowers, 2000) It is also mentioned that teamwork seems to be a winning formula. (Woodock, 1989, cited by Ingram, Teare, Scheuning & Armistead, 1997) Nevertheless, some authors mentioned that teamwork is just a ‘fashion’ and is not always the best solution. (Church, 1998)

In the following, a critical literature review on teams and team building will be given. Especially effective team performance will be centred. In order to evaluate literature adequate, the conceptual framework developed by Bloom - ‘Bloom’s taxonomy’ - will be used. Within the review, an accurate and informed awareness of the literature of teams and teamwork will be demonstrated. Therefore, material of specific topics will be evaluated. The main part of the review covers: defining teams, evaluating teams, building teams, effective teamwork and its core competences. Likewise, main themes, methods, and philosophical approaches will be analysed. Furthermore, approaches for further research will be given. Beside, own interpretation, assumptions and limitations of the review will be illustrated.


The interest in teams and teamwork from both academic and practitioner viewpoints increased immense over the last 40 years. (Tranfield & Smith, 2002) Also, there is much confusion about definitions and characteristics. Authors are in agreement about the difficulties on researching, measuring and evaluating the topic. Therefore, several authors worked on the theme and tried to discuss it. Due to it, a literature review will be given on the topic. Hart (1998, cited by Harrington & Booth, 2004) defined a literature review as follows:

The selection of available documents [...] on the topic, which contain information, ideas, data and evidence written from a particular standpoint to fulfil certain aims or express certain views on the nature of the topic and how it is to be investigated, and the effective evaluation of these documents [in relation to the research being proposed].

Due to different definitions and components about teams an account of 29 articles are researched an evaluated. Main focus is on both teams and teamwork but the research involves also articles wide around the topic. Several articles of main journals like the ‘International Journal of Management Review’, ‘Team Performance Management’ and ‘Training & Development Journal’ are used. Also a few books are used for general and further information. The following review is divided into three parts. Firstly, defining, evaluating and building teams will be covered. Furthermore, effective teamwork will be reviewed. The third part covers core components to achieve effective teamwork. Each of the parts includes a critical description and evaluation of main arguments. Additionally, methods and methodologies will be highlighted and analysed. Afterwards, methodologies occurring in the literature will be illustrated in more depth. A next part, will develop approaches of further research as well as own interpretation. Finally, the appeared limitations of the literature review itself will be described briefly.


Within the topic there is confusion about definition, characteristics and processes of effective team performance. Salas et al (2000) argue that is because teamwork is a multidimensional construct which is dynamic and vague and therefore difficult to study. Furthermore, there is a lack of research and understanding of the topic. (Salas, et al, 2000) In the following part, teams and their definition given by several authors will be described and evaluated. Additionally, understanding of team characteristics will be analysed. Likewise, methods and methodologies within the evaluated papers will be explained and categorised.


Nowadays, teams and teamwork are seen in every organisation and are inescapable in modern systems to achieve and sustain success. (Church, 1998) Over the last 30 years many organisations turned from individual working to team-acting. It is argued that, due to the new advanced technology, teamwork in a sense of employee commitment is more needed than control and compliance. (Huszczo, 1990) Teamwork is worldwide used (Church, 1998) and it seems to be a trend or a ‘fashion’ that everybody has to be involved in a team to be successful. (Mullins, 2002, Ingram et al, 1997)

Within the literature, that is reviewed, definitions of teams vary significantly. It also has to be mentioned that there exist no clear and sustainable explanations. Many authors are not able to explain the term in a clear sense. Everyone has a subjective and formless understanding of ‘teams’, which can be summarised as: Several people who are co-operating together to achieve an organisational or individual goal. (Belbin, 1973; Gustafson & Kleiner, 1994; Ingram, et al, 1997; Spears, 1996; Staniforth, 1996; etc.) The vagueness of a definition is caused by a lack of research and evaluation of the topic. (Currie & Procter, 2003; Staniforth, 1996) Nevertheless, according to Salas et al (2000), and there review, a leading definition categorise teams as a set of individuals “interacting adaptively, interdependently, and dynamically towards a common [...] goal” (Salas, et al, 2000, p.341) Teams are defined from two perspectives: The functionalistic and the interpretative approach. The functionalist paradigm dominates the business and management research and tries to generalise findings and assumptions. Compared to that, the interpretivist paradigm tries to identify conclusion in a more individual and subjective way. (Burrell & Morgan, 1979)

