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Disadvantages Of Groups And Teams Effect On The Identity

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Groups and Teams can be collectively defined as those which “are composed of two or more individuals, who exist to perform organizationally relevant tasks, share one or more common goals, interact socially, exhibit task interdependencies (i.e., workflow, goals, outcomes), maintain and manage boundaries, and are embedded in an organizational context that sets boundaries, constrains the team, and influences exchanges with other units in the broader entity” (Kozlowski and Bell, 2001:6). Whilst some authors highlight a divergence between the two; such as that team members work towards a shared aspiration or goal, whilst those in groups will be observed as a collection of individuals working towards their personal targets (Katzenbach and Smith, 2005), this essay will hereby refer to the two interchangeably. Allen and Hecht (2004) speak about a “romantic” but idealised notion towards groups and teams that has developed over time which is developed further by Glassop who remarks that “literature lacks consistent empirical evidence to support their widespread adoption [towards teams]” (Glassop, 2002:233). Cruz (2011) highlights that most studies regarding experimental evidence of teams concentrate on the positive implications that they have. This essay will focus on and critically evaluate the potential influence and implications of the darker nature of teams put forward in recent literature. This essay will also argue that the shortcomings and perceived “conflict” in groups (Hinds and Mortensen, 2005) do not outweigh the positive externalities in organizational contexts. The first section will analyse the bearing that groups can have on an individual’s identity; whilst the second section will delve into the impact teams have on an person’s morality and values. Lastly, the essay will examine whether teams can still be considered the most relevant unit of analysis by discussing their effectiveness in the workplace, in lieu of their potential to impact negatively on individuals.

The Contrasting Effects of Groups and Teams on Identity

Primarily it has been found that when brainstorming, individuals tend to have an inclination towards working in groups, believing that this will generate supplementary ideas compared to individuals working alone; as shown by a study carried out by influential psychologists (Paulus, Dzindolet, Poletes and Camacho, 1993:87). They state that there is “both a bias in favour of group brainstorming and the existence of an illusion of actual productivity.” This theory is further developed by suggesting that employees will gain an impression of inclusion (Katz and Kahn, 1978) and a sense of belonging (Goodard, 2001); thereby impacting positively on their identity. Additionally, Rentsch and Zelno (2005) conduct a convincing and detailed analysis, finding that informal groups consisting of people from similar backgrounds can have an increased schema accuracy compared to unfamiliar or formal groups. That is: members in these teams will gain higher utility from a feeling of familiarity amongst team members. This is because they will frequently mis-interpret the behaviour of team members in unfamiliar groups and feel that they are being personally singled out for further criticism, when this is not the case (Baron, 1988; Ensley and Pearce, 2001). Other studies further emphasise the powerful effect teams can have on identity. Wellins, Byham and Wilson (1991) describe how; if implemented correctly, teams can collectively become “empowered,” which can be linked to effectiveness as empowered workers will be more productive. Some authors agree with this concept and talk about how the group can affect an individual, as they find that a group that is positively evaluated by peers can lead to workers becoming emotionally affiliated with the group, as “these groups may contribute more to a positive social identity,”(Ellemers, Kortekaas and Ouwerkerk 1999:373) further engendering a workers’ sense of identity. One aspect that must be mentioned in this context is leadership. Credible experiments have shown that self-monitoring groups can proceed with the emergence of a leader for both men and women (Ellis 1998, Garland and Beard 1979). As characteristics such as adaptability are tested; other team roles can also be developed (Belbin 2012). All these team roles can further enhance a workers’ identity.

