How teams work
How teams work

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

Free course

How teams work

1.2 Operational teams

An operational team is formed to undertake some ongoing activities that are required for the provision of goods or services. For example, the counter service and telephone services operated by a bank are provided by operational teams that are supplying a service to the public, whereas an accounting department within a larger organisation is supplying a service to other parts of the organisation. The purpose of the operational team is usually specified in terms of the level of service or the quality of the goods supplied.

Operational teams usually have well-defined roles and responsibilities. While the idea of team roles is typically applied to project teams, an operational team also needs a variety of types of people to support the processes and progress of the team.

An operational team can be a virtual team. However, it is less common for an operational team to be fully virtual than some other types of team. It is more likely that some, if not all, operational team members will be collocated. If the team does operate from more than one location it will be split into sub-teams, each of which will be collocated. The needs of a virtual operational team are very similar to the needs of a virtual project team; in particular, they need some shared workspace that may be wholly or partly virtual.

In some circumstances, operational teams can work as project teams. For example, an accounts department provides an ongoing service to other parts of the organisation. When the organisation needs to produce end-of-year accounts this can be approached as a project. A schedule may be devised, with interim milestones building towards the goal of producing a set of accounts that are complete, accurate and on time.


The following list of tasks could be undertaken by an operational team or some form of project team. What form of organisation would be most appropriate for managing them? Briefly state the reason(s) for your choices.

  • a.Processing applications for entry to a professional society.
  • b.Devising an information security policy for an organisation.
  • c.Designing and developing a new production line in a manufacturing company.
  • d.Installing a new production line in an engineering firm.
  • e.Improving the methods of research and development of a car manufacturer.
  • f.Developing software for patient admissions in a hospital.
  • g.Introducing an automated warehousing system at all the depots of a supermarket chain.


  • a.This involves a set of routine tasks that the organisation must be equipped to perform; hence it would be carried out by an operational team.
  • b.This is likely to involve a project team structure. Inputs to formulating the strategy would be needed from various areas, plus professional and technical inputs.
  • c.Inputs from various different specialists at different stages would be needed, suggesting that a matrix project structure is most likely.
  • d.Installing production lines is likely to happen quite often in this industry, but the work is likely to be the responsibility of one department: engineering. This suggests using the existing functional organisation, so this is likely to require a functional project team.
  • e.This could be the responsibility of either a functional or a matrix project team. Making incremental improvements would be the responsibility of the various line managers for the different functions involved. However, if new systems or radical change (e.g. process improvements or changes or business process re-engineering) were involved, a project structure would be needed – probably of a matrix type because of the various different professional interests (such as academic, legal and regulatory, formulation and analysis).
  • f.This is likely to be the responsibility of a functional team, possibly with baton passing, or with a project manager or coordinator if it is part of a wider project. The question did not mention a new system, so the straightforward computerisation of an existing system with known requirements is implied – hence the choice of a functional approach.
  • g.The supermarket is unlikely to have the necessary expertise in warehouse automation (i.e. using robots for simple, repetitive tasks). The design and implementation of the automated warehousing system will require specialist resources and hence a contract team is most likely.

Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to University-level study, we offer two introductory routes to our qualifications. You could either choose to start with an Access module, or a module which allows you to count your previous learning towards an Open University qualification. Read our guide on Where to take your learning next for more information.

Not ready for formal University study? Then browse over 1000 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus371