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Problem solving teams: creating resilient organisations through managing complexity, this video content is for agile alliance members only.

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One reason many of us came to the field of software engineering or software development is because we enjoy solving problems. It exercises out mental muscles, and gives us a feeling of satisfaction to know we can add value to our organizations and customers by solving tough problems. However, as the organizations we work for get bigger, and the scope of work gets bigger, so too do the problems we need to solve. There comes a point where we can’t solve them alone, or even with the immediate team we work with. Some problems require a cross-organization, multi-function approach. When our goal is to be a more agile, lean-thinking organization, we need to develop approaches to solving these types of problems.

This is where Problem Solving Teams come into play. Problem Solving Teams are temporary structures that bring together leaders and team members from across the organization to focus on solving a specific problem. The benefits are many, including not just a solved problem, but also a more resilient organization, a stronger social network and a growing cohort of problem solvers with increased skills and abilities.

This approach draws from many influences, including complexity science, social network theory, military doctrine, flight crews, and emergency responders. We have been experimenting with this approach across several areas that involve multiple geographies and multiple functions.

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Module 10: Managing Groups and Teams

Types of teams, learning outcomes.

  • Discuss the types of teams

Organizations use different types of teams in different ways to accomplish their objectives. Some teams have a very simple and specific focus, and others face complex issues with organization-wide ramifications. We can look at teams and classify them in a variety of ways. Let’s first take a look at them based on their task complexity and team member fluidity.

Task complexity is the extent to which a task is intricate and consists of different, interrelated parts. Membership fluidity is the extent to which membership within a team is stable. Low membership fluidity would mean that people are often entering into and leaving the team, and high membership fluidity means they are quite stable, not changing often at all.

Simple Work Teams

Simple work teams have low task complexity and low team fluidity. Their goal is simple problem solving, and often they are a group that supports day-to-day activities, dealing with issues that require input from more than one person or to generate commitment from employees. Usually these are people from a same team or department, so they generally have a similar focus and tend to work together relatively easily.

Administrative Teams

Five people fist bumping over laptops on a desk

An example of an administrative team might be a relocation committee that’s dedicated to relocating a plant to a new area. Members of the team might flow in and out, but the complexity of the task is rather high and not at all part of their regular routine. Management level members work for a finite period of time to accomplish the strategic objective of moving the plant—all its machinery, all its people, and so on—to a new address.

Cross-Departmental Teams

A cross-departmental team tends to have a low complexity level but a high team membership fluidity, meaning that the work is fairly simple but the teams are committed and fairly unchanging. Their goal is integration in structure and setting ground rules, and their focus is internal and very specific.

A cross-departmental task force is an example of this type of team. Perhaps an organization is installing a new system that will manage all their data, both at the main office and at their plants, in an entirely different way. The task force might come together from different areas of the organization to identify the types of data their departments generate and how that data will be transferred over to the new system, how people will be trained to use the new system and even how change around the system will be managed.

Process Teams

Process teams deal with high complexity tasks and have high team member fluidity, meaning people are assigned to the team and stay. These folks are creative problem solvers and deal with implementation. Their focus is strategic and broad.

Process teams do not have departmental affiliation and function independently to undertake broad, organizational-level process improvements. For instance, the department store Mervyn’s, the now defunct discount department store chain, had a SWAT team that rushes in to solve a store’s critical issues. They were deployed at any time, whenever they’re needed. They even attempted to solve organizational-wide issues like flextime and insurance.

Self-Managed Teams

a group of people in a meeting

Overall self-managed teams include these characteristics:

  • The power to manage their work
  • Members with different expertise and functional experience
  • No outside manager
  • The power to implement decisions
  • Coordination and cooperation with other teams and individuals impacted by their decisions
  • Internal leadership, based on facilitation. This means that a rotating leader focuses on freeing the team from obstacles as they do their work.

Self-managed teams require a change in structure on behalf of the organization and a high level of commitment on behalf of all parties to ensure their success. Most self-managed teams that fail do so because of a lack of commitment on the part of the organization.

Chart showing the team membership fluidity and task complexity of various teams. Process teams have high team membership fluidity and high task complexity. Administrative teams have low team membership fluidity and high task complexity. Simple work teams have low team membership fluidity and low task complexity. Cross-departmental teams have high team membership fluidity and low task complexity.

Virtual Teams

It’s worth noting that there are now also virtual teams, which are teams that use computer technology to tie together physically dispersed members in order to achieve a common goal. It is true that these virtual teams might be an administrative, cross-functional, simple work or even a process team, but they are distinctive in that they allow people to collaborate online.

Because virtual teams have limited social interaction – many times they have not met in person – they tend to be more task-oriented and exchange less social information. But they’re able to do their work even if the members of the team are thousands of miles apart, and allows people to work together who may not otherwise be able to collaborate.

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Complex Problem Solving in Teams: The Impact of Collective Orientation on Team Process Demands

Associated data.

Complex problem solving is challenging and a high-level cognitive process for individuals. When analyzing complex problem solving in teams, an additional, new dimension has to be considered, as teamwork processes increase the requirements already put on individual team members. After introducing an idealized teamwork process model, that complex problem solving teams pass through, and integrating the relevant teamwork skills for interdependently working teams into the model and combining it with the four kinds of team processes (transition, action, interpersonal, and learning processes), the paper demonstrates the importance of fulfilling team process demands for successful complex problem solving within teams. Therefore, results from a controlled team study within complex situations are presented. The study focused on factors that influence action processes, like coordination, such as emergent states like collective orientation, cohesion, and trust and that dynamically enable effective teamwork in complex situations. Before conducting the experiments, participants were divided by median split into two-person teams with either high ( n = 58) or low ( n = 58) collective orientation values. The study was conducted with the microworld C3Fire, simulating dynamic decision making, and acting in complex situations within a teamwork context. The microworld includes interdependent tasks such as extinguishing forest fires or protecting houses. Two firefighting scenarios had been developed, which takes a maximum of 15 min each. All teams worked on these two scenarios. Coordination within the team and the resulting team performance were calculated based on a log-file analysis. The results show that no relationships between trust and action processes and team performance exist. Likewise, no relationships were found for cohesion. Only collective orientation of team members positively influences team performance in complex environments mediated by action processes such as coordination within the team. The results are discussed in relation to previous empirical findings and to learning processes within the team with a focus on feedback strategies.


Complex problems in organizational contexts are seldom solved by individuals. Generally, interdependently working teams of experts deal with complex problems (Fiore et al., 2010 ), which are characterized by element interactivity/ interconnectedness, dynamic developments, non-transparency and multiple, and/or conflicting goals (Dörner et al., 1983 ; Brehmer, 1992 ; Funke, 1995 ). Complex problem solving “takes place for reducing the barrier between a given start state and an intended goal state with the help of cognitive activities and behavior. Start state, intended goal state, and barriers prove complexity, change dynamically over time, and can be partially intransparent” (Funke, 2012 , p. 682). Teams dealing with complex problems in interdependent work contexts, for example in disaster, crisis or accident management, are called High Responsibility Teams. They are named High Responsibility Teams (HRTs; Hagemann, 2011 ; Hagemann et al., 2011 ) due to their dynamic and often unpredictable working conditions and demanding work contexts, in which technical faults and slips have severe consequences for human beings and the environment if they are not identified and resolved within the team immediately (Kluge et al., 2009 ). HRTs bear responsibility regarding lives of third parties and their own lives based on their actions and consequences.

The context of interdependently working HRTs, dealing with complex problems, is described as follows (Zsambok, 1997 ): Members of interdependently working teams have to reach ill-defined or competing goals in common in poor structured, non-transparent and dynamically changing situations under the consideration of rules of engagement and based on several cycles of joint action. Some or all goals are critical in terms of time and the consequences of actions result in decision-based outcomes with high importance for the culture (e.g., human life). In HRT contexts, added to the features of the complexity of the problem, is the complexity of relationships, which is called social complexity (Dörner, 1989/2003 ) or crew coordination complexity (Kluge, 2014 ), which results from the interconnectedness between multiple agents through coordination requirements. The dynamic control aspect of the continuous process is coupled with the need to coordinate multiple highly interactive processes imposing high coordination demands (Roth and Woods, 1988 ; Waller et al., 2004 ; Hagemann et al., 2012 ).

Within this article, it is important to us to describe the theoretical background of complex problem solving in teams in depth and to combine different but compatible theoretical approaches, in order to demonstrate their theoretical and practical use in the context of the analysis of complex problem solving in teams. In Industrial and Organizational Psychology, a detailed description of tasks and work contexts that are in the focus of the analysis is essential. The individual or team task is the point of intersection between organization and individual as a “psychologically most relevant part” of the working conditions (Ulich, 1995 ). Thus, the tasks and the teamwork context of teams that deal with complex problems is of high relevance in the present paper. We will comprehensively describe the context of complex problem solving in teams by introducing a model of an idealized teamwork process that complex problem solving teams pass through and extensively integrate the relevant teamwork skills for these interdependently working teams into the idealized teamwork process model.

Furthermore, we will highlight the episodic aspect concerning complex problem solving in teams and combine the agreed on transition, action, interpersonal and learning processes of teamwork with the idealized teamwork process model. Because we are interested in investigating teamwork competencies and action processes of complex problem solving teams, we will analyze the indirect effect of collective orientation on team performance through the teams' coordination behavior. The focusing of the study will be owed to its validity. Even though that we know that more aspects of the theoretical framework might be of interest and could be analyzed, we will focus on a detail within the laboratory experiment for getting reliable and valid results.

Goal, task, and outcome interdependence in teamwork

Concerning interdependence, teamwork research focuses on three designated features, which are in accordance with general process models of human action (Hertel et al., 2004 ). One type is goal interdependence, which refers to the degree to which teams have distinct goals as well as a linkage between individual members and team goals (Campion et al., 1993 ; Wageman, 1995 ). A second type is task interdependence, which refers to the interaction between team members. The team members depend on each other for work accomplishment, and the actions of one member have strong implications for the work process of all members (Shea and Guzzo, 1987 ; Campion et al., 1993 ; Hertel et al., 2004 ). The third type is outcome interdependence, which is defined as the extent to which one team member's outcomes depend on the performance of other members (Wageman, 1995 ). Accordingly, the rewards for each member are based on the total team performance (Hertel et al., 2004 ). This can occur, for instance, if a team receives a reward based on specific performance criteria. Although interdependence is often the reason why teams are formed in the first place, and it is stated as a defining attribute of teams (Salas et al., 2008 ), different levels of task interdependence exist (Van de Ven et al., 1976 ; Arthur et al., 2005 ).

The workflow pattern of teams can be

  • Independent or pooled (activities are performed separately),
  • Sequential (activities flow from one member to another in a unidirectional manner),
  • Reciprocal (activities flow between team members in a back and forth manner) or
  • Intensive (team members must simultaneously diagnose, problem-solve, and coordinate as a team to accomplish a task).

Teams that deal with complex problems work within intensive interdependence, which requires greater coordination patterns compared to lower levels of interdependence (Van de Ven et al., 1976 ; Wageman, 1995 ) and necessitates mutual adjustments as well as frequent interaction and information integration within the team (Gibson, 1999 ; Stajkovic et al., 2009 ).

Thus, in addition to the cognitive requirements related to information processing (e.g., encoding, storage and retrieval processes (Hinsz et al., 1997 ), simultaneously representing and anticipating the dynamic elements and predicting future states of the problem, balancing contradictory objectives and decide on the right timing for actions to execute) of individual team members, the interconnectedness between the experts in the team imposes high team process demands on the team members. These team process demands follow from the required interdependent actions of all team members for effectively using all resources, such as equipment, money, time, and expertise, to reach high team performance (Marks et al., 2001 ). Examples for team process demands are the communication for building a shared situation awareness, negotiating conflicting perspectives on how to proceed or coordinating and orchestrating actions of all team members.

A comprehensive model of the idealized teamwork process

The cognitive requirements, that complex problem solving teams face, and the team process demands are consolidated within our model of an idealized teamwork process in Figure ​ Figure1 1 (Hagemann, 2011 ; Kluge et al., 2014 ). Individual and team processes converge sequential and in parallel and influencing factors as well as process demands concerning complex problem solving in teams can be extracted. The core elements of the model are situation awareness, information transfer, individual and shared mental models, coordination and leadership, and decision making.

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Relevant teamwork skills (orange color) for interdependently working teams (see Wilson et al., 2010 ) integrated into the model of an idealized teamwork process.

Complex problem solving teams are responsible for finding solutions and reaching specified goals. Based on the overall goals various sub goals will be identified at the beginning of the teamwork process in the course of mission analysis, strategy formulation and planning, all aspects of the transition phase (Marks et al., 2001 ). The transition phase processes occur during periods of time when teams focus predominantly on evaluation and/or planning activities. The identified and communicated goals within the team represent relevant input variables for each team member in order to build up a Situation Awareness (SA). SA contains three steps and is the foundation for an ideal and goal directed collaboration within a team (Endsley, 1999 ; Flin et al., 2008 ). The individual SA is the start and end within the idealized teamwork process model. SA means the assessment of a situation which is important for complex problem solving teams, as they work based on the division of labor as well as interdependently and each team member needs to achieve a correct SA and to share it within the team. Each single team member needs to utilize all technical and interpersonal resources in order to collect and interpret up-to-date goal directed information and to share this information with other team members via “closed-loop communication.”

This information transfer focuses on sending and receiving single SA between team members in order to build up a Shared Situation Awareness (SSA). Overlapping cuts of individual SA are synchronized within the team and a bigger picture of the situation is developed. Creating a SSA means sharing a common perspective of the members concerning current events within their environment, their meaning and their future development. This shared perspective enables problem-solving teams to attain high performance standards through corresponding and goal directed actions (Cannon-Bowers et al., 1993 ).

Expectations of each team member based on briefings, individual mental models and interpositional knowledge influence the SA, the information transfer and the consolidation process. Mental models are internal and cognitive representations of relations and processes (e.g., execution of tactics) between various aspects or elements of a situation. They help team members to describe, explain and predict circumstances (Mathieu et al., 2000 ). Mental models possess knowledge elements required by team members in order to assess a current situation in terms of SA. Interpositional knowledge refers to an individual understanding concerning the tasks and duties of all team members, in order to develop an understanding about the impact of own actions on the actions of other team members and vice versa. It supports the team in identifying the information needs and the amount of required help of other members and in avoiding team conflicts (Smith-Jentsch et al., 2001 ). This knowledge is the foundation for anticipating the team members' needs for information and it is important for matching information within the team.

Based on the information matching process within the team, a common understanding of the problem, the goals and the current situation is developed in terms of a Shared Mental Model (SMM), which is important for the subsequent decisions. SMM are commonly shared mental models within a team and refer to the organized knowledge structures of all team members, that are shared with each other and which enable the team to interact goal-oriented (Mathieu et al., 2000 ). SMM help complex problem solving teams during high workload to adapt fast and efficiently to changing situations (Waller et al., 2004 ). They also enhance the teams' performance and communication processes (Cannon-Bowers et al., 1993 ; Mathieu et al., 2000 ). Especially under time pressure and in crucial situations when overt verbal communication and explicit coordination is not applicable, SMM are fundamental in order to coordinate implicitly. This information matching process fosters the building of a shared understanding of the current situation and the required actions. In order to do so teamwork skills (see Wilson et al., 2010 ) such as communication, coordination , and cooperation within the team are vitally important. Figure ​ Figure1 1 incorporates the teamwork skills into the model of an idealized teamwork process.

Depending on the shared knowledge and SA within the team, the coordination can be based either on well-known procedures or shared expectations within the team or on explicit communication based on task specific phraseology or closed-loop communication. Cooperation needs mutual performance monitoring within the team, for example, in order to apply task strategies to accurately monitor teammate performance and prevent errors (Salas et al., 2005 ). Cooperation also needs backup behavior of each team member, for example, and continuous actions in reference to the collective events. The anticipation of other team members' needs under high workload maintains the teams' performance and the well-being of each team member (Badke-Schaub, 2008 ). A successful pass through the teamwork process model also depends e.g., on the trust and the cohesion within the team and the collective orientation of each team member.

Collective orientation (CO) is defined “as the propensity to work in a collective manner in team settings” (Driskell et al., 2010 , p. 317). Highly collectively oriented people work with others on a task-activity and team-activity track (Morgan et al., 1993 ) in a goal-oriented manner, seek others' input, contribute to team outcomes, enjoy team membership, and value cooperativeness more than power (Driskell et al., 2010 ). Thus, teams with collectively oriented members perform better than teams with non-collectively oriented members (Driskell and Salas, 1992 ). CO, trust and cohesion as well as other coordination and cooperation skills are so called emergent sates that represent cognitive, affective, and motivational states, and not traits, of teams and team members, and which are influenced, for example, by team experience, so that emergent states can be considered as team inputs but also as team outcomes (Marks et al., 2001 ).

Based on the information matching process the complex problem solving team or the team leader needs to make decisions in order to execute actions. The task prioritization and distribution is an integrated part of this step (Waller et al., 2004 ). Depending on the progress of the dynamic, non-transparent and heavily foreseeable situation tasks have to be re-prioritized during episodes of teamwork. Episodes are “temporal cycles of goal-directed activity” in which teams perform (Marks et al., 2001 , p. 359). Thus, the team acts adaptive and is able to react flexible to situation changes. The team coordinates implicitly when each team member knows what he/she has to do in his/her job, what the others expect from him/her and how he/she interacts with the others. In contrast, when abnormal events occur and they are recognized during SA processes, the team starts coordinating explicitly via communication, for example. Via closed-loop communication and based on interpositional knowledge new strategies are communicated within the team and tasks are re-prioritized.

The result of the decision making and action taking flows back into the individual SA and the as-is state will be compared with the original goals. This model of an idealized teamwork process (Figure ​ (Figure1) 1 ) is a regulator circuit with feedback loops, which enables a team to adapt flexible to changing environments and goals. The foundation of this model is the classic Input-Process-Outcome (IPO) framework (Hackman, 1987 ) with a strong focus on the process part. IPO models view processes as mechanisms linking variables such as member, team, or organizational features with outcomes such as performance quality and quantity or members' reactions. This mediating mechanism, the team process , can be defined as “members' interdependent acts that convert inputs to outcomes through cognitive, verbal, and behavioral activities directed toward organizing taskwork to achieve collective goals” (Marks et al., 2001 , p. 357). That means team members interact interdependently with other members as well as with their environment. These cognitive, verbal, and behavioral activities directed toward taskwork and goal attainment are represented as gathering situation awareness, communication, coordination, cooperation, the consolidation of information, and task prioritization within our model of an idealized teamwork process. Within the context of complex problem solving, teams have to face team process demands in addition to cognitive challenges related to individual information processing. That means teamwork processes and taskwork to solve complex problems co-occur, the processes guide the execution of taskwork.

