What Theories Are Useful for Deconstructing Practice and Why?

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What theories are useful for deconstructing practice and why?

There are three underlying principles used in organisations that must be correctly implemented for the organisation to be successful. These principles are teamwork, leadership and motivation. These underlying principles can assist in deconstructing practice however have their own individual strengths and weaknesses that will be highlighted within this essay. The major theories that will be discussed within teamwork are Belbin’s Team Role Theory and Tuckman’s Team Development Model. Hersey and Blanchard’s Situational Leadership Model and the Leader Member Exchange theory will be reviewed in relation to leadership. The key motivation theories that will be considered are Two Factor and Equity Theory. This critical essay will provide an analysis and parallel narrative within and between the key concepts.

Belbin’s Team Role Theory is one of the most prominent teamwork theories used in practice today. The theory originated from Belbin’s book Management Teams: Why they Succeed or Fail (Batenburg et al. 2013). Belbin observed that behaviour of individuals were most critical in the creating a successful team (Belbin, 2011). In the Team Role Model, these behavioural roles are divided into eight different roles: Completer, Finisher, Chairman, Company Worker, Monitor Evaluator, Resource Investigator, Plant, Shaper and Team Worker (Belbin, 2011). Belbin’s model assumes that an individual will behave in a group according to the team role they identify with, and that successful teams are comprised of a diverse team with compatible roles (Fisher et al. 1996 and Batenburg et al. 2013).

A major flaw in the theory, is the lack of published evidence supporting the link between mixed role teams and performance. (Prichard et al. 1999) This statement was also reinforced by the studies of Batenburg et al. (2013), and Van de Water et al. (2008), in which both studies concluded role diversity had no significant correlation to team performance. In a further study, no specific mix of team types were found to be more successful than another (Furnham, 2005). Despite the lack of correlation, the psychometric test conducted allowed the students to easily identify their role in the working environment, become more aware of their weaknesses and thus become more efficient within their teams (Batenberg et al, 2013).

Commercial organisations continue to use the theory in training and development (Fisher et al. 1996). However, the psychometric test used has also come into question. The test itself can be perceived as being ipsative, where the participant is forced to make choices resulting in an individual not relating to any roles (Furnham, 2005). Belbin himself identified that around 30% of the managers tested did not have a significant relationship with any of the roles (Martin, 2005). The Team Role Theory assumes that each member will have a dominant team role, if this is not the case, this could have a detrimental impact on the group’s performance. The theory does not provide a solution for this common problem. Belbin has admitted that the reliability of the test may also vary due to the test being self-assessed. However, this can be overcome by the combination of data collection (Watson et al. 2005). Belbin also states that the test should not be used on its own, however in practice company’s still use this in isolation (Balderson et al. 1996).

In some cases, an individual may identify with one of the team roles but may switch roles in a group, which would defeat the purpose of the ‘roles’ when recruiting a team (Martin, 2005). Belbin’s theory also assumes that an individual in a certain team role will be that role in all team’s they are placed in despite the situation of the group and task at hand. It’s also not clear whether specific role combinations are better than others in certain tasks (Prichard et al. 1999).  Further research is needed to confirm the link between task and role and if individuals vary their behaviour (Prichard et al. 1999).

The roles needed in a team may be dependent on the task, this may be why Belbin has not prescribed the ideal combination for a team. However, there has been further research into the best combinations. (Fisher et al. 1996) The research deduced that the best combination was a mixture of relational and task orientated people which led to a harmonious and productive team (Van de Water et al. 2008). This research could enhance Belbin’s model as further guidance to managers when creating a team.

Even with the flaws of the Team Roles model, the theory remains prominent today. The theory provides companies with a starting point in how individuals can contribute to the success of a team, and an understanding that success isn’t purely based on having a combination of roles but is also influenced by other complex factors. It can be useful for managers as it comprises of a simple and easy test.  The model does not prescribe the perfect mix of roles or consider the task at hand, but allows individuals to identify their strengths and weaknesses and thus become a better team member (Batenburg et al. 2013).

