Team Design Features - Principles of Management

Along with setting up a compatible environment, managers need to carefully design the team itself, including task characteristics, team size, team composition, and team roles.


Experts are still figuring out the best types of work for teams. Some evidence says that teams are more effective when their tasks are well structured because a clear structure makes it easier to coordinate work among several people. But other research indicates that teams flourish on more complex tasks because the complexity motivates them to work together as a team.

Task structure and task complexity aren’t opposites, but it can be difficult to find complex work that is well structured.

One task characteristic that is definitely important for teams is task interdependence: the extent to which team members must share common inputs to their individual tasks, need to interact while performing their work, or receive outcomes (such as rewards) that are partly determined by the performance of others.

The higher the level of task interdependence, the greater the need for teams rather than individuals working alone. Employees tend to be more motivated and satisfied working in teams when their tasks are highly interdependent—but only when team members have the same job goals, such as serving the same clients or collectively assembling the same product.


The most effective teams have the right number of members. One popular (but untested) rule is that the optimal team size is somewhere between five and seven people. In reality the optimal team size depends on a few things. We know that larger teams are typically less effective because members consume more time and effort coordinating their roles and resolving differences. A somewhat extreme example is Whole Foods’ 140-person cashier team in New York City’s Columbus Circle.

A team this large is too difficult to coordinate, and team members lack cohesiveness; so Whole Foods divides the group into a dozen or so smaller teams. All cashiers meet as one massive group every month to discuss production issues, but the subteams work more effectively daily.

Although companies usually need to break up large teams, they also run into trouble when teams are too small to accomplish their objectives. The general rule is that teams should be large enough to provide the necessary competencies and perspectives to perform the work, yet small enough to maintain efficient coordination and meaningful involvement of each member.


When Hewlett-Packard hires new talent, it doesn’t look for just technical skills and knowledge. The high-tech computer manufacturer also looks for job applicants who fit into a team environment. “It’s important for candidates to prove to us that they can work well with others,” explains business development manager Bill Avey. “We’re looking for people who value the different perspectives that each individual brings to a team.”

Avey describes how Hewlett- Packard recruiters will ask applicants to recall a time they worked in a group to solve a problem. “Successful candidates tend to show how they got differences out in the open and reached a resolution as a team,” says Avey.

Hewlett-Packard has a strong team orientation, so it carefully selects people with the necessary motivation and competencies for teamwork. Whole Foods is equally serious about hiring team members who can work together. As the opening vignette to this described, new hires are approved for permanent employment by teammates, not by managers. The reason for the teams’ involvement in hiring is that teams require members who are motivated to work together rather than alone, abide by the teams’ rules of conduct, and support the teams’ goals.

Effective team members also possess valuable skills and knowledge for the team’s objectives and can work well with others. Notably, research suggests that high-performing team members demonstrate more cooperative behavior toward others and generally have better awareness of others’ needs and views.

Another important dimension of team composition is diversity. Teams whose members have diverse knowledge, skills, and perspectives are generally more effective in situations involving complex problems requiring innovative solutions. One reason is that people from different backgrounds see a problem or opportunity from different perspectives. A second reason is that they usually have a broader knowledge base.

A third reason favoring teams with diverse members is that they provide better representation of the teams’ constituents, such as other departments or clients from similarly diverse backgrounds. However, diverse employees take longer to become a high-performing team and tend to experience more conflict that can potentially sever alliances of team members into subgroups. For this reason it is sometimes better to form a team of like-minded and skilled people when diverse knowledge is not required and the team has little time to develop.


Every work team and informal group has various roles necessary to assist the team’s task and maintain its smooth functioning. A role is a set of behaviors that people are expected to perform because they hold certain positions in a team and organization. Some roles help the team achieve its goals; other roles maintain relationships so the team survives and team members fulfill their needs. Many team roles are formally assigned to specific people, but several are taken informally based on each team member’s personality, values, and expertise.

These role preferences are usually worked out during the storming stage of team development. However, in a dynamic environment team members often need to assume various roles temporarily as the need arises.

Belbin’s Team Roles

One of the most popular models of team roles is Belbin’s team role theory, shown in Figure below. The model identifies nine team roles that are related to specific personality characteristics. People have a natural preference for one role or another, although they can adjust to a secondary role. Belbin’s model emphasizes that all nine roles must be engaged for optimal team performance.

Moreover, certain team roles should dominate over others at various stages of the team’s project or activities. For example, shapers and coordinators are key figures when the team is identifying its needs, whereas completers and implementers are most important during the follow-through stage of the team’s project.

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