We can classify groups along a number of dimensions, including how they develop, what parts of the organization they draw their members from, as well as their purpose, duration, and even level of empowerment - the extent of their authority and ability to make and implement work decisions. The type of groups an organization develops depends on the tasks it needs to accomplish and other contextual variables already noted. How successfully these groups will function depends on a number of other structural and process characteristics.
Groups may be formal or informal. Most groups or teams with a title or group designation are formal groups created by the organization as part of its formal structure and generally having their own formal structure as well. Informal groups arise naturally from social interaction and relationships and are usually very loosely organized. A friendship group or a clique is an example of an informal group. A departmental athletic team, although titled, often grows informally out of social relationships. Organizations such as Hewlett-Packard and EDS encourage considerable informal communication throughout their organizations to enhance the dissemination of knowledge.
Groups can also be functional or cross-functional. Functional groups (sometimes called command groups), as the name suggests, perform specific organizational functions, with members from several vertical levels of the hierarchy. Accounting, personnel, and purchasing departments are examples of functional groups. Cross-functional groups (sometimes called horizontal groups) cut across the firm's hierarchy and are composed of people from different functional areas and possibly even different levels. While functional groups are usually permanent, cross-functional groups are often temporary, lasting for as little as a few months to as long as several years, depending on the group task being performed.
Most groups can also be classified as having one of three purposes: (1) Some groups recommend things, for instance by making suggestions to improve quality; (2) some groups make or do things, such as teams formed for product development; and (3) some groups run things, such as functional groups that conduct business in their area of operations. Obviously, the latter two group types would tend to be more autonomous than the first.
Given these general categorizations, we can now examine the nature of some specific kinds of groups and teams: task forces, committees, project teams, product-development teams, quality-assurance teams, and self-directed work teams.
A task force is a temporary group of employees responsible for bringing about a particular change. They may be formed within a functional area, but are most frequently cross-functional, temporarily pulling workers from throughout the organization. Task force membership is usually a function of someone's expertise rather than hierarchical position.
A committee is usually a permanent formal group that does some specific task; it may be functional or cross-functional. A loan committee in a bank, for instance, may have members from several areas besides the loan department to help provide outside expertise. A grievance committee resolves grievances in a union environment, while a postgraduate studies committee in a university determines the postgraduate curriculum. Because committees often make formal decisions, they usually have official members of the formal hierarchy as part of the group, unlike a task force.
Project teams are similar to task forces, but usually they are responsible for running their operation and are totally in control of a specific work project. They are often cross-functional and almost always temporary, although a large project, such as designing and building a new airplane at Boeing Corporation, may last for years. Project teams, such as those at Boeing or EDS, are often the guts of the organization or the central business function.
Product-development teams are a special type of project teams formed to devise, design, and implement a new product. Sometimes product-development teams exist within a functional area - research and development - but now they more frequently include people from numerous functional areas and may even include customers to help ensure that the end product meets the customers' needs. At EDS, for instance, a client company typically works together with an existing project team to create a new information system to meet the client's need.
Quality-assurance teams are generally small groups formed to recommend changes that will positively affect the quality of the organization's products. Quality circles are the most common form of quality-assurance team. Quality circles (QCs) are groups of workers brought together from throughout the organization to solve specific quality, productivity, and service problems. Although the "quality circle" term is not as popular as it once was, the quality movement and total quality management are stronger than ever. The use of teams to address quality issues will no doubt continue to increase throughout the business world.
Self-Directed Work Teams
A self-directed work team (SDWT) is a group of employees who are responsible for a 'whole' work process or segment that delivers a product or service to an internal or external customer. Sometimes called self-managed teams or autonomous work groups, SDWTs are designed to give employees a feeling of "ownership" of a whole job. At Tennessee Eastman, a division of Eastman Kodak Company, teams are responsible for whole product lines, including processing, lab work, and packaging. With shared team responsibility for work outcomes, team members often have broader job assignments and cross-train to master other jobs, permitting greater team flexibility.
The defining characteristic of an SDWT is the extent to which it is empowered by management. At Xerox, for example, empowered teams of plant assembly-line operators can shut down an assembly line, when a severe problem arises, and then solve the problem themselves. Figure 2 shows a hypothetical continuum of team empowerment with approximate amount of responsibility/authority shown in increments of 20 percentage points. A team empowered at 20 percent, for instance, might do its own housekeeping, have members who train each other, repair and maintain equipment, and perhaps schedule production. A team takes on additional functions normally performed by managers, professionals, and other specialists as the level of empowerment increases. For example, a team empowered at 60 percent might also manage suppliers, schedule vacations, hire new employees, choose team leaders, and even be responsible for the purchase of new equipment. Naturally, the functions and their order will vary across organizations and teams. The lack of a 100 percent level indicates that some leadership roles still exist even in the most highly empowered teams.
We pay special attention to self-directed work teams because so many organizations today are searching for ways to cut costs and to adjust to changes in our highly competitive and increasingly global marketplace. Work teams hold the promise for meeting these challenges. SDWTs reduce the need for extra layers of management and thus can help control costs. They also provide the flexibility, through facilitation of communications and reduction of bureaucracy to change rapidly in order to meet the competition or respond to customer needs.
3. What do abbreviations EDS, QC, SDWT mean?
4. Are these statements true or false? Correct the false ones.
a) Groups are classified according to their dimensions.
b) It is factors within the organization that determine the type of the group.
c) Various contextual and group factors can influence the success of any group.
d) Usually, formal groups do not have their own formal structure.
e) Informal groups are characterized by firm organization.
f) People from no more than one vertical level can form a functional group.
g) Cross-functional groups are usually formed for a certain period.
h) Groups created to recommend things are characterized by greater autonomy.
i) A person’s skill is what matters when a task force is created.
j) Both task forces and committees include official members of the formal hierarchy.
k) Project teams have the power to make all decisions about work projects.
l) To meet the customers’ needs, product-development teams may include customers.
m) Quality-assurance teams monitor the quality of the organization's products.
n) The level of empowerment is the main characteristic of a self-directed work team.
o) A 100 percent level of team empowerment does not exclude any leadership.
p) The importance of SDWTs consists in their ability to meet the challenges that a highly competitive marketplace poses.
5. Answer the questions.
a) How do informal groups arise?
b) What is the purpose of functional groups?
c) What could be the examples of functional groups?
d) What people do cross-functional groups consist of?
e) How long can cross-functional groups exist?
f) According to what purposes can groups be classified?
g) Where do task forces pull their members from?
h) Can a committee be only a functional group?
i) What examples of committees can you provide?
j) How do project teams differ from task forces?
k) What are special types of project teams, which devise, design and implement a new product?
l) What term used to be very popular to designate a quality-assurance team?
m) What are other names of self-directed work teams?
n) What are self-directed work teams intended for?
o) What are teams of plant assembly-line operators at Xerox empowered to do?
p) What measurements does the horizontal axis on the graph show?
q) What measurements does the vertical axis on the graph show?
r) What functions can a team empowered at 20 percent fulfil?
s) What additional rights and responsibilities can a team empowered at 60 percent have?
t) Why is so much attention paid to self-directed work teams?