Belbin prescribes the individual roles within a team but does not consider how a group develops as a whole. However, Tuckman’s Team Development Model provides a theory regarding how groups and teams develop. The Team Development Model has five stages concerning the team; forming, storming, norming, performing and an additional adjourning stage was later added when the model was refined (Tuckman. B.W, 1965). Tuckman describes the stages utilising task behaviours and group structure which concern interpersonal relationships within a team (Bonebright. D.A, 2010). These five stages must be completed to have a successful and effective team (Bonebright. D.A, 2010).

Groups can engage and utilise this theory to enable team members to “forecast future scenarios and set objectives” (Seck. M.M, et al., 2014 p. 159). Team members using this theory may understand teamwork problems quicker, which may enable teams to progress through the stages faster and more efficiently (Brooks. I, 2003).

The progress of teams within Tuckman’s model is considered to be linear, however it is suggested that team development may in fact be more cyclical and iterative in nature, and may move forward and backward (Gersick. C.J.G, 1988 and Seck et al., 2014). If a team regresses, such as at the storming phase where conflict develops within a team, this may provide an opportunity for creativity, although the prospect of a team regressing may mean the team will never develop (Brooks. I, 2003).

Further failures of the model are highlighted including Tuckman’s failure to provide timescales for how long groups will be at each stage and no consideration is provided for the transitions between stages (Gersick. C.J.G, 1988). The model also fails to consider teams missing out stages. For example, teams that have worked together previously may understand the group norms and therefore there may be no confrontation and the group could then bypass the ‘storming’ stage (Brooks. I, 2003). Similarly, if a team is formed of one leader and followers then there is likely to be less confrontation and disagreements so the will team will progress quicker.

This theory is extensively used to understand group development (Cassidy. K, 2007). Cassidy (2007) and Gersick (1988) have both performed reviews of various development models to seek if they fit in with Tuckman’s model. Their findings both agreed that most team models show strong comparisons and could be incorporated in to a single framework (Cassidy. K, 2007). In contrast both studies found that all stages could be aligned apart from the ‘storming’ stage, which varied within models.

The extensive use of the theory may be due to its broad applications demonstrated within the research completed by Seck et al. (2014) and Maples (1988), showing that Tuckman’s model is evident in the education sector. However, the model may not be adaptable and useful in practice. Its suitability for modern day practices is questioned due to the research for the theory, which comprised of a literature review, being predominantly based on therapy group settings (Cassidy. K, 2007). Tuckman acknowledged this limitation of over-representing therapy groups and provided further criticisms of his theory including the lack of restrictions on independent variables and the dependence on the use of qualitative data, suggesting that there would be “bias from the observer” (Tuckman. B.W, 1965 p. 385). Its adaptability is also questioned as the model was intended to be used on small teams, this is evident within Tuckman’s original article which is titled ‘Developmental Sequence in Small Groups’ (Tuckman. B.W, 1965). It is therefore suggested that this theory may have been “generalised beyond its original framework” (Bonebright. D.A, 2010 p. 115) but research such as that of Seck et al. (2014) and Maples (1988) shows the utility of this theory.

However, the flexibility of the theory is further criticised due to the assumption that this model acts as a “closed system” (Gersick. C.J.G, 1988 p. 11).  This theory doesn’t consider external influences such as how the situation and context affect team development. It is suggested that a team’s relationship within its setting are fundamental for a successful team (Gersick. C.J.G, 1988).

Unlike Tuckman’s Team Development model and Belbin’s Team Role Theory, the Situational Leadership Model developed by Hersey and Blanchard provides a prescriptive model for how leaders should react in situations. However, comparisons can be drawn to the Team Development model and Belbin’s Team Role Theory as these all utilise task and relationship behaviours. The situational leadership model concerns the use of directive (considering the task) and supportive (concerning interpersonal relationships) behaviours shown by leaders (Graeff. C.L, 1997). The model has been modified and the current Situational Leadership Model II stipulates four leadership styles including directing, coaching, supporting and delegating (Blanchard. K.H, 1996). Each style provides a high or low directive and supportive behaviour to the individual. This leadership model considers the development of followers, notably their commitment and competence for a given task (Thompson. G et al., 2015). There are four levels of development varying from an individual in low development (D1) to someone in high development (D4) (Northouse. P.G, 2007). The model works by a leader assessing a subordinate’s needs through their competence and commitment, the leader can then adapt their style based on these needs.