The dynamic nature of teamwork and temporal influences on complex problem solving teams are considered within adapted versions (Marks et al., 2001 ; Ilgen et al., 2005 ) of the original IPO framework. These adaptations propose that teams experience cycles of joint action, so called episodes, in which teams perform and also receive feedback for further actions. The IPO cycles occur sequentially and simultaneously and are nested in transition and action phases within episodes in which outcomes from initial episodes serve as inputs for the next cycle (see Figure ​ Figure2). 2 ). These repetitive IPO cycles are a vital element of our idealized teamwork process model, as it incorporates feedback loops in such a way, that the outcomes, e.g., changes within the as-is state, are continuously compared with the original goals. Detected discrepancies within the step of updating SA motivate the team members to consider further actions for goal accomplishment.

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Teamwork episodes with repetitive IPO cycles (Marks et al., 2001 ).

When applying this episodic framework to complex problem solving teams it becomes obvious that teams handle different types of taskwork at different phases of task accomplishment (Marks et al., 2001 ). That means episodes consist of two phases, so-called action and transition phases , in which teams are engaged in activities related to goal attainment and in other time in reflecting on past performance and planning for further common actions. The addition of the social complexity to the complexity of the problem within collaborative complex problem solving comes to the fore here. During transition phases teams evaluate their performance, compare the as-is state against goals, reflect on their strategies and plan future activities to guide their goal accomplishment. For example, team members discuss alternative courses of action, if their activities for simulated firefighting, such as splitting team members in order to cover more space of the map, are not successful. During action phases, teams focus directly on the taskwork and are engaged in activities such as exchanging information about the development of the dynamic situation or supporting each other. For example, a team member recognizes high workload of another team member and supports him/her in collecting information or in taking over the required communication with other involved parties.

Transition and action phases

The idealized teamwork process model covers these transition and action phases as well as the processes occurring during these two phases of team functioning, which can be clustered into transition, action, and interpersonal processes. That means during complex problem solving the relevant or activated teamwork processes in the transition and action phases change as teams move back and forth between these phases. As this taxonomy of team processes from Marks et al. ( 2001 ) states that a team process is multidimensional and teams use different processes simultaneously, some processes can occur either during transition periods or during action periods or during both periods. Transition processes especially occur during transition phases and enable the team to understand their tasks, guide their attention, specify goals and develop courses of action for task accomplishment. Thus, transition processes include (see Marks et al., 2001 ) mission analysis, formulation and planning (Prince and Salas, 1993 ), e.g., fighting a forest fire, goal specification (Prussia and Kinicki, 1996 ), e.g., saving as much houses and vegetation as possible, and strategy formulation (Prince and Salas, 1993 ; Cannon-Bowers et al., 1995 ), e.g., spreading team members into different geographic directions. Action processes predominantly occur during action phases and support the team in conducting activities directly related to goal accomplishment. Thus, action processes are monitoring progress toward goals (Cannon-Bowers et al., 1995 ), e.g., collecting information how many cells in a firefighting simulation are still burning, systems monitoring (Fleishman and Zaccaro, 1992 ), e.g., tracking team resources such as water for firefighting, team monitoring and backup behavior (Stevens and Campion, 1994 ; Salas et al., 2005 ), e.g., helping a team member and completing a task for him/her, and coordination (Fleishman and Zaccaro, 1992 ; Serfaty et al., 1998 ), e.g., orchestrating the interdependent actions of the team members such as exchanging information during firefighting about positions of team members for meeting at the right time at the right place in order to refill the firefighters water tanks. Especially the coordination process is influenced by the amount of task interdependence as coordination becomes more and more important for effective team functioning when interdependence increases (Marks et al., 2001 ). Interpersonal processes occur during transition and action phases equally and lay the foundation for the effectiveness of other processes and govern interpersonal activities (Marks et al., 2001 ). Thus, interpersonal processes include conflict management (Cannon-Bowers et al., 1995 ), like the development of team rules, motivation and confidence building (Fleishman and Zaccaro, 1992 ), like encourage team members to perform better, and affect management (Cannon-Bowers et al., 1995 ), e.g., regulating member emotions during complex problem solving.

Summing up, process demands such as transition processes that complex problem solving teams pass through, are mission analysis, planning, briefing and goal specification, visualized on the left side of the idealized teamwork process model (see Figure ​ Figure3). 3 ). The results of these IPO cycles lay the foundation for gathering a good SA and initiating activities directed toward taskwork and goal accomplishment and therefore initiating action processes. The effective execution of action processes depends on the communication, coordination, cooperation, matching of information, and task prioritization as well as emergent team cognition variables (SSA and SMM) within the team. The results, like decisions, of these IPO cycles flow back into the next episode and may initiate further transition processes. In addition, interpersonal processes play a crucial role for complex problem solving teams. That means, conflict management, motivating and confidence building, and affect management are permanently important, no matter whether a team runs through transition or action phases and these interpersonal processes frame the whole idealized teamwork process model. Therefore, interpersonal processes are also able to impede successful teamwork at any point as breakdowns in conflict or affect management can lead to coordination breakdowns (Wilson et al., 2010 ) or problems with monitoring or backing up teammates (Marks et al., 2001 ). Thus, complex problem solving teams have to face these multidimensional team process demands in addition to cognitive challenges, e.g., information storage or retrieval (Hinsz et al., 1997 ), related to individual information processing.

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The integration of transition, action, interpersonal, and learning processes into the model of an idealized teamwork process.

Team learning opportunities for handling complex problems

In order to support teams in handling complex situations or problems, learning opportunities seem to be very important for successful task accomplishment and for reducing possible negative effects of team process demands. Learning means any kind of relative outlasted changes in potential of human behavior that cannot be traced back to age-related changes (Bower and Hilgard, 1981 ; Bredenkamp, 1998 ). Therefore, Schmutz et al. ( 2016 ) amended the taxonomy of team processes developed by Marks et al. ( 2001 ) and added learning processes as a fourth category of processes, which occur during transition and action phases and contribute to overall team effectiveness. Learning processes (see also Edmondson, 1999 ) include observation, e.g., observing own and other team members' actions such as the teammate's positioning of firewalls in order to protect houses in case of firefighting, feedback, like giving a teammate information about the wind direction for effective positioning of firewalls, and reflection, e.g., talking about procedures for firefighting or refilling water tanks, for example, within the team. Learning from success and failure and identifying future problems is crucial for the effectiveness of complex problem solving teams and therefore possibilities for learning based on repetitive cycles of joint action or episodes and reflection of team members' activities during action and transition phases should be used effectively (Edmondson, 1999 ; Marks et al., 2001 ). The processes of the idealized teamwork model are embedded into these learning processes (see Figure ​ Figure3 3 ).

The fulfillment of transition, action, interpersonal and learning processes contribute significantly to successful team performance in complex problem solving. For clustering these processes, transition and action processes could be seen as operational processes and interpersonal and learning process as support processes. When dealing with complex and dynamic situations teams have to face these team process demands more strongly than in non-complex situations. For example, goal specification and prioritization or strategy formulation, both aspects of transition processes, are strongly influenced by multiple goals, interconnectedness or dynamically and constantly changing conditions. The same is true for action processes, such as monitoring progress toward goals, team monitoring and backup behavior or coordination of interdependent actions. Interpersonal processes, such as conflict and affect management or confidence building enhance the demands put on team members compared to individuals working on complex problems. Interpersonal processes are essential for effective teamwork and need to be cultivated during episodes of team working, because breakdowns in confidence building or affect management can lead to coordination breakdowns or problems with monitoring or backing up teammates (Marks et al., 2001 ). Especially within complex situations aspects such as interdependence, delayed feedback, multiple goals and dynamic changes put high demands on interpersonal processes within teams. Learning processes, supporting interpersonal processes and the result of effective teamwork are e.g., observation of others' as well as own actions and receiving feedback by others or the system and are strongly influenced by situational characteristics such as non-transparency or delayed feedback concerning actions. It is assumed that amongst others team learning happens through repetitive cycles of joint action within the action phases and reflection of team members within the transition phases (Edmondson, 1999 ; Gabelica et al., 2014 ; Schmutz et al., 2016 ). The repetitive cycles help to generate SMM (Cannon-Bowers et al., 1993 ; Mathieu et al., 2000 ), SSA (Endsley and Robertson, 2000 ) or transactive memory systems (Hollingshead et al., 2012 ) within the team.

Emergent states in complex team work and the role of collective orientation

IPO models propose that input variables and emergent states are able to influence team processes and therefore outcomes such as team performance positively. Emergent states represent team members' attitudes or motivations and are “properties of the team that are typically dynamic in nature and vary as a function of team context, inputs, processes, and outcomes” (Marks et al., 2001 , p. 357). Both emergent states and interaction processes are relevant for team effectiveness (Kozlowski and Ilgen, 2006 ).

Emergent states refer to conditions that underlie and dynamically enable effective teamwork (DeChurch and Mesmer-Magnus, 2010 ) and can be differentiated from team process, which refers to interdependent actions of team members that transform inputs into outcomes based on activities directed toward task accomplishment (Marks et al., 2001 ). Emergent states mainly support the execution of behavioral processes (e.g., planning, coordination, backup behavior) during the action phase, meaning during episodes when members are engaged in acts that focus on task work and goal accomplishment. Emergent states like trust, cohesion and CO are “products of team experiences (including team processes) and become new inputs to subsequent processes and outcomes” (Marks et al., 2001 , p. 358). Trust between team members and cohesion within the team are emergent states that develop over time and only while experiencing teamwork in a specific team. CO is an emergent state that a team member brings along with him/her into the teamwork, is assumed to be more persistent than trust and cohesion, and can, but does not have to, be positively and negatively influenced by experiencing teamwork in a specific team for a while or by means of training (Eby and Dobbins, 1997 ; Driskell et al., 2010 ). Thus, viewing emergent states on a continuum, trust and cohesion are assumed more fluctuating than CO, but CO is much more sensitive to change and direct experience than a stable trait such as a personality trait.

CO of team members is one of the teamwork-relevant competencies that facilitates team processes, such as collecting and sharing information between team members, and positively affects the success of teams, as people who are high in CO work with others in a goal-oriented manner, seek others' input and contribute to team outcomes (Driskell et al., 2010 ). CO is an emergent state, as it can be an input variable as well as a teamwork outcome. CO is context-dependent, becomes visible in reactions to situations and people, and can be influenced by experience (e.g., individual learning experiences with various types of teamwork) or knowledge or training (Eby and Dobbins, 1997 ; Bell, 2007 ). CO enhances team performance through activating transition and action processes such as coordination, evaluation and consideration of task inputs from other team members while performing a team task (Driskell and Salas, 1992 ; Salas et al., 2005 ). Collectively oriented people effectively use available resources in due consideration of the team's goals, participate actively and adapt teamwork processes adequately to the situation.

Driskell et al. ( 2010 ) and Hagemann ( 2017 ) provide a sound overview of the evidence of discriminant and convergent validity of CO compared to other teamwork-relevant constructs, such as cohesion, also an emergent state, or cooperative interdependence or preference for solitude. Studies analyzing collectively and non-collectively oriented persons' decision-making in an interdependent task demonstrated that teams with non-collectively oriented members performed poorly in problem solving and that members with CO judged inputs from teammates as more valuable and considered these inputs more frequently (Driskell and Salas, 1992 ). Eby and Dobbins ( 1997 ) also showed that CO results in increased coordination among team members, which may enhance team performance through information sharing, goal setting and strategizing (Salas et al., 2005 ). Driskell et al. ( 2010 ) and Hagemann ( 2017 ) analyzed CO in relation to team performance and showed that the effect of CO on team performance depends on the task type (see McGrath, 1984 ). Significant positive relationships between team members' CO and performance were found in relation to the task types choosing/decision making and negotiating (Driskell et al., 2010 ) respectively choosing/decision making (Hagemann, 2017 ). These kinds of tasks are characterized by much more interdependence than task types such as executing or generating tasks. As research shows that the positive influence of CO on team performance unfolds especially in interdependent teamwork contexts (Driskell et al., 2010 ), which require more team processes such as coordination patterns (Van de Ven et al., 1976 ; Wageman, 1995 ) and necessitate mutual adjustments as well as frequent information integration within the team (Gibson, 1999 ; Stajkovic et al., 2009 ), CO might be vitally important for complex problem solving teams. Thus, CO as an emergent state of single team members might be a valuable resource for enhancing the team's performance when exposed to solving complex problems. Therefore, it will be of interest to analyze the influence of CO on team process demands such as coordination processes and performance within complex problem solving teams. We predict that the positive effect of CO on team performance is an indirect effect through coordination processes within the team, which are vitally important for teams working in intensive interdependent work contexts.

  • Hypothesis 1: CO leads to a better coordination behavior, which in turn leads to a higher team performance.

As has been shown in team research that emergent states like trust and cohesion (see also Figure ​ Figure1) 1 ) affect team performance, these two constructs are analyzed in conjunction with CO concerning action processes, such as coordination behavior and team performance. Trust between team members supports information sharing and the willingness to accept feedback, and therefore positively influences teamwork processes (McAllister, 1995 ; Salas et al., 2005 ). Cohesion within a team facilitates motivational factors and group processes like coordination and enhances team performance (Beal et al., 2003 ; Kozlowski and Ilgen, 2006 ).

  • Hypothesis 2: Trust shows a positive relationship with (a) action processes (team coordination) and with (b) team performance.
  • Hypothesis 3: Cohesion shows a positive relationship with (a) action processes (team coordination) and with (b) team performance.

Materials and methods

In order to demonstrate the importance of team process demands for complex problem solving in teams, we used a computer-based microworld in a laboratory study. We analyzed the effectiveness of complex problem solving teams while considering the influence of input variables, like collective orientation of team members and trust and cohesion within the team, on action processes within teams, like coordination.

The microworld for investigating teams process demands

We used the simulation-based team task C 3 Fire (Granlund et al., 2001 ; Granlund and Johansson, 2004 ), which is described as an intensive interdependence team task for complex problem solving (Arthur et al., 2005 ). C 3 Fire is a command, control and communications simulation environment that allows teams' coordination and communication in complex and dynamic environments to be analyzed. C 3 Fire is a microworld, as important characteristics of the real world are transferred to a small and well-controlled simulation system. The task environment in C 3 Fire is complex, dynamic and opaque (see Table ​ Table1) 1 ) and therefore similar to the cognitive tasks people usually encounter in real-life settings, in and outside their work place (Brehmer and Dörner, 1993 ; Funke, 2001 ). Figure ​ Figure4 4 demonstrates how the complexity characteristics mentioned in Table ​ Table1 1 are realized in C 3 Fire. The screenshot represents the simulation manager's point of view, who is able to observe all units and actions and the scenario development. For more information about the units and scenarios, please (see the text below and the Supplementary Material). Complexity requires people to consider a number of facts. Because executed actions in C 3 Fire influence the ongoing process, the sequencing of actions is free and not stringent, such as a fixed (if X then Y) or parallel (if X then Y and Z) sequence (Ormerod et al., 1998 ). This can lead to stressful situations. Taking these characteristics of microworlds into consideration, team processes during complex problem solving can be analyzed within laboratories under controlled conditions. Simulated microworlds such as C 3 Fire allow the gap to be bridged between laboratory studies, which might show deficiencies regarding ecological validity, and field studies, which have been criticized due to their small amount of control (see Brehmer and Dörner, 1993 ).

Overview of complexity characteristics of microworlds in general and in C 3 Fire (cf. Funke, 2001 ).

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Examples for the complexity characteristics in Table ​ Table1 1 represented within a simulation scenario in C 3 Fire.

In C 3 Fire, the teams' task is to coordinate their actions to extinguish a forest fire whilst protecting houses and saving lives. The team members' actions are interdependent. The simulation includes, e.g., forest fires, houses, tents, gas tanks, different kinds of vegetation and computer-simulated agents such as firefighting units (Granlund, 2003 ). It is possible, for example, that the direction of wind will change during firefighting and the time until different kinds of vegetation are burned down varies between those. In the present study, two simulation scenarios were developed for two-person teams and consisted of two firefighting units, one mobile water tank unit (responsible for re-filling the firefighting units' water tanks that contain a predefined amount of water) and one fire-break unit (a field defended with a fire-break cannot be ignited; the fire spreads around its ends). The two developed scenarios lasted for 15 min maximum. Each team member was responsible for two units in each scenario; person one for firefighting and water tank unit and person two for firefighting and fire-break unit. The user interface was a map system (40 × 40 square grid) with all relevant geographic information and positions of all symbols representing houses, water tank units and so on. All parts of the map with houses and vegetation were visible for the subjects, but not the fire itself or the other units; instead, the subjects were close to them with their own units (restricted visibility field; 3 × 3 square grid). The simulation was run on computers networked in a client-server configuration. The subjects used a chat system for communication that was logged. For each scenario, C 3 Fire creates a detailed log file containing all events that occurred over the course of the simulation. Examples of the C 3 Fire scenarios are provided in the Figures S1 – 3 and a short introduction into the microworld is given in the video. Detailed information regarding the scenario characteristics are given in Table S1 . From scenario one to two, the complexity and interdependence increased.


The study was conducted from Mai 2014 until March 2015. Undergraduate and graduate students ( N = 116) studying applied cognitive sciences participated in the study (68.1% female). Their mean age was 21.17 years ( SD = 3.11). Participants were assigned to 58 two-person teams, with team assignments being based on the pre-measured CO values (see procedure). They received 2 hourly credits as a trial subject and giveaways such as pencils and non-alcoholic canned drinks. The study was approved by the university's ethics committee in February 2014.

The study was conducted within a laboratory setting at a university department for business psychology. Prior to the experiment, the participants filled in the CO instrument online and gave written informed consent (see Figure ​ Figure5). 5 ). The median was calculated subsequently ( Md = 3.12; range: 1.69–4.06; scale range: 1–5) relating to the variable CO and two individuals with either high ( n = 58) or low ( n = 58) CO values were randomly matched as teammates. The matching process was random in part, as those two subjects were matched to form a team, whose preferred indicated time for participation in a specific week during data collection were identical. The participants were invited to the experimental study by e-mail 1–2 weeks after filling in the CO instrument. The study began with an introduction to the experimental procedure and the teams' task. The individuals received time to familiarize themselves with the simulation, received 20 min of training and completed two practice trials. After the training, participants answered a questionnaire collecting demographic data. Following this, a simulation scenario started and the participants had a maximum of 15 min to coordinate their actions to extinguish a forest fire whilst protecting houses and saving lives. After that, at measuring time T1, participants answered questionnaires assessing trust and cohesion within the team. Again, the teams worked on the following scenario 2 followed by a last round of questionnaires assessing trust and cohesion at T2.