In a more functionalistic sense, teams are defined as follows: they “are composed of individuals who work together in close proximity with each other and who interact with other teams in the workplace.” (Ingram, et al, 1997, p.125) Teams are affected by environmental issues and changes including economy, organisation and needs of customers. (Ingram, et al, 1997; Stevens & Campion, 1999) According to Belbin (1993), teams are characterised by a limited size, a crucial selection and leadership which is shared or rotated. Furthermore, teams are following a role spread and co-ordinated style as well as a spirit of dynamic interaction. (Belbin, 1976; Belbin, 1993, Salas, et al, 2000, Mullin, 2002) Teamwork is also reported as an organisational form to support and enact many tactical and strategic developments. (Tranfield & Smith, 2002) Tranfield & Smith’s (2002) definition is based on research in manufacturing and was afterwards generalised to all types. Teams are seen as an open system which interacts between inputs and outputs to accomplish a given task (Ingram, et al, 1997; Plovnick, Fry & Rubin, 1975)

Because of the difficulties in describing teams many authors defined it from a more interpretative position. In the considered literature a variety of different types of teams can be found. Salas et al (2000) claimed that there exist several types of teams and therefore it is difficult to categories and evaluate them. In their paper they defined three types of teams: The action team, the production team and the management team. Each of these teams requires different processes as well as measurements in order to work effective. Likewise, Huszczo (1990) distinguished teams by their definition of goals and specific objectives. He differentiated teams where outcomes are less clear and those with ‘everyday working tasks’. (e.g. management and job-floor teams) (Huszczo, 1990; Tranfield & Smith, 2002) Affirmative to Huszczo (1990), Ingram et al (1997) illustrate the existence of many different teams instead of just one type of teams. Also Sundstrom (1999, cited by Salas et al, 2000) categorised six types of teams: The production team, the service team, the management team, the acting/performance team, the project team and the parallel team. Functionality is the underlining nature of each of these teams. Sundstrom (1999) also mentioned that each team requires different characteristics to succeed. (Sundstrom, 1999, cited by Salas, et al, 2000) Katzenbach & Smith (1993) distinguished between three types of teams in a hierarchical order, based on primary research of 50 teams in 30 countries: Teams which recommend things, teams which produce things and teams which lead things. The first type solves problems and includes task forces and project groups. The second type is linked to more valuable contributions like change management, creative and cross-functional teams (Church, 1998; Katzenbach & Smith, 1993)). The third team is often described as inter-disciplinary. Things are often self-managed or self-directed as management leadership teams. (Huszczo, 1990; Hut & Mollemann, 1998; Katzenbach & Smith, 1993; Tata & Palmer, 2000) Within the production industry Tranfield & Smith, S., Foster, M., Wilson, S. & Parry (2002) and Tranfield & Smith (2002) categorised an overall self- directed archetype with two subtypes. Subtypes are the lean team, which is characterized by routine tasks, less autonomy, formal leadership, and high productivity, and the project team. The second subtype regards to special task, informal leadership, and a high participation.

Most of the papers which distinguish between different types of teams are based on the interpretivist paradigm - to a greater or lesser extent. Criticising these papers, the majority is based on meta-analysis and own statements. Ingram et al (1997) already mentioned that the literature of teams is inconclusive and often described by anecdotes and subjective assumptions rather than primary research. Also if several teams are distinguished, only a few of the above theorists and practitioners analysed processes and characteristics of these teams in depth. (e.g. Rushmer, 1997a; Katzenbach & Smith, 1993; Tranfield, et al, 2002) The assumption of the existence of different types seems obviously. Nevertheless, differences are only based on a different environment and not by different characteristics. Even if goals and purposes are diverse, there is less evidence that behaviours, structures or processes have to be different. Just in the differentiation of team leading - self-managing teams versus top-down managing teams - differences in style and methods are provided. (Rushmer, 1997a; Rushmer, 1997b; Tata & Prasad, 2004) An extreme subjective definition of teams is given by Currie & Procter (2003), who argues that teams are never identical. Teams and especially teamwork varies from team to team.

Referring to the above definitions, it can be said that definitions and assumptions changed over the last 30 years. Due to that, Guzzo (1998, cited by Church 1991) describe the explanation of teams in four subjective and timely stages: During the 1960s teams have just been an instrument for training and experience to improve management. Afterwards, teams were seen to reduce alienation between workers. In the 1980s teams were used as a competitive advantage to enhance productivity and quality. Since an increasing globalisation teams are an inherent component in almost every organisation.

To sum up, definitions of teams vary significant within the literature. As an often found functionalistic description, they are seen as a co-operation of several people working together to achieve common goals or fulfil given tasks. Furthermore, many interpretivists defined several subtypes of teams which require numerous circumstances, processes and structures. It can also be concluded that the difficulty to define teams results from a lack of research. Most definitions are based on subjective assumptions rather than primary research.


