Academic journal article SAM Advanced Management Journal

Work-Teams: Why Do They Often Fail?

Academic journal article SAM Advanced Management Journal

Work-Teams: Why Do They Often Fail?

Article excerpt

Why do so many teams fail? If good teamwork promotes productivity and quality improvement, then why are productivity and quality levels sometimes lower in a team environment? Although a few companies have embraced the use of teams and utilized them successfully, a significant number have failed miserably. In fact, even performance between teams in the same company can vary by as much as 100% (Scott and Townsend, 1994). Nahavandi and Aranda (1994) discovered that many employees believe working in a team environment is a waste of productive time because too much time is routinely spent on building trust and agreement. While this is commendable, it often does not translate into higher productivity or increased creativity (Allender, 1993). For example, Florida Power & Light Company reduced worker participation after employees complained that too many team meetings were hurting their performance (Zemke, 1993).

Both managers and subordinates have expressed dissatisfaction, anger, and exasperation over a team's frequent ineptitude and inability to generate good decisions. One reason for these frustrations is that people in a team commonly feel that other team members decrease their chances for "personal success." This is especially true with high performers who may frown on teams because their individual work ethic is often less noticed in a group. As a result, many team members hold back their effort and instead concentrate their energy on individual goals (Bartol and Hagmann, 1992). Another reason for employee frustration is that lower managers often do not provide the support needed for their teams because many of them do not know how to properly use the team concept (Schilder, 1992; Geber, 1994).

In spite of these problems and others, research shows that most companies strongly believe in the team concept and want it embedded in their operations (Nahavandi and Aranda, 1994). In fact, one in five companies has or will soon implement self-directed work teams (Hitchcock and Willard, 1995). If this is true, then what is needed to make teams genuinely successful?

This article discusses the reservations of management and employees concerning the long-term success of teams, and offers concrete recommendations on implementing them properly and troubleshooting common problems. The areas addressed are: (1) essentials for making the change to a team environment, (2) presenting the team concept to employees, (3) handling lower management resistance, and (4) the training required to form successful teams. These areas were chosen to point out the most commonly believed reasons for team failures. However, too few empirical studies have been completed to affirm any of the currently recommended team implementation strategies (Scott and Townsend, 1994). Given such circumstances, it is no surprise that many consultants and team experts assert that half of all teams eventually fail (Vogt and Hunt, 1988; Hitchcock and Willard, 1995).

Essentials for Making the Change to a Team Environment

For managers and employees, switching from "individual work" to "team work" is not an easy task (Allender, 1993). Both want to increase productivity and efficiency, but both also want to maintain job security and their current position status. As a result, the decision to design work around teams is not always accepted by employees at any level. The initial presentation by top management is crucial. A company should develop the team concept with the full cooperation, decision making, and involvement of all employees. If a company is really interested in and believes in the team approach, it should set an immediate example by using it when moving to a team environment. If a union is involved, for example, labor and management should work together to organize and develop the new team structure. This may sound basic, but it is often ignored (Wasilisin, 1993; Bluestone and Bluestone, 1992).

Most change is naturally resisted. …

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