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Overview about the procedure and measures.

Demographic data such as age, sex, and study course were assessed after the training at the beginning of the experiment.

Collective Orientation was measured at an individual level with 16 items rated on a 5-point Likert scale (1 = strongly disagree to 5 = strongly agree ) developed by the authors (Hagemann, 2017 ) based on the work of Driskell et al. ( 2010 ). The factorial structure concerning the German-language CO scale was proven prior to this study (χ 2 = 162.25, df = 92, p = 0.000, χ 2 /df = 1.76, CFI = 0.97, TLI = 0.96, RMSEA = 0.040, CI = 0.030-0.051, SRMR = 0.043) and correlations for testing convergent and discriminant evidence of validity were satisfying. For example, CO correlated r = 0.09 ( p > 0.10) with cohesion, r = 0.34 ( p < 0.01) with cooperative interdependence and r = −0.28 ( p < 0.01) with preference for solitude (Hagemann, 2017 ). An example item is “ I find working on team projects to be very satisfying ”. Coefficient alpha for this scale was 0.81.

Trust in team members' integrity, trust in members' task abilities and trust in members' work-related attitudes (Geister et al., 2006 ) was measured with seven items rated on a 5-point Likert scale (1 = strongly disagree to 5 = strongly agree ). An example item is “ I can trust that I will have no additional demands due to lack of motivation of my team member .” Coefficient alpha for this scale was 0.83 (T1) and 0.87 (T2).

Cohesion was measured with a six-item scale from Riordan and Weatherly ( 1999 ) rated on a 5-point Likert scale (1 = strongly disagree to 5 = strongly agree ). An example item is “ In this team, there is a lot of team spirit among the members .” Coefficient alpha for this scale was 0.87 (T1) and 0.87 (T2).

Action process: coordination

Successful coordination requires mechanisms that serve to manage dependencies between the teams' activities and their resources. Coordination effectiveness was assessed based on the time the firefighting units spent without water in the field in relation to the total scenario time. This measure is an indicator of the effectiveness of resource-oriented coordination, as it reflects an efficient performance regarding the water refill process in C 3 Fire, which requires coordinated actions between the two firefighting units and one water tank unit (Lafond et al., 2011 ). The underlying assumption is that a more successful coordination process leads to fewer delays in conducting the refill process. Coordination was calculated by a formula and values ranged between 0 and 1, with lower values indicating better coordination in the team (see Jobidon et al., 2012 ).

Team performance

This measure related to the teams' goals (limiting the number of burned out cells and saving as many houses/buildings as possible) and was quantified as the number of protected houses and the number of protected fields and bushes/trees in relation to the number of houses, fields, and bushes/trees, respectively, which would burn in a worst case scenario. This formula takes into account that teams needing more time for firefighting also have more burning cells and show a less successful performance than teams that are quick in firefighting. To determine the worst case scenario, both 15-min scenarios were run with no firefighting action taken. Thus, the particularities (e.g., how many houses would burn down if no action was taken) of each scenario were considered. Furthermore, the houses, bushes/trees and fields were weighted according to their differing importance, mirroring the teams' goals. Houses should be protected and were most important. Bushes/trees (middle importance) burn faster than fields (lowest importance) and foster the expansion of the fire. Values regarding team performance ranged between 0 and 7.99, with higher values indicating a better overall performance. Team performance was calculated as follows (see Table ​ Table2 2 ):

Explanation of formula for calculating team performance in both scenarios.

Means, standard deviations, internal consistencies, and correlations for all study variables are provided in Table ​ Table3 3 .

Means, standard deviations, internal consistencies, and correlations for all study variables.

Performance range from 0 to 7.99; Time without Water range from 0 to 1 (lower values indicate a more effective handling of water); CO range from 1 to 5 .

Team complex problem solving in scenario 1 correlated significantly negative with time without water in scenario 1, indicating that a high team performance is attended by the coordination behavior (as a team process). The same was true for scenario 2. In addition, time without water as an indicator for team coordination correlated significantly negative with the team members' CO, indicating that team members with high CO values experience less time without water in the microworld than teams with members with low CO values.

In order to analyze the influence of CO on team process demands such as coordination processes and thereby performance within complex problem solving teams we tested whether CO would show an indirect effect on team performance through the teams' coordination processes. To analyze this assumption, indirect effects in simple mediation models were estimated for both scenarios (see Preacher and Hayes, 2004 ). The mean for CO was 3.44 ( SD = 0.32) for teams with high CO values and it was 2.79 ( SD = 0.35) for teams with low CO values. The mean concerning team performance in scenario 1 for teams with high CO values was 6.30 ( SD = 1.64) and with low CO values 5.35 ( SD = 2.30). The mean concerning time without water (coordination behavior) for teams with high CO values was 0.16 ( SD = 0.08) and with low CO values 0.20 ( SD = 0.09). In scenario 2 the mean for team performance was 6.26 ( SD = 2.51) for teams with high CO values and it was 4.36 ( SD = 2.24) for teams with low CO values. The mean concerning time without water for teams with high CO values was 0.18 ( SD = 0.08) and with low CO values 0.25 ( SD = 0.11).

For analyzing indirect effects, CO was the independent variable, time without water the mediator and team performance the dependent variable. The findings indicated that CO has an indirect effect on team performance mediated by time without water for scenario 1 (Table ​ (Table4) 4 ) and scenario 2 (Table ​ (Table5). 5 ). In scenario 1, CO had no direct effect on team performance ( b(YX) ), but CO significantly predicted time without water ( b(MX) ). A significant total effect ( b(YX) ) is not an assumption in the assessment of indirect effects, and therefore the non-significance of this relationship does not violate the analysis (see Preacher and Hayes, 2004 , p. 719). Furthermore, time without water significantly predicted team performance when controlling for CO ( b(YM.X) ), whereas the effect of CO on team performance was not significant when controlling for time without water ( b(YX.M) ). The indirect effect was 0.40 and significant when using normal distribution and estimated with the Sobel test ( z = 1.97, p < 0.05). The bootstrap procedure was applied to estimate the effect size not based on the assumption of normal distribution. As displayed in Table ​ Table4, 4 , the bootstrapped estimate of the indirect effect was 0.41 and the true indirect effect was estimated to lie between 0.0084 and 0.9215 with a 95% confidence interval. As zero is not in the 95% confidence interval, it can be concluded that the indirect effect is indeed significantly different from zero at p < 0.05 (two-tailed).

Indirect Effect for Coordination and Team Performance in Scenario 1.

Y = Team Performance Scenario 1; X = Collective Orientation T0; M = Coordination (time without water in scenario 1); Number of Bootstrap Resamples 5000 .

Indirect Effect for Coordination and Team Performance in Scenario 2.

Y = Team Performance Scenario 2; X = Collective Orientation T0; M = Coordination (time without water in scenario 2); Number of Bootstrap Resamples 5000 .

Regarding scenario 2, CO had a direct effect on team performance ( b(YX) ) and on time without water ( b(MX) ). Again, time without water significantly predicted team performance when controlling for CO ( b(YM.X) ), whereas the effect of CO on team performance was not significant when controlling for time without water ( b(YX.M) ). This time, the indirect effect was 0.60 (Sobel test, z = 2.31, p < 0.05). As displayed in Table ​ Table5, 5 , the bootstrapped estimate of the indirect effect was 0.61 and the true indirect effect was estimated to lie between 0.1876 and 1.1014 with a 95% confidence interval and between 0.0340 and 1.2578 with a 99% confidence interval. Because zero is not in the 99% confidence interval, it can be concluded that the indirect effect is indeed significantly different from zero at p < 0.01 (two-tailed).

The indirect effects for both scenarios are visualized in Figure ​ Figure6. 6 . Summing up, the results support hypothesis 1 and indicate that CO has an indirect effect on team performance mediated by the teams' coordination behavior, an action process. That means, fulfilling team process demands affect the dynamic decision making quality of teams acting in complex situations and input variables such as CO influence the action processes within teams positively.

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Indirect effect of collective orientation on team performance via coordination within the teams for scenario 1 and 2, * p < 0.05, ** p < 0.01, *** p < 0.001, numbers in italic represent results from scenario 2, non-italic numbers are from scenario 1.

Trust between team members assessed after scenario 1 (T1) and after scenario 2 (T2) did not show any significant correlation with the coordination behavior or with team complex problem solving in scenarios 1 and 2 (Table ​ (Table3). 3 ). Thus, hypotheses 2a and 2b are not supported. Cohesion at T1 showed no significant relationship with team performance in both scenarios, one significant negative correlation ( r = −0.22, p < 0.05) with the coordination behavior in scenario 1 and no correlation with the coordination behavior in scenario 2. Cohesion at T2 did not show any significant correlation with the coordination behavior or with team performance in both scenarios. Thus, hypotheses 3a and 3b could also not be supported. Furthermore, the results showed no significant relations between CO and trust and cohesion. The correlations between trust and cohesion ranged between r = 0.39 and r = 0.51 ( p < 0.01).

The purpose of our paper was first to give a sound theoretical overview and to combine theoretical approaches about team competencies and team process demands in collaborative complex problem solving and second to demonstrate the importance of selected team competencies and processes on team performance in complex problem solving by means of results from a laboratory study. We introduced the model of an idealized teamwork process that complex problem solving team pass through and integrated the relevant teamwork skills for interdependently working teams into it. Moreover, we highlighted the episodic aspect concerning complex problem solving in teams and combined the well-known transition, action, interpersonal and learning processes of teamwork with the idealized teamwork process model. Finally, we investigated the influence of trust, cohesion, and CO on action processes, such as coordination behavior of complex problem solving teams and on team performance.

Regarding hypothesis 1, studies have indicated that teams whose members have high CO values are more successful in their coordination processes and task accomplishment (Eby and Dobbins, 1997 ; Driskell et al., 2010 ; Hagemann, 2017 ), which may enhance team performance through considering task inputs from other team members, information sharing and strategizing (Salas et al., 2005 ). Thus, we had a close look on CO as an emergent state in the present study, because emergent states support the execution of behavioral processes. In order to analyze this indirect effect of CO on team performance via coordination processes, we used the time, which firefighters spent without water in a scenario, as an indicator for high-quality coordination within the team. A small amount of time without water represents sharing information and resources between team members in a reciprocal manner, which are essential qualities of effective coordination (Ellington and Dierdorff, 2014 ). One of the two team members was in charge of the mobile water tank unit and therefore responsible for filling up the water tanks of his/her own firefighting unit and that of the other team member on time. In order to avoid running out of water for firefighting, the team members had to exchange information about, for example, their firefighting units' current and future positions in the field, their water levels, their strategies for extinguishing one or two fires, and the water tank unit's current and future position in the field. The simple mediation models showed that CO has an indirect effect on team performance mediated by time without water, supporting hypothesis 1. Thus, CO facilitates high-quality coordination within complex problem solving teams and this in turn influences decision-making and team performance positively (cf. Figure ​ Figure1). 1 ). These results support previous findings concerning the relationships between emergent states, such as CO, and the team process, such as action processes like coordination (Cannon-Bowers et al., 1995 ; Driskell et al., 2010 ) and between the team process and the team performance (Stevens and Campion, 1994 ; Dierdorff et al., 2011 ).

Hypotheses 2 and 3 analyzed the relationships between trust and cohesion and coordination and team performance. Because no correlations between trust and cohesion and the coordination behavior and team complex problem solving existed, further analyses, like mediation analyses, were unnecessary. In contrast to other studies (McAllister, 1995 ; Beal et al., 2003 ; Salas et al., 2005 ; Kozlowski and Ilgen, 2006 ), the present study was not able to detect effects of trust and cohesion on team processes, like action processes, or on team performance. This can be attributed to the restricted sample composition or the rather small sample size. Nevertheless, effect sizes were small to medium, so that they would have become significant with an increased sample sizes. The prerequisite, mentioned by the authors, that interdependence of the teamwork is important for identifying those effects, was given in the present study. Therefore, this aspect could not have been the reason for finding no effects concerning trust and cohesion. Trust and cohesion within the teams developed during working on the simulation scenarios while fighting fires, showed significant correlations with each other, and were unrelated to CO, which showed an effect on the coordination behavior and the team performance indeed. The results seem to implicate, that the influence of CO on action processes and team performance might be much more stronger than those of trust and cohesion. If these results can be replicated should be analyzed in future studies.

As the interdependent complex problem-solving task was a computer-based simulation, the results might have been affected by the participants' attitudes to using a computer. For example, computer affinity seems to be able to minimize potential fear of working with a simulation environment and might therefore, be able to contribute to successful performance in a computer-based team task. Although computers and other electronic devices are pervasive in present-day life, computer aversion has to be considered in future studies within complex problem-solving research when applying computer-based simulation team tasks. As all of the participants were studying applied cognitive science, which is a mix of psychology and computer science, this problem might not have been influenced the present results. However, the specific composition of the sample reduces the external validity of the study and the generalizability of the results. A further limitation is the small sample size, so that moderate to small effects are difficult to detect.

Furthermore, laboratory research of teamwork might have certain limitations. Teamwork as demonstrated in this study fails to account for the fact that teams are not simple, static and isolated entities (McGrath et al., 2000 ). The validity of the results could be reduced insofar as the complex relationships in teams were not represented, the teamwork context was not considered, not all teammates and teams were comparable, and the characteristic as a dynamic system with a team history and future was not given in the present study. This could be a possible explanation why no effects of trust and cohesion were found in the present study. Maybe, the teams need more time working together on the simulation scenarios in order to show that trust and cohesion influence the coordination with the team and the team performance. Furthermore, Bell ( 2007 ) demonstrated in her meta-analysis that the relationship between team members' attitudes and the team's performance was proven more strongly in the field compared to the laboratory. In consideration of this fact, the findings of the present study concerning CO are remarkable and the simulation based microworld C3Fire (Granlund et al., 2001 ; Granlund, 2003 ) seems to be appropriate for analyzing complex problem solving in interdependently working teams.

An asset of the present study is, that the teams' action processes, the coordination performance, was assessed objectively based on logged data and was not a subjective measure, as is often the case in group and team research studies (cf. Van de Ven et al., 1976 ; Antoni and Hertel, 2009 ; Dierdorff et al., 2011 ; Ellington and Dierdorff, 2014 ). As coordination was the mediator in the analysis, this objective measurement supports the validity of the results.

As no transition processes such as mission analysis, formulation, and planning (Prince and Salas, 1993 ), goal specification (Prussia and Kinicki, 1996 ), and strategy formulation (Prince and Salas, 1993 ; Cannon-Bowers et al., 1995 ) as well as action processes such as monitoring progress toward goals (Cannon-Bowers et al., 1995 ) and systems monitoring (Fleishman and Zaccaro, 1992 ) were analyzed within the present study, future studies should collect data concerning these processes in order to show their importance on performance within complex problem solving teams. Because these processes are difficult to observe, subjective measurements are needed, for example asking the participants after each scenario how they have prioritized various tasks, if and when they have changed their strategy concerning protecting houses or fighting fires, and on which data within the scenarios they focused for collecting information for goal and systems monitoring. Another possibility could be using eye-tracking methods in order to collect data about collecting information for monitoring progress toward goals, e.g., collecting information how many cells are still burning, and systems monitoring, e.g., tracking team resources like water for firefighting.

CO is an emergent state and emergent states can be influenced by experience or learning, for example (Kozlowski and Ilgen, 2006 ). Learning processes (Edmondson, 1999 ), that Schmutz et al. ( 2016 ) added to the taxonomy of team processes developed by Marks et al. ( 2001 ) and which occur during transition and action phases and contribute to team effectiveness include e.g., feedback . Feedback can be useful for team learning when team learning is seen as a form of information processing (Hinsz et al., 1997 ). Because CO supports action processes, such as coordination and it can be influenced by learning, learning opportunities, such as feedback, seem to be important for successful task accomplishment and for supporting teams in handling complex situations or problems. If the team is temporarily and interpersonally unstable, as it is the case for most of the disaster or crisis management teams dealing with complex problems, there might be less opportunities for generating shared mental models by experiencing repetitive cycles of joint action (cf. Figure ​ Figure2) 2 ) and strategies such as cross training (Salas et al., 2007 ) or feedback might become more and more important for successful complex problem solving in teams. Thus, for future research it would be of interest to analyze what kind of feedback is able to influence CO positively and therefore is able to enhance coordination and performance within complex problem-solving teams.

Depending on the type of feedback, different main points will be focused during the feedback (see Gabelica et al., 2012 ). Feedback can be differentiated into performance and process feedback. Process feedback can be further divided into task-related and interpersonal feedback. Besides these aspects, feedback can be given on a team-level or an individual-level. Combinations of the various kinds of feedback are possible and are analyzed in research concerning their influence on e.g., self- and team-regulatory processes and team performance (Prussia and Kinicki, 1996 ; Hinsz et al., 1997 ; Jung and Sosik, 2003 ; Gabelica et al., 2012 ). For future studies it would be relevant to analyze, whether it is possible to positively influence the CO of team members and therefore action processes such as coordination and team performance or not. A focus could be on the learning processes, especially on feedback, and its influence on CO in complex problem solving teams. So far, no studies exist that analyzed the relationship between feedback and a change in CO, even though researchers already discuss the possibility that team-level process feedback shifts attention processes on team actions and team learning (McLeod et al., 1992 ; Hinsz et al., 1997 ). These results would be very helpful for training programs for fire service or police or medical teams working in complex environments and solving problems collaboratively, in order to support their team working and their performance.

In summary, the idealized teamwork process model is in combination with the transition, action, interpersonal and learning processes a good framework for analyzing the impact of teamwork competencies and teamwork processes in detail on team performance in complex environments. Overall, the framework offers further possibilities for investigating the influence of teamwork competencies on diverse processes and teamwork outcomes in complex problem solving teams than demonstrated here. The results of our study provide evidence of how CO influences complex problem solving teams and their performance. Accordingly, future researchers and practitioners would be well advised to find interventions how to influence CO and support interdependently working teams.

Ethics statement

This study was carried out in accordance with the recommendations of Ethical guidelines of the German Association of Psychology, Ethics committee of the University of Duisburg-Essen, Department of Computer Science and Applied Cognitive Science with written informed consent from all subjects. All subjects gave written informed consent in accordance with the Declaration of Helsinki. The protocol was approved by the Ethics committee of the University of Duisburg-Essen, Department of Computer Science and Applied Cognitive Science.

Author contributions

VH and AK were responsible for the conception of the work and the study design. VH analyzed and interpreted the collected data. VH and AK drafted the manuscript. They approved it for publication and act as guarantors for the overall content.

