Characteristics of a Team and Barriers to Effective Team Functioning
Updated: Aug 24
Before delving into the barriers of an effective team, you must first understand the difference between a team and a group:
“The distinction between a group and a team is an important one. All teams are groups, but not all groups are teams. A group consists of people who work together but can do their jobs without one another. A team is a group of people who cannot do their jobs, at least not effectively, without the other members of their team” (Spector, 2012, p. 303).
A team — a type of group — has several important characteristics (Unsworth & West, 2000):
Team members have shared goals in relation to their work.
Team members interact with each other in order to achieve shared objectives.
Team members have well-defined and interdependent roles.
Team members have an organizational identity as a team with a defined organizational function.
Professor Michael West (2008) shared a list of barriers to effective teamwork. Dr. West is Professor of Organizational Psychology at Lancaster University Management School. He has spent most of his career conducting research into factors that determine the effectiveness of individuals and teams at work.
Seven Barriers to Effective Team Functioning (West, 2008):
1. A lack of team purpose and tasks. “The only point of having a team is to get a job done, a task completed, a set of objectives met. Moreover, the tasks that teams perform should be tasks that are best performed by a team” (West, 2008, p. 308).
2. A lack of freedom and responsibility. Creating a team and failing to give them the freedom and authority to act is like teaching a person to ride a bicycle, giving them a bike, but then telling them they can ride only in the house (West, 2008).
3. Too many members or the wrong members. “Teams should be as small as possible to get the job done and no larger than about 6 to 8 people” (West, 2008, p. 308). It’s also crucial that “teams have the members with the skills they need to get the job done” (West, 2008, p. 308).
4. An individual-focused organization. “Teams are set up in many places in the organization but all of the systems are geared towards managing individuals. . .Creating team-based organizations means radically altering the structure, the support systems, and the culture” (West, 2008, p. 309).
5. Team processes are neglected rather than developed. Teams need to have clear objectives, meet regularly, participate in constructive debate about how to best serve client needs, share information with one another, coordinate their work, support each other, and review their performance and think about ways to improve it (West, 2008).
6. Directive instead of facilitative leaders. Leading a team is different from supervising one. Supervisors are directive and advice-giving. A leader of a team, instead, is facilitative and seeking. This leader’s role is “to ensure that the team profits optimally from its shared knowledge, experience, and skill” (West, 2008, p. 309).
7. Conflict with other teams. Ironically, the more cohesive and effective a team becomes, the more competitive and partisan they tend to be in their relationships with other teams throughout an organization. Therefore, it’s important to ensure that interteam cooperation is established and reinforced (West, 2008).
Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D. Organizational & Leadership Development Leader
Spector, P. E. (2012). Industrial and organizational psychology: Research and practice (6th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons.
Unsworth, K. L. & West, M. A. (2000). Teams: The challenges of cooperative work. In N. Chmiel (Ed.), An introduction to work and organizational psychology: A European perspective (pp. 327-346). Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishing.
West, M. A. (2008). Effective teams in organizations. In N. Chmiel (Ed.), An introduction to work and organizational psychology: A European perspective (2nd ed; pp. 305-328). Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishing.