When viewing teamwork, separate from team task work, one needs to consider the influencing conditions (context, composition, Culture) and the core processes / emerging states (cooperation, conflict, coordination, communication, coaching, culture; Dinh & Salas, 2017) These influencing conditions and core processes are presented in other posts in this webpage (influencing conditions, core processes). The focus here will be on team composition and its impact on team performance.
The core processes relate to internal team functioning while influencing conditions identify external forces (environmental) that influence team performance. Team composition, one of the influencing conditions, has been defined as “the attributes of team members, including skills. abilities, experiences, and personality characteristics (Dinh & Salas, 2017, p. 25; see also Guzzo & Dickson, 1996). Other literature defines team composition as the configuration of team members at the team level (Bell, Brown, Outland, & Abben, 2015). However, when the overall configuration involves multiteam systems (MTS), where a network of teams report to a management/command center team which reports to the organization, the configuration of team members becomes a complex process. Team composition should take into account each level within the current architecture: “team composers must consider each intact team, and the network and connecting persons between teams” (Vessey & Landon, 2017, p. 534).
When designing teams from the start it is necessary to identify; individual attributes (e.g., personality, demographics), what it means to be a good team member, identify the best configuration of team member knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSA), and the importance and role that diversity plays in the team (Bell et al., 2015; Dink & Salas, 2017). When a team has already formed, which is the case for most people, “knowledge of how the team composition affects team functioning can be used to design organizational interventions (e.g., training, countermeasures) that can mitigate the risks associated with the team’s composition” (Bell et al., 2015, p. 6).
For teams that have already formed, or for new teams, the following critical team processes have been identified as being important to the team’s overall success and in meeting the overall organizational or multiteam system’s (MTS’s) goal; communication, conflict management, trust, and a shared understanding of task and goals (Bell et al., 2015).
Communication within the team, across teams (MTS), and between the team and MTS with the organization, must be maintained in all directions. When any one of these communication channels are interrupted misunderstanding occurs from either or all parties (team member, team, MTS, organization), leading to a disruption of the overall team/MTS/organizations goal (Bell et al., 2015). Communication has been shown to support team cognitive processes and team behaviors, resulting in changes to team performance (Vessey & Landon, 2017).
Conflict management can affect all levels of analysis just as in communication (e.g., individual team member, team, MTS, organization). With this in mind, interpersonal conflict (relationship conflict) should be addressed before team formation, whereas efforts to reduce task conflict should be considered throughout. Task conflict is often a result of new procedures, unclear procedures, lack of resources, etc… Effective conflict management should be a part of the overall team functioning at each of the different levels (individual, team, MTS, organization; Bel et al., 2015).
Trust, as in communication and conflict management, must be obtained at all levels. Camaraderie building exercises can help along with team exercises and team member interactions away from work. Maintaining this trust is also a challenge, especially at all levels and when dealing with complex issues in a dynamic environment. Building high levels of psychological safety should be part of the long-term trust building routine as well and should involve all levels.
Last, having a shared understanding of the task and goal is critical, especially when team members are expected to operate independently as well as interdependently. Individual team members need to understand what their task is designed to achieve the team’s goal. Likewise, each team needs to clearly understand their tasks before completing the MTS’s goal, which in turn meets the organization’s goal. As the levels increase and become more complex, as in MTS, shared understanding becomes more critical to the overall success of the organization: “A shared understanding within the larger mission team was also noted as critical to success, particularly if a multi-team structure is used” (Bell et al., 2015, p. 33).
Bell, S. T., Brown, S. G., Outland, N. B., & Abben, D. R. (2015). Critical team composition issues for long-distance and long-duration space exploration: A literature review, and operational assessment and recommendations for practice and research (NASA/TN-2015-218568). Houston, TX: NASA.
Dinh, J. V., & Salas, E. (2017). Factors that influence teamwork. In E. Salas, R. Rico, & J. Passmore (Eds.), The Wiley Blackwell handbook of team working and collaborative processes (pp. 15-41). Malden, MA: John Wiley & Sons.
Guzzo, R. A., & Dickson, M. W. (1996). Teams in organizations: Recent research on performance and effectiveness. Annual Review of Psychology, 47, 307-338. Retrieved from https://www.annualreviews.org/journal/psych
Vessey, W. B., & Landon, L. B. (2017). Team performance in extreme environments. In E. Salas, R. Rico, & J. Passmore (Eds.), The Wiley Blackwell handbook of team working and collaborative processes (pp. 531-553). Malden, MA: John Wiley & Sons.