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What is a Team?

Quality Teams on ASQTV™


Quality Glossary Definition: Team

A team is defined as a group of people who perform interdependent tasks to work toward accomplishing a common mission or specific objective.

Some teams have a limited life: for example, a design team developing a new product, or a continuous process improvement team organized to solve a particular problem. Others are ongoing, such as a department team that meets regularly to review goals, activities, and performance.

Understanding the many interrelationships that exist between organizational units and processes, and the impact of these relationships on quality, productivity, and cost, makes the value of teams apparent.

The Three Types of Teams

Many of today’s team concepts gained popularity in the United States during the 1970s through the use of quality circles or employee involvement initiatives. However, these initiatives were often seen as separate from normal work activities, not as integrated with them.

Team designs have since evolved into a broader concept that includes many types of teams formed for different purposes.

Three primary types of teams are typically used within the business environment:

Process Improvement Teams

Process improvement teams are project teams that focus on improving or developing specific business processes. These teams come together to achieve a specific goal, are guided by a well-defined project plan, and have a negotiated beginning and end.

Work Groups or Natural Teams

Work groups, sometimes called "natural teams," have responsibility for a particular process (e.g., a department, a product line, or a stage of a business process) and work together in a participative environment. The degree of authority and autonomy of the team can range from relatively limited to full self-management. The participative approach is based on the belief that employees will be more productive if they have a higher level of responsibility for their work.

Self-Managed Teams

Self-managed teams directly manage the day-to-day operation of their particular process or department. They are authorized to make decisions on a wide range of issues, such as safety, quality, maintenance, scheduling, and personnel. Their responsibilities also include processes traditionally held by managers, such as goal-setting, allocation of assignments, and conflict resolution.

The Value & Benefits of Teams

Team processes offer the following benefits to the organization:

  • Synergistic process design or problem solving
  • Objective analysis of problems or opportunities
  • Promotion of cross-functional understanding
  • Improved quality and productivity
  • Greater innovation
  • Reduced operating costs
  • Increased commitment to organizational mission
  • More flexible response to change
  • Increased ownership and stewardship
  • Reduced turnover and absenteeism

Individuals can gain the following benefits from teams:

  • Enhanced problem-solving skills
  • Increased knowledge of interpersonal dynamics
  • Broader knowledge of business processes
  • New skills for future leadership roles
  • Increased quality of work life
  • Feelings of satisfaction and commitment
  • A sense of being part of something greater than what one could accomplish alone 

Reasons Why Teams Fail

Difficulty with teams is often blamed on a cultural emphasis in the United States on individual accomplishments versus shared responsibility and success. But problems are also caused by inadequate organizational support structures, reward systems, for example, often reinforce individual performance.

Numerous reasons have been noted for why teams often fail to reach their full potential. Among them are:

  • Failure to integrate cooperative work methods into the organizational culture
  • Lack of organizational systems necessary to support the team process
  • Minimal upfront planning of how the organization plans to utilize teams
  • Failure to prepare managers for their changing roles
  • Failure to prepare team members for their new roles
  • Inappropriate reward and compensation systems
  • Inadequate training
  • Impatience of top management with the time needed for maturation
  • Incomplete understanding of group dynamics

Team REsources

Effective White-Collar Teams: The New Imperative (PDF) The work of white-collar teams must be aligned with strategic and operational goals, individual and team responsibilities, protocols, and personal relationships.

Moving to a Team-Based Structure in Health Care (PDF) Voluntary Enterprises, Inc., a subsidiary of Community Hospitals Foundation in Indianapolis, changed from a traditional reporting structure to a team-based approach, creating an environment of ownership among the people responsible for doing the work.

Beyond Design: Implementing Effective Production Work Teams (PDF) Achieving sustainable performance gains following the introduction of production work teams depends upon the design and management of the implementation process.


Adapted from The Certified Manager of Quality/Organizational Excellence Handbook, ASQ Press.

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