4.  Contrast team versus individual performance


I am writing a thesis for college on the benefits of teams to organizations/ teams V's individuals. I would be grateful if you could advise me on any research, books, articles that compare or contrast teams and individuals.  Also what topics should I be focusing on.   Ann (Ireland)


Bodwell's answer:


Lately, it seems that this question has been coming up more and more often and I'm not sure why that's happening.  Maybe in this era of profit pressure the answer is no longer simply assumed be “team” is always best.  In any event, I have some thoughts that I'll gladly share with you on the subject:


In certain instances, individuals are more likely to outperform teams and in other circumstances teams will outperform the individual:


I think individuals are more effective than teams when performance demands skills or knowledge that is acquired slowly over a lengthy period of time.  Examples of these situations would include doctors, lawyers, craftsmen, astronauts, leaders, clergymen, or other highly skilled individuals who typically work as solo practitioners.  There are exceptions to this rule and they apply when they work that must be done is more than the practitioner can handle effectively by themselves.  Here I'm thinking about instances like heart transplant surgery or groundbreaking class action law suits, which would require "teams" of practitioners to succeed. 


 Individuals are "usually" more effective than teams when there is a crisis that requires immediate action and the individual in question has leadership skills.  This is so because a crisis, by definition, is a high-stakes situation that is expected to get worse if action is not taken quickly.  Here the individual has the advantage "if" they have the authority to take or order action, or perhaps the courage to exceed their authority. 



On the other hand team performance will beat individual performance when the organization faces a requirement to achieve or accomplish something that no one knows how to do.  In such situations, give me five people of average IQ and we will get a better solution than any genius you can come up with.  Same thing applies where creativity is paramount.  The price for all this awesome performance is time.  Teams need time to communicate options and ideas with one another,  work out kinks, consider implementation issues, and interface points.   Teams will also prevail when cross-functional cooperation is required to develop or improve processes (unless the leader who has responsibilities for all affected functions is willing and able to develop the detailed requirements and make the implementing decisions).


The gray area is the ground between these two types of situations:  Everyday work that is done by low-skilled or semi-skilled folks (clerical, production, call-center, etc.).  The right kind of leader/supervisor ( cares about people, brilliant, motivated, enthusiastic ), will  surely outperform a self-directed work team.  There are some of those kinds of folks out there in real life.  The  problem is that they soon get promoted to higher levels and work group performance reverts to uninspired drudgery….just muddling through.  SDWT's can very effectively replace that charismatic first line supervisor.  I say "can" and not "will" because team chemistry and capabilities differ depending on the exact makeup of each team.  That and other well-establish requisite conditions ultimately determine the effectiveness of SDWT's.