Conflict of interest statement

The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

The Supplementary Material for this article can be found online at:

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Work Teams in Organizational Behavior

Susmita Sah

Concept of Work Teams 

Teams are getting popular in modern organizations. More and more organizations are restructuring themselves around teams to better utilize employee talents.

Work group and work teams are not the same thing. The following figure shows the comparing Work group and work teams:

problem solving teams in organizational behavior

A work group is a group that interacts primarily to share information and make decisions to help each member perform. Its performance is summation of what its members perform as individuals.

A   work team is a cooperative group whose individual efforts result in positive synergy through coordinated efforts.

Its performance is greater than the summation of what its members perform as individuals. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Types of Work Teams

The work teams can be of the following types:

  • Problem-solving teams
  • Self-managed teams
  • Cross-functional teams
  • Virtual teams

problem solving teams in organizational behavior

1. Problem-solving teams:

These teams discuss ways of improving quality, efficiency and the work environment. They consist of 8 to 10 members from the same department. The team meets for a few hours each week.

  • Quality circle is an example of problem-solving team which is concerned with solving problems related to quality, efficiency and safety at work place.
  • Problem-solving teams share ideas and offer suggestions. However, they lack authority to make and implement decisions.

2. Self-managed work teams:

They are autonomous teams who take on many of the responsibilities of their former supervisors. They solve problems, implement solutions and take full responsibility for outcomes. They are empowered.

  • Typically, Self-managed teams are group of 10 to 15 employees who perform related or interdependent jobs. They select their own members and evaluate each other’s performance. The following figure shows the Self-managed work teams:

The responsibilities self-managed work teams take on are:

  • Planning and scheduling of team work
  • Assigning tasks to members
  • Collective control over the pace of work through performance evaluation and quality control.
  • Making operating decisions
  • Taking corrective actions to solve problems
  • Training of group members for multi-skilling.

3. Cross-functional teams:

These teams are made up of employees of the same hierarchical level, but from different work areas, who came together to accomplish a specific task. The membership cuts across departments and functions. Members are experts in various specialties.

  • Committee and task force are examples of cross-functional teams.
  • Cross-functional teams are effective to:
  • Coordinate complex projects
  • Exchange information
  • Develop new ideas and solve problems

However, these teams take time to build trust and team work. Members need to learn to work with diversity and complexity.

  • Effectiveness of cross-functional team depends on:
  • Establishment of clear and specific goals
  • Careful selection and appraisal of members
  • Equity in rewarding efforts of members

4. Virtual teams:

These teams use information technology and computers to tie together physically dispersed members in order to achieve a common goal. Members collaborate on-line through communication links such as:

  • Wide area networks (WAN)
  • Video conferencing
  • E-mail, Voice-mail, etc.

Virtual teams lack face-to-face communication. They have limited social interaction. But they overcome time and space constraints. They allow people to work together who are miles apart.

Building Effective Work Teams (Factors in Managing Teams)

Effectiveness is doing the right thing. It is concerned with attaining goals. The components needed for building effective work teams are:

  • Work Design
  • Composition

problem solving teams in organizational behavior

1. Work Design:

The following characteristics of work design help build effective teams:

  • Autonomy: Responsibility for work and freedom in doing work to the team.
  • Skill variety: Opportunity for use of different skills and abilities by the team.
  • Task identity: Doing the whole piece of work by the team.
  • Task significance: Doing work should be worthwhile to the team.

Team should work together with collective responsibility to complete significant tasks.

2.  Team Composition:

The following variables in team composition help build effective teams:

  • Ability: Variety in abilities of team members. The members should have right technical, decision making and interpersonal skills.
  • Personality: Team members should have traits, such as extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, emotional stability and openness to experience.
  • Roles: Team members should have diversity to fulfill various roles.
  • Size: The size of the team should be neither too small and nor too big. Between 6 to 10 members is a good number.
  • Flexibility: The team members should be adaptable to each other’s tasks.
  • Member Preference: Team members should have preference for team work.

3. Context:

The following contextual factors help build effective teams:

  • Adequate Resources: The members should have access to adequate resources outside the team. Management must support teams.
  • Leadership: Team members should agree on who is to do what. Leadership roles are shared.
  • Evaluation and Reward: Team members should be individually and collectively accountable for performance. Reward should be based on team performance.

4. Process:

The following process variables help build effective teams:

  • Common purpose: It provides direction and guidance. It should be accepted by the team. It is a broad vision.
  • Specific Goals: The purpose should be translated into specific goals. They help teams maintain focus on getting results. Goals should be specific, measurable, realistic, challenging and time bound.
  • Team Efficacy: Team should believe in success. Members should have collective confidence in themselves. Training should be provided.
  • Conflict: Functional conflict should be encouraged to improve team effectiveness.
  • Social Loafing: Teams should discourage the tendency of social loafing. There should be accountability at both the individual and team levels.

Group Decision Making

Decisions are taken either by an individual or by a group. When a decision is taken by an individual in the organization, it is known as individual decision. Group decision refers to the decisions which are taken by a group of organizational members.

There are many situations which suddenly come up as ill-structured problems which are unlikely to be solved by a single individual.

In such situation, the manager may assign the problem to a group of experts for recommendations. It is often argued that group can make higher quality decisions than individuals.

Issues in Managing Work Teams

The key issues in managing work teams are:

1. Issue of Total Quality Management (TQM) in Teams:

The issue is how to make the work teams effective for total quality management.

TQM is continuously improving quality through everyone’s commitment and involvement to satisfy customers. Quality is everyone’s responsibility. TQM requires encouragement to employees by management for quality improvements. Work teams are the vehicles for improving quality.

2. Issue of Workforce Diversity in Teams:

The issues are:

  • How to manage diversity in work team?
  • How to develop cohesiveness in work team?
  • How to minimize conflicts?
  • How to turn individuals into team players?

Work teams tend to be high in diversity. Such teams take time to develop cohesiveness.

3. Issue of Mature Teams:

The issue is how to reinvigorate mature teams.

The effectiveness of work team can diminish over time. Maturity can retard team creativity. Mature teams suffer from group think. Members assume that they know what everyone is thinking.

4. Issue of Effectiveness of Teams:

The issue is how to increase and maintain team effectiveness in terms of:

  • Common goals and norms: For the team
  • Work design: Autonomy, skill variety, task identity and task significance.
  • Team composition: Team members should be cooperating, coordinating, communicating, comforting and conflict resolving (5Cs).
  • Team context: Team leadership and rewards.
  • Team process: Norms, cohesion, trust and team development.
  • 10.5 Team Diversity
  • Introduction
  • 1.1 The Nature of Work
  • 1.2 The Changing Workplace
  • 1.3 The Nature of Management
  • 1.4 A Model of Organizational Behavior and Management
  • Summary of Learning Outcomes
  • Chapter Review Questions
  • Critical Thinking Case
  • 2.1 Individual and Cultural Factors in Employee Performance
  • 2.2 Employee Abilities and Skills
  • 2.3 Personality: An Introduction
  • 2.4 Personality and Work Behavior
  • 2.5 Personality and Organization: A Basic Conflict?
  • 2.6 Personal Values and Ethics
  • 2.7 Cultural Differences
  • Management Skills Application Exercises
  • Managerial Decision Exercises
  • 3.1 The Perceptual Process
  • 3.2 Barriers to Accurate Social Perception
  • 3.3 Attributions: Interpreting the Causes of Behavior
  • 3.4 Attitudes and Behavior
  • 3.5 Work-Related Attitudes
  • 4.1 Basic Models of Learning
  • 4.2 Reinforcement and Behavioral Change
  • 4.3 Behavior Modification in Organizations
  • 4.4 Behavioral Self-Management
  • 5.1 An Introduction to Workplace Diversity
  • 5.2 Diversity and the Workforce
  • 5.3 Diversity and Its Impact on Companies
  • 5.4 Challenges of Diversity
  • 5.5 Key Diversity Theories
  • 5.6 Benefits and Challenges of Workplace Diversity
  • 5.7 Recommendations for Managing Diversity
  • 6.1 Overview of Managerial Decision-Making
  • 6.2 How the Brain Processes Information to Make Decisions: Reflective and Reactive Systems
  • 6.3 Programmed and Nonprogrammed Decisions
  • 6.4 Barriers to Effective Decision-Making
  • 6.5 Improving the Quality of Decision-Making
  • 6.6 Group Decision-Making
  • 7.1 Motivation: Direction and Intensity
  • 7.2 Content Theories of Motivation
  • 7.3 Process Theories of Motivation
  • 7.4 Recent Research on Motivation Theories
  • 8.1 Performance Appraisal Systems
  • 8.2 Techniques of Performance Appraisal
  • 8.3 Feedback
  • 8.4 Reward Systems in Organizations
  • 8.5 Individual and Group Incentive Plans
  • 9.1 Work Groups: Basic Considerations
  • 9.2 Work Group Structure
  • 9.3 Managing Effective Work Groups
  • 9.4 Intergroup Behavior and Performance
  • 10.1 Teamwork in the Workplace
  • 10.2 Team Development Over Time
  • 10.3 Things to Consider When Managing Teams
  • 10.4 Opportunities and Challenges to Team Building
  • 10.6 Multicultural Teams
  • 11.1 The Process of Managerial Communication
  • 11.2 Types of Communications in Organizations
  • 11.3 Factors Affecting Communications and the Roles of Managers
  • 11.4 Managerial Communication and Corporate Reputation
  • 11.5 The Major Channels of Management Communication Are Talking, Listening, Reading, and Writing
  • 12.1 The Nature of Leadership
  • 12.2 The Leadership Process
  • 12.3 Leader Emergence
  • 12.4 The Trait Approach to Leadership
  • 12.5 Behavioral Approaches to Leadership
  • 12.6 Situational (Contingency) Approaches to Leadership
  • 12.7 Substitutes for and Neutralizers of Leadership
  • 12.8 Transformational, Visionary, and Charismatic Leadership
  • 12.9 Leadership Needs in the 21st Century
  • 13.1 Power in Interpersonal Relations
  • 13.2 Uses of Power
  • 13.3 Political Behavior in Organizations
  • 13.4 Limiting the Influence of Political Behavior
  • 14.1 Conflict in Organizations: Basic Considerations
  • 14.2 Causes of Conflict in Organizations
  • 14.3 Resolving Conflict in Organizations
  • 14.4 Negotiation Behavior
  • 15.1 The Organization's External Environment
  • 15.2 External Environments and Industries
  • 15.3 Organizational Designs and Structures
  • 15.4 The Internal Organization and External Environments
  • 15.5 Corporate Cultures
  • 15.6 Organizing for Change in the 21st Century
  • 16.1 Organizational Structures and Design
  • 16.2 Organizational Change
  • 16.3 Managing Change
  • 17.1 An Introduction to Human Resource Management
  • 17.2 Human Resource Management and Compliance
  • 17.3 Performance Management
  • 17.4 Influencing Employee Performance and Motivation
  • 17.5 Building an Organization for the Future
  • 17.6 Talent Development and Succession Planning
  • 18.1 Problems of Work Adjustment
  • 18.2 Organizational Influences on Stress
  • 18.3 Buffering Effects of Work related Stress
  • 18.4 Coping with Work related Stress
  • 19.1 Overview of Entrepreneurship
  • 19.2 Characteristics of Successful Entrepreneurs
  • 19.3 Business Model Canvas
  • 19.4 New Venture Financing
  • 19.5 Design Thinking
  • 19.6 Optimal Support for Entrepreneurship
  • A | Scientific Method in Organizational Research
  • B | Scoring Keys for Self-Assessment Exercises
  • How does team diversity enhance decision-making and problem-solving?

Decision-making and problem-solving can be much more dynamic and successful when performed in a diverse team environment. The multiple diverse perspectives can enhance both the understanding of the problem and the quality of the solution. As I reflect on some of the leadership development work that I have done in my career, I can say from experience that the team activities and projects that intentionally brought diverse individuals together created the best environments for problem-solving. Diverse leaders from a variety of functions, from across the globe, at varying stages of their careers and experiences with and outside of the company had the most robust discussions and perspectives. Diversity is a word that is very commonly used today, but the importance of diversity and building diverse teams can sometimes get lost in the normal processes of doing business. Let’s discuss why we need to keep these principles front of mind.

In the Harvard Business Review article “Why Diverse Teams are Smarter” (Nov. 2016), David Rock and Heidi Grant support the idea that increasing workplace diversity is a good business decision. 9 A 2015 McKinsey report on 366 public companies found that those in the top quartile for ethnic and racial diversity in management were 35% more likely to have financial returns above their industry mean, and those in the top quartile for gender diversity were 15% more likely to have returns above the industry mean. Similarly, in a global analysis conducted by Credit Suisse, organizations with at least one female board member yielded a higher return on equity and higher net income growth than those that did not have any women on the board.

Additional research on diversity has shown that diverse teams are better at decision-making and problem-solving because they tend to focus more on facts, per the Rock and Grant article. 10 A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology showed that people from diverse backgrounds “might actually alter the behavior of a group’s social majority in ways that lead to improved and more accurate group thinking.” It turned out that in the study, the diverse panels raised more facts related to the case than homogenous panels and made fewer factual errors while discussing available evidence. Another study noted in the article showed that diverse teams are “more likely to constantly reexamine facts and remain objective. They may also encourage greater scrutiny of each member’s actions, keeping their joint cognitive resources sharp and vigilant. By breaking up workforce homogeneity, you can allow your employees to become more aware of their own potential biases—entrenched ways of thinking that can otherwise blind them to key information and even lead them to make errors in decision-making processes.” In other words, when people are among homogeneous and like-minded (nondiverse) teammates, the team is susceptible to groupthink and may be reticent to think about opposing viewpoints since all team members are in alignment. In a more diverse team with a variety of backgrounds and experiences, the opposing viewpoints are more likely to come out and the team members feel obligated to research and address the questions that have been raised. Again, this enables a richer discussion and a more in-depth fact-finding and exploration of opposing ideas and viewpoints in order to solve problems.

Diversity in teams also leads to greater innovation. A Boston Consulting Group article entitled “The Mix that Matters: Innovation through Diversity” explains a study in which BCG and the Technical University of Munich conducted an empirical analysis to understand the relationship between diversity in managers (all management levels) and innovation. The key findings of this study show that: 11

  • The positive relationship between management diversity and innovation is statistically significant—and thus companies with higher levels of diversity derive more revenue from new products and services.
  • The innovation boost isn’t limited to a single type of diversity. The presence of managers who are either female or are from other countries, industries, or companies can cause an increase in innovation.
  • Management diversity seems to have a particularly positive effect on innovation at complex companies—those that have multiple product lines or that operate in multiple industry segments.
  • To reach its potential, gender diversity needs to go beyond tokenism. In the study, innovation performance only increased significantly when the workforce included more than 20% women in management positions. Having a high percentage of female employees doesn’t increase innovation if only a small number of women are managers.
  • At companies with diverse management teams, openness to contributions from lower-level workers and an environment in which employees feel free to speak their minds are crucial for fostering innovation.

When you consider the impact that diverse teams have on decision-making and problem-solving—through the discussion and incorporation of new perspectives, ideas, and data—it is no wonder that the BCG study shows greater innovation. Team leaders need to reflect upon these findings during the early stages of team selection so that they can reap the benefits of having diverse voices and backgrounds.

Concept Check

  • Why do diverse teams focus more on data than homogeneous teams?
  • How are diversity and innovation related?

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22 Working in Diverse Teams

Learning Objectives

  • Describe how diversity can enhance decision-making and problem-solving
  • Identify challenges and best practices for working with multicultural teams
  • Discuss divergent cultural characteristics and list several examples of such characteristics in the culture(s) you identify with

Decision-making and problem-solving can be much more dynamic and successful when performed in a diverse team environment. The multiple diverse perspectives can enhance both the understanding of the problem and the quality of the solution. Yet, working in diverse teams can be challenging given different identities, cultures, beliefs, and experiences. In this chapter, we will discuss the effects of team diversity on group decision-making and problem-solving, identify best practices and challenges for working in and with multicultural teams, and dig deeper into divergent cultural characteristics that teams may need to navigate.

Does Team Diversity Enhance Decision Making and Problem Solving?

In the Harvard Business Review article “Why Diverse Teams are Smarter,” David Rock and Heidi Grant (2016) support the idea that increasing workplace diversity is a good business decision. A 2015 McKinsey report on 366 public companies found that those in the top quartile for ethnic and racial diversity in management were 35% more likely to have financial returns above their industry mean, and those in the top quartile for gender diversity were 15% more likely to have returns above the industry mean. Similarly, in a global analysis conducted by Credit Suisse, organizations with at least one female board member yielded a higher return on equity and higher net income growth than those that did not have any women on the board.

A photo shows a diverse team of business professionals working together on a laptop.

Additional research on diversity has shown that diverse teams are better at decision-making and problem-solving because they tend to focus more on facts, per the Rock and Grant article. A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology showed that people from diverse backgrounds “might actually alter the behavior of a group’s social majority in ways that lead to improved and more accurate group thinking.” It turned out that in the study, the diverse panels raised more facts related to the case than homogeneous panels and made fewer factual errors while discussing available evidence. Another study noted in the article showed that diverse teams are “more likely to constantly reexamine facts and remain objective. They may also encourage greater scrutiny of each member’s actions, keeping their joint cognitive resources sharp and vigilant. By breaking up workforce homogeneity, you can allow your employees to become more aware of their own potential biases—entrenched ways of thinking that can otherwise blind them to key information and even lead them to make errors in decision-making processes.” In other words, when people are among homogeneous and like-minded (non-diverse) teammates, the team is susceptible to groupthink and may be reticent to think about opposing viewpoints since all team members are in alignment. In a more diverse team with a variety of backgrounds and experiences, the opposing viewpoints are more likely to come out and the team members feel obligated to research and address the questions that have been raised. Again, this enables a richer discussion and a more in-depth fact-finding and exploration of opposing ideas and viewpoints in order to solve problems.

Diversity in teams also leads to greater innovation. A Boston Consulting Group article entitled “The Mix that Matters: Innovation through Diversity” explains a study in which they sought to understand the relationship between diversity in managers (all management levels) and innovation (Lorenzo et al., 2017). The key findings of this study show that:

  • The positive relationship between management diversity and innovation is statistically significant—and thus companies with higher levels of diversity derive more revenue from new products and services.
  • The innovation boost isn’t limited to a single type of diversity. The presence of managers who are either female or are from other countries, industries, or companies can cause an increase in innovation.
  • Management diversity seems to have a particularly positive effect on innovation at complex companies—those that have multiple product lines or that operate in multiple industry segments.
  • To reach its potential, gender diversity needs to go beyond tokenism. In the study, innovation performance only increased significantly when the workforce included more than 20% women in management positions. Having a high percentage of female employees doesn’t increase innovation if only a small number of women are managers.
  • At companies with diverse management teams, openness to contributions from lower-level workers and an environment in which employees feel free to speak their minds are crucial for fostering innovation.

