Understanding Different Types of Workplace Teams

Workplace team members putting discuss plans for a project.
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Whatever job you land in life, you'll also be on a team. A team is any group of people organized to work together, both interdependently and cooperatively to accomplish a purpose or a goal. Three common types of workplace teams include functional or departmental, cross-functional, and self-managing.

You can participate in many different teams at work—and you probably already do. But, your most basic team is normally your department team, the group with whom you are organized to produce a product or a service. Your end product either serves the company's external customers directly or the internal customers whom you support in producing the product that directly serves the customers.

How Do Business Teams Win?

Teams are created for both long-term and short-term interaction. A product development team, an executive leadership team, and a departmental team are long-lasting planning and operational groups. Their way of winning is to continue to produce quality work and provide continued value to the company.

They can accomplish their value through strong sales (in the case of a sales team), or through reducing costs (such as an HR team that works to reduce turnover). Teams can also win when their new product (for a product development team) outperforms the competition. When you think of winning for a production team, setting records on the number of parts produced is winning.

Organizations often have teams that are not dedicated to providing a product or a service to the external customer. Rather, their purpose is to create a work environment that fosters employee happiness, engagement, wellness, and safety.

Teams usually limit the terms of their members to a year so that many employees have the opportunity to serve and bring fresh ideas to these teams. Examples of these teams include the employee events committee, the health safety team, a green environment team, the employee wellness committee, and an employee motivation and morale committee.

Short-term teams might include:

  • a team formed to develop an employee onboarding process,
  • a team that plans the annual company party,
  • a team that implements a customer data collection system to assess service quality
  • a team tasked with responding to a specific customer problem or complaint.

These short-term teams win by accomplishing their goals. 

What Is the Optimum Size for Work Performance?

The team size that is optimum for team performance is a topic much researched and debated. The problem is that you need to consider a number of factors when determining optimum team size.

Factors that affect optimum team size include:

  • the purpose for which you formed the team
  • the expectations you have of the team and its members
  • the roles that the team members need to play
  • the amount of cohesiveness and interconnectivity necessary for optimal team performance
  • the function, activities, and goals of the team

Determining the optimum team size is not an easy answer. However, in general, the optimum team size is five to seven members. The team size that continues to function effectively is four–nine members. And, teams are known to function cohesively with a size of up to 12 members.

If you seek effective input, the optimal team size ranges from more than two up to 18-20 members, but these individuals are not expected to form a cohesive, highly interconnected team.

In most cases, large size teams form sub-teams and working groups within the team to accomplish the actual project work. For example, these larger groups are effective for strategic planning input, overall project communication, building support for an idea, and so forth.

Functional Department Teams

The functional or departmental groups of people come from the same work area or department. They meet on a regular basis to analyze customer needs, solve problems, provide members with support, promote continuous improvement, and share information.

These are the teams you're probably the most familiar within the workplace. You may not even use the term team. Instead, you call it a department, but it's a team. The members work together to accomplish a goal.

Working together doesn't necessarily mean that there is constant interaction between team members. For example, in an employee relations team, you may have seven employee relations specialists who support seven different departments (or other teams).

They may work very independently. But, a good team shares successes to help team members build best practices. A good team also shares failures so that the other team members can learn and help develop solutions.

Cross-Functional Teams

Groups of people who are pulled together from across departments or job functions to deal with a specific product, issue, customer problem, or to improve a particular process are cross-functional teams. These are often teams with a specific goal with an end date.

For instance, a company may put together a team to handle a layoff. This team would consist of representatives from human resources, finance, legal, the executive team, and employees from affected areas. They work closely together to develop a plan that works best for the company.

Each person comes with a different responsibility and a needed contribution. For instance, legal is concerned with compliance, finance is concerned with budgets, and HR wants to ensure that the best people are retained.

Self-Managing Teams

Groups of people who gradually assume responsibility for self-direction in all aspects of work is called self-managing teams. Self-managing teams work together to reach a goal without a great deal of oversight.

These teams are extremely effective when you have capable, independent workers on the team. They often report their findings, or progress, to a boss or team lead, but that boss doesn't necessarily participate actively in the team.