Like mentioned earlier, both researchers and practitioners believe in a positive and advantageous affect of teams and teamwork. Many papers, which are written about the topic, are analysing components how organisations can work more effectively and efficiently with the use of teams. In the following part, advantages as well as disadvantages indicated by several authors will be highlighted and evaluated critically.

One of the sustainable opinions within the literature is that teams are achieving a higher outcome than individuals. The increasing need of teams is based on increasing technology, environmental purposes and speed of changes. (Nurick, 1993; Stevens & Campion, 1999; Tranfield & Smith, 2002) Bradley (1994) holds a strong functionalistic position while he assumed the need of teams to survive the 1990s. Most practitioners and academics belief, teams are working more efficiently and effectively than individuals do. It is also argued that teams and groups are creating more and better solutions. (Belbin, 1976; Harris & Harris, 1996; Huszczo, 1990; Nurick, 1993; Staniforth, 1996; West, 1994; etc.) It has been mentioned that evidences underline the approach of a higher effectiveness, but these proofs have not been described in depth. (Huszczo, 1990; Shawn, 1981) In this context, it has to be noticed that less writers, neither Shawn (1981) nor Huszczo (1990) support the above benefits with own evidences. Furthermore, it is claimed that teamwork supports redesigning structure (Chance, 1989, cited by Ingram, et al, 1997) and maintaining quality. (Ingram, et al, 1997) Regarding to Salas et al (2000) teams are offering more than just the knowledge and experiences of several individuals; they are also sharing responsibilities for decision-making processes and deliver extent resources and ideas. Teamwork is seen as a central and necessary structural feature which has long been judged for enhancing organisational efficiency. (Bradley, 1994; Dyer, 1977, cited by Nurick, 1993; Tranfield & Smith, 2002) Benefits of teamwork are highlighted by Ingram et al (1997) from their primary research. These benefits include: Increased commitment and motivation, quantitative and qualitative communication, the ability to learn from each other, and a higher sense of organisational and personal satisfaction. Teamwork is also reported as an organisational form to support and enact many tactical and strategic developments in manufacturing. (Tranfield & Smith, 2002)

The above characteristics as a consequence of introducing teams in workplaces seem to be logical and plausible, but fewer evidences are given. Most of the reviewed authors used meta­analysis or secondary research to develop the above assumptions. Just a few papers are showing real proofs for the above assumptions. Teare et al (1997), for examples, are underlining their assumptions based on primary research of several teams in different circumstances. Furthermore, outcomes are defined as the only measurements of teamwork. (Ingram, et al, 1997; Teare, et al, 1997) Assumption are only based on own experiences. Also Harris & Harris (1996) argued from a strong functionalistic approach that team building is possible in each organisation, and each level of management using the right constellation of people. The different opinions about the right constellation of team members will be described in the next part of the review.

Contrary, to this widely accepted and objective assumption of advantageous outcomes, Church (1998) as an interpretivist, disagreed completely to this approach. He mentioned that teams are not always producing a better outcome than individuals do. To underline his attitude, he did primary research, in form of interviews, based on opinions of several practitioners and researchers. They also noted a worldwide use of teamwork but also that the most successful start-ups and organisational turn-arounds were made by individual leaders rather than teams. Furthermore, they claimed that not always teams are advantageous as assumed and highlighted some examples to prove it. (Church, 1998; Manz, 1998; Rogelberg, 1998) Manz (1998, cited by Church, 1998) suggested also, that teams are not always better than individuals. According to Rogelberg (1998, cited by Church, 1998), teamwork is advantageous but still has its boundaries like every other management tool. Teams may not be suitable to all situations and circumstances. Church et al (1998) are critical as well concerning general understandings of teams and effective teamwork. They mentioned, based on own experiences as consultants and academics, that some practitioners understand teamwork and other do not. (Church, 1998; Manz, 1998; Rogelberg, 1998) Likewise, Staniforth (1996) sees teams from a more critical aspect. In his qualitative paper, he is agreeing to the advantageous part of teams but also regards some disadvantages like individual pressure on team members, wrong leadership, functionalistic view of team efforts, costly and time consuming as well as ‘just building teams and not acting as a team’. The above assumption is supported in the paper of Teire (1982), Gustafson & Kleiner (1994) and Katzenbach & Smith (1994). Weaknesses in evidences are indicated as well. A value argument was given by Gustafson & Smith (1994) which note that teams are build on individuals. This basic aspect complicates an overall acceptance of teams and teamwork.

