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Team Building Situations Where Teamwork Is Applicable Discussion

Team Building Situations Where Teamwork Is Applicable Discussion


List two of the situations provided in the Learning Activity “Types of Teams” where a team would work better than an individual. Then, provide an example, other than those listed in the reading, of a situation where you would prefer to work as part of a team rather than individually. Why would a team work better in that situation? Now, comment on the following questions. Why are some people hesitant to work as part of a team? Is it better to have a supervisor choose the team members, or for the employees to choose? Use examples from the reading to support your argument.

Types of Teams


Which projects require a team effort, and which ones can be effectively managed by an individual? Read this section to learn when to assemble or assign projects to a single person. It would be helpful to take notes as you progress so that you may refer back to them as you prepare for your Final Assessment.

Teams are effective in several situations:

  • When no one person has the knowledge, skills, and abilities to either understand or solve the problem
  • When a commitment to the solution is needed by large portions of the project team
  • When the problem and solution cross project functions
  • When innovation is required

Individuals can outperform teams on some occasions. An individual tackling a problem consumes fewer resources than a team and can operate more efficiently—as long as the solution meets the project’s needs. A person is most appropriate in the following situations:

  • When speed is important
  • When one person has the knowledge, skills, and resources to solve the problem
  • When the activities involved in solving the problem are very detailed
  • When the actual document needs to be written (Teams can provide input, but writing is a solitary task.)

In addition to knowing when a team is appropriate, you must also understand what type of team will function best.

Functional Teams

A functional team refers to the team approach related to the project functions. The engineering team, the procurement team, and the project controls team are examples of functional teams within the project. On a project with a low complexity profile that includes low technological challenges, good team member experience, and a clear scope of work, the project manager can utilize well-defined functional teams with clear expectations, direction, and strong vertical communication.

Cross-functional Teams

Cross-functional teams address issues and work processes that include two or more of the functional teams. The team members are selected to bring their functional expertise to addressing project opportunities.


A cross-functional project team in Tennessee was assigned to develop a project approach to procuring, delivering, and erecting precast concrete without storing the concrete on the site. Although the complexity of this goal is primarily related to delivering the precast concrete in a sequence that will allow erection from the delivery trucks, the planning involved coordination of the design, procurement, and project controls. Team members from each of these functions developed and tracked a plan to meet the project goal. The cross-functional team was successful in designing a process and executing the plan in a way that saved three weeks on the schedule and several thousand dollars in costs.

A man standing in the midst of a maze thinking about where to go. Problem-solving teams focus on a particular problem.© 2010 Jupiterimages Corporation

Problem-Solving Teams

Problem-solving teams are assigned to address specific issues that arise during the life of the project. The project leadership includes members that have the expertise to address the problem. The team is chartered to address that problem and then disband.


On a project in Indiana, a company selected to design and build a critical piece of equipment began having financial problems. As a result, the delivery of the equipment on the date needed by the project was at risk. A problem-solving team was chartered to assess the problem and develop a solution for the project. The team brought in some accounting expertise from the parent company and assessed the status of the vendor. The engineering team assessed the current state of the design, and the construction team developed an alternative schedule to allow for a late delivery of the equipment. The team developed a plan to support the vendor with funds and expertise that allowed the project to complete on time. The problem-solving team was organized to address a specific problem, developed and executed a plan to address the problem, and then was disbanded.

Virtual Teams

“Teamwork doesn’t tolerate the inconvenience of distance.” —Author Unknown

Virtual teams are teams in which members are not located in the same physical place. They may be in different cities, states, or even different countries. Some virtual teams are formed by necessity, such as to take advantage of lower labor costs in different countries with upwards of 8.4 million individuals working virtually in at least one team (Ahuja, 2003). Often, virtual teams are formed to take advantage of distributed expertise or time: the needed experts may be living in different cities. A company that sells products around the world, for example, may need technologists who can solve customer problems at any hour of the day or night. It may be difficult to find the caliber of people needed who would be willing to work at 2:00 a.m. on a Saturday, for example. As such, companies organize virtual technical support teams. BakBone Software Inc. has a 13-member technical support team. All members have degrees in computer science and are divided among offices in California, Maryland, England, and Tokyo. BakBone believes it has been able to hire stronger candidates by drawing from a diverse talent pool and hiring in different geographic regions rather than being limited to one region or time zone (Alexander, 2000).

