Team Effectiveness in Academic Medical Libraries: A Multiple Case Study*

By Martin, Elaine Russo | Journal of the Medical Library Association, July 2006 | Go to article overview
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Team Effectiveness in Academic Medical Libraries: A Multiple Case Study*

Martin, Elaine Russo, Journal of the Medical Library Association

Objectives: The objective of this study is to apply J. Richard Hackman's framework on team effectiveness to academic medical library settings.

Methods: The study uses a qualitative, multiple case study design, employing interviews and focus groups to examine team effectiveness in three academic medical libraries. Another site was selected as a pilot to validate the research design, field procedures, and methods to be used with the cases. In all, three interviews and twelve focus groups, with approximately seventy-five participants, were conducted at the case study libraries.

Findings: Hackman identified five conditions leading to team effectiveness and three outcomes dimensions that defined effectiveness. The participants in this study identified additional characteristics of effectiveness that focused on enhanced communication, leadership personality and behavior, and relationship building. The study also revealed an additional outcome dimension related to the evolution of teams.

Conclusions: Introducing teams into an organization is not a trivial matter. Hackman's model of effectiveness has implications for designing successful library teams.


Budget cuts, staffing shortages, and the rapid growth and deployment of technology have forced a number of libraries to rethink the way they offer services to their patrons [1]. In response to these challenges, many major academic research libraries have restructured their business processes to include groups of individuals or teams that perform the work [2]. Academic medical libraries, though somewhat slower to respond at the time this research was conducted, have started to use teams to accomplish certain tasks. Groups of individuals working together, however, do not necessarily make an effective team. Teams must be planned for and managed [3].

A 1998 survey reported that, during the 1990s, many members of the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) (e.g., University of Arizona, University of North Carolina, University of Minnesota) began to adopt teams [2]. Prior to this time, these libraries were organized by departments and committees according to a strict hierarchy or command-and-control structure [2]. Directors and department heads made decisions that they then communicated to supervisors, who then informed line staff. Shaunessy noted that these managerial layers created slow responses to customer service problems and frustration among library staff [4]. Cross-departmental, multilevel (involving supervisors and staff), and multi-rank (including professionals and nonprofessionals) teams emerged in libraries as a "new way of operating, a new organizational culture" designed to reduce bureaucracy and empower staff [4]. In teams, staff closest to the work proposed and implemented decisions previously made by upper management. Euster [5] referred to this phenomenon as "group empowerment."


The introduction of teams in any organization raises the need for ways to promote and evaluate their effectiveness. J. Richard Hackman, Cahners-Rabb Professor of Social and Organizational Psychology at Harvard University [6], takes a multidimensional approach to team effectiveness, positing three defining outcomes and five conditions leading to team effectiveness. These outcomes include (1) a team product that exceeds customer expectations, (2) growth in team capabilities over time, and (3) a satisfying and meaningful group experience for team members. These outcomes result from the five conditions for team effectiveness he specifies:

1. A real team: Creating the real team is necessary for establishing the foundation for the team's work; the tasks assigned to the team are clear, and members work together;

2. A compelling direction: Someone in authority tells the team what is expected at the end of their work, but not the means by which the team gets there;

3. An enabling team structure: Structural features include designing teams with codes of conduct, putting the right people on the team, ensuring the appropriate size and mix of members, and so forth;


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Team Effectiveness in Academic Medical Libraries: A Multiple Case Study*


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