When you consider the impact that diverse teams have on decision-making and problem-solving—through the discussion and incorporation of new perspectives, ideas, and data—it is no wonder that the BCG study shows greater innovation. Team leaders need to reflect upon these findings during the early stages of team selection so that they can reap the benefits of having diverse voices and backgrounds.

Challenges and Best Practices for Working with Multicultural Teams

As globalization has increased over the last decades, workplaces have felt the impact of working within multicultural teams. The earlier section on team diversity outlined some of the highlights and benefits of working on diverse teams, and a multicultural group certainly qualifies as diverse. However, there are some key practices that are recommended to those who are leading multicultural teams so that they can parlay the diversity into an advantage and not be derailed by it.

People may assume that communication is the key factor that can derail multicultural teams, as participants may have different languages and communication styles. In the Harvard Business Review article “Managing Multicultural Teams,” Brett et al. (2006) outline four key cultural differences that can cause destructive conflicts in a team. The first difference is direct versus indirect communication, also known as high-context vs. low-context communication . Some cultures are very direct and explicit in their communication, while others are more indirect and ask questions rather than pointing our problems. This difference can cause conflict because, at the extreme, the direct style may be considered offensive by some, while the indirect style may be perceived as unproductive and passive-aggressive in team interactions.

The second difference that multicultural teams may face is trouble with accents and fluency. When team members don’t speak the same language, there may be one language that dominates the group interaction—and those who don’t speak it may feel left out. The speakers of the primary language may feel that those members don’t contribute as much or are less competent. The next challenge is when there are differing attitudes toward hierarchy. Some cultures are very respectful of the hierarchy and will treat team members based on that hierarchy. Other cultures are more egalitarian and don’t observe hierarchical differences to the same degree. This may lead to clashes if some people feel that they are being disrespected and not treated according to their status. The final difference that may challenge multicultural teams is conflicting decision-making norms. Different cultures make decisions differently, and some will apply a great deal of analysis and preparation beforehand. Those cultures that make decisions more quickly (and need just enough information to make a decision) may be frustrated with the slow response and relatively longer thought process.

These cultural differences are good examples of how everyday team activities (decision-making, communication, interaction among team members) may become points of contention for a multicultural team if there isn’t adequate understanding of everyone’s culture. The authors propose that there are several potential interventions to try if these conflicts arise. One simple intervention is adaptation , which is working with or around differences. This is best used when team members are willing to acknowledge the cultural differences and learn how to work with them. The next intervention technique is structural intervention , or reorganizing to reduce friction on the team. This technique is best used if there are unproductive subgroups or cliques within the team that need to be moved around. Managerial intervention is the technique of making decisions by management and without team involvement. This technique is one that should be used sparingly, as it essentially shows that the team needs guidance and can’t move forward without management getting involved. Finally, exit is an intervention of last resort, and is the voluntary or involuntary removal of a team member. If the differences and challenges have proven to be so great that an individual on the team can no longer work with the team productively, then it may be necessary to remove the team member in question.

Developing Cultural Intelligence

There are some people who seem to be innately aware of and able to work with cultural differences on teams and in their organizations. These individuals might be said to have cultural intelligence . Cultural intelligence  is a competency and a skill that enables individuals to function effectively in cross-cultural environments. It develops as people become more aware of the influence of culture and more capable of adapting their behavior to the norms of other cultures. In the IESE Insight article entitled “Cultural Competence: Why It Matters and How You Can Acquire It,” Lee and Liao (2015) assert that “multicultural leaders may relate better to team members from different cultures and resolve conflicts more easily. Their multiple talents can also be put to good use in international negotiations.” Multicultural leaders don’t have a lot of “baggage” from any one culture, and so are sometimes perceived as being culturally neutral. They are very good at handling diversity, which gives them a great advantage in their relationships with teammates.

In order to help people become better team members in a world that is increasingly multicultural, there are a few best practices that the authors recommend for honing cross-cultural skills. The first is to “broaden your mind”—expand your own cultural channels (travel, movies, books) and surround yourself with people from other cultures. This helps to raise your own awareness of the cultural differences and norms that you may encounter. Another best practice is to “develop your cross-cultural skills through practice” and experiential learning. You may have the opportunity to work or travel abroad—but if you don’t, then getting to know some of your company’s cross-cultural colleagues or foreign visitors will help you to practice your skills. Serving on a cross-cultural project team and taking the time to get to know and bond with your global colleagues is an excellent way to develop skills.

Once you have a sense of the different cultures and have started to work on developing your cross-cultural skills, another good practice is to “boost your cultural metacognition” and monitor your own behavior in multicultural situations. When you are in a situation in which you are interacting with multicultural individuals, you should test yourself and be aware of how you act and feel. Observe both your positive and negative interactions with people, and learn from them. Developing “ cognitive complexity ” is the final best practice for boosting multicultural skills. This is the most advanced, and it requires being able to view situations from more than one cultural framework. In order to see things from another perspective, you need to have a strong sense of emotional intelligence, empathy, and sympathy, and be willing to engage in honest communications.

In the Harvard Business Review article “Cultural Intelligence,” Earley and Mosakowski (2004) describe three sources of cultural intelligence that teams should consider if they are serious about becoming more adept in their cross-cultural skills and understanding. These sources, very simply, are head, body, and heart . One first learns about the beliefs, customs, and taboos of foreign cultures via the head . Training programs are based on providing this type of overview information—which is helpful, but obviously isn’t experiential. This is the cognitive component of cultural intelligence. The second source, the body , involves more commitment and experimentation with the new culture. It is this physical component (demeanor, eye contact, posture, accent) that shows a deeper level of understanding of the new culture and its physical manifestations. The final source, the heart , deals with a person’s own confidence in their ability to adapt to and deal well with cultures outside of their own. Heart really speaks to one’s own level of emotional commitment and motivation to understand the new culture.

The authors have created a quick assessment to diagnose cultural intelligence, based on these cognitive, physical, and emotional/motivational measures (i.e., head, body, heart). Please refer to the table below for a short diagnostic that allows you to assess your cultural intelligence.

Cultural intelligence is an extension of emotional intelligence. An individual must have a level of awareness and understanding of the new culture so that he or she can adapt to the style, pace, language, nonverbal communication, etc. and work together successfully with the new culture. A multicultural team can only find success if its members take the time to understand each other and ensure that everyone feels included. Multiculturalism and cultural intelligence are traits that are taking on increasing importance in the business world today. By following best practices and avoiding the challenges and pitfalls that can derail a multicultural team, a team can find great success and personal fulfillment well beyond the boundaries of the project or work engagement.

Digging in Deeper: Divergent Cultural Dimensions

Let’s dig in deeper by examining several points of divergence across cultures and consider how these dimensions might play out in organizations and in groups or teams.

Hofstede's cultural dimensions theory. Comparison of 4 countries: US, China, Germany and Brazil in all 6 dimensions of the model.

Low-Power versus High-Power Distance

How comfortable are you with critiquing your boss’s decisions? If you are from a low-power distance culture, your answer might be “no problem.” In low-power distance cultures , according to Dutch researcher Geert Hofstede, people relate to one another more as equals and less as a reflection of dominant or subordinate roles, regardless of their actual formal roles as employee and manager, for example.

In a high-power distance culture , you would probably be much less likely to challenge the decision, to provide an alternative, or to give input. If you are working with people from a high-power distance culture, you may need to take extra care to elicit feedback and involve them in the discussion because their cultural framework may preclude their participation. They may have learned that less powerful people must accept decisions without comment, even if they have a concern or know there is a significant problem. Unless you are sensitive to cultural orientation and power distance, you may lose valuable information.

Individualistic versus Collectivist Cultures

People in individualistic cultures  value individual freedom and personal independence, and cultures always have stories to reflect their values. You may recall the story of Superman, or John McLean in the Diehard series, and note how one person overcomes all obstacles. Through personal ingenuity, in spite of challenges, one person rises successfully to conquer or vanquish those obstacles. Sometimes there is an assist, as in basketball or football, where another person lends a hand, but still the story repeats itself again and again, reflecting the cultural viewpoint.

When Hofstede explored the concepts of individualism and collectivism across diverse cultures (Hofstede, 1982, 2001, 2005), he found that in individualistic cultures like the United States, people perceived their world primarily from their own viewpoint. They perceived themselves as empowered individuals, capable of making their own decisions, and able to make an impact on their own lives.

Cultural viewpoint is not an either/or dichotomy, but rather a continuum or range. You may belong to some communities that express individualistic cultural values, while others place the focus on a collective viewpoint. Collectivist cultures  (Hofstede, 1982), including many in Asia and South America, focus on the needs of the nation, community, family, or group of workers. Ownership and private property is one way to examine this difference. In some cultures, property is almost exclusively private, while others tend toward community ownership. The collectively owned resource returns benefits to the community. Water, for example, has long been viewed as a community resource, much like air, but that has been changing as business and organizations have purchased water rights and gained control over resources. Public lands, such as parks, are often considered public, and individual exploitation of them is restricted. Copper, a metal with a variety of industrial applications, is collectively owned in Chile, with profits deposited in the general government fund. While public and private initiatives exist, the cultural viewpoint is our topic. How does someone raised in a culture that emphasizes the community interact with someone raised in a primarily individualistic culture? How could tensions be expressed and how might interactions be influenced by this point of divergence?

Masculine versus Feminine Orientation

There was a time when many cultures and religions valued a female figurehead, and with the rise of Western cultures we have observed a shift toward a masculine ideal. Each carries with it a set of cultural expectations and norms for gender behavior and gender roles across life, including business.

Hofstede describes the masculine-feminine dichotomy not in terms of whether men or women hold the power in a given culture, but rather the extent to which that culture values certain traits that may be considered masculine or feminine . Thus, “the assertive pole has been called ‘masculine’ and the modest, caring pole ‘feminine.’ The women in feminine countries have the same modest, caring values as the men; in the masculine countries they are somewhat assertive and competitive, but not as much as the men, so that these countries show a gap between men’s values and women’s values” (Hofstede, 2009).

We can observe this difference in where people gather, how they interact, and how they dress. We can see it during business negotiations, where it may make an important difference in the success of the organizations involved. Cultural expectations precede the interaction, so someone who doesn’t match those expectations may experience tension. Business in the United States has a masculine orientation—assertiveness and competition are highly valued. In other cultures, such as Sweden, business values are more attuned to modesty (lack of self-promotion) and taking care of society’s weaker members. This range of difference is one aspect of intercultural communication that requires significant attention when the business communicator enters a new environment.

Uncertainty-Accepting Cultures versus Uncertainty-Rejecting Cultures

When we meet each other for the first time, we often use what we have previously learned to understand our current context. We also do this to reduce our uncertainty. Some cultures, such as the United States and Britain, are highly tolerant of uncertainty , while others go to great lengths to reduce the element of surprise. Cultures in the Arab world, for example, are high in uncertainty avoidance ; they tend to be resistant to change and reluctant to take risks. Whereas a U.S. business negotiator might enthusiastically agree to try a new procedure, the Egyptian counterpart would likely refuse to get involved until all the details are worked out.

Short-Term versus Long-Term Orientation

Do you want your reward right now or can you dedicate yourself to a long-term goal? You may work in a culture whose people value immediate results and grow impatient when those results do not materialize. Geert Hofstede discusses this relationship of time orientation to a culture as a “time horizon,” and it underscores the perspective of the individual within a cultural context. Many countries in Asia, influenced by the teachings of Confucius, value a long-term orientation, whereas other countries, including the United States, have a more short-term approach to life and results. Native American cultures are known for holding a long-term orientation, as illustrated by the proverb attributed to the Iroquois that decisions require contemplation of their impact seven generations removed.

If you work within a culture that has a short-term orientation ,  you may need to place greater emphasis on reciprocation of greetings, gifts, and rewards. For example, if you send a thank-you note the morning after being treated to a business dinner, your host will appreciate your promptness. While there may be a respect for tradition, there is also an emphasis on personal representation and honor, a reflection of identity and integrity. Personal stability and consistency are also valued in a short-term oriented culture, contributing to an overall sense of predictability and familiarity.

Long-term orientation  is often marked by persistence, thrift and frugality, and an order to relationships based on age and status. A sense of shame for the family and community is also observed across generations. What an individual does reflects on the family and is carried by immediate and extended family members.

Time Orientation

Edward T. Hall and Mildred Reed Hall (1987) state that monochronic time-oriented cultures consider one thing at a time, whereas polychronic time-oriented cultures schedule many things at one time, and time is considered in a more fluid sense. In monochromatic time , time is thought of as very linear, interruptions are to be avoided, and everything has its own specific time. Even the multitasker from a monochromatic culture will, for example, recognize the value of work first before play or personal time. The United States, Germany, and Switzerland are often noted as countries that value a monochromatic time orientation.

Polychromatic time  looks a little more complicated, with business and family mixing with dinner and dancing. Greece, Italy, Chile, and Saudi Arabia are countries where one can observe this perception of time; business meetings may be scheduled at a fixed time, but when they actually begin may be another story. Also note that the dinner invitation for 8 p.m. may in reality be more like 9 p.m. If you were to show up on time, you might be the first person to arrive and find that the hosts are not quite ready to receive you.

When in doubt, always ask before the event; many people from polychromatic cultures will be used to foreigner’s tendency to be punctual, even compulsive, about respecting established times for events. The skilled business communicator is aware of this difference and takes steps to anticipate it. The value of time in different cultures is expressed in many ways, and your understanding can help you communicate more effectively.

Review & Reflection Questions

  • Why are diverse teams better at decision-making and problem-solving?
  • What are some of the challenges that multicultural teams face?
  • How might you further cultivate your own cultural intelligence?
  • What are some potential points of divergence between cultures?
  • Brett, J., Behfar, K., Kern, M. (2006, November). Managing multicultural teams. Harvard Business Review .
  • Dodd, C. (1998). Dynamics of intercultural communication (5th ed.). New York, NY: Harper & Row.
  • Earley, P.C., & Mosakowski, E. (2004, October). Cultural intelligence. Harvard Business Review .
  • Hall, M. R., & Hall, E. T. (1987). Hidden differences: Doing business with the Japanese . New York, NY: Doubleday.
  • Hofstede, G. (1982). Culture’s consequences (2nd ed.). Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
  • Hofstede, G. (2001). Culture’s consequences: Comparing values, behaviors, institutions, and organizations across nations (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
  • Hofstede, G. (2005). Cultures and organizations: Software of the mind (2nd ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
  • Lee, Y-T., & Liao, Y. (2015). Cultural competence: Why it matters and how you can acquire it. IESE Insight .
  • Lorenzo, R., Yoigt, N., Schetelig, K., Zawadzki, A., Welpe, I., & Brosi, P. (2017). The mix that matters: Innovation through diversity. Boston Consulting Group.
  • Rock, D., & Grant, H. (2016, November 4). Why diverse teams are smarter . Harvard Business Review .

Author & Attribution

This remix comes from Dr. Jasmine Linabary at Emporia State University. This chapter is also available in her book:  Small Group Communication: Forming and Sustaining Teams.

The sections “How Does Team Diversity Enhance Decision Making and Problem Solving?” and “Challenges and Best Practices for Working with Multicultural Teams” are adapted from Black, J.S., & Bright, D.S. (2019). Organizational behavior. OpenStax. . Access the full chapter for free here . The content is available under a Creative Commons Attribution License 4.0 license .

The section “Digging in Deeper: Divergent Cultural Dimensions” is adapted from “ Divergent Cultural Characteristics ” in Business Communication for Success from the University of Minnesota. The book was adapted from a work produced and distributed under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-SA) by a publisher who has requested that they and the original author not receive attribution. This work is made available under the terms of a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license .

A set of negative group-level processes, including illusions of invulnerability, self-censorship, and pressures to conform, that occur when highly cohesive groups seek concurrence when making a decision.

a culture that emphasize nonverbal communication and indirect communication styles

a culture that emphasizes verbal expression and direct communication styles

a competency and a skill that enables individuals to function effectively in cross-cultural environments

cultures in which people relate to one another more as equals and less as a reflection of dominant or subordinate roles, regardless of their actual formal roles

culture tends to accept power differences, encourage hierarchy, and show respect for rank and authority

cultures that place greater importance on individual freedom and personal independence

cultures that place more value on the needs and goals of the group, family, community or nation

cultures that tend to value assertiveness, and concentrate on material achievements and wealth-building

cultures that tend to value nurturing, care and emotion, and are concerned with the quality of life

cultures with a high tolerance for uncertainty, ambiguity, and risk-taking. The unknown is more openly accepted, and rules and regulations tend to be more lax

cultures with a low tolerance for uncertainty, ambiguity, and risk-taking. The unknown is minimized through strict rules and regulations

focus on the near future, involves delivering short-term success or gratification and places a stronger emphasis on the present than the future

cultures that focus on the future and delaying short-term success or gratification in order to achieve long-term success

an orientation to time is considered highly linear, where interruptions are to be avoided, and everything has its own specific time

an orientation to time where multiple things can be done at once and time is viewed more fluidly

Working in Diverse Teams Copyright © by Cameron W. Piercy, Ph.D. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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The most recent updated version of this chapter is at:

The following content comes from:, learning objectives.

After reading this chapter, you should be able to do the following:

Describe organizational culture and why it is important for an organization. Understand the dimensions that make up a company’s culture. Understand factors that create culture. Understand how to change culture. Understand how organizational culture and ethics relate. Understand cross-cultural differences in organizational culture.

Just like individuals, you can think of organizations as having their own personalities, more typically known as organizational cultures. The opening case illustrates that Nordstrom is a retailer with the foremost value of making customers happy. At Nordstrom, when a customer is unhappy, employees are expected to identify what would make the person satisfied, and then act on it, without necessarily checking with a superior or consulting a lengthy policy book. If they do not, they receive peer pressure and may be made to feel that they let the company down. In other words, this organization seems to have successfully created a service culture. Understanding how culture is created, communicated, and changed will help you be more effective in your organizational life. But first, let’s define organizational culture.

A Nordstrom store

Wikimedia Commons  – CC BY 2.0.