It should be acknowledged that throughout history there is a lack of reliable empirical evidence to substantiate the impact teams have on the distinctiveness of workers; due to the ambiguity that comes with measuring subjective variables such as identity. For example, Asch (1955) designed an experiment to test whether groups extinguish our ability to think independently. The results paint a pessimistic picture for those who oppose the darker view; showing that conformity will kick in when people work in groups; as individuals lose some identity by agreeing to others’ opinions without contributing much of their own; later identified as “groupthink” (Janis 1972). Mori and Arai (2010) conducted a similar study on conformity, with minor changes. Conversely, their results showed that men would not conform to the majority opinion. These opposing results deconstruct Asch’s argument which suggest teams take away identity. More convincing empirical research needs to be undertaken before we can accept the darker view conclusively. If stages of group development are analysed to understand the impact groups have on identity; then results are mixed. Using Spitz and Sadock’s (1973) stages of group life, we see evidence to support both the dark side view and the opposite view. They describe feelings of anxiety as well as dependency that develop when working in groups; which reinforces the view that groups and teams negatively impact ones’ identity. This is mirrored in studies by Braaten (1975) who found comparable results in that during team work there will be hostility when trying to complete tasks. On the other hand, Spitz and Sadock talk about the optimistic feelings that the sample study had towards the group leader at the end of the project showing positive aspects in group work. A weakness of this study, however, is that the sample group used to examine this theory were all female medicine students so one could criticize the study, as it could be biased due to the characteristics pertinent to medicine students. What is more, Braaten (1974) observed a phase where values of working maturity and trust developed amongst groups and teams. Ultimately, it should be noted that groups and teams have a positive impact on identity, as Rothschild-Whitt (1986:313) summarises their psychological value by stating workers get a “strong sense of meaning and satisfaction from work, broadened competence and raised self-esteem” from working in teams.

Likewise, Adler (1993) argues for standardized working in groups; where each worker will have control of their own particular job; finding that workers will feel empowered knowing that they are best suited to the job they are given; further improving their identity due to their high affinity for their role. There will also be many groups in organisational contexts which comprise of a leader, whose role may be to manage the individuals in the team. Leaders however, can sometimes alienate other team members; as well as derail a groups’ identity through their own individualism. This is shown by the example of Steve Jobs in 1985, where his relationship with his team in Apple deteriorated due to him being too focused on his own vision; forgetting about the importance of building good team relationships which then led to him being removed as CEO from Apple. Correspondingly, toxic emotions can be reciprocated for the leader from the team. Hollenbeck, De Rue and Nahrgang (2015) note that in times of stress; feelings of resentment can build towards a manager or leader, through no fault of their own and exertion from employees may drop. This leads the manager to become a scapegoat. Nevertheless, when leaders are deployed suitably in teams, they can engender a positive mentality or identity in the interest of the team, which is in line with Woodrow Wilsons’ (1890) quote “The ear of the leader must ring with the voices of the people.”

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A Critical Evaluation of the Influence of Groups on an Individual’s Morality and Values

When assessing the impact that groups have on morality and values, it is imperative to analyse the findings of the experiments carried out by Lewin, Lippitt and White (1939), at the Iowa Child Welfare Research Station. In an experiment designed to analyse the leadership qualities of rival groups, the conclusions drawn showed the impact on a child’s values that a team can have. Reflecting upon this, Lewin (1948: 98) states “His relation to this group and his status in it are the most important factors for his feeling of security or insecurity. No wonder that the group the person is a part of, and the culture in which he lives, determine to a very high degree his behaviour and character.” So, this indicates that the type of groups that individuals are divided into will affect their behaviour, morality and values. One could extrapolate this concept further and argue that groupwork will give workers a feeling of responsibility as highlighted by Trist and Bamforth (1951). They advocate the use of groups and teams, but only if there is high autonomy, as the sense of independence and work-pace flexibility will positively influence their principles and values in organisational contexts. Analysis on Social Impact theory developed by Latane, (1981) gives credence to supporters of the darker view, as it talks about the negative consequences on ones’ values, due to the power status of a majority group; but Moscovici (1976) rightly dismisses this argument. He observes that there are many examples in history where a minority hasn’t been influenced by a majority; but instead has imparted their own values onto the masses; such as the suffragette movement. After conducting studies, he found that confidence in ones’ own beliefs were crucial to stop negative values in teams affecting individuals.

