Maximize Creativity And Operationalize Structural Flexibility Commerce Essay


Sinclair (1992) points out that teams are looked at as tools of diverse models of organizational reforms from organizational development (Dunphy, 1976) to work restructuring (Poza and Markus, 1980), from Quality management to industrial democracy, and from corporate culture to complex contingency prescriptions. Consequently, teamwork has been associated with increase in productivity, innovativeness and employee satisfaction by improving the quality of employees' working lives (Katzenbach & Smith, 1993; West, Borrill, & Unsworth, 1998; Sewell, 2005).

Different frameworks have been advanced to explain group work. Tuckman (1965) hypothesized a model involving stages through which teams undergo during development which included: Forming, storming, norming, performing and 'adjourning' (Tuckman and Jensen, 1977, p. 426).. Each stage was characterized by an attempt to distinguish between group structure (interpersonal relationships and behavior between group members) and orientation towards the task (specific contents of the task). Belbin (2010) goes further to prescribe team roles basing on personality traits. This includes roles like coordinator, specialist, team worker and many more.

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The hegemony of team ideology has been widely supported by researchers and adopted by organizations as the tantalizingly simple solution to some of the complex organizational problems. Despite the differences in context, teams have been depicted to simultaneously satisfy individual needs (for sociability, self-actualization and participative management), organizational needs (for productivity, organizational development and effectiveness) as well as society's need for alleviating the malaise of alienation (Johnson and Johnson, 1987).

However, are all organizational problems solved through team work? High profile advocates of team work allege that it is not only technically advanced but also morally superior to competing forms of work organization as it satisfies basic and universal human needs. This is not true in practice. Findings show that this ideology over-generalizes its impact on employee attitudes, especially middle and shop floor employees who recognize that team working only intensifies work effort resulting in more exploitation (Bacon & Blyton, 2005). Even more disturbing is the fact that majority of studies on team working have primarily focused on the implications for organizational performance and managerial issues and neglected its effects on employees and subsequent reception by workers. This, though, is hardly surprising because, as Sewell (2005) puts it, selling management ideas has always been about capturing the 'moral high ground'.

As has been revealed in organizational analysis, the dominance of a paradigm has sizeable impact on the institutionalization of mechanisms of control (Burrell and Morgan, 1979; Astley and Van de Ven, 1983; Reed, 1985; Alvesson, 1987). The following part of this essay will critically assess the ideological basis of the existing team paradigm, focusing on four underpinning assumptions: 1) the narrowly conceived definitions of groups and that mature teams are task oriented and have successfully minimized corruption by other group impulses, 2) that team work is an individual motivation formula and a 'unitary view' of organizations which assumes confluence, not conflict, between individuals, groups and organizational goals (Burrell and Morgan 1979:204), 3) that team work holds simplistic views of the superiority of participative leaders and 4) that power, conflict and emotions are subversive forces which divert groups from work (Sinclair, 1992).

Sinclair further asserts that based on a narrow framework and embracing the above assumptions, team work tyrannizes because, under the banner of benefit for all, teams are frequently used to camouflage coercion under the pretense of maintaining cohesion; conceal conflict under the guise of consensus; convert conformity into semblance of creativity; give unilateral decisions a co-determinist seal of approval; delay action in the supposed interest of consultation; legitimize lack of leadership; and disguise expedient arguments and personal agendas.

Narrowly conceived definitions of teamwork

Management theorists assert that by definition, teams are more task-oriented than any other groups (Adair,1986). Thus teams substitute collective goals and an interest in the task at hand for individual agendas and interpersonal conflicts. This notion is not only idealistic but also fails to recognize that task-oriented teams still experience anti-task behaviors. Furthermore researchers seek to prescribe standards for teams by emphasizing measurable performance outcomes like decision making. Bearing in mind that work groups engage in different tasks, operating in different environments with different compositions, teams ought to be given context-specific definitions for group working(Payne, 1988) .Additionally, teams are a composite of unique and dynamic blends of different behaviors which impact decision making, information exchange, conflict management, participativeness and fantasies.