Despite potential benefits, virtual teams present special management challenges. Managers often think that they have to see team members working in order to believe that work is being done. Because this kind of oversight is impossible in virtual team situations, it is important to devise evaluation schemes that focus on deliverables. Are team members delivering what they said they would? In self-managed teams, are team members producing the results the team decided on which to measure itself?

Another special challenge of virtual teams is building trust. Will team members deliver results just as they would in face-to-face teams? Can members trust each other to do what they said they would do? Companies often invest in bringing a virtual team together at least once so members can get to know each other and build trust (Kirkman, Rosen, Gibson, Tesluk & McPherson, 2002). In manager-led virtual teams, managers should be held accountable for their team’s results and evaluated on their ability as a team leader.

Finally, communication is especially important in virtual teams, be it through e-mail, phone calls, conference calls, or project management tools that help organize work. If individuals in a virtual team are not fully engaged and tend to avoid conflict, team performance can suffer (Montoya-Weiss, Massey & Song, 2001). A wiki is an Internet-based method for many people to collaborate and contribute to a document or discussion. Essentially, the document remains available for team members to access and amend at any time. The most famous example is Wikipedia, which is gaining traction as a way to structure project work globally and get information into the hands of those that need it. Empowered organizations put information into everyone’s hands (Kirkman & Rosen, 2000). Research shows that empowered teams are more effective than those that are not empowered (Mathieu, Gibson & Ruddy, 2006).

Technology now makes it possible for teams to function not only across such organizational boundaries as functional areas, departments, and divisions, but across time and space, as well. Working in virtual teams, geographically dispersed members interact electronically in the process of pursuing a common goal. Such technologies as videoconferencing, instant messaging, and electronic meetings, which allow people to interact simultaneously and in real time, offer a number of advantages in conducting the business of a virtual team (George & Jones, 2008). Among other things, members can participate from any location or at any time of day, and teams can “meet” for as long as it takes to achieve a goal or solve a problem—a few days, a few weeks, or a few months.

Additionally, team size does not seem to be an obstacle when it comes to calling virtual-team meetings: In building the F-35 Strike Fighter, U.S. defense contractor Lockheed Martin staked the $225 billion project on a virtual product-team of unprecedented global dimension, drawing on designers and engineers from the ranks of eight international partners ranging from Canada and the United Kingdom to Norway and Turkey (Adept Science, 2003).

Top Management Teams

Top management teams are appointed by the chief executive officer (CEO) and, ideally, reflect the skills and areas that the CEO considers vital for the company. There are no formal rules about top management team design or structure. The top team often includes representatives from functional areas, such as finance, human resources, and marketing, or key geographic areas, such as Europe, Asia, and North America. Depending on the company, other areas may be represented, such as legal counsel or the company’s chief technologist. Typical top management team member titles include chief operating officer (COO), chief financial officer (CFO), chief marketing officer (CMO), or chief technology officer (CTO). Because CEOs spend an increasing amount of time outside their companies (e.g., with suppliers, customers, and regulators), the role of the COO has taken on a much higher level of internal operating responsibilities. In most American companies, the CEO also serves as chairman of the board and can have the additional title of president. Companies have top teams to help set the company’s vision and strategic direction. Top teams make decisions on new markets, expansions, acquisitions, or divestitures. The top team is also important for its symbolic role: How the top team behaves dictates the organization’s culture and priorities by allocating resources and by modeling behaviors that will likely be emulated lower down in the organization. Importantly, the top team is most effective when team composition is diverse—functionally and demographically—and when it can truly operate as a team, not just as a group of individual executives (Carpenter, Geletkanycz & Sanders, 2004).

You may have heard of the quote that the people make the place, and this holds especially true for members of the top management team. In a study of 15 firms that demonstrated excellence, defined as sustained performance over a 15-year period, leadership researcher Jim Collins noted that those firms attended to people first and strategy second. “They got the right people on the bus, moved the wrong people off the bus, ushered the right people to the right seats—then they figured out where to drive it” (Collins, 2001). The best teams plan for turnover. Succession planning is the process of identifying future members of the top management team. Effective succession planning allows the best top teams to achieve high performance today and create a legacy of high performance for the future.

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