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Themes and theories for working in virtual project teams
Themes and theories for working in virtual project teams

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2 Teams

The word team is often used generally in work or social contexts without strict regard for any formal definition. For the purposes of professional practitioners and academic study it is necessary to ensure that there is common understanding of the meaning of the term ‘team’.

The terms ‘group’ and ‘team’ are often used interchangeably with little or no distinction being made. Some authors, such as Katzenbach and Smith (1993), argue that just as groups are greater than an aggregation of people, so teams are more than just a group of people. While there are various definitions of a group, they all agree on this point: that a group is more than just an aggregation of people.

Jaques and Salmon (2006) follow exactly this definition when they describe the qualities that a group must have for it to be considered more than just a collection of people, although it may have the qualities to differing extents:

  1. Collective perception: members are collectively conscious of their existence as a group.
  2. Needs: people join a group because they believe it will satisfy some needs or give them some rewards such as recognition or self understanding through feedback.
  3. Shared aims: members hold or quickly develop some shared aims or ideals which bind them together. The achievement of these shared aims may be one of the rewards.
  4. Interdependence: members are interdependent insofar as they are affected by, and respond to, any event that affects any of the group’s members.
  5. Social organisation: the group comprises a social unit with norms, roles, statuses, power and emotional relationships.
  6. Interaction: members influence and respond to each other in the process of communicating. The sense of groups exists even when members are not collocated, such as when they are part of a virtual group.
  7. Cohesiveness: members want to remain in the group, to contribute to its wellbeing and aims, and to join in its activities.
  8. Membership: two or more people interacting explicitly or implicitly for longer than a few minutes constitute a group, if there is recognition of mutual bonds.

In contrasting groups and teams, Jaques and Salmon (2006, p. 6) propose that groups of people ‘come together to share knowledge for personal development or to learn from each other through discussion’. In contrast, they define teams as ‘groups that are engaged in a task or project geared towards an end product or decision’. Therefore, in Jaques and Salmon’s view, teams are a subset of groups.

Katzenbach and Smith distinguish between working groups and teams. This is illustrated in Table 2.

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Table 2 description. The table has 2 columns, the headings are ‘Working groups’ and ‘Teams’. There are seven rows under these headings.

First row, for working groups, a strong, clearly focused leader is appointed;

for teams, shared leadership responsibilities exist among members.

Second row, for working groups, the general organisational mission is the group’s purpose;

for teams, a specific well-defined purpose exists that is unique to the team.

Third row, for working groups, individual work provides the only product;

for teams, the team and individual work develop products.

Fourth row, for working groups, effectiveness is measured indirectly by the group’s influence on others;

for teams, effectiveness is measured directly by assessing team work products.

Fifth row, for working groups, individual accomplishments are recognised and rewarded;

for teams, team celebration occurs. Individual efforts that contribute to the team’s success are also recognised and celebrated.

Sixth row, for working groups, meetings are efficiently run and last for short periods;

for teams, meetings have open-ended discussions that include active problem solving.

Seventh row, for working groups, in meetings members discuss, decide and delegate;

for teams, in meetings members discuss, decide, and perform real work together.

Table 2 Differences between working groups and teams
Working groupsTeams
A strong, clearly focused leader is appointedShared leadership responsibilities exist among members
The general organisational mission is the group’s purposeA specific well-defined purpose exists that is unique to the team
Individual work provides the only productTeam and individual work develop products
Effectiveness is measured indirectly by the group’s influence on othersEffectiveness is measured directly by assessing team work products
Individual accomplishments are recognised and rewardedTeam celebration occurs. Individual efforts that contribute to the team’s success are also recognised and celebrated
Meetings are efficiently run and last for short periodsMeetings have open-ended discussions that include active problem solving
In meetings members discuss, decide and delegateIn meetings members discuss, decide and perform real work together
(Adapted from Katzenbach and Smith, 1993)

SAQ 1

Based on the previous discussion, characterise, in the form of a table, the differences between two types of groups that are likely to be encountered in a workplace: a work group of individuals carrying out similar or related activities, and a team. What is the main similarity between a work group and a team?

Answer

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Table 3 description:

The table has three columns; the first column lists possible differences between a work group and a team. The second column is headed ‘Team’ and identifies how the aspect in the first column relates to a team. The third column is headed ‘Work group’ and identifies how the aspect in the first column relates to a work group.

First row: social interaction between individuals is significant. For a team yes, for a work group yes.

Second row: there is a common task. For a team yes, for a work group not necessarily.

Third row: there are common goals. For a team yes, for a work group possibly.

Fourth row: work products. For a team the products are collective, for a work group the products are individual.

Fifth row: need to work interdependently to achieve tasks. For a team this is high, for a work group this is low to medium.

Table 3 Differences between teams and work groups
TeamWork group
Social interaction between individuals is significantYesYes
There is a common taskYesNot necessarily
There are common goalsYesPossibly
Work productsCollectiveIndividual
Need to work interdependently to achieve tasksHighLow to medium

The main differences are that the team has a common goal and therefore also has common tasks. The work group may have common goals, in which case common tasks are also likely, but without a common goal common tasks are unlikely.

The main similarity is that there is significant social interaction between the members of both the team and work group.

The table in this SAQ is derived from Table 2 and supports the similarities and differences identified.