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The confluence of individual, group and organizational interests.

The underlying assumptions underpinning the construction of the Organizational Development model allege that teams impact positively on a worker's self development, individual satisfaction and consequently increased organizational productivity (Gulowsen,1972). One vital ingredient of this model is individual motivation. This, according to many organizational theorists, entails workers' needs for sociability (lewin, 1947; Mayo, 1945), Maslow's postulations on responsibility, autonomy and opportunities to self-direct, self-reward and self-actualize (Macgregor, 1960; Herzberg et al., 1959) and the needs for participative or democratic leadership supported by a flat organizational structure (Likert, 1976). By ignoring evidence that people are not merely motivated by the sociability supposedly offered by work teams, many theorists have gone ahead to prescribe teams as the antidote to the alienated employee and dismissed any non-conforming behavior as idiosyncratic aberration.

Quoting from Nadler, Hackman and Lawler (1979), Sinclair stated:

" The quality of interpersonal relationships among group members often leaves much to be desired. People fall too rapidly into patterns of competitiveness, conflict and hostility, only rarely do group members support and help one another as difficult ideas and issues are worked through" (Sinclair, 1992, p. 615).

The above text affirms that individuals experience internal tensions and that group work is more stressing than satisfying, even with people with well trained interpersonal skills. Group work becomes stressful when ambiguous performance standards are set, often basing on the judgment of peers, giving rise to tensions and uncertainties within the group. Evidence from psychoanalytical research further confirms that when individuals become members of teams, they 'lose their problem-solving facilities, become emotionally segregated and start blaming others for their failures' (Wells 1980: 170). It is even more distressing when teams are subjected to certain tasks that are better suited for solitary individuals or environments. It becomes hard to cope for people with particular work styles, not suited for teams (Hardy, 1978; Belbin, 1981).

This is observed predominantly in members outside the power elite, like the middle and low level workers, whose experience bears no resemblance to the mythology (Zaleznik 1989: 268).

"Teams do not necessarily provide the fulfillment for individual needs, nor do they contribute to individual satisfaction and performance or organizational effectiveness. The infatuation with teams and the consequent requirement for individuals to work in groups means, bluntly put, that organizations are not getting the best performance from many of their members" (Sinclair, 1992, p. 617).

Simplistic views about participative leaders

Work groups have been lauded on their capacity to self-manage (Manz and Sims 1987). Democratic and participative style management through teams has been deemed to replace the traditional autocratic styles of managing organizations. It is argued that decision making in flat organizations is delegated to teams and as such, workers assume responsibility, 'take initiative and participate in decision making rather than looking to others to do so' ,resulting in members becoming more committed to implement group decisions (Sinclair, 1992). This notion oversimplifies the requirement for leadership as one of learning a more participative style. Conversely, psycho- and socio- analytic research has proven that leadership is central to group behavior. Group process theorists unanimously agree that teams experience phases of identifying with, rejecting and working through relations with authority ( Bennis and Shepard, 1956; Slater, 1966; Mills, 1964). Thus leadership cannot be eliminated from teams. The group's capacity to manage its work load, and ultimately its success, depends on the judgment, insight and self knowledge of its leader. Without leadership, some scholars warn, groups can get paralyzed. With this knowledge, there ought to be a new perception about how a leader should operate within the team context, that goes beyond the narrow managerial perspective currently clouding the team ideology ( Fisher, 1986; Kets de Vries, 1988).