Nordstrom Inc. (NYSE: JWN) is a Seattle-based department store rivaling the likes of Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, and Bloomingdale’s. Nordstrom is a Hall of Fame member of  Fortune  magazine’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” list, including being ranked 34th in 2008. Nordstrom is known for its quality apparel, upscale environment, and generous employee rewards. However, what Nordstrom is most famous for is its delivery of customer service above and beyond the norms of the retail industry. Stories about Nordstrom service abound. For example, according to one story the company confirms, in 1975 Nordstrom moved into a new location that had formerly been a tire store. A customer brought a set of tires into the store to return them. Without a word about the mix-up, the tires were accepted, and the customer was fully refunded the purchase price. In a different story, a customer tried on several pairs of shoes but failed to find the right combination of size and color. As she was about to leave, the clerk called other Nordstrom stores but could only locate the right pair at Macy’s, a nearby competitor. The clerk had Macy’s ship the shoes to the customer’s home at Nordstrom’s expense. In a third story, a customer describes wandering into a Portland, Oregon, Nordstrom looking for an Armani tuxedo for his daughter’s wedding. The sales associate took his measurements just in case one was found. The next day, the customer got a phone call, informing him that the tux was available. When pressed, she revealed that using her connections she found one in New York, had it put on a truck destined to Chicago, and dispatched someone to meet the truck in Chicago at a rest stop. The next day she shipped the tux to the customer’s address, and the customer found that the tux had already been altered for his measurements and was ready to wear. What is even more impressive about this story is that Nordstrom does not sell Armani tuxedos.

How does Nordstrom persist in creating these stories? If you guessed that they have a large number of rules and regulations designed to emphasize quality in customer service, you’d be wrong. In fact, the company gives employees a 5½-inch by 7½-inch card as the employee handbook. On one side of the card, the company welcomes employees to Nordstrom and states that their number one goal is to provide outstanding customer service, and for this they have only one rule. On the other side of the card, the single rule is stated: “Use good judgment in all situations.” By leaving it in the hands of Nordstrom associates, the company seems to have empowered employees who deliver customer service heroics every day.

Based on information from Chatman, J. A., & Eunyoung Cha, S. (2003). Leading by leveraging culture.  California Management Review, 45 , 19–34; McCarthy, P. D., & Spector, R. (2005).  The Nordstrom way to customer service excellence: A handbook for implementing great service in your organization . Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley; Pfeffer, J. (2005). Producing sustainable competitive advantage through the effective management of people.  Academy of Management Executive, 19 , 95–106.

Discussion Questions

  • Describe Nordstrom’s organizational culture.
  • Despite the low wages and long hours that are typical of retail employment, Nordstrom still has the ability to motivate its staff to exhibit exemplary customer service. How might this be explained?
  • What suggestions would you give Nordstrom for maintaining and evolving the organizational culture that has contributed to its success?
  • What type of organizational culture do you view as most important?
  • What attributes of Nordstrom’s culture do you find most appealing?

Understanding Organizational Culture

  • Define organizational culture.
  • Understand why organizational culture is important.
  • Understand the different levels of organizational culture.

What Is Organizational Culture?

Organizational culture   refers to a system of shared assumptions, values, and beliefs that show employees what is appropriate and inappropriate behavior (Chatman & Eunyoung, 2003; Kerr & Slocum Jr., 2005). These values have a strong influence on employee behavior as well as organizational performance. In fact, the term  organizational culture  was made popular in the 1980s when Peters and Waterman’s best-selling book  In Search of Excellence  made the argument that company success could be attributed to an organizational culture that was decisive, customer-oriented, empowering, and people-oriented. Since then, organizational culture has become the subject of numerous research studies, books, and articles. However, organizational culture is still a relatively new concept. In contrast to a topic such as leadership, which has a history spanning several centuries, organizational culture is a young but fast-growing area within organizational behavior.

Geertz (1973) discussed culture as “webs of significance” that people, as symbolic creatures, have collectively spun (pp. 5-6). Pacanowsky and O’Donnell-Trujillo (1983) proposed that researchers should start focusing on the act of spinning . if we focus only on cultural webs, researchers cannot wholly grasp organizational culture, we miss the vital aspect of our agency and contribute to those webs.

Culture is by and large invisible to individuals. Even though it affects all employee behaviors, thinking, and behavioral patterns, individuals tend to become more aware of their organization’s culture when they have the opportunity to compare it to other organizations. If you have worked in multiple organizations, you can attest to this. Maybe the first organization you worked in was a place where employees dressed formally. It was completely inappropriate to question your boss in a meeting; such behaviors would only be acceptable in private. It was important to check your e-mail at night as well as during weekends or else you would face questions on Monday about where you were and whether you were sick. Contrast this company to a second organization where employees dress more casually. You are encouraged to raise issues and question your boss or peers, even in front of clients. What is more important is not to maintain impressions but to arrive at the best solution to any problem. It is widely known that family life is very important, so it is acceptable to leave work a bit early to go to a family event. Additionally, you are not expected to do work at night or over the weekends unless there is a deadline. These two hypothetical organizations illustrate that organizations have different cultures, and culture dictates what is right and what is acceptable behavior as well as what is wrong and unacceptable.

Why Does Organizational Culture Matter?

An organization’s culture may be one of its strongest assets, as well as its biggest liability. In fact, it has been argued that organizations that have a rare and hard-to-imitate organizational culture benefit from it as a competitive advantage (Barney, 1986). In a survey conducted by the management consulting firm Bain & Company in 2007, worldwide business leaders identified corporate culture as important as corporate strategy for business success (Why culture can mean life or death, 2007). This comes as no surprise to many leaders of successful businesses, who are quick to attribute their company’s success to their organization’s culture.

Culture, or shared values within the organization , may be related to increased performance. Researchers found a relationship between organizational cultures and company performance, with respect to success indicators such as revenues, sales volume, market share, and stock prices (Kotter & Heskett, 1992; Marcoulides & Heck, 1993). At the same time, it is important to have a culture that fits with the demands of the company’s environment. To the extent shared values are proper for the company in question, company performance may benefit from culture (Arogyaswamy & Byles, 1987). For example, if a company is in the high-tech industry, having a culture that encourages innovativeness and adaptability will support its performance. However, if a company in the same industry has a culture characterized by stability, a high respect for tradition, and a strong preference for upholding rules and procedures, the company may suffer as a result of its culture. In other words, just as having the “right” culture may be a competitive advantage for an organization, having the “wrong” culture may lead to performance difficulties, may be responsible for organizational failure, and may act as a barrier preventing the company from changing and taking risks.

In addition to having implications for organizational performance,  organizational culture is an effective control mechanism for dictating employee behavior . Culture is in fact a more powerful way of controlling and managing employee behaviors than organizational rules and regulations. When problems are unique, rules tend to be less helpful. Instead, creating a culture of customer service achieves the same result by encouraging employees to think like customers, knowing that the company priorities in this case are clear: Keeping the customer happy is preferable to other concerns such as saving the cost of a refund.

Levels of Organizational Culture

Organizational culture consists of some aspects that are relatively more visible, as well as aspects that may lie below one’s conscious awareness. Organizational culture can be thought of as consisting of three interrelated levels (Schein, 1992).

Organizational culture consists of three levels: Assumptions, Values, and Artifacts

At the deepest level, below our awareness lie basic  assumptions . Assumptions are taken for granted, and they reflect beliefs about human nature and reality. At the second level,  values  exist. Values are shared principles, standards, and goals. Finally, at the surface we have   artifacts , or visible, tangible aspects of organizational culture. For example, in an organization one of the basic assumptions employees and managers share might be that happy employees benefit their organizations. This assumption could translate into values such as social equality, high-quality relationships, and having fun. The artifacts reflecting such values might be an executive “open door” policy, an office layout that includes open spaces and gathering areas equipped with pool tables, and frequent company picnics in the workplace. For example, Alcoa Inc. designed their headquarters to reflect the values of making people more visible and accessible and to promote collaboration (Stegmeier, 2008). In other words, understanding the organization’s culture may start from observing its artifacts: the physical environment, employee interactions, company policies, reward systems, and other observable characteristics. When you are interviewing for a position, observing the physical environment, how people dress, where they relax, and how they talk to others is definitely a good start to understanding the company’s culture. However, simply looking at these tangible aspects is unlikely to give a full picture of the organization. An important chunk of what makes up culture exists below one’s degree of awareness. The values and, at a deeper level, the assumptions that shape the organization’s culture can be uncovered by observing how employees interact and the choices they make, as well as by inquiring about their beliefs and perceptions regarding what is right and appropriate behavior.

Key Takeaway

Organizational culture is a system of shared assumptions, values, and beliefs that help individuals within an organization understand which behaviors are and are not appropriate within an organization. Cultures can be a source of competitive advantage for organizations. Strong organizational cultures can be an organizing as well as a controlling mechanism for organizations. And finally, organizational culture consists of three levels: assumptions, which are below the surface, values, and artifacts.

  • Why do companies need culture?
  • Give an example of an aspect of company culture that is a strength and one that is a weakness.
  • In what ways does culture serve as a controlling mechanism?
  • If assumptions are below the surface, why do they matter?
  • Share examples of artifacts you have noticed at different organizations.

Characteristics of Organizational Culture

  • Understand different dimensions of organizational culture.
  • Understand the strength of culture.
  • Explore subcultures within organizations.

Strength of Culture

A  strong culture  is one that is shared by organizational members (Arogyaswamy & Byles, 1987; Chatman & Eunyoung, 2003). In other words, if most employees in the organization show consensus regarding the values of the company, it is possible to talk about the existence of a strong culture. A culture’s content is more likely to affect the way employees think and behave when the culture in question is strong. For example, cultural values emphasizing customer service will lead to higher quality customer service if there is widespread agreement among employees on the importance of customer service-related values (Schneider, Salvaggio, & Subirats, 2002).

Walt Disney

It is important to realize that a strong culture may act as an asset or liability for the organization, depending on the types of values that are shared. For example, imagine a company with a culture that is strongly outcome oriented. If this value system matches the organizational environment, the company outperforms its competitors. On the other hand, a strong outcome-oriented culture coupled with unethical behaviors and an obsession with quantitative performance indicators may be detrimental to an organization’s effectiveness. An extreme example of this dysfunctional type of strong culture is Enron.

A strong culture may sometimes outperform a weak culture because of the consistency of expectations. In a strong culture, members know what is expected of them, and the culture serves as an effective control mechanism on member behaviors. Research shows that strong cultures lead to more stable corporate performance in stable environments. However, in volatile environments, the advantages of culture strength disappear (Sorensen 2002).

One limitation of a strong culture is the difficulty of changing a strong culture. If an organization with widely shared beliefs decides to adopt a different set of values, unlearning the old values and learning the new ones will be a challenge, because employees will need to adopt new ways of thinking, behaving, and responding to critical events. For example, the Home Depot Inc. had a decentralized, autonomous culture where many business decisions were made using “gut feeling” while ignoring the available data. When Robert Nardelli became CEO of the company in 2000, he decided to change its culture, starting with centralizing many of the decisions that were previously left to individual stores. This initiative met with substantial resistance, and many high-level employees left during his first year. Despite getting financial results such as doubling the sales of the company, many of the changes he made were criticized. He left the company in January 2007 (Charan, 2006; Herman & Wernle, 2007).

A strong culture may also be a liability during a merger. During mergers and acquisitions, companies inevitably experience a clash of cultures, as well as a clash of structures and operating systems. Culture clash becomes more problematic if both parties have unique and strong cultures. For example, during the merger of Daimler AG with Chrysler Motors LLC to create DaimlerChrysler AG, the differing strong cultures of each company acted as a barrier to effective integration. Daimler had a strong engineering culture that was more hierarchical and emphasized routinely working long hours. Daimler employees were used to being part of an elite organization, evidenced by flying first class on all business trips. On the other hand, Chrysler had a sales culture where employees and managers were used to autonomy, working shorter hours, and adhering to budget limits that meant only the elite flew first class. The different ways of thinking and behaving in these two companies introduced a number of unanticipated problems during the integration process (Badrtalei & Bates, 2007; Bower, 2001). Differences in culture may be part of the reason that, in the end, the merger didn’t work out.

Do Organizations Have a Single Culture?

So far, we have assumed that a company has a single culture that is shared throughout the organization. However, you may have realized that this is an oversimplification. In reality there might be multiple cultures within any given organization. For example, people working on the sales floor may experience a different culture from that experienced by people working in the warehouse. A culture that emerges within different departments, branches, or geographic locations is called a  subculture . Subcultures may arise from the personal characteristics of employees and managers, as well as the different conditions under which work is performed. Within the same organization, marketing and manufacturing departments often have different cultures such that the marketing department may emphasize innovativeness, whereas the manufacturing department may have a shared emphasis on detail orientation. In an interesting study, researchers uncovered five different subcultures within a single police organization. These subcultures differed depending on the level of danger involved and the type of background experience the individuals held, including “crime-fighting street professionals” who did what their job required without rigidly following protocol and “anti-military social workers” who felt that most problems could be resolved by talking to the parties involved (Jermier et al., 1991). Research has shown that employee perceptions regarding subcultures were related to employee commitment to the organization (Lok, Westwood, & Crawford, 2005). Therefore, in addition to understanding the broader organization’s values, managers will need to make an effort to understand subculture values to see its impact on workforce behavior and attitudes. Moreover, as an employee, you need to understand the type of subculture in the department where you will work in addition to understanding the company’s overall culture.

Sometimes, a subculture may take the form of a   counterculture . Defined as shared values and beliefs that are in direct opposition to the values of the broader organizational culture (Kerr & Slocum, 2005), countercultures are often shaped around a charismatic leader. For example, within a large bureaucratic organization, an enclave of innovativeness and risk taking may emerge within a single department. A counterculture may be tolerated by the organization as long as it is bringing in results and contributing positively to the effectiveness of the organization. However, its existence may be perceived as a threat to the broader organizational culture. In some cases this may lead to actions that would take away the autonomy of the managers and eliminate the counterculture.

Culture can be understood in terms of seven different culture dimensions, depending on what is most emphasized within the organization. For example, innovative cultures are flexible and adaptable, and they experiment with new ideas, while stable cultures are predictable, rule-oriented, and bureaucratic. Strong cultures can be an asset or a liability for an organization but can be challenging to change. Organizations may have subcultures and countercultures, which can be challenging to manage.

  • Think about an organization you are familiar with. Based on the dimensions of OCP, how would you characterize its culture?
  • Out of the culture dimensions described, which dimension do you think would lead to higher levels of employee satisfaction and retention? Which one would be related to company performance?
  • What are the pros and cons of an outcome-oriented culture?
  • When bureaucracies were first invented they were considered quite innovative. Do you think that different cultures are more or less effective at different points in time and in different industries? Why or why not?
  • Can you imagine an effective use of subcultures within an organization?

Creating and Maintaining Organizational Culture

  • Understand how cultures are created.
  • Learn how to maintain a culture.
  • Recognize organizational culture signs.

How Are Cultures Created?

Where do cultures come from? Understanding this question is important so that you know how they can be changed. An organization’s culture is shaped as the organization faces external and internal challenges and learns how to deal with them. When the organization’s way of doing business provides a successful adaptation to environmental challenges and ensures success, those values are retained. These values and ways of doing business are taught to new members as  the  way to do business (Schein, 1992).

Culture Creation and Maintenance

The factors that are most important in the creation of an organization’s culture include founders’ values, preferences, and industry demands.

How Are Cultures Maintained?

As a company matures, its cultural values are refined and strengthened. The early values of a company’s culture exert influence over its future values. It is possible to think of organizational culture as an organism that protects itself from external forces. Organizational culture determines what types of people are hired by an organization and what types are left out. Moreover, once new employees are hired, the company assimilates new employees and teaches them the way things are done in the organization. We call these processes  attraction-selection-attrition  and  onboarding   processes. We will also examine the role of  leaders  and  reward systems  in shaping and maintaining an organization’s culture. It is important to remember two points: The process of culture creation is in fact more complex and less clean than the name implies. Additionally, the influence of each factor on culture creation is reciprocal. For example, just as leaders may influence what type of values the company has, the culture may also determine what types of behaviors leaders demonstrate.

Attraction-Selection-Attrition (ASA)

Organizational culture is maintained through a process known as attraction-selection-attrition. First, employees are  attracted  to organizations where they will fit in. In other words, different job applicants will find different cultures to be attractive. Someone who has a competitive nature may feel comfortable and prefer to work in a company where interpersonal competition is the norm. Others may prefer to work in a team-oriented workplace. Research shows that employees with different personality traits find different cultures attractive. For example, out of the Big Five personality traits, employees who demonstrate neurotic personalities were less likely to be attracted to innovative cultures, whereas those who had openness to experience were more likely to be attracted to innovative cultures (Judge & Cable, 1997). As a result, individuals will self-select the companies they work for and may stay away from companies that have core values that are radically different from their own.

Of course this process is imperfect, and value similarity is only one reason a candidate might be attracted to a company. There may be other, more powerful attractions such as good benefits. For example, candidates who are potential misfits may still be attracted to Google because of the cool perks associated with being a Google employee. At this point in the process, the second component of the ASA framework prevents them from getting in:  Selection . Just as candidates are looking for places where they will fit in, companies are also looking for people who will fit into their current corporate culture. Many companies are hiring people for fit with their culture, as opposed to fit with a certain job. For example, Southwest Airlines prides itself for hiring employees based on personality and attitude rather than specific job-related skills, which are learned after being hired. This is important for job applicants to know, because in addition to highlighting your job-relevant skills, you will need to discuss why your personality and values match those of the company. Companies use different techniques to weed out candidates who do not fit with corporate values. For example, Google relies on multiple interviews with future peers. By introducing the candidate to several future coworkers and learning what these coworkers think of the candidate, it becomes easier to assess the level of fit. The Container Store Inc. ensures culture fit by hiring among their customers (Arnold, 2007). This way, they can make sure that job candidates are already interested in organizing their lives and understand the company’s commitment to helping customers organize theirs. Companies may also use employee referrals in their recruitment process. By using their current employees as a source of future employees, companies may make sure that the newly hired employees go through a screening process to avoid potential person-culture mismatch.

Even after a company selects people for person-organization fit, there may be new employees who do not fit in. Some candidates may be skillful in impressing recruiters and signal high levels of culture fit even though they do not necessarily share the company’s values. Moreover, recruiters may suffer from perceptual biases and hire some candidates thinking that they fit with the culture even though the actual fit is low. In any event, the organization is going to eventually eliminate candidates who do not fit in through  attrition . Attrition refers to the natural process in which the candidates who do not fit in will leave the company. Research indicates that person-organization misfit is one of the important reasons for employee turnover (Kristof-Brown, Zimmerman, & Johnson, 2005; O’Reilly III, Chatman, & Caldwell, 1991).

Click and Learn More

Texas Instruments Inc. includes a Workplace and Values Check on its Web page for potential applicants to see if they fit Texas Instrument’s culture.

