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"Teams appear to satisfy everything at once: individual needsâ€¦ organizational needsâ€¦. and even society's needs for alleviating the malaise of alienation and other by-products of industrial society" (Sinclair, 1992:612)
Critically evaluate this statement and explain whether or not you agree or disagree and why?
I agree with this statement to a large extent because teams do bring forth a great deal of benefits to the various parties listed in the statement given. However, do teams that satisfy their individual members' needs also satisfy the organisational needs and thereby the society's needs automatically? Or is it a step by step process whereby a team must satisfy their individual members' needs, before moving on to building an effective team for the organization and then eventually moving on to satisfying the society's needs?
We know for sure that teams satisfy individual needs. According to Maslow's hierarchy of needs theory, one of the needs listed is the social need- which is the need of sense of belonging and affiliation. This need is triggered off when the basic needs (safety and physiological) are fulfilled (Wood, Zeffane, Fromholtz & Fitzgerald, 2006). The social need can be satisfied when an individual is placed in a team or group. Today however, most employees have their lower needs met already, they want something better. (Murray, 2010)
Still looking at Maslow's theory, we observe that once a person is in a group, the next need that emerges is self-esteem and finally self-actualization (Adrian Mackay, Duncan Alexander & Wilmshurst, 2007). At a workplace, a manager can help boost the self-esteem of his staff by encouraging a positive atmosphere of atmosphere and recognizing an individual or team success (Mackay et al., 2007)
Within a team, members are also observed to be more positive about work and are less likely to be absent. An effective team is able to cultivate feelings of allegiance, security and high self-esteem for their members. Team members also regard their team's performances highly and are greatly affected by both performance success and failures (Woods et al., 2006). Murray (2010) realizes that meeting these psychological needs could be more important for an individual, as compared to how much pay they will receive.
Besides meeting individual needs, an effective team can also meet organizational needs. The definition of an effective team is when a small group of people with complementary skills come together to work as one to achieve a goal for which they hold themselves jointly responsible (Woods et al., 2006). Members of the team can achieve synergy, which is the combined effectiveness of two or more individuals being greater than the sum of their individual capabilities (Williams, 2009).
"Building a great team is an absolute necessity in today's hyper-competitive, high risk environment" claims Bowen (2008). Not only can a great team take on more complex tasks, though the effective use of synergy, but they can also create better and more innovative solutions when members spark ideas off one another (Mackay et al., 2007). Other than producing excellent results, teams also make work more fun and can attract and retain the top talents and clients (Bowen, 2008).
For teams to best fulfill organizational needs, it should be empowered. Empowerment is about an organization trusting the team and giving the team power to make their own decisions, including wrong decisions, without any fear of punishment should things go wrong (Williams, 2009). Empowerment allows the team freedom to use their own innovative solutions and a sense of ownership is ignited in the team members when they see their ideas being used (Mackay et al., 2007). Empowerment also allows the organization to stay flexible and adaptable in this fast changing world because if the team needs to seek approval from top management for every decision made, their approval might come too late (Williams, 2009).
As observed by Jameson & Jameson (2008), "When individual members of the team are motivated to set and accomplish both personal and professional goals- and when the employer/leader supports the achievement of these goals- the practice cannot help but thrive".
After meeting both individual and organizational needs, we wonder if this means society's needs, one of them being reducing the problem of alienation, are also met.
At the end of the eighteen century, there was a period of great change and philosophers used terms such as "urbanization" and "industrialization" to describe the event (Kalekin-Fishman, 2006). Although the event can be broken down into different categories of data such as demography or politics, what was most significant was a change in behavior and beliefs for the people (Kalekin-Fishman, 2006).
Karl Marx observed that the effects of the industrial society brought upon negative impacts for the workers. Employees had to blindly obey their employers, who made all the decisions, and were not encouraged to think or voice out their opinions about work (Kalekin-Fishman, 2006). Despite workers being alienated from their own consciousness and thus being unable to achieve their higher order needs, many still had to do so to fulfill their lower order needs (Kalekin-Fishman, 2006).
Deriving from the Latin for "other", the term alienation is used when people function as "other" than fully human (Kalekin-Fishman, 2006). Seeman (1959) tries to explain this sense of "otherness" through the following ways: powerlessness, unable to make decisions to solve problems; meaninglessness, unable to foresee the end results of one's actions; normlessness or anomie, unable to decipher what social norms to be used in which scenarios; self-estrangement, becoming disconnected with one's self and social isolation, becoming disconnected with the community one abides in.
