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Teams are omnipresent in our world today. Sports teams, marketing teams, teams of engineers, teams of teachers, teams of leaders; teams working in person and teams working virtually; teams teaming up with other teams and new teams replacing old teams.
Beneath the team and its goals lies the composition of the team or, in its simplest terms, who is on the team. The two (or more) individuals composing the team have characteristics that create the profile of the team. Additionally, the team could be any size, work in any context, and have a variety of team structures.
A team can be defined as a unit of two or more individuals who interact interdependently to achieve a common objective (Hackman & Wageman, 2005).
Team composition can be defined as the aspect of a team created by the configuration of team member attributes (Bell, 2007). It also has been identified as a causal factor that affects other aspects of a team (Moreland & Levine, 1992). The composition of a team is considered to have a strong influence on team processes and outcomes (Bell, 2007).
Team composition can either be homogeneous, all the same, or heterogeneous, containing differences. There are conflicting opinions on which is best. Homogeneous teams may perform better due to similarities in experience and thought, while heterogeneous teams may perform better due to diversity and greater ability to take on multiple roles (Mello & Ruckes, 2006). These terms, however, must be given a framework, as a team could be homogeneous for some characteristics and heterogeneous for others. The importance placed on team design derives from the need to align a team's composition with organizational goals and resources. (Koslowski & Ilgen, 2006).
Team composition is a complex issue with an endless number and combination of elements contributing to each team configuration. The possible outcomes resulting from a team's composition are as numerous.
Antecedents of team composition
The preferred team size influences team composition (Moreland & Levine, 1992). Team size is determined by organizational task types, goals, and processes.
While the size of a team is clearly dependent on many factors, the concept of "ideal" team size also varies. Traditionally, it was perceived that increasing the size of a team had more powerful effects on team structure, dynamics, and performance (Thomas & Fink, 1963) because increased size generally translates into a wide range of member abilities and skills (Mathieu, Maynard, Rapp, & Gilson, 2008; Moreland & Levine, 1992).
Recently, however, some researchers have identified a general preference for a small team, containing less than 10 members (Katzenbach & Smith, 1993; Moreland, Levine, & Wingert, 1996). Smaller teams experience better work-life quality (Campion et al., 1993; Hausknecht et al., 2009) and work outcomes (Aube et al., 2011). Smaller teams also may experience less conflict, stronger communication, and more cohesion (Moreland & Levine, 1992; Mathieu et al., 2008). Regardless of the chosen "ideal" size, organizational preference of team size determines team composition and its effects (Mathieu et al., 2008).
Team structure can be seen as a "bridge between organization-level strategy and staffing decisions" (Hollenbeck et al., 2002, p. 600). Team structure is an essential element in establishing guidance for team composition. It is helpful to consider the desired composition of the team when deciding which type of structure will be used to unite team members.
- Functional structure
- Functional structure is present when members within a team are organized around performing similar tasks (Mathieu et al., 2008).
- Divisional structure
- Divisional structure is present when members within a team are organized based on the similar organizational area (i.e. working on the same, specific product) in which they have responsibility (Mathieu et al., 2008).
Teams generally have a leader (Mello & Ruckes, 2006). Leadership within a team has been shown to impact the outcome of team processes (Koslowski & Ilgen, 2006) such as team member selection. A standard leadership structure for teams involves a hierarchical leadership structure where there are leaders and subordinates.
- Top Management Teams
- An alternative leadership structure is when the team itself is composed of individuals who hold top management positions. Top Management Teams (TMTs) consists of an organization's administrative members, in the upper echelons of the organization. New venture groups (i.e. technology start-ups), are commonly known for embracing the TMT model. TMT members are often selected by founders of organizations and have origins from sources with which the founders share network ties; thus, the level of homogeneity in these groups is often high (Ensley & Hmieleski, 2005). The similarity among TMT members could influence decisions regarding the composition of teams they create within the organization, as characteristics of TMT's have been shown to strongly align with organizational outcomes because of their administrative powers (Mathieu et al., 2008).
Outcomes of team composition
Diversity of age, gender, and race are considered to be the most important demographic factors resulting from team composition (Moreland & Levine, 1992).
