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How are teams chosen and developed?

Key Points:

Decide on the types of team:

- operational teams
- service teams
- cross-functional teams

  • Extend teamworking throughout the organisation in order to realise its full potential
  • Keep teams small and give them ownership of a distinct product, part of a process, or service
  • Select members so that the team is capable of carrying out the full range of tasks
  • Develop strategies for dealing with staff reductions (often made at the same time as teamwork is introduced although not necessarily as a direct result)
  • Decide whether the team leader will operate from inside or outside the team or if the team will operate without a designated leader
  • Develop the independence of teams to improve performance 

As already indicated, the term 'team' is used loosely to describe many different groupings and a variety of labels are given to the types of teams. Even if the term is confined to the specific form of work organisation described in this booklet, it is doubtful whether any definitions of types of teams would be universally acceptable. The Tavistock Institute, however, provides a useful starting point for organisations by suggesting there are three types of team: operational, service, and cross-functional.

Operational teams

Operational teams may be defined as permanent groups of workers with a range of skills organised to produce a product either for internal or external customers. In some instances the team has complete responsibility for converting raw material into a finished product. Alternatively a team's 'product' may involve completion of a segment of the production process. Many different names are given to operational teams, including primary teams, shop-floor teams, autonomous work groups, cells or cellular teams and self-managed teams.

Service teams

In manufacturing organisations service teams commonly comprise maintenance, administrative and clerical staff and provide support to production areas. In commercial and service organisations teams are likely to be based on the need to service a particular client or group of clients or to provide a particular product or service to a wide range of clients.

Cross-functional teams

Cross-functional teams are made up of representatives from various functions and disciplines. They tend to be set up to look at particular problems or issues either on a part-time basis or full-time for a fixed duration. Issues commonly dealt with by cross-functional teams are quality improvement and product development. They are made up of representatives from various functions and disciplines. Frequently members of cross-functional teams will also be members of other teams.

Extended teamwork

To realise its full potential, teamwork should not end on the shop floor. It makes little sense for the operational parts of an enterprise to work in accordance with a teamworking philosophy while the rest of the organisation functions along traditional lines. If this is allowed to happen, there will be a clash of cultures in relations between different departments. Once teamworking has begun, therefore, it becomes almost inevitable that it should be extended throughout the organisation. Teams will be required within and across formerly distinct functions such as sales, marketing, purchasing, personnel and finance. Organisations which have developed teamworking for some years are even extending the concept beyond their own organisation into relationships with customers and suppliers. Most important of all is that the term 'management team' should describe a real team rather than a collection of individuals.

Team boundaries

If the potential benefits of teamworking are to be realised, special attention must be paid to the groupings of workers who make up the teams. It is important that each team produces a distinct 'product' or service or part of a process for which they have ownership. This will often mean rethinking the relationships between people, machinery and the tasks to be carried out.

There can be no strict rule about the size of team which will often be determined by the nature of the operation and the layout of the workplace. Many of the most successful teams, however, have between 6 and 15 members. In teams with fewer than 6 it may be difficult to ensure members have the right range of skills. Teams with more than 15 members have a tendency to split into sub-groups.

Selection of teams

Teams must be capable of carrying out all the tasks involved in completing the work required. In addition, skills will be necessary to enable the team to interact effectively and at least one member of the team will need leadership skills and be able to run meetings and group activities.

Except when a new site is being opened, organisations seldom have the luxury of being able to select team members from scratch. Where teams are being created from existing workers, the emphasis will generally have to be on training and development of existing staff. Many companies take the view that the majority of employees can acquire the necessary skills and abilities with appropriate training.

Teamwork is often introduced at the same time as costs are being reduced and the workforce is being cut. Willingness and suitability for teamwork are sometimes included in criteria for selecting the employees who will be retained. However, organisations should always ensure fair selection for redundancy following appropriate consultation. For further information on handling redundancies see Acas Redundancy handling.

Some organisations are developing longer-term strategies to help both them and employees deal with periodic reductions in the workforce. These may consist of better redundancy policies and the provision of help to redundant employees, including assistance in finding work, outplacements and counselling. A number of organisations are taking this further and encouraging all their employees to improve their job mobility by acquiring a portfolio of qualifications.

External recruitment may be needed for new sites or where replacements are needed for staff who leave existing teams. Care should be given to the design of selection criteria and procedures. The aim should be to target staff with the qualities or potential to carry out the necessary tasks who are also able to fit in with the teamworking culture following induction and training.

A number of organisations use personality testing to assist the selection of team members. The use of these tests is based on the rationale that a mix of personality types creates a stronger team in which the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. For example, a team comprised of too many individuals with a desire to take the lead is unlikely to perform as well as a more balanced team. Care should be taken that existing agreements with trade unions on selection are not infringed. Tests can also be used with existing teams to highlight deficiencies which might then be covered by training or personal development activities. Professional guidance should be sought if personality testing is to be considered. The Institute of Personnel and Development has published guidance on various forms of testing (10). Personality is of course only one aspect of suitability for a job and should not be used as the sole or principal criterion for selection.

Team leadership

The influence and usefulness of team leaders comes, not from the delivery of traditional supervisory and control methods, but from their ability to lead from the front and in training, coaching and counselling their team members to high standards of performance - usually built on their ability to carry out most of the tasks themselves. They also need to be able to co-ordinate and evaluate ideas for operational improvement coming from the shop floor. Above all, the team leaders need to be capable of facilitating the process of change. Team leaders are generally selected by management although the views of the team or group can usually be accommodated. In some organisations team leaders are elected by team members or have their appointment endorsed by an election.

The first step when choosing team leaders is to decide the type of leadership to be adopted. There are three basic ways of dealing with team leadership:

  • team leader is a supervisor outside the team
  • team leader is a working team member with the main responsibility for direct liaison with management
  • team operates without a designated leader inside or outside the team. Leadership and liaison with management are dealt with by various members of the team according to the task.

The type of team leadership adopted will, to some extent, determine selection criteria and training needs. Those organisations who choose to have a team leader operating from outside the team may select from existing supervisors or operatives and train them to fulfil the new role. Team leaders working within the team are more likely to be recruited from operatives and will need full leadership training. Where teams have no designated leader, there will be a particular need for ongoing training for team members to help them manage group dynamics - including conflict - and decision making.

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