Academic journal article Group Facilitation

Facilitating Team Development: A View from the Field

Academic journal article Group Facilitation

Facilitating Team Development: A View from the Field

Article excerpt


In recent years there has been abundant attention to teamwork in the workplace. It is almost as though executives want "teams by Monday." Many organizations have experimented with self-directed work teams, and the number and variety of "teams" has mushroomed. There has arisen considerable confusion regarding teams and the payoffs of creating them.

We were recently facilitating a team-building session for a senior group within one of the largest corporations in the U.S. when it occurred to us that the concept of "team" had little or no meaning for the participants. Just before a break we asked them to write anonymously on pieces of paper the number of teams they either headed or were members of. During the break we tallied the results, which roughly described a normal curve-but with a mean of 16. When they returned to the session we showed a graph of the distribution, and no one was shocked. "It's a way of life here," they agreed.


This story illustrates that many people, and many organizations, are not critical in their thinking about the word "team." We find it useful to make a clear distinction between a group of people and a team. Most of what are called teams are, in our experience, not teams but groups. This is important because you can't get most of the advantages claimed for teams simply by hanging the label "team" on a group. The overarching goal of team building is to forge a group into a team. Having sharp definitions of these two terms helps guide us as we plan and facilitate our interventions. Here is the distinction that we work from.

Group: a collection or aggregation of persons, places, or things that have at least one thing in common. We are in this room together. That makes us a group. Some of us are male. That makes us a group -- or subgroup, if there are also females in the group as a whole. Three of us support Option A. That makes us a group or subgroup, depending on whether remaining members support other options.

Team: a functioning unit of people who meet the following criteria of "teamness," paraphrased from Jones & Reilly (1974).

* The team has a "charter," or an official mandate form the organization;

* The members have work tasks that are interdependent;

* The members are committed to collaboration and coordination;

* The team is held accountable (and rewarded) by the organization as a single unit.

Team members are said to have spirit, or a sense of loyalty to and belief in each other. After all, they need each other to do their work. They organize to make work decisions, solve workrelated problems, make plans, and manage change.

Work groups are imbedded within organizational systems that may either support or obviate teamwork. Some organizations are ineffective with regard to communicating clear expectations to work groups. Others have reward systems that focus on the contributions of individuals, with phony performance-appraisal procedures and practices. Unless the organization is ready, willing, and able to change its systems to emphasize teamwork, building teams is a futile activity.

A group in the workplace may or may not be a team-or even need to be one, as we discuss below. Their work may be parallel or unrelated to each other. They may simply report to one boss as a matter of convenience. They may never make collaborative decisions beyond those associated with the annual Christmas party.

A note on size. It is probably not possible to sustain high levels of teamwork in groups of people with more than about fifteen members. Carrying out the normal functions of an interdependent team is made increasingly difficult with the addition of any members beyond that threshold. The smallest team consists of two persons in partnership to accomplish common goals. A three-person team is more complex dynamically. Adding more members dramatically increases the intricacy of interpersonal relations within the team. …

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