Organizational Psychology: The Social Dimension of Work


The workplace today is rapidly changing due to a variety of factors, such as shifts in technology, economics, foreign competition, globalization, and workplace demographics. Organizations need to respond quickly to changes in these factors. Many companies are responding to these changes by structuring their organizations so that work can be delegated to work teams, which bring together diverse skills, experience, and expertise. This is in contrast to organizational structures that have individuals at their base (Naquin & Tynan, 2003). In the team-based approach, teams are brought together and given a specific task or goal to accomplish. Despite their burgeoning popularity, team structures do not always deliver greater productivity—the work of teams is an active area of research (Naquin & Tynan, 2003).

Why do some teams work well while others do not? There are many contributing factors. For example, teams can mask team members that are not working (i.e., social loafing). Teams can be inefficient due to poor communication; they can have poor decision-making skills due to conformity effects; and, they can have conflict within the group. The popularity of teams may in part result from the team halo effect: Teams are given credit for their successes. but individuals within a team are blamed for team failures (Naquin & Tynan, 2003). One aspect of team diversity is their gender mix. Researchers have explored whether gender mix has an effect on team performance. On the one hand, diversity can introduce communication and interpersonal-relationship problems that hinder performance, but on the other hand diversity can also increase the team’s skill set, which may include skills that can actually improve team member interactions. Hoogendoorn, Oosterbeek, & van Praag (2013) studied project teams in a university business school in which the gender mix of the teams was manipulated. They found that gender-balanced teams (i.e., nearly equal numbers of men and women) performed better, as measured by sales and profits, than predominantly male teams. The study did not have enough data to determine the relative performance of female dominated teams. The study was unsuccessful in identifying which mechanism (interpersonal relationships, learning, or skills mixes) accounted for performance improvement.

There are three basic types of teams: problem resolution teams, creative teams, and tactical teams. Problem resolution teams are created for the purpose of solving a particular problem or issue; for example, the diagnostic teams at the Centers for Disease Control. Creative teams are used to develop innovative possibilities or solutions; for example, design teams for car manufacturers create new vehicle models. Tactical teams are used to execute a well-defined plan or objective, such as a police or FBI SWAT team handling a hostage situation (Larson & LaFasto, 1989). One area of active research involves a fourth kind of team—the virtual team; these studies examine how groups of geographically disparate people brought together using digital communications technology function (Powell, Piccoli, & Ives, 2004). Virtual teams are more common due to the growing globalization of organizations and the use of consulting and partnerships facilitated by digital communication.