As mentioned by many management texts, one characteristic of team is the diversity of its membership. It is a “pool” of people from different disciplines, who have different skills, different knowledge, different experience, and thus different perspectives.
The advantages of diversity are that it can pool the strength of different disciplines in the organization to solve complicated problems; it makes the organization more flexible and respond quickly to the change of the outside world; and most important through the interaction and inter-exchange of team members, organizations can “extract” the knowledge embedded in shop floor and use it to achieve continuous improvement. In one word, teamwork provides a means for the organization to benefit from the diversity of its employees. So diversity is most desired when selecting team members to form a team.
However, during the formation of teams, a very frequent scenario is the suppression of differences and conflicts within teams to achieve pre-set common goals. In order to function, team has to go through the stage of norming (as identified by Tuckman) where shared norms are established by team members. Norms as described by Black and Porter are accepted standards, used to guide and discipline the behaviour of individual team members (2000:307). On the one hand norms are very important in teamwork, as it can help to coordinate the action of individual team members, and work collectively to the benefit of the whole team.
However, on the other hand, as pointed out by Black and Porter “norms can be thought of as constraining or reducing the variability of actions and attitudes across a set of group members, that is, norms tends to narrow individual differences in behaviour and beliefs” (1999:310). The existence of strong norms tends to “standardize” the way of thinking of team members; makes them to pursue agreement among them; and reject any alternatives and different opinions, even if they are proved to be useful to the group (ibid), To new comers, established norms are what they have to accept without any hesitation.
They have to think as other members think, and do as other members do. As concluded by Barker people working in teams “must invest a part of themselves in the team; they must identify strongly with their team’ value and goals, its norms and rules, uncommitted workers do not last [in teams]. “(1993:435) As a result, team members become more and more uniform and inward-looking. Then here comes the danger of group thinking. Group thinking is very dangerous. It kills the motivation for innovation within teams, makes teams blind to their mistakes, and sometimes even drives team members to cover up their mistakes.
One classical example is the Challenger disaster. The NASA management team was “trapped ‘ in their previous success and did not believe they could make mistakes. They rejected the engineering opinion that there might be a problem, and made the decision of launch. The result is disaster. To teams it is a dilemma. On the one hand they need diversity, on the other hand they have to establish norm to narrow diversity in order to function. If it goes too far, it will lead to group thinking, which no organization wants. Conclusion
“People develop [management] models and theories in response to circumstances, and to the most pressing issue facing managers at the time. ” (Boddy and Paton, 1998: 44). Teamwork, as a management technique is developed to address the issue of how to “maximize the flexibility ” of organizations in order to “meet a rapid changing market’ (ibid). However like other management techniques, it is far from perfect. It solves one problem while at the same time add another. So we cannot say that teamwork is a more advanced management technique that it can and must substitute all the other management techniques.
Teamwork only provides an alternative way to organize resources. It “cannot compensate for badly designed organizational processes; nor can they substitute for management’s responsibility to define how decisions should be made”(Slack et al, 2001: 291). So organizations, before make decisions to adopt teamwork, should take time to consider “what are the problems they are facing? “; “Can teamwork help to solve these problems? “; and “If so, how can they balance the positive effects and the negative effects of teamwork? “