The Trouble with Teams - Principles of Management

We outlined the benefits of teams, but managers also need to keep in mind that teams aren’t always needed. Some tasks are performed just as easily by one person as by a group. Even if teams are somewhat useful, they tend to require more care and feeding than individuals working alone. These costs are known as process losses —resources (including time and energy) expended toward team development and maintenance rather than tasks.

Another issue is that teams require the right environment to flourish. Many managers forget this point by putting people in teams without changing anything else. As will be described more fully later in this, teams require appropriate rewards, communication systems, team leadership, and other conditions. Without these, the shift to a team structure could be a waste of time and a huge frustration for those involved. Overall, though, managers need to determine whether changing these environmental conditions to improve teamwork will cost more than benefits for the overall organization.


Perhaps the best-known limitation of teams is the risk of productivity loss due to social loafing . Social loafing occurs when people exert less effort (and usually perform at a lower level) when working in groups than when working alone. A few management scholars question whether social loafing is common, but students can certainly report many instances of this problem in their team projects!

Social loafing is most likely to occur in large teams where individual output is difficult to identify. This particularly includes situations in which team members work alone toward a common output pool. Under these conditions employees aren’t as worried that their performance will be noticed. Therefore, one way to minimize social loafing is to make each team member’s contribution more noticeable, such as by reducing the size of the team or measuring each team member’s performance.

Social loafing is also less likely to occur when the task is interesting because individuals have a higher intrinsic motivation to perform their duties. Social loafing is less common when the group’s objective is important, possibly because individuals experience more pressure from other team members to perform well. Finally, social loafing occurs less frequently among members who value group membership and believe in working toward group objectives.

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