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Teams and groups are essential ingredients of organizations’ daily routines. Outside of organizations, individuals organize offline and virtual groups by interests. This paper is the analysis of team and small group experiences. Team and group’s participants and organization are discussed. Differences in dynamics and differences among offline and virtual teams are analyzed. Role taking and status differences are evaluated. The role of Schutz’s interpersonal needs is discussed.
Team and Small Group Experiences
Teams are essential ingredients of organizations’ daily routines. Teams are organized to meet organizations’ strategic and tactical goals. Outside of organizations, individuals organize groups by interests. With this in mind, groups and teams exemplify small structural formations, which allow their members to meet their individual and collective objectives and satisfy their personal and interpersonal needs. I used to be a member of many teams and groups. Those teams and groups were organized for various reasons and exhibited different patterns and dynamics. Of particular value was my participation in the project group. Membership in an offline football group brought unique impressions and unforgettable acquaintances. These experiences and patterns will be discussed in this paper.
Our team was created to work on the project that had to change our strategic position in the market. We expected that, once completed, the project would give us an impetus for continuous organizational growth. The team was made up of eight employees; they had different specializations but held similar positions within the company. As a result, we all felt equal and were willing to work toward a common strategic goal. The way the team was formed was not typical. Previously, senior managers had been responsible for creating teams and monitoring their performance. However, given the importance of the project, senior managers wanted to ensure the team’s cohesiveness and efficiency. For this reason, we were allowed to decide who would become a member of our team. Our decision was then approved by the seniors. We knew each other very well and our cooperation was effective and productive. As I look back into the past, I realize that empowerment and decision-making freedom were the main prerequisites of our project success.
I also used to be a member of an offline group of football fans. Unlike the project team, our football group was made up of members of different age and social status. Again, the way the group formed was not typical; we began as a virtual football discussion group and then decided to transform into an offline group. We organized regular meetings. We did not have a formal leader. Everything we did had to bring pleasure and joy. With time, several group members became my lifetime friends.
The main differences in the team and group dynamics were obvious. Our project team assumed full responsibility for the future of the organization. We monitored our performance and solved problems to adapt to the changeable organizational conditions. We recognized that “we existed in an organizational context and, accordingly, our performance goals had to align with those of other organizational units” (Johnson, Heimann & O’Neill, 2000, p.160). The project team was a temporary formation, and its members had to be personally accountable for their actions and decisions within the team. Our project team was made up of members with similar levels of knowledge and skills, and interpersonal coordination of our roles was a crucial factor of productivity.
By contrast, our football discussion team was permanent. We did not make planned decisions and were free in our actions. We were not confined by the context and did not have to align our goals with other groups or units. However, like members of the project team, we could not escape positive interdependence; the latter was an important element of our group dynamics. As a member of the project team, I had to participate in a series of team-building exercises and training sessions. Our organization constantly monitored our performance, progress, and compliance. In our football group, we were absolutely free from any type of monitoring and control. We did not need training. We built our relations, depending on various situational factors. We did not have any long-term goals and we did not feel personally accountable for our actions and decisions within and outside of the group.
Traditional teams and groups differ greatly from virtual ones. Virtual teams are usually identified as teams (Maznevski & Chudoba, 2000). They are responsible for carrying out the organization’s mission and rely on technology-supported communication (Maznevski & Chudoba, 2000). Earlier virtual teams had little face-to-face contacts, but with the development of new video communication technologies face-to-face communication is becoming an important driver of virtual teams’ development. Virtual teams and groups often do not have real-time counterparts (McKenna & Green, 2002). For example, we organized an online football discussion group, because we could not find groups and opportunities corresponding to our interests in everyday environments (McKenna & Green, 2002). Virtual teams and groups have no time constraints: with our hectic schedules and lives, we could successfully combine our conversations with other workplace and home activities (McKenna & Green, 2002). Unlike traditional teams and groups, virtual formations lack physicality (McKenna & Green, 2002). Virtual groups are not influenced by physical environments. Members of virtual groups/teams do not care about temperature and weather; they do not think about physical appearance of other members. In the project team and the offline football discussion group, we had to ensure that we felt comfortable together. We had to find a good place to meet; at work, we decided that using our conference hall was the best way to create a peaceful atmosphere and focus on our responsibilities and tasks. We were limited in time and resources, and status differences could become a serious impediment to the development of effective relations between us.
Status differences greatly affect the quality of team and group performance. There is a substantial difference in behaviors of High status and Low status team and group participants (Moore, 1968). High status members of teams and groups are more likely to impose their opinions and decisions on the Low status members. As a result, High status members may cause conflicts and disagreements between them and their Low status peers (Moore, 1968). At the same time, Low status members have a tendency to comply with the choices made by their High status partners (Moore, 1968). Our project team comprised employees with different skills but similar positions in the organization; as a result, we did not experience the pressure of status differences. Besides, we were so focused on our project tasks that we did not have time to discuss our organizational and social positions. The situation in the football discussion group was different. The group was made up of members of various age, ethnicity, social and cultural position. Status differences in the football discussion groups were extremely pronounced. Nonetheless, we had no formal leader and no single member could impose his (her) decisions on others. All decisions were taken collectively, during our meetings.
Like status differences, roles play an important role in how groups and teams operate. Roles promote responsibility and group cohesion (Strijbos et al., 2004). Role taking affects coordination and, consequentially, the entire group’s dynamics (Strijbos et al., 2004). Roles foster individual accountability and positive interdependence, regulate intragroup interactions and guide individual behaviors (Strijbos et al., 2004). In both the project team and the football discussion groups, the process of role taking was continuous and context-driven. Our functional roles changed, depending on the needs of the team (group). Senior managers did not intervene, as long as we coped with our obligations and tasks. Based on everything said above, three interpersonal needs met through our team and group experiences included inclusion, control, and affection. Group and team membership strengthened our sense of belonging. Through team and group experiences we could exercise power, assume responsibilities, and develop respect for one another. Eventually, team and group experiences facilitated mutual caring and collective thinking. Undoubtedly, group and team membership taught a good lesson of cooperation and cohesiveness, across status differences and functional roles.
Teams are essential ingredients of organizations’ daily routines. Teams are organized to meet organizations’ strategic and tactical goals. Team and group experiences teach a good lesson of collaboration and cohesiveness; however, status differences and role taking affect greatly teams and groups’ dynamics. Despite these differences, teams and groups facilitate the sense of belonging and allow developing respect for other members. Group and team experiences allow members to meet their interpersonal needs for affection, control, and inclusion.