Marx came up with a solution for overcoming the problem of alienation that the industrial society brought and that was to allow workers to play a role in running the workplace (Kalekin-Fishman, 2006). This transfer of power from the management to the workers is now known as empowerment and as shown earlier, can bring about many benefits- one of them being the reduction of the alienation problem for the society.
These days however, in the world of rapid development and globalization, a different and more complex type of alienation meets us. The modern woman and men have climbed up Maslow's hierarchy of needs pyramid and achieved self-actualization, which is the need to achieve one's goal and become the best that they can be (Murray, 2010). They develop individualism which even though meets the individual needs but not the society's needs because individualism can hinder social cohesion (Sturgess, 1999) and promote social isolation- which is when an individual becomes alienated with the community one abides in (Seeman, 1959). Factors such as gender, age or race prejudices also come into play to facilitating social isolation.
Passer, Smith, Holt, Bremner , Sutherland & Vliek (2009) recognizes however, that reducing prejudice is not impossible and can be achieved using a theory called "equal status contact" developed by Gordon Allport in 1954. This theory suggests that prejudice between people is expected to decrease when they (1) stay in continuous close contact, (2) have equal ranking, (3) work together to attain a goal that requires mutual dependency and (4) are supported by authorities that encourage these social norms. In order words, people can work in teams to overcome the problem of individualism and social isolation.
It seems like teams really do meet individual, organizational and society needs but what happens when teams are not up to standards? Can these substandard teams still meet individual, organizational and society needs?
One of the problems that teams face is social loafing, which is the scenario when people use less individual effort during team work than when doing work alone (Passer et al., 2009). Studies have shown that social loafing can occur when an individual believe that their performance is not being checked, when they are not motivated in achieving the team's goals or when they only put in the minimum effort needed to achieve that goal (Passer et al., 2009). Unless other team members engage in social compensation, which is to work harder to compensate for the social loafer (Passer et al., 2009), teams which suffer from social loafing meets neither (all of) the individuals' needs, nor the organizational needs and definitely not the society's needs.
Another problem of that teams face is the issue of cohesive teams and team norms. Cohesive teams meet individual needs because they fulfill the individual's belongingness and esteem needs. Cohesive teams also usually meet organizational needs because members can encourage each other to work harder but this have to depend on the team performance norm. If the performance norm is good in a highly cohesive team, there will be positive results for the organization. However, if the performance norm is bad in a highly cohesive team, negative results may come about (Woods et al., 2006).
Similarly, a team which suffers from groupthink can also bring forth such a scenario- meeting the individual needs but not the organisational needs. Groupthink is a process discovered by Irving Janis in 1982 whereby he observed team members putting aside critical thinking to achieve a common agreement. Again, if this decision made by the team is good, there will be positive results for the organization and if the decision is bad then there will be negative results for the organization (Passer et al., 2009).
Despite having a cohesive team with high performance norms and no groupthink, sometimes teams fail because they are not empowered by the organization to make decisions. Bosses maintained their tight control over the teams and employees had to ask them permission at every step of the way. Sooner or later employees will lose motivation in their work resulting in a loss in synergy (Williams, 2009). In worst case scenarios, like the above effects of industrialization, employees may develop self-estrangement- an alienation from their own conscious.
Coming back to Sinclair's (1992) statement that "Teams appear to satisfy everything at once: individual needsâ€¦ organizational needsâ€¦. and even society's needs for alleviating the malaise of alienation and other by-products of industrial society", I have come to the conclusion that his statement stands true only under various circumstances. When a team suffers from social loafing problems or groupthink or is non-cohesive or has negative performance norms when the team is highly cohesive, they cannot meet all the three (individual, organization and society) needs - only one or two of the above needs at best. On the other hand, when teams do not have any of these problems and can function as an effective team then can they satisfy all three needs.
The question now is whether effective teams can satisfy all three needs at once or is there a hierarchy also when it comes to teams meeting needs. I believe, drawing from above examples and scenarios, that it is a step by step process whereby a team must satisfy their individual members' needs first, before satisfying the organizational needs and finally satisfying the society's needs. This is because time is needed to work out frictions within the team, to achieve team cohesiveness and to determine whether or not teams are truly effective in meeting needs. Only when an effective team is put into place and running already then can Sinclair's (1992) statement of teams satisfying all three needs at once stand true.
Nonetheless, I still agree with Sinclair's (1992) statement to a large extent because teams really do satisfy individual needs, organizational needs and even society's needs for alleviating the malaise of alienation and other by-products of industrial society, and under the right circumstance, teams can satisfy all these needs at the same time.
Done by Tan Kai Min Charlene.