Age is more than just number to team composition: as tenure with an organization and age increase, so can performance (Avolio, 1986; Ng & Feldman, 2008). Older individuals may contribute more professional expertise, years of experience, and gathered knowledge (Hess & Auman, 2001; Ng & Feldman, 2008).
Gender is another important factor of demographic team composition (Moreland & Levine, 1992). Men and women differ in their levels of conformity, preference of power distribution, and behavioral norms. These differences influence team behavior, climate, leadership, and norms (Wood & Rhodes, 1992; Moreland & Levine, 1992).
Race is a third demographic factor of team composition and has gained additional salience due to the globalization and increasing diversity of the workforce (Riordan & Shore, 1997). Traditionally, researchers have focused primarily on Whites and African Americans for race studies. That scope has more recently been extended to other races, such as Asians, Native Americans, Middle Easterners, and Hispanics.
Differences in ability, culture, and personalities among races have been shown to impact job-related outcomes (Harrison & Klein, 2007). The level of individual similarity and dissimilarity in racial attributes affect work-related processes (Riordan & Shore, 1997; Tsui & O'Reilly, 1989).
Knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs)
The team composition determines the array of knowledge, skills, and abilities within a team.
Knowledge includes the facts and principles that apply to the domain of the team (The O*Net Content Model, n.d.).
Skills can be either basic or cross-functional. Basic skills include developed capabilities that assist in the learning or faster acquisition of knowledge. Cross-functional skills assist in the ability to carry out tasks that occur across jobs. Skills can also be categorized into technical skills (adequate ability to do a variety of jobs), human skills (the ability to interact with others), and conceptual skills (the ability to learn and use newly acquired knowledge). (The O*Net Content Model, n.d.)
Abilities are long-lasting individual traits that impact performance (The O*Net Content Model, n.d.). Abilities can include multiple dimensions ranging from scope (general vs. specific) to origin (innate vs. learned) to focus (task vs. social) (Moreland et al., 1996).
Researchers have focused on different abilities, varying on dimensions such as scope (general vs. specific), origin (innate vs. learned), and focus (task vs. social). They found that individual abilities combine additively to determine team performance (Moreland & Levine, 1992), and "if members collectively lack necessary knowledge, skills, abilities, or resources to resolve the team task, the team cannot be effective," (Koslowski & Ilgen, 2006, p. 80).
Experience – tenure
A member's expertise and industry experience also contribute to the composition of the team (Ensley & Hmieleski, 2005). Job experience can be characterized by job knowledge, backgrounds, and patterns of behavior. (Schmidt, Hunter, & Outerbridge, 1986) Experience, overall, has been shown to have direct and indirect effects on performance (Schmidt & Hunter, 1998).
Since the early 1990s, researchers have considered the effects of individual personality traits on team dynamics and performance to be an important team factor (Moreland & Levine, 1992). The Big Five personality traits include extraversion, conscientiousness, agreeableness, openness to experience, and neuroticism (also referred to as emotional stability).
It is evident that individual personality traits affect the team's processes and outcomes (Barrick, Stewart, Neubert, & Mount, 1998; Bell, 2007; Bradley & Herbert, 1997). Empirical support has shown the following: the presence of extraversion in team members leads to increased team viability and communication; the presence of conscientiousness leads to an increase in overall performance; the presence of agreeableness in team members leads to an increase in cohesion, communication, productivity, and overall performance; the presence of openness to experience in team members leads to an increase in communication; the presence of neuroticism in team members leads to an increase in cohesion and overall performance (Mathieu et al., 2008).
A faultline is an imaginary line that divides a heterogeneous team into homogenous sub-teams. For example, a mixed team of men and women would have an imaginary split between the two genders. When a team is in its initial stages of forming, members may use demographic traits, such as gender, to place themselves into a sub-team (Lau & Murnighan, 1998).
Similar to faults, or breaks, in the earth's crust, faultlines often need to be activated by external forces (i.e. task demands) in order to shake things up, or, cause an "earthquake." When this happens, team members split along faultlines to form sub-teams. Individuals begin to create more interpersonal connections within the sub-team than with the team as a whole (Lau & Murnighan, 2005). In severe cases, the members of a sub-team may feel like the split is irreconcilable and break away completely from the team or organization (Dyck & Starke, 1999).