To view this Web site, go to

As a result of the ASA process, the company attracts, selects, and retains people who share its core values. On the other hand, those people who are different in core values will be excluded from the organization either during the hiring process or later on through naturally occurring turnover. Thus, organizational culture will act as a self-defending organism where intrusive elements are kept out. Supporting the existence of such self-protective mechanisms, research shows that organizations demonstrate a certain level of homogeneity regarding personalities and values of organizational members (Giberson, Resick, & Dickson, 2005).

New Employee Onboarding

Another way in which an organization’s values, norms, and behavioral patterns are transmitted to employees is through  onboarding  (also referred to as the  organizational socialization process). Onboarding refers to the process through which new employees learn the attitudes, knowledge, skills, and behaviors required to function effectively within an organization. If an organization can successfully socialize new employees into becoming organizational insiders, new employees feel confident regarding their ability to perform, sense that they will feel accepted by their peers, and understand and share the assumptions, norms, and values that are part of the organization’s culture. This understanding and confidence in turn translate into more effective new employees who perform better and have higher job satisfaction, stronger organizational commitment, and longer tenure within the company (Bauer et al., 2007).

There are many factors that play a role in the successful adjustment of new employees. New employees can engage in several activities to help increase their own chances of success at a new organization. Organizations also engage in different activities, such as implementing orientation programs or matching new employees with mentors, which may facilitate onboarding.

OB Toolbox: You’ve Got a New Job! Now How Do You Get on Board?

  • Gather information . Try to find as much about the company and the job as you can before your first day. After you start working, be a good observer, gather information, and read as much as you can to understand your job and the company. Examine how people are interacting, how they dress, and how they act to avoid behaviors that might indicate to others that you are a misfit.
  • Manage your first impression . First impressions may endure, so make sure that you dress appropriately, are friendly, and communicate your excitement to be a part of the team. Be on your best behavior!
  • Invest in relationship development . The relationships you develop with your manager and with coworkers will be essential for you to adjust to your new job. Take the time to strike up conversations with them. If there are work functions during your early days, make sure not to miss them!
  • Seek feedback . Ask your manager or coworkers how well you are doing and whether you are meeting expectations. Listen to what they are telling you and also listen to what they are not saying. Then, make sure to act upon any suggestions for improvement. Be aware that after seeking feedback, you may create a negative impression if you consistently ignore the feedback you receive.
  • Show success early on . In order to gain the trust of your new manager and colleagues, you may want to establish a history of success early. Volunteer for high-profile projects where you will be able to demonstrate your skills. Alternatively, volunteer for projects that may serve as learning opportunities or that may put you in touch with the key people in the company.

Sources: Adapted from ideas in Couzins, M., & Beagrie, S. (2005, March 1). How to…survive the first six months of a new job.  Personnel Today , 27; Wahlgreen, E. (2002, December 5). Getting up to speed at a new job.  Business Week Online . Retrieved January 29, 2009, from .

Leaders are instrumental in creating and changing an organization’s culture. There is a direct correspondence between a leader’s style and an organization’s culture. For example, when leaders motivate employees through inspiration, corporate culture tends to be more supportive and people oriented. When leaders motivate by making rewards contingent on performance, the corporate culture tends to be more performance oriented and competitive (Sarros, Gray, & Dernsten, 2002). In these and many other ways, what leaders do directly influences the cultures their organizations have.

Part of the leader’s influence over culture is through role modeling. Many studies have suggested that leader behavior, the consistency between organizational policy and leader actions, and leader role modeling determine the degree to which the organization’s culture emphasizes ethics (Driscoll & McKee, 2007). The leader’s own behaviors will signal to employees what is acceptable behavior and what is unacceptable. In an organization in which high-level managers make the effort to involve others in decision making and seek opinions of others, a team-oriented culture is more likely to evolve. By acting as role models, leaders send signals to the organization about the norms and values that are expected to guide the actions of organizational members.

Leaders also shape culture by their reactions to the actions of others around them. For example, do they praise a job well done, or do they praise a favored employee regardless of what was accomplished? How do they react when someone admits to making an honest mistake? What are their priorities? In meetings, what types of questions do they ask? Do they want to know what caused accidents so that they can be prevented, or do they seem more concerned about how much money was lost as a result of an accident? Do they seem outraged when an employee is disrespectful to a coworker, or does their reaction depend on whether they like the harasser? Through their day-to-day actions, leaders shape and maintain an organization’s culture.

Reward Systems

Finally, the company culture is shaped by the type of reward systems used in the organization, and the kinds of behaviors and outcomes it chooses to reward and punish. One relevant element of the reward system is whether the organization rewards behaviors or results. Some companies have reward systems that emphasize intangible elements of performance as well as more easily observable metrics. In these companies, supervisors and peers may evaluate an employee’s performance by assessing the person’s behaviors as well as the results. In such companies, we may expect a culture that is relatively people or team oriented, and employees act as part of a family (Kerr & Slocum, 2005). On the other hand, in companies that purely reward goal achievement, there is a focus on measuring only the results without much regard to the process. In these companies, we might observe outcome-oriented and competitive cultures. Another categorization of reward systems might be whether the organization uses rankings or ratings. In a company where the reward system pits members against one another, where employees are ranked against each other and the lower performers receive long-term or short-term punishments, it would be hard to develop a culture of people orientation and may lead to a competitive culture. On the other hand, evaluation systems that reward employee behavior by comparing them to absolute standards as opposed to comparing employees to each other may pave the way to a team-oriented culture. Whether the organization rewards performance or seniority would also make a difference in culture. When promotions are based on seniority, it would be difficult to establish a culture of outcome orientation. Finally, the types of behaviors that are rewarded or ignored set the tone for the culture. Service-oriented cultures reward, recognize, and publicize exceptional service on the part of their employees. In safety cultures, safety metrics are emphasized and the organization is proud of its low accident ratings. What behaviors are rewarded, which ones are punished, and which are ignored will determine how a company’s culture evolves.

Visual Elements of Organizational Culture

How do you find out about a company’s culture? We emphasized earlier that culture influences the way members of the organization think, behave, and interact with one another. Thus, one way of finding out about a company’s culture is by observing employees or interviewing them. At the same time, culture manifests itself in some visible aspects of the organization’s environment. In this section, we discuss five ways in which culture shows itself to observers and employees.

Mission Statement

A  mission statement  is a statement of purpose, describing who the company is and what it does. Many companies have mission statements, but they do not always reflect the company’s values and its purpose. An effective mission statement is well known by employees, is transmitted to all employees starting from their first day at work, and influences employee behavior.

Not all mission statements are effective, because some are written by public relations specialists and can be found in a company’s Web site, but it does not affect how employees act or behave. In fact, some mission statements reflect who the company wants to be as opposed to who they actually are. If the mission statement does not affect employee behavior on a day-to-day basis, it has little usefulness as a tool for understanding the company’s culture. An oft-cited example of a mission statement that had little impact on how a company operates belongs to Enron. Their missions and values statement began, “As a partner in the communities in which we operate, Enron believes it has a responsibility to conduct itself according to certain basic principles.” Their values statement included such ironic declarations as “We do not tolerate abusive or disrespectful treatment. Ruthlessness, callousness and arrogance don’t belong here” (Kunen, 2002).

A mission statement that is taken seriously and widely communicated may provide insights into the corporate culture. For example, the Mayo Clinic’s mission statement is “The needs of the patient come first.” This mission statement evolved from the founders who are quoted as saying, “The best interest of the patient is the only interest to be considered.” Mayo Clinics have a corporate culture that puts patients first. For example, no incentives are given to physicians based on the number of patients they see. Because doctors are salaried, they have no interest in retaining a patient for themselves and they refer the patient to other doctors when needed (Jarnagin & Slocum, 2007). Wal-Mart Stores Inc. may be another example of a company who lives its mission statement, and therefore its mission statement may give hints about its culture: “Saving people money so they can live better” (Wal-Mart, 2008). In fact, their culture emphasizes thrift and cost control in everything they do. For example, even though most CEOs of large companies in the United States have lavish salaries and showy offices, Wal-Mart’s CEO Michael Duke and other high-level corporate officers work out of modest offices in the company’s headquarters.

Visual Elements of Culture

Rituals  refer to repetitive activities within an organization that have symbolic meaning (Anand, 2005). Usually rituals have their roots in the history of a company’s culture. They create camaraderie and a sense of belonging among employees. They also serve to teach employees corporate values and create identification with the organization. For example, at the cosmetics firm Mary Kay Inc., employees attend award ceremonies recognizing their top salespeople with an award of a new car—traditionally a pink Cadillac. These ceremonies are conducted in large auditoriums where participants wear elaborate evening gowns and sing company songs that create emotional excitement. During this ritual, employees feel a connection to the company culture and its values, such as self-determination, will power, and enthusiasm (Jarnagin & Slocum, 2007). Another example of rituals is the Saturday morning meetings of Wal-Mart. This ritual was first created by the company founder Sam Walton, who used these meetings to discuss which products and practices were doing well and which required adjustment. He was able to use this information to make changes in Wal-Mart’s stores before the start of the week, which gave him a competitive advantage over rival stores who would make their adjustments based on weekly sales figures during the middle of the following week. Today, hundreds of Wal-Mart associates attend the Saturday morning meetings in the Bentonville, Arkansas, headquarters. The meetings, which run from 7:00 to 9:30 a.m., start and end with the Wal-Mart cheer; the agenda includes a discussion of weekly sales figures and merchandising tactics. As a ritual, the meetings help maintain a small-company atmosphere, ensure employee involvement and accountability, communicate a performance orientation, and demonstrate taking quick action (Schlender, 2005; Wal around the world, 2001).

Rules and Policies

Another way in which an observer may find out about a company’s culture is to examine its rules and policies. Companies create rules to determine acceptable and unacceptable behavior, and thus the rules that exist in a company will signal the type of values it has. Policies about issues such as decision making, human resources, and employee privacy reveal what the company values and emphasizes. For example, a company that has a policy such as “all pricing decisions of merchandise will be made at corporate headquarters” is likely to have a centralized culture that is hierarchical, as opposed to decentralized and empowering. Similarly, a company that extends benefits to both part-time and full-time employees, as well as to spouses and domestic partners, signals to employees and observers that it cares about its employees and shows concern for their well-being. By offering employees flexible work hours, sabbaticals, and telecommuting opportunities, a company may communicate its emphasis on work-life balance. The presence or absence of policies on sensitive issues such as English-only rules, bullying or unfair treatment of others, workplace surveillance, open-door policies, sexual harassment, workplace romances, and corporate social responsibility all provide pieces of the puzzle that make up a company’s culture.

Physical Layout

A company’s building, including the layout of employee offices and other work spaces, communicates important messages about a company’s culture. The building architecture may indicate the core values of an organization’s culture. For example, visitors walking into the Nike Inc. campus in Beaverton, Oregon, can witness firsthand some of the distinguishing characteristics of the company’s culture. The campus is set on 74 acres and boasts an artificial lake, walking trails, soccer fields, and cutting-edge fitness centers. The campus functions as a symbol of Nike’s values such as energy, physical fitness, an emphasis on quality, and a competitive orientation. In addition, at fitness centers on the Nike headquarters, only those wearing Nike shoes and apparel are allowed in. This sends a strong signal that loyalty is expected. The company’s devotion to athletes and their winning spirits is manifested in campus buildings named after famous athletes, photos of athletes hanging on the walls, and honorary statues dotting the campus (Capowski, 1993; Collins & Porras, 1996; Labich & Carvell, 1995; Mitchell, 2002). A very different tone awaits visitors to Wal-Mart headquarters, where managers have gray and windowless offices (Berner, 2007). By putting its managers in small offices and avoiding outward signs of flashiness, Wal-Mart does a good job of highlighting its values of economy.

The layout of the office space also is a strong indicator of a company’s culture. A company that has an open layout where high-level managers interact with employees may have a culture of team orientation and egalitarianism, whereas a company where high-level managers have their own floor may indicate a higher level of hierarchy. Microsoft employees tend to have offices with walls and a door, because the culture emphasizes solitude, concentration, and privacy. In contrast, Intel Corporation is famous for its standard cubicles, which reflect its culture of equality. The same value can also be observed in its avoidance of private and reserved parking spots (Clark, 2007). The degree to which playfulness, humor, and fun is part of a company’s culture may be indicated in the office environment. For example, Jive Software boasts a colorful, modern, and comfortable office design. Their break room is equipped with a keg of beer, free snacks and sodas, an XBOX 360, and Nintendo Wii. A casual observation of their work environment sends the message that employees who work there see their work as fun (Jive Software, 2008).

Perhaps the most colorful and effective way in which organizations communicate their culture to new employees and organizational members is through the skillful use of stories. A story can highlight a critical event an organization faced and the collective response to it, or can emphasize a heroic effort of a single employee illustrating the company’s values. The stories usually engage employee emotions and generate employee identification with the company or the heroes of the tale. A compelling story may be a key mechanism through which managers motivate employees by giving their behavior direction and energizing them toward a certain goal (Beslin, 2007). Moreover, stories shared with new employees communicate the company’s history, its values and priorities, and serve the purpose of creating a bond between the new employee and the organization. For example, you may already be familiar with the story of how a scientist at 3M invented Post-it notes. Arthur Fry, a 3M scientist, was using slips of paper to mark the pages of hymns in his church choir, but they kept falling off. He remembered a super-weak adhesive that had been invented in 3M’s labs, and he coated the markers with this adhesive. Thus, the Post-it notes were born. However, marketing surveys for the interest in such a product were weak, and the distributors were not convinced that it had a market. Instead of giving up, Fry distributed samples of the small yellow sticky notes to secretaries throughout his company. Once they tried them, people loved them and asked for more. Word spread, and this led to the ultimate success of the product. As you can see, this story does a great job of describing the core values of a 3M employee: Being innovative by finding unexpected uses for objects, persevering, and being proactive in the face of negative feedback (Higgins & McAllester, 2002).

OB Toolbox: As a Job Candidate, How Would You Find Out If You Are a Good Fit?

  • Do your research . Talking to friends and family members who are familiar with the company, doing an online search for news articles about the company, browsing the company’s Web site, and reading their mission statement would be a good start.
  • Observe the physical environment . Do people work in cubicles or in offices? What is the dress code? What is the building structure? Do employees look happy, tired, or stressed? The answers to these questions are all pieces of the puzzle.
  • Read between the lines . For example, the absence of a lengthy employee handbook or detailed procedures might mean that the company is more flexible and less bureaucratic.
  • How are you treated ? The recruitment process is your first connection to the company. Were you treated with respect? Do they maintain contact with you, or are you being ignored for long stretches at a time?
  • Ask questions . What happened to the previous incumbent of this job? What does it take to be successful in this firm? What would their ideal candidate for the job look like? The answers to these questions will reveal a lot about the way they do business.
  • Listen to your gut . Your feelings about the place in general, and your future manager and coworkers in particular, are important signs that you should not ignore.

Sources: Adapted from ideas in Daniel, L., & Brandon, C. (2006). Finding the right job fit.  HR Magazine ,  51 , 62–67; Sacks, D. (2005). Cracking your next company’s culture.  Fast Company ,  99 , 85–87.

Organization cultures are created by a variety of factors, including founders’ values and preferences, industry demands, and early values, goals, and assumptions. Culture is maintained through attraction-selection-attrition, new employee onboarding, leadership, and organizational reward systems. Signs of a company’s culture include the organization’s mission statement, stories, physical layout, rules and policies, and rituals.

  • Do you think it is a good idea for companies to emphasize person-organization fit when hiring new employees? What advantages and disadvantages do you see when hiring people who fit with company values?
  • What is the influence of company founders on company culture? Give examples based on your personal knowledge.
  • What are the methods companies use to aid with employee onboarding? What is the importance of onboarding for organizations?
  • What type of a company do you feel would be a good fit for you? What type of a culture would be a misfit for you? In your past work experience, were there any moments when you felt that you did not fit with the organization? Why?
  • What is the role of physical layout as an indicator of company culture? What type of a physical layout would you expect from a company that is people oriented? Team oriented? Stable?

Creating Culture Change

  • Explain why culture change may be necessary.
  • Understand the process of culture change.

How Do Cultures Change?

Culture is part of a company’s DNA and is resistant to change efforts. Unfortunately, many organizations may not even realize that their current culture constitutes a barrier against organizational productivity and performance. Changing company culture may be the key to the company turnaround when there is a mismatch between an organization’s values and the demands of its environment.

Certain conditions may help with culture change. For example, if an organization is  experiencing failure  in the short run or is under threat of bankruptcy or an imminent loss of market share, it would be easier to convince managers and employees that culture change is necessary. A company can use such downturns to generate employee commitment to the change effort. However, if the organization has been successful in the past, and if employees do not perceive an urgency necessitating culture change, the change effort will be more challenging. Sometimes the external environment may force an organization to undergo culture change.  Mergers and acquisitions  are another example of an event that changes a company’s culture. In fact, the ability of the two merging companies to harmonize their corporate cultures is often what makes or breaks a merger effort. When Ben & Jerry’s was acquired by Unilever, Ben & Jerry’s had to change parts of its culture while attempting to retain some of its unique aspects. Corporate social responsibility, creativity, and fun remained as parts of the culture. In fact, when Unilever appointed a veteran French executive as the CEO of Ben & Jerry’s in 2000, he was greeted by an Eiffel tower made out of ice cream pints, Edith Piaf songs, and employees wearing berets and dark glasses. At the same time, the company had to become more performance oriented in response to the acquisition. All employees had to keep an eye on the bottom line. For this purpose, they took an accounting and finance course for which they had to operate a lemonade stand (Kiger, 2005). Achieving culture change is challenging, and many companies ultimately fail in this mission. Research and case studies of companies that successfully changed their culture indicate that the following six steps increase the chances of success (Schein, 1990).

Figure 15.12  Six Steps to Culture Change

Six Steps to Culture Change: 1) Create a sense of urgency, 2) Change leaders and other key players, 3) Role model, 4) Train, 5) Change the reward system, 6) Create new stories and symbols

Creating a Sense of Urgency

In order for the change effort to be successful, it is important to communicate the need for change to employees. One way of doing this is to create a sense of urgency on the part of employees and explain to them why changing the fundamental way in which business is done is so important. In successful culture change efforts, leaders communicate with employees and present a case for culture change as the essential element that will lead the company to eventual success. As an example, consider the situation at IBM Corporation in 1993 when Lou Gerstner was brought in as CEO and chairman. After decades of dominating the market for mainframe computers, IBM was rapidly losing market share to competitors, and its efforts to sell personal computers—the original “PC”—were seriously undercut by cheaper “clones.” In the public’s estimation, the name IBM had become associated with obsolescence. Gerstner recalls that the crisis IBM was facing became his ally in changing the organization’s culture. Instead of spreading optimism about the company’s future, he used the crisis at every opportunity to get buy-in from employees (Gerstner, 2002).