The adaptability of the leader emphasises the practical uses for this theory. This is perhaps why this is one of the most prominent theories regarding leadership (Graeff. C.L, 1997). The leaders use of the changing subordinate’s requirements and the leader’s flexibility are vital for effective leadership (Vecchio. R.P, 1987). However, this flexibility is dependent on the leader’s competence to correctly assess the needs of the individual. If the leader gauges the wrong commitment or competence level then this could be damaging to the team progress.

Furthermore, the leader’s assessment of an individual’s development may be difficult to ascertain due to the indefinite definition of a follower’s development levels (Northouse. P.G, 2007). It is suggested that the theory doesn’t explain the division of commitment and competence at each development level (Graeff. C.L, 1983). The failure to clearly define the division may stem from problems in the inability to sufficiently carry out research into the competence and commitment of subordinates (Thompson. G et al., 2015).

Further issues concerning research regarding this theory are raised with the suggestion that studies have only provided “partial support” (Vecchio. R.P, 1987 p. 450) for the theory. This is further supported by Cairns et al. (1998) who carried out their own research which produced findings that “produced very little support” (Cairns. T.D et al., 1998 p. 116) for the theory. Without this strong research base, the legitimacy of the theory is to be questioned. However, it is suggested that the limited research for the theory may be due to the construction of the “research design” (Thompson. G et al., 2015 p. 541) and a more “rigorous experimental study” (Thompson. G et al., 2015 p. 542) may provide more supportive research.

Additional failures are highlighted such as no consideration within the model concerning the use of the theory with larger teams. This failure is similar to the limitations identified in Tuckman’s Team Development model which concerned the original models use with small groups.  The situational leadership model fails to suggest what style a leader should adopt for a team, as individuals within a group may require different supportive and directive behaviours (Northouse. P.G, 2007).  Furthermore, it is suggested that the model doesn’t consider the “demographic characteristics” (Northouse. P.G, 2007 p. 99) such as the age and gender of a follower when assessing which style to adopt. This theory doesn’t provide consideration that individuals may require their leader to adopt a certain leadership style based on their demographic characteristics (Vecchio. R.P et al., 2002).

When this theory is used correctly it offers an opportunity for the development of followers, such as the coaching style which provides support and direction to individuals (Northouse. P.G, 2007). In addition, due to this model being prescriptive it enables leaders to utilise a “set of guidelines” (Northouse. P.G, 2007 p. 97) to ensure an efficient and effective leadership style (Northouse. P.G, 2007).

Situational theory demonstrates the importance of the relationship between the follower and subordinate for an effective team. The relationship within the situational theory is dependent on the context/situation. However the Leader Member Exchange theory highlights the effect of the compatibility of the leader and member on the relationship.

Leader Member Exchange theory (LMX) was first conceptualised by Dansereau et al. (1975), with the theory being based upon a vertical dyadic relationship (Herdman, Yang and Arthur, 2017). This theory concerns the “relationship quality between a leader and each of his or her followers” (Schyns 2006, pg20). It is suggested that the leader-member relationships can be divided into two categories; the ‘in-group’ and the ‘out-group’ (Northouse, 2016). The ‘in-group’, usually a small selection of the organisation have a relationship with the leader where there is “intensive cooperation and communication” (Van Breukelen et al. 2006, pg298) and are seen as more dependable, and hence receive more support and confidence from their leader (Sheer 2015). The remaining workforce form the out group, and only have “superficial contact” (Van Breukelen et al. 2006, pg298) with their leader and are not interested in roles that fall outside their contractual obligations (Van Breukelen et al. 2006)

The underpinnings of LMX are based on attention, latitude, support, trust, respect, and loyalty between the leader and the subordinate follower (Byun et al. 2017; Sheer 2015; Van Breukelen et al. 2006). These characteristics can lead to high-quality relationship between the leader and ‘in-group’ members, allowing access to better resources for the member, such as salary, promotion and training (Sue-Chan, Chen and Lam, 2011).