Concluding, it can be argued that there exist many ‘pros’ as well as ‘cons’ for the success of teams. There are not enough data which underline the advantages of the team approach over the individualistic one. For each positive experience negative experiences which illustrate disadvantages of team performance can be found. (Rogelberg, 1998, cited by Church, 1998) Church (1998) sees the existing tension of team building critical compared to his counterparts. He agrees to the established advantages, but also mentioned the argument, that team work cannot be the solution for all organisational problems. Especially, in the part of evaluating teams, controversies between the functionalistic and interpretative paradigm are occurring.


One of the sub-topics of teams and teamwork is team building with a huge extent of articles about it. Several authors attach great importance to the right composition and abilities of teams and their members to act effectively. (Belbin, 1981; Kirkpatrick & Smith, 1991; Lawford, 2003; Teire, 1982; Stevens & Campion, 1999; McCrimmon, 1995 etc.) According to Stevens & Campion (1999), poor interpersonal and social skills are consequential for teams. In the following part, main arguments will be illustrated and discussed. Likewise, findings as well as approaches will be critical evaluated.

Belbin et al (1976) defined eight different roles which have to be balanced to build an effective team. These roles are: Resource investigator, chairman, shaper, monitor evaluator, plant, team-worker, complete-finisher, and company worker. (Belbin, Aston & Mottram, 1976; Belbin 1993) Mottram enlarged Belbin’s team role model by balancing positive and negative aspects of each team role. (Mortram, 1982, cited by Harris & Harris, 1996) Belbin’s assumptions are furthered by a wide range of authors. Criticising Belbin’s work; evidences which underline the effectiveness of these team roles are sparely. Additionally, Belbin researched only in the college environment and generalised out-of-date findings. (McCrimmon, 1995) Due to that, research has done by Sommerville & Dalziel (1998) underlines Belbin’s theory. Furthermore, the importance of a right mix of male and female could be proved by them. In a weak paper Rideout & Richardson (1989) also tried to emphasize the importance of the right gender mix. The developed model, based on Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, supports more the assumptions of differences between male and female rather giving a real contribution to the literature of team building. Within the reviewed literature, arguments countering the above findings could be highlighted as well. McCrimmon (1995), for example, mentioned that an ‘over-mixed’ team can lead to misunderstanding of responsibilities and tasks. Because of stated roles and functions, teams with pre-defined roles are less flexible and less changeable.

A further model for building an effective team was developed by Stevens & Campion (1999). The model based upon their pre-findings in 1994. They justified their work due to a lack of research on abilities required from individuals to work effectively in a team. Because of that, Stevens & Campion (1999) developed a paper-and-pencil test for staffing work teams. They used the knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSA’s) for effective teamwork. These KSA’s reflected goals setting, conflict resolution, communication, collaborative problem solving, performing management as well as planning and task coordination. They are components which are also mentioned by other authors. (e.g. Ingram, et al, 1998; Huszczo, 1990; Tranfield & Smith, 2002; Church, 1998; Spears, 1996; etc.) In order to that, these core components will be highlighted in more depth in the following part of the review. Stevens & Campion (1999) separated their definition in two categorises: Interpersonal KSA’s and self-management KSA’s. Conflict Resolution KSA which is the ability to recognise and promote advantageous conflicts as well as avoid disadvantageous conflicts between team members is pointed as an interpersonal KSA. A further interpersonal KSA is Collaborative Problem Solving, which is the ability to identify, solve and implement appropriate conflicts and actions. The most important KSA is Communication. It involves the skill to enhance open and supportively communication as well as listening nonevaluatively. The self-management KSA’s are further separated in two sub-categorises: Goal Setting and Performance Management, as well as Planning and Task Co-ordination. Stevens & Campion (1999) can prove the importance of the above findings based on two primary researches. They generalised findings based upon their own position as functionalists. The generalised approach of the studies they have done can be misunderstood and criticised.

Like described before, the opinion about the importance of individuals in a team is widely shared in the literature. Several team roles are established, developed and discussed. The importance of them could be proved in qualitative and quantitative papers. Both functionalistic and interpretative approaches are leading to the same results. Although, it has to be mentioned, that the above aspects for effective team building are also general aspects for each effective organisation. It could be argued that overall aspects have only been translated to team circumstances.


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Teams and Teamwork as the Basis of Effectiveness / Developing Business Knowledge: an independent learning approach
A Literature Review
University of the West of England, Bristol
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teams, teamwork, basis, effectiveness, developing, business, knowledge, literature, review
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Sven Rosenhauer (Author), 2005, Teams and Teamwork as the Basis of Effectiveness / Developing Business Knowledge: an independent learning approach , Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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