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. Introduction

Management experts never seem to tire of referring to geese flying in V formations when commencing or concluding lectures on team work. The ability of these aviators to take advantage of air “lifts” and save energy by 70 % is probably due more to instinct than to their knowledge of team dynamics. Nevertheless, the amazingly high incidence of collective behaviour in the animal world (be it in the behaviour of foraging ants or in the tactics of packs of hungry jackals), showcases the importance of team work and places it among the very basic survival strategies of living beings. Geert Hofstede, (2001) in his four point theory on the differences between cultures, argues that westerners have much stronger individualism traits and far fewer collectivism traits than Asians. As such, compared to Asians, they should also be less inclined to work in teams. It is thus nothing short of ironic to know that the British East India Company, the world’s first multinational corporation, was able to lay the foundation of the British Empire, and that too at the cost of numerous Asian kingdoms, mainly because of the astonishing teamwork shown by small teams of British employees in distant areas of the world.

It has long been recognised that teams working together can produce tremendous results, often in the face of extreme adversity. This phenomenon has been proved time and again in diverse areas like warfare, sports, relief work, civic life, and of course in business. The most striking example of team work to arise in recent times is the emergence of the European Union, an initiative that has seen a number of affluent West European states put away centuries of competition, discord and animosity and move forward to forge a strong, powerful and effective team. The unique attributes of teams, and their potential to achieve much more than single individuals, has led social scientists, behavioural experts and management pundits to engage in extensive research and investigation on the subject, leading in turn to a broad ranging body of literature. Various team theories that attempt to explain and define the issue are now routinely studied by students of management and behavioural sciences. It is the purpose of this essay to take up the issue of teams and team work, study the various theories on the topic, analyse the importance of the issue in business and finally relate its applicability to practical business situations.

2. Commentary

The practice of people working together in businesses has existed for hundreds of years; in fact businesses would not have grown without groups of people working towards common objectives. While working in groups is not exactly the same as functioning in teams, it is nevertheless an important first step. The rapid growth of joint stock companies and separation of management from ownership, both in the USA and Europe, led to situations where large groups of people, unknown to each, needed to work together to achieve the objectives of the company. Managers were quick to realise that groups of people, with different skills, could achieve much more by working in teams than by working alone. Henry Ford, for example, was a great believer in teams. His successful initiatives to introduce team work in Ford factories in Detroit are among the pioneering efforts to introduce the benefits of this strategy in US business.

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