The exchange of mutual trust can be beneficial to performance on both an individual and group level (Byun et al., 2017). Having a relationship of greater meaning than the formal job description suggests that the motivation of in-group members is likely to increase as greater responsibilities are delegated to them. The high quality exchanges between the leader and in-group member manifest themselves to an increase of “cooperation and communication” (Herdman et al. 2017, pg1501). It can be seen that the quality of the leader-member exchange can be influenced by the compatibility of the leader and member, that is, having similar view points and opinions on matters, giving the illusion that both the leader and member are on the same side. This compatibility will help build trust and loyalty between the leader and follower, and hence strengthens the dyadic relationship. This argument is supported as leaders and followers of “similar outlooks owing to similar personalities” Bernerth et al. (2008) will work well together . The theory emphasises that it is wise for leaders to form high- quality exchanges with all their subordinates in order to minimise tension within their workforce and increase productivity. It can be suggested that the theory is actually based on false pretence, and it is nothing more than the leader exploiting favouritism upon his or her workforce.

As a direct comparison to this, LMX can come under scrutiny as it can be inferred that the majority of the workforce, the out-group members, may become de-motivated. LMX seemingly lacks fairness and justice, as some workers receive special privileges that others simply do not (Van Breukelen, Schyns and Le Blanc, 2006). The out-group members may often feel left out or undervalued by their leaders. Although Graen’s (1975) leadership model shows the stages of the relationship between leader and subordinate, there is no prescriptive model or steps that members of the out-group should follow in order to transfer to the in-group. This is another negative of the theory as many workers may become stuck in the out-group.

A further criticism of LMX is the lack of an  ‘operational definition’ (Van Breukelen, Schyns and Le Blanc, 2006). Much of the literature and research on the theory focuses on the effectiveness of the working relationship between the leader and member, and not on the behavioural impact of leadership styles and how the high or low-quality exchanges develop (Gerstner and Day, 1997). There is little evidence that explores how the performance of the leader in their day to day roles influences the shaping of exchanges. If the leader is underperforming in their personal leadership role, then the subordinates may lose confidence in them. This reduces the impact and size of the in-group and may lead to poor results within the organisation.

This theory is an example of referent, positional and personal basis of power (Northouse, 2016). This suggests that a leader’s ability or potential to influence their followers is based on their follower’s identification and liking of their leader. However, the leader in most cases is the person with the highest rank in the organisation- “With a superior position in the organizational hierarchy, the leader holds more power, assets, and resources, and is thus the key person in determining the quality of the exchange relationship with each subordinate” (Byun et al., 2017). The personal aspect of power is evident as the individual’s ability to be a good leader is based on their relationship with followers, rather than their rank in the organisational system.

LMX theory is operational in practice. Many different relationships in organisations conform to the in-group and out-group categories outlined in the theory. LMX can be seen as both a positive and negative way of working depending on which group you are a member of. As a member of the in-group, followers are subjected to benefits which will increase morale, productivity and all round good-feeling in the workplace. However, the out-group will often feel de-motivated and undervalued. Nevertheless, the promotion of privileged groups should not be supported in the workplace. Equity in the working environment will lead to harmony and content in workers.

LMX can be linked to Equity Theory as the input and output ratio does not balance. The output in this case is recognition by the leader, with the potential to become a member of the in-group, and consequently receive benefits in the future. The differences in the quality of relationship can lead to problems within the team (Schyns, 2006). It is inevitable that different working relationships will form in practice, but this can have negative outcomes (Sheer 2015). It is seen in practice that some individuals create a closer relationship to those with the power to reward them. These rewards may come in many forms, including praise, recognition, reduced workload and possibly even financial gains (Northouse, 2013). If an individual begins to receive these rewards and other individuals of similar status do not; it will result in inequity and impact motivation levels (Brooks, 2003).