As stated in the introduction to this essay, there are many critics of the usage of groups and teams in organisational contexts, with Sewell questioning their longevity in organisations due to the negative impact they have on ones’ morals by saying “not only do teams have an immensely long tradition, but also they have an organisational history of neglect and abuse that predates the modern era.” (Sewell 2001:1). Stein and Pinto (2011) take this analysis to extreme lengths, suggesting that “intraorganizational ganging dynamics” can emerge from groupwork in the workplace; which are groups that denigrate behaviour that is beneficial to organizations. This can impact a worker’s morality; as shown by the recent example of whistleblowing at St George’s Hospital. Following reports of high mortality rates, Professor Mike Brewick (2018) carried out an investigative study at the hospital, with his findings showing that two camps had formed creating a “toxic atmosphere” (Mike Brewick, 2018:14). Furthermore, the ganging culture in the groups at the hospital led to Professor Marjhan Jahangiri taking court action, after being barred from working, by senior staff. In the conclusion of Stein and Pinto’s (2011) report however, they concede that it is possible to avoid gangs forming if senior managers are made aware of their presence and take necessary steps to stop the establishment of gangs; thus avoiding the darker impact they can have on an individual’s morality and values. Hinds and Mortenson (2005) also carried out a study on conflict within teams. They noted that diversity within the group could lead to conflict; be it age, geographical or other factors. Conflict within groups make it difficult to positively influence the values of an individual, as workers become motivated towards their own goals rather than the groups’ targets. This shows the darker impact that teams can have on morality. Alternatively, Pelled et al (1999) offers a contradictory viewpoint, suggesting that conflict can ameliorate performance. So, further study is needed to accept the darker view of the impact that groups have on morals.

Do the Darker Nature of Teams Adversely Impact the Effectiveness of Employees?

Sinclair (1992) imparted that groups and teams can “provide leadership, accomplish research, maximize creativity and operationalize structural flexibility,” (Sinclair 1992:611) which indicates the achievements that can be attained through teamwork. Naturally, most managers will hope that working in teams will stimulate the creation of ideas more quickly than employees working individually. Teamwork should enable individuals to focus on the task at hand. The confidence that managers have in the effectiveness of teams is shown by the fact that a staggering 65% of organisations in Great Britain were utilising them as of 1999 (Cully, O’Reilly, and Dix, 1999). Robust studies on memory performance carried out by Vollrath, D. A., Sheppard, B. H., Hinsz, V. B., and Davis, J. H. (1989) showed that groups would remember greater amounts of knowledge (as well as make fewer mistakes), than an individual. Furthermore, Katzenbach and Smith (1993) suggested that teams will be effective; but only when certain conditions are met. They argue that effectiveness of groups will be nullified if there are large groups, due to the logistical issues they face. Secondly, it is argued that teams can only be beneficial in organisational contexts if the groups discipline themselves and agree on joint accountability. This is backed up by Wageman and Gordon (2005) who through convincing empirical research, find that groups with an egalitarian status perform better than those with meritocratic values. On the other hand, there are limitations to these studies. For instance, in Wageman and Gordons (2005) study, the criteria for how workers described their relationship with other team members was a Likert-type scale; which only gives discrete options and can sometimes omit the actual points of view of the subjects; thus skewing results. On top of this, “team performance criteria are tricky to get right,” (Allen and Hecht 2004:6) due to the difficulty in replicating organisational structures to undertake studies. Therefore, using empirical studies, it is difficult to conclude whether the dark element of teams will affect performance. Latane, Williams and Harkings (1979: 831) also analyse an interesting impact of one dark feature of teams – social loafing. Whilst acknowledging that social loafing has a dark nature “which leads to lowered profits and lowered benefits for all,” they ultimately concede that groups can achieve goals which would be impossible if conducted solely by individuals.


To encapsulate this essay, there are multiple drawbacks to groups and teams; with regards to their effect on identity. Toxic atmospheres can develop in organisational contexts, especially when there is a poor leader or feelings of unworthiness develop. Moreover, they can have the opposite effect to those intended if workers conform to others’ ideas; thus abandoning their own morals and values. As has been argued however, teams and groups should still be regarded as highly effective, as overall they can have a positive impact on the psychological side of the workforce; by empowering workers whilst raising self-esteem. Finally, after analysing the studies on the darker nature of teams, I believe the results cannot be fully accepted without further research; due to the subjective nature of measuring impact on identity, morality and values and the difficulties in measuring these factors. Thus, I have shown that although groups and teams cannot be considered as a panacea in all situations, they can still be considered the most relevant unit of analysis; assuming they are implemented correctly.

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