The composition of a team creates a context—conditions that surround and influence the team—for individual team members' actions as well as teamwork and performance (Moreland & Levine, 1992).
For example, high levels of diversity in the team roles (such as coordinator and implementer) held by members have been shown to better help teams successfully complete complex tasks (Higgs, Plewnia, & Ploch, 2005). This does not mean, however, that high levels of diversity always enhances actions, teamwork, or performance. For example, the chosen attribute could be disagreeableness, where high levels could lead to decreased sharing of ideas by team members, lower amounts of teamwork (such as less communication), and poorer performance.
In addition to highs and lows in diversity, the ideal composition of a team may also exist at a moderate level. For example, using extraversion as the chosen attribute, a team with a high or low number of extraverts does not perform as well as a team with a moderate (around a third of the members) number of extraverts (Barry & Stewart, 1997). In all of these scenarios, the team composition, in terms of a chosen attribute, affect the team differently at different levels.
Climate is most commonly thought of as the typical way that members in the organization describe their team or organization (Chan, 1998). Team composition creates climate, and team climate moderates the relationship between individual perception of an organization and organizational outcomes such as performance and satisfaction (Schneider, Salvaggio, and Subirats, 2002).
Although climate is influenced by individuals' attributes, it is manifested at the organizational or team level (Schneider et al., 2002). Generally, climate encompasses the work environment, acting as a continuous factor that influences team composition and team performance. When individuals in the workplace create a positive climate, job satisfaction and job performance increase (Wiley and Brooks, 2000; Schneider et al., 2002). As a moderator, team climate influences the relationship between team composition and team performance.
Ways to measure team composition
There are a variety of ways in which team composition can be operationalized, or turned into a measurable team characteristic. The common element of the methodologies involves first measuring characteristics of individual team members.
Maximum and minimum scores
Maximum and minimum characteristic scores are considered most important when one team member having or lacking a characteristic will significantly impact the team's performance. For example, a very disagreeable team member may obstruct a team's ability to agree and cause poorer performance (Bell, 2007).
A team score for a particular characteristic can also be measured by taking the average, or mean, of all team member scores. Using this method, the amount of each trait for individual members is combined to form a group-level measurement of that trait. For example, cohesion, a characteristic sensibly measured using a team score due to its synergistic nature, could be measured this way. This would be accomplished by providing team members with a survey for them to assess cohesive traits (i.e. cooperation, harmony) and then calculating the average of the survey scores (Barrick, et al., 1998).
It is possible to look at how much diversity there is on a team by calculating the standard deviation, or how much team member differs on a characteristic. For example, team experience, quantified as the continuous number of years a team member has been on a specific team, could be measured this way. A standard deviation of experience would show the variability in team members' amount of experience in comparison to each other, (Humphrey et al., 2009).
Future research and implications
As organizations continues to change in part due to globalization of business and advancements in technology, the way in which team composition strategies are implemented must keep up. There is a strong need for further research on how to measure team composition as well as which methods of measurement are most appropriate for which characteristics. Are teams better off with a balance of a trait? Should minima or maxima of particular traits be avoided? How can it be determined when a team has enough cohesion or social awareness? Should decision-making be facilitated by someone external to the group?
To answer these questions, there is also a need to more concretely define the characteristics in order to allow for the generalizability of research findings from one organization to another. To strengthen research results, studies also need to be conducted longitudinally in order to capture changing team characteristics such as emergent states.
There are innumerable decisions to be made upon constructing a team of individuals who will be able to successfully perform. It is crucial to consider all of the discussed variables that determine team composition as well as monitor those that are determined by team composition.
The overarching perspective looks at the homogeneity and heterogeneity of a team's composition. There is a continuous debate of which type of composition is most desirable. For this, and all factors of team composition, it is truly on a case-by-case basis. This leaves the door wide open for continued research on different teams in different settings with different compositions.
- Industrial and Organizational Psychology
- Organization development
- Personnel selection
- Performance appraisal
- Career assessment
- Personality psychology
- Diversity (business)
1) In the current psychology and business research literature, the terms "team" and "group," including "work team" and "work group," are terms that are used interchangeably. Throughout this article, all of these variations will be referred to as "team."
2) The term "organization," also representing a variety of concepts, will be used to refer to businesses, firms, and organized teams of all sizes.
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