Equity theory by Adams (1963 & 1965) is a theory of motivation that is founded on perception (Goodman & Friedman, 1971). The theory recognises that individuals care not only about the amount of rewards they receive, but how fairly they have been treated in comparison to the treatment received by others (Ramlall, 2004). It is the imbalance in the input to output ratio in comparison to others that induces personal motivation, or in some cases, demotivation (Brooks, 2003). These so-called inputs can include; effort, experience, education, competence, and the outputs can include; salary levels and recognition within the organisation (Cole and Kelly, 2015).

Adams’ Theory of Equity (or Inequity) suggests that individuals that feel unfairly rewarded, will work harder to try and reduce the inequity (Huseman, Hatfield and Miles, 1987). However, this is not always likely to be the case. In fact, inequity could result in reduced morale and motivation of the individual, resulting in lower productivity and a decline in quality (Hofmans, 2012). It is true that inequity can cause friction in a business, resulting in disputes and demotivation (Brooks, 2003).

In practice, it is difficult to provide complete equity throughout an organisation because there are many factors that influence the rewards an individual receives. For example, productivity levels, loyalty to the company and experience will all be influencing factors. Inequity therefore may be justifiable and should not be a reason for others to feel demotivated. The belief that “employees who contribute more to the organization should receive higher amounts of the rewards the organization has to offer”(pg 121) is often referred to as the “equity norm” (Mowday 1991, pg 121).

One key issue with equity theory is that it only considers the final distribution of rewards rather than the processes which generate the distribution (Leventhal, 1980). This proposes that there may be an unfair process involved during the distribution of rewards, but if the final rewards are equal; equity theory is satisfied. It has also been suggested that inequity doesn’t necessarily exist if someone’s inputs exceed their outputs; providing that the comparison to others has a similar ratio (Mowday, 1991).

It is not sensible to assume that each individual’s weighting placed on inputs and outputs will be consistent; “it is a matter of individual perception and judgement”(Brooks, 2003, pg 65). For example, some individuals may prefer social benefits and recognition over monetary rewards. Research suggests that it is difficult to implement equity models in practice due to the “qualitative differences in the conceptualization of equity”(Hofmans, 2012, pg 480).

It is possible for individuals in organisations to deliberately create perceived inequity, to improve their own situation or to achieve goals. This moves the focus away from individual reactions to perceived inequality and onto the use of inequality on interpersonal relationships (Mowday, 1991). This technique may be implemented by leaders with a hierarchal power, to improve employee performance. On the other hand, employees may use this tactic to increase the inequality between themselves and those in higher positions in order to convince them that a more equitable distribution of rewards is required (Wortman and Linsenmeier, 1977).

Equity is a subset of the Two Factor theory, given that it is an example of a motivating factor as workers will perform better if they believe they are treated equally to others.

The Two Factor theory of motivation was developed by Herzberg following an investigation into what causes job dissatisfaction and satisfaction and whether this affects motivation. Herzberg discovered that people relate dissatisfaction with their job environment and satisfaction with the job content (House and Wigdor, 1967). The factors that influenced responses concerning job context he named “Hygiene” factors including supervision, interpersonal relations, physical working conditions, salaries, company policies, job security (Wren, 1987). The factors that led to work positivity he named “Motivation” factors such as achievement, recognition, challenges, responsibility, opportunities for growth (Wren, 1987). Herzberg concluded that Hygiene factors, although essential to avoid job dissatisfaction, were not enough on their own to promote workplace positivity and motivation – the motivation factors were also required (Wren, 1987).

