Teaming has been applied to everything from the formation of strategic alliances to the creation of facilities designed specifically to help reduce product cycles and bring goods to market faster. Reducing the product cycle has obvious corporate benefits since the cost of development is reduced. A major pharmaceutical company notes that every day that can be saved in getting a drug on the market saves the corporation $60 million dollars in operating expenses.

Corporations are also using teams to create learning organizations. When we work with others and open ourselves up to a variety of viewpoints and ideas, we learn from one another. The mutual interdependence required of team structures promotes a natural give and take of ideas, methods and processes, promoting an environment for an exchange of knowledge and understanding.

Statistics support the benefits of teaming. A recent survey of corporate managers found that 76% felt teams improved employee morale and 62% said teams improved management morale. As many as 80% thought teams contributed to increased profits, while 90% felt that teams improved the quality of the product or service. Significantly, 81% of those surveyed believed that teams contributed to improved productivity.

Team Types

A team is defined by Webster as "a group of people formed around a common goal" and possessing three attributes: a purpose (defined goal); a duration (a pre-conceived notion of how long the team will exist); and membership (a sense of belonging). Although many groups traditionally have a purpose and membership, the key to defining a team is duration. Without duration, the necessity to work interdependently loses priority.

Today's corporation may have many different types of teams, each varied in organizational structure, membership and tangibility. We can identify certain attributes that allow us to categorize teams into generalized groupings. These are sequential, matrixed and enabled.

A sequential team is linear in nature. The team members work on a process and each person works on one part of the whole. In many situations, team members are cross-trained and switch roles during the week. However, the entire process requires information to be "handed-off" in a sequential manner.

The matrixed team consists of members who belong primarily to another department or group but join forces at defined moments to accomplish a specified task. The key identifiers of matrixed teams are that they are cross-functional, multi-disciplinary and typically decentralized when not meeting as a team. They are most evident in organizations that have undergone reorganization or re-engineering to create what is often referred to as product lines or service lines of business.

The third distinct team formation is the enabled team. This team, like the matrixed team, is multidisciplinary but possesses a greater intensity. The enabled team member is almost always co-located (within the department and in the defined team space) and may be recognized more within the organization as a member of the team than as a component of his or her discipline. The focus is primarily to get a given task accomplished utilizing the best of the combined brain power on the team.

Organizations today are made up of combinations of these teams, which are created and aligned in accordance with staffing resources and business needs-the primary goal being to make the most of the collective brain power available. For this reason, team structures, in terms of both people and place, are elastic. Effective core team size does have boundaries, however. Research indicates that the ideal team size is eight people for the most effective communication and interaction to take place. Four to six-person teams are seen as the most efficient and 10 to 12-person teams have been shown to represent the high-end of any productive spectrum.

Physical Environment

If a team is viewed as an entity of collaboration, learning and increased communication among a group of empowered individuals, then the team must be together in a common physical setting. A live meeting is still the most effective way to communicate and engage in problem-solving and the physical environment will be a manifestation of the team members' need to be together.

The environment must be designed to foster interaction. Although we cannot design a space that guarantees team members will develop the best and brightest ideas, we can influence a pattern of experiences over time, therefore increasing the possibility that new ideas or connections will occur to people who can do something with them that becomes productive. Through provisions such as punctuated corridors, carefully placed casual meeting areas and magnet amenities like coffee pantries and reference areas, the physical layout of the team space can promote opportunities for chance meetings.

Variety is a key to designing the team area, to support a variety of work styles and structures. Workspaces should be both enclosed and open to accommodate quiet thinking time as well as opportunities for communication during more ordinary task functions. They may be a combination of dedicated areas for permanent residents and hoteling or shared spaces for more transient team members. Workspaces also need to be supported by multifunctional and specialty areas, such as war rooms and project rooms.

Team communication relies on the visual information members exchange with one another, a need referred as "displayed thinking". By displaying both individual and team ideas, a message is sent that concepts are acknowledged and under discussion. Displayed thinking not only airs the message within the team but advertises the team's purpose to the rest of the organization.

In concert to the need for displayed thinking, there is also a need for boundary management, the physical and social demarcation between the group and the organization. In our communities we know these as neighborhoods. These boundaries help to define team ownership and communicate to the rest the organization the value of the team structure. A team space that is surrounded by high walled elements, demarcated by ceiling soffits or flooring and highlighted through signage and reception cues is much easier for everyone to define than an arrangement of continuous open plan workstations.

In addition to information type, the size of the team may have a direct correlation to the amount of enclosure required. Work with many organizations has revealed that open area meeting spaces function best when groups meeting within them number four persons or less. Greater numbers seem to cause distraction to those occupying space around the team area; consequently team members meeting in those spaces do not feel they have as much freedom to communicate freely.

Above all, flexibility is one of the most important attributes. Users need to be able to adapt the environment to the needs they have at the moment. This isn't just a meeting, it's a team and this team is rewriting the rules of the game on a daily basis. Issues in flexibility range from designing buildings with large grid sizes, column-free space and adequate telecommunications data infrastructure to having the ability to just pick up and move the furniture.


At some point, we will all work in teams because there is value to interacting with each other and with our clients, because we are more productive and creative, and because, quite possibly, we like it! By acknowledging that teamspace is different from traditional workspace, we can recognize different team types within our organization, create environments that nourish teamwork and support this "new yet old" way of working.

Author's Bio: 

Julian Arhire is a Manager with - carries more than 35,000 HVAC products, including industrial, commercial and residential parts and equipment from Honeywell, Johnson Contols, Robertshaw, Jandy, Grundfos, Armstrong and more.