The Nature and Function of Teams
There is a specific kind of group, however, that deserves special attention—for it plays a critical role in the functioning of contemporary institutions. This is a group that we can identify as a “Team”. It is this type of group that can effectively perform an assigned task and that can be a source of both task-related and interpersonal gratification. It is the moments when groups become teams that many of us find the exhilaration that Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1990) describes as Flow.
What then is a team and what function is being served by a team (other than holding the potential of being quite gratifying for its members)? And when is it necessary for a group to become what we define as a team? These are big and important questions to ask. A group may connect its members through a common interest (e.g., a book club) or even a structural connection (reporting to the same supervisor). If it does not need to experience interdependence to get to its destination, nor the passionate drive towards a greater purpose, then members can remain more individually focused and still achieve both their own satisfaction and their own goals.
A team, on the other hand, is defined as a collection of people who share a specific greater purpose and are committed to working collectively toward the achievement of this purpose. A team is successful if it can sustain and operate effectively on behalf of this purpose. What then makes Teams necessary? It is this matter of purpose. A Team is defined by its purpose, not by its members. As Peter Hawkins (2020) notes: “It is the Purpose that creates the team – not the team. The need and the purpose are already out there in the world waiting for a team to respond.”
Real Teams will acknowledge that they:
- Have a clear shared purpose and objectives that they can only achieve as a team
- Commit to working together to achieve those objectives
- Care for each other’s needs and success
- Make a habit of meeting regularly to review progress and think of ways the team can improve
If it is important for a group to become a team galvanized by a purpose, then how do teams build their foundations? Many criteria have been proposed for teams to self-evaluate. Organizational theorist Dick Beckhard (1972), for example, developed the GRPI model— Goals, Roles, Processes, Interpersonal Relationships—to help diagnose the roots of team (dys)function.
We suggest that teams regularly review the quality and strength of their commitment to the following:
- Sense of shared purpose
- Energy and commitment to purpose
- Interpersonal behavioral dynamics
- Engagement with impacted stakeholders
- Coordination of tasks, roles and responsibilities
- The tone and language amongst and about the team
- Agility in the face of change and setbacks