A key positive of the Two Factor theory is its practical use to promote job satisfaction and motivation. Organisations can provide benefits for workers that they believe will inspire motivation, these benefits can be non-monetary related. Organisations such as Tesco and Kellogg’s employ the Two Factor theory by providing motivators for workers such as prizes for hard work, delegating responsibility and involving workers in decision making (Businesscasestudies.co.uk, 2017). There is an increasing trend for “cafeteria” benefits (workers choosing their own non-monetary benefits) which provide workers with the chance to provide their own motivators (Crainer and Dearlove, 2004).  This idea is an adaption of the original theory that suits personal taste rather than assuming motivations for everyone.

Herzberg employed an empirical approach to obtain actual data to explain how to possibly increase motivation (Mullins and Christy, 2016).  This is a major advantage over other motivational theories that only apply anecdotal evidence. The data, although its credibility is under scrutiny, provides physical solutions to practice and quantifiable evidence which sets it apart from other theories in the field, such as Equity and expectancy theory.

A criticism of the Two factor theory involves the methodology conducted in the investigation. The format of questioning lead to faulty evidence from which the theory is based on due to the investigation format (House and Wigdor, 1967). The questions in the investigation caused bias responses from workers, particularly on what causes job dissatisfaction (blaming dissatisfaction on external factors and vice versa is a human trait) (Vroom,1964). The investigators also had to interpret responses, this could have affected what factors are deemed to be related to satisfaction and dissatisfaction (House and Wigdor, 1967).

Another criticism of the theory is that the positive relationship between job satisfaction and motivation is under scrutiny. Brayfield and Crocket (1955), Herzberg (1959) and Vroom (1964) carried out research which resulted in negative correlation between satisfaction and motivation (House and Wigdor, 1967). Satisfied workers are not always the most productive, this indicates a substantial flaw in the theory, highlighting that not all workers react positively to motivational factors (Wren, 1987).

Furthermore, in a similar fashion to how the situational theory doesn’t consider individual’s backgrounds, Herzberg assumes everyone is motivated by the same factors. People of different demographics and personal preferences are affected by different motivators. For example, studies on today’s younger working generation show a trend towards extrinsic factors (such as pay) to cause motivation (Yusof et al. 2013). The theory clearly over simplifies the complexity of motivational factors and individual preferences (Pardee, 1990).

Herzberg’s theory, although frequently used in motivation programmes today, is heavily criticised. There is a lack of supporting evidence, poor methodology and assumptions that the factors can be applied to and positively affect everyone. However, providing motivational factors and assuring hygiene factors are in place is a simple and practical theory to apply. The theory’s solutions could be enhanced by using it alongside Vrooms expectancy theory to create personal motivational factors and predict their motivational value for individuals.

The Teamwork, Leadership and Motivational concepts are commonly used in practice. However due to the strengths and weaknesses of the theories analysed, they should not be used in isolation to ensure that optimal working conditions are satisfied to become a successful team. The weaknesses highlighted throughout can be minimised by amalgamating theories such as Belbin with Situational. Belbin provides an easy test for employers to use however it does not consider the situation. Equally, LMX and Equity can be combined to overcome the feeling of inequality on the outgroup caused by LMX.

The theories analysed show a common theme of relationships

  • Belbin – successful teams depend on a mixture of relational roles and task roles
  • Tuckman – Tuckman describes the stages utilising task behaviours and group structure which concern interpersonal relationships within a team
  • Situational – The situational leadership model concerns the use of directive (considering the task) and supportive (concerning interpersonal relationships) behaviours shown by leaders
  • LMX – relationship between follower and leader
  • Equity – relationships between co-workers of the same rank
  • Two Factor – similar to equity

Power

  • Belbin- no
  • Tuckman- power established during forming and challenged during storming
  • Situ-  Expert power displayed within this theory with the leader to have the competence to correctly assess the development levels and needs of the subordinates.
  • LMX- referent power (personal and positional), coercive, reward, legitimate
  • Eq- coercive
  • 2 Fac- organisational power

On reflection, it is clear that Teamwork, Leadership, Motivation with the additions of Relationships and Power are all key concepts to consider when deconstructing practice.

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