Power, conflict and emotions as subversive forces

Organizational theories rate successful teams using a number of parameters: quality of decision making, communication, cohesion, clarity and acceptance of goals, and acceptance of minority views, among others (Schein 1969). Little regard, if any, is given to the endemic forces of power, conflict and emotions within the group. Power, on a deplorable note, has been treated as a 'regrettable and regressive tendency' only exhibited by individuals who are struggling to identify with the group's collective task (Sinclair, 1992). While some theorists recognize that political pressure does prevail in groups, they have sought to minimize its impact by banishing power seekers or by creating an environment in which the spirit of egalitarianism portrays power and conflict as totally inappropriate. Alternative views however suggest that power-seeking for individual gains is prevalent in group settings. Janis (1985) reported incidences where significant errors in group decision making were largely due to political factors. She specifically alluded to 'hostile factions within the group' and autocratic tendencies which induce conformity to an individual's idiosyncratic position, 'stifling all dissent, skepticism and cautionary information from the members, out of fear of recrimination (Janis 1985). Furthermore, deriving at 'imposed consensus' and 'unanimous decisions', as do many groups, superficially conceals conflicts and power discrepancies, thereby revealing a condition of group powerlessness rather than effectiveness.

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The concept of 'group think' as advanced by Janis (1972) brought to the fore the fact that groups can generate 'pressures to conform' and rather than encourage, they impede the 'healthy exchange of views'. Faulty decisions can be made due to group pressures thus impacting negatively on mental efficiency and moral judgment. Instead of trying to understand the basis for conflict and conformity in teams, a flurry of predictable recipes for creativity (including generating commitment, development roles and morale) have emerged as a result of this insight.

'Deindividuation' is another social psychological phenomenon related to group work, arising from decreased self-evaluation resulting in anti-normative, dis-inhibited behavior. The individual suffers a loss of self awareness (Zimbardo, 1969). Deindividuation hinders reflection about the consequences of actions, rendering social norms impotent while increasing suggestibility to random outside influences. This has been attributed to the assumption that groups cause a loss of self, causing destructive impulses or misbehavior.

Regardless of the conflict laden experiences that members encounter in groups, very little attention has been put forward to study the phenomenon of group conflict (Smith and Berg 1988). And likewise for emotions, they have been regarded as disruptive forces and their expression discouraged. Bion (1961), on the contrary argues that emotions are a good mobilizing force not only for the individual but for the group at large. Additionally, group life creates conflict between an individual's need for belonging and a sense of frustration at having to conform. Hence a dilemma exists in maintaining individuality whilst achieving the satisfaction of belonging to a group.

Varying schools of thought have emerged explaining the interrelatedness of emotions, power, conflict and the team's capacity to work. Many do agree that comprehending and confronting these aspects of group dynamics has a liberating effect on the group (Diamond and Alcorn, 1987; Schneider and Schrivastava, 1988; Smith and Berg, 1988). And that they are critical ingredients in the work formula of groups (Sinclair, 1992). Power distribution for example is a powerful yardstick for determining behavior. Behavior that recognizes and defers to the dominant power-holder in the group is labeled constructive and task-oriented whereas behavior that challenges that power is labeled disruptive and counterproductive. This means that groups with clear distribution of power are likely to be judged as productive for the reason that decisions are made (albeit unilaterally) and actions implemented. It goes without saying however, that teams with a reputation for decision making and productivity reveal more about the mechanisms of power and control within the group than the level of information exchanged, quality of interactions , degree of creativity and other facets of group behavior.

Some theorists have discovered that team work extends a subtle, yet potent system of normative control over employees, aimed at increasing organizational efficiency (Vallas, 2005). Workers too associate team working to greater work intensity and heightened peer pressure, which only advances managements' interests at their expense (Parker and Slaughter, 1988; Rinehart et al., 1997).

Vast amounts of research have been done to support team work but very little about its impact on team members. The team building industry has promoted a 'tyranny of oppressive stereotypes' created by the hegemony of this ideology. Some of the vital ingredients like power and conflict have been underplayed while overstating the mutually beneficial characteristic of group working (Sinclair, 1992). The argument that ensues is not whether teams can be productive, satisfying or creative but rather the extent to which its application is informed by ideology, on the one hand, or careful and critical appraisal on the other. The extent to which the team ideology is unquestioningly embraced largely determines the fruitfulness of the experience of working in groups. Sinclair affirms that it is the ideology rather than the team itself that tyrannizes, for the reason that it encourages teams to be used for inappropriate tasks and to fulfill unrealistic objectives.