Changing Leaders and Other Key Players

A leader’s vision is an important factor that influences how things are done in an organization. Thus, culture change often follows changes at the highest levels of the organization. Moreover, in order to implement the change effort quickly and efficiently, a company may find it helpful to remove managers and other powerful employees who are acting as a barrier to change. Because of political reasons, self interest, or habits, managers may create powerful resistance to change efforts. In such cases, replacing these positions with employees and managers giving visible support to the change effort may increase the likelihood that the change effort succeeds. For example, when Robert Iger replaced Michael Eisner as CEO of the Walt Disney Company, one of the first things he did was to abolish the central planning unit, which was staffed by people close to ex-CEO Eisner. This department was viewed as a barrier to creativity at Disney, and its removal from the company was helpful in ensuring the innovativeness of the company culture (McGregor et al., 2007).

Role Modeling

Role modeling is the process by which employees modify their own beliefs and behaviors to reflect those of the leader (Kark & Dijk, 2007). CEOs can model the behaviors that are expected of employees to change the culture. The ultimate goal is that these behaviors will trickle down to lower level employees. For example, when Robert Iger took over Disney, in order to show his commitment to innovation, he personally became involved in the process of game creation, attended summits of developers, and gave feedback to programmers about the games. Thus, he modeled his engagement in the idea creation process. In contrast, modeling of inappropriate behavior from the top will lead to the same behavior trickling down to lower levels. A recent example of this type of role modeling is the scandal involving Hewlett-Packard Development Company LP board members. In 2006, when board members were suspected of leaking confidential company information to the press, the company’s top-level executives hired a team of security experts to find the source of the leak. The investigators sought the phone records of board members, linking them to journalists. For this purpose, they posed as board members and called phone companies to obtain the itemized home phone records of board members and journalists. When the investigators’ methods came to light, HP’s chairman and four other top executives faced criminal and civil charges. When such behavior is modeled at top levels, it is likely to have an adverse impact on the company culture (Barron, 2007).

Well-crafted training programs may be instrumental in bringing about culture change by teaching employees the new norms and behavioral styles. For example, after the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated upon reentry from a February 2003 mission, NASA decided to change its culture to become more safety sensitive and minimize decision-making errors leading to unsafe behaviors. The change effort included training programs in team processes and cognitive bias awareness. Similarly, when auto repairer Midas International Corporation felt the need to change its culture to be more committed to customers, they developed a training program making employees familiar with customer emotions and helping form better connections with them. Customer reports have been overwhelmingly positive in stores that underwent this training (BST to guide culture change effort at NASA, 2004).

Changing the Reward System

The criteria with which employees are rewarded and punished have a powerful role in determining the cultural values in existence. Switching from a commission-based incentive structure to a straight salary system may be instrumental in bringing about customer focus among sales employees. Moreover, by rewarding employees who embrace the company’s new values and even promoting these employees, organizations can make sure that changes in culture have a lasting impact. If a company wants to develop a team-oriented culture where employees collaborate with each other, methods such as using individual-based incentives may backfire. Instead, distributing bonuses to intact teams might be more successful in bringing about culture change.

Creating New Symbols and Stories

Finally, the success of the culture change effort may be increased by developing new rituals, symbols, and stories. Continental Airlines Inc. is a company that successfully changed its culture to be less bureaucratic and more team oriented in the 1990s. One of the first things management did to show employees that they really meant to abolish many of the detailed procedures the company had and create a culture of empowerment was to burn the heavy 800-page company policy manual in their parking lot. The new manual was only 80 pages. This action symbolized the upcoming changes in the culture and served as a powerful story that circulated among employees. Another early action was the redecorating of waiting areas and repainting of all their planes, again symbolizing the new order of things (Higgins & McAllester, 2004). By replacing the old symbols and stories, the new symbols and stories will help enable the culture change and ensure that the new values are communicated.

Organizations need to change their culture to respond to changing conditions in the environment, to remain competitive, and to avoid complacency or stagnation. Culture change often begins with the creation of a sense of urgency. Next, a change of leaders and other key players may enact change and serve as effective role models of new behavior. Training can also be targeted toward fostering these new behaviors. Reward systems are changed within the organization. Finally, the organization creates new stories and symbols.

  • Can new employees change a company’s culture? If so, how?
  • Are there conditions under which change is not possible? If so, what would such conditions be?
  • Have you ever observed a change process at an organization you were involved with? If so, what worked well and what didn’t?
  • What recommendations would you have for someone considering a major change of culture within their own organization?
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  • Moscato, D. (2005, April). Using technology to get employees on board.  HR Magazine ,  50 , 107–109.
  • Motivation secrets of the 100 best employers. (2003, October).  HR Focus ,  80 , 1–15.
  • Mouawad, J. (2008, November 16). Exxon doesn’t plan on ditching oil.  International Herald Tribune . Retrieved November 16, 2008, from .
  • Nohria, N., Joyce, W., & Roberson, B. (2003, July). What really works.  Harvard Business Review ,  81 , 42–52.
  • O’Reilly, C. A., III, Chatman, J. A., & Caldwell, D. F. (1991). People and organizational culture: A profile comparison approach to assessing person-organization fit.  Academy of Management Journal ,  34 , 487–516.
  • O’Reilly, III, C. A., Chatman, J. A., & Caldwell, D. F. (1991). People and organizational culture: A profile comparison approach to assessing person-organization fit.  Academy of Management Journal ,  34 , 487–516.
  • Probst, G., & Raisch, S. (2005). Organizational crisis: The logic of failure.  Academy of Management Executive ,  19 , 90–105.
  • Rubis, L., Fox, A., Pomeroy, A., Leonard, B., Shea, T. F., Moss, D., Kraft, G., & Overman, S. (2005). 50 for history.  HR Magazine ,  50 , 13, 10–24.
  • Sarros, J. C., Gray, J., & Densten, I. L. (2002). Leadership and its impact on organizational culture.  International Journal of Business Studies ,  10 , 1–26.
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Organizational culture Copyright © by Cameron W. Piercy, Ph.D. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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Campanile accompanies global teams and leaders to their next level of intercultural leadership excellence.

Campanile Programmes

Many organizations have invested time, energy and money in corporate learning, and now they are looking for the next step. Supervisors are too busy to keep the team accountable for using news skills. Specialists struggle to see the connection between training and daily problem-solving. HR or Corporate Learning departments are often caught in the middle.

Problem Solving Teams

Problem Solving Teams is a programme that brings key line managers together to solve real-time project problems with the help of a facilitator. It is the missing link between learning and doing.

What does a typical programme look like?

problem solving teams in organizational behavior

This programme brings teams together to find and implement solutions to real project-related problems. We start by listening to the client's description of their business, the objectives and performance requirements facing the teams in question, their achievements and challenges. Before we set the specific goals for the programme, we conduct individual assessment using personality or behavioural tools, chosen either by the client or by Campanile. Finally, we choose the team(s) participating in the programme and set clear goals for the subsequent problem solving sessions.

problem solving teams in organizational behavior

Problem Solving Teams consists of a workshop, or a series of workshops, where an existing team, such as management team or project team, finds solutions to specific work-related problems and creates an implementation plan. Problems can range from the technical to HR or leadership-related ones. A 4-step problem-solving process guides teams through defining and brainstorming the problem, agreeing on a solution and an implementation plan.  Each activity builds on the results of the previous one, and can be adjusted accordingly.

problem solving teams in organizational behavior

Without proper follow-up, the implementation plan that resulted from workshops becomes a distant memory after six months. We know how busy people are, and therefore we design our projects realistically. From simple reminders to refresher workshops, we offer a dozen ways to turn a single programme into effective and sustainable problem solving. We also work together with our clients to ensure that levels, units and teams within the company support each other's improvement.

The Problem Solving Teams Method

Learn how to:

A detailed analysis of strategy and specific goals

A comprehensive problem-solving methodology of 4 phases

The selection and analysis of problems at current projects

Guidance and feedback from the facilitator to apply PST to the problem

Action points for strategy, processes, client relations and teamwork

Following up on decisions at real project work

Evaluating progress and making improvements at following sessions

Participants share the process with their teams afterwards

What makes Problem Solving Teams effective?

Participants are selected from different teams, levels or even companies.

All d ecisions are made in teams , improving teamwork.

Participants receive feedback on their methods from a skilled facilitator.

The programme solves existing problems using new methods . 

We work together with the client to define the outcome of the programme

We  customise the content of the programme to industry and culture

Participants solve current problems related to sales, production, HR , etc.

We share the experience of previous programmes with participants

The programme follows the reality of company strategy and resources

Our philosophy at Campanile is never to deliver the same programme twice. For customized solutions tailored to your industry and specific needs, contact us .

Previous problem solving workshops

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What Is Organizational Behavior: Jobs, Salaries, Education

Organizational behavior is the study of how people affect and are affected by organizations and systems. Find out what it takes to work in this exciting profession.

[Featured image] Management consultant discussing organizational behavior with employees.

Organizational behavior professionals observe employees to understand and provide insights into the workplace. They note the dynamics between team members, how they behave towards management, and the characteristics of the happiest and most effective members. Understanding these dynamics and their overall effect on an organization helps decision-makers make predictions and plan improvements. 

If you enjoy studying organizational behavior, consider a career path in this field. You can work in almost any industry and find a range of positions, from a trainer and human resources manager to consultant and executive. 

What is organizational behavior?

Organizational behavior is the study of behavior dynamics between individuals and teams. Its theories and practices draw from related fields like anthropology, political science, and sociology and how they apply to a business environment. Researchers and practitioners in the field consider how team dynamics, organizational systems, and leadership styles affect the motivation, productivity, and satisfaction of the people who work there.

Why is organizational behavior important?

Organizational behavior is important because understanding the behavior of the individuals who are part of an organization is often key to making changes. Uncovering what motivates people, what makes them feel supported, and what causes them to be unhappy can be used to make organizational improvements, resulting in many benefits such as the following: 

1. Improved work performance 

Job satisfaction, team dynamics, leadership style, and motivation levels can affect work performance. An organization that has a positive work culture where they feel supported and appreciated is typically desirable for employees. Often this directly correlates to the people they work with, so understanding human dynamics can help businesses build strategies to foster positive relationships and a growth mindset. 

2. Increased employee motivation

Employee motivation is important to ensure high-level productivity rates. This may be linked to management style, organizational structure, incentives, or other factors supervisors can leverage for improvement.

3. Higher job satisfaction

Being happy at work is important to employees but also to employers. Staff turnover rates are low, and sickness levels decrease when employees are satisfied. Factors such as salary, adding value to the company, feeling supported, feeling part of a team, and development opportunities may play a part. 

4. Better customer service

A better understanding of the workforce creates more productive workplaces which can filter down to customers. Analysts at Glassdoor compared employee satisfaction ratings reported on the American Customer Satisfaction Index and found that companies with higher employee satisfaction ratings tend to have higher reports of customer satisfaction [ 1 ]. 

5. Cooperative teams

Knowledge of organizational behavior helps identify situations that cause team conflicts. Managers can use this information to prevent conflicts before they become a problem or lessen their consequences when it breaks out between team members or management.

6. Creative and innovative work environment

Creativity and innovation are key to business growth and development. Happy employees are more creative, and management plays a key role in ensuring employees feel safe and confident to flourish creatively. Organizational behavior can help understand the environment that employees feel free to express creativity so managers can create and maintain it.

7. More effective leadership

Management style directly affects the work environment and company culture. Leaders who know how to empower employees by giving them the freedom they need to do the work that’s best for them tend to build stronger relationships and create productive work environments.

Organizational behavior jobs

You can find organizational behavior jobs in almost any industry with more than one person working within an organization. The following list of organizational behavior jobs and their base average salaries highlights how various jobs in this field can be and how much you can earn.

Business analyst: $76,092 [ 2 ]

Business executives: $59,929 plus bonuses [ 3 ] 

Business consultants: $74,995 [ 4 ]

Human resources manager: $75,170 [ 5 ]

Management consultant: $98,876 [ 6 ]

Training and development managers: $77,496 [ 7 ]

Career outlook

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts a 6 percent growth rate for industrial and organizational psychologists from 2021 to 2031, a rate as fast as the national average [ 8 ]. 

BLS also expects jobs for management analysts to grow by 11 percent by 2031 and for training and development managers to grow by 7 percent [ 9 , 10 ]. These types of jobs also fall into the organizational behavior field. 

Key skills and knowledge for a career in organizational behavior

A career in organizational behavior requires a specific skill set based on transferable workplace skills and technical skills that are used to communicate, analyze and problem-solve. The following skills tend to be common among these professionals.

Analytical and critical thinking: Organizational behavior professionals rely on analytical skills to draw conclusions from data and research solutions to problems. 

Communication : When working with people, it helps to know how to report findings and explain ideas in a way they can understand. This includes verbal and written forms of communication, such as reports, presentations, and emails. 

Data analysis: As an organizational behavior professional, you may collect considerable amounts of quantitative and qualitative data that you must analyze to identify patterns and trends. To do this effectively, you also may need to develop technical skills with a specific program or method.

Negotiation: After you identify areas of growth for a team member or department, you may find yourself negotiating with management to implement the necessary changes so that all parties feel respected and satisfied with the plan.

Organization: Overseeing research, conducting analysis, managing teams, and working with people to create a solution that suits the organization's needs can be a monumental task. To do this, you have to be organized and know how to manage your time.

Problem-solving: Ultimately, organizational behavior is about finding solutions to problems affecting the organization. Your analysis will identify workplace issues that need resolving, and you’ll likely be called on to develop actionable solutions that align with business objectives. 

How to get a job in organizational behavior

To get a job in organizational behavior, you need a combination of education and experience related to the field. Your career path may vary depending on the type of work you want to do and the industries you plan to work in. With this in mind, you can choose the majors and jobs that make the most sense for your career goals.

Earn a degree.

Many people who pursue a career in organizational behavior earn a degree in industrial and organizational psychology. Although you can earn a bachelor's degree in this major, you likely need at least a master's degree to qualify for an entry-level position. You may choose to earn a bachelor's degree in a complementary field, like business , education, or marketing before you begin working on a graduate degree.

You also have the option to continue your education and earn a Ph.D. or PsyD in industrial and organizational psychology. Both degrees can boost your job opportunities and give you a competitive advantage when applying for positions.

Get job experience.

Your job experience in organizational behavior can come from a paid position or internship. You also may decide to transition to the field of organizational behavior after working for several years. This gives you a chance to work in multiple positions within a company or in different businesses, giving you first-hand experience with the systems and roles in place. You can acquire relevant job experience in multiple fields, including human resources, education, marketing, and sales. 

Develop key skills.

You can develop many skills for a career in organizational behavior before you start working in the field. Volunteer work and internships can present opportunities to practice communication, problem-solving, and organizational skills. You also may consider taking courses to learn better ways to communicate, methods for analyzing data, or how to negotiate with others. 

Want to find out more about organizational behavior?

To find out more about organizational behavior, you can explore the topic through a course like Organizational Behavior: How to Manage People from the University of Navarra. Or, you can begin building some of the skills you can use in the field with a course like Removing Barriers to Change from the University of Pennsylvania.

If you’re ready to pursue a career in organizational behavior, you may consider building credentials through a certificate online such as the Organizational Behavior: Know Your People course, offered by Macquarie University. These programs and more are available on Coursera. 

Article sources

Glassdoor. " The Link Between Glassdoor Reviews and Customer Satisfaction ," Accessed November 17, 2022.

Glassdoor. " Business Analyst Salaries ,,16.htm." Accessed November 17, 2022.

Glassdoor. " Business Executives Salaries ,,18.htm." Accessed November 17, 2022.

Glassdoor. " Business Consultant Salaries ,,19.htm." Accessed November 17, 2022.

Glassdoor. " Human Resources Manager Salaries ,,23.htm." Accessed November 17, 2022.

Glassdoor. " Management Consultant Salaries ,,21.htm." Accessed November 17, 2022.

Glassdoor. " Training and Development Manager Salaries ,,32.htm." Accessed November 17, 2022.

US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “ Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics: Industrial Organizational Psychologists ,” Accessed November 17, 2022.

US Bureau of Labor Statistics. " Occupational Outlook Handbook: Management Analysts , Accessed November 17, 2022.

US Bureau of Labor Statistics. " Occupational Outlook Handbook: Training and Development Managers ," Accessed November 17, 2022.

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This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.

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Kinicki, Organizational Behavior 3e  develops students' problem-solving skills through a unique, consistent, integrated 3-step Problem-Solving Approach that lets them immediately put research-based knowledge into practice in their personal and professional lives.  Organizational Behavior 3e  explicitly addresses OB implications for students' core career readiness skills, showing how OB provides them with the higher-level soft skills employers seek, such as problem solving, critical thinking, leadership and decision making. The understanding and application of OB theories and concepts provides tremendous value to students' lives today and throughout their careers.


1. Making OB Work for Me

2. Values and Attitudes

3. Individual Differences and Emotions 

4. Social Perception and Managing Diversity

5. Foundations of Employee Motivation 

6. Performance Management

7. Positive Organizational Behavior


8. Groups and Teams

9. Communication in the Digital Age

10. Managing Conflict and Negotiation

11. Decision Making and Creativity

12. Power, Influence, and Politics 

13. Leadership Effectiveness


14. Organizational Culture, Socialization, and Mentoring

15. Organizational Design, Effectiveness, and Innovation

16. Managing Change and Stress

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Angelo Kinicki

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Is Your Team Solving Problems, or Just Identifying Them?

  • Rebecca Knight

problem solving teams in organizational behavior

Eight ways to encourage your team to think more critically.

Some teams are really good at identifying problems. When colleagues propose new ideas, team members readily ask tough questions and point out risks. But they ought to be providing constructive feedback as well. How can you encourage team members to think more creatively about solving problems? For starters, they need to see you doing it. Be a role model. Say: “We’re going to talk about solutions; I don’t want to hear about obstacles just yet. And I am going to get us started.” Ask others to contribute to the conversation. Be disarming. Make sure they know their ideas need not be perfect. When you encounter skepticism, ask probing questions. What could we do differently? How could risks be mitigated? Simple things like creating a trigger word to remind employees to be solutions-oriented can make a big difference. That way, if the conversation veers off course, colleagues can help get it back on track.

Some teams are really good at spotting potential problems. When colleagues present new ideas or propose new initiatives, team members readily ask tough questions and point out possible risks. But team members ought to provide constructive feedback as well. How can you, the manager, help change the culture on your team from one that’s focused on identifying problems to one that fixes them? How can you set new norms that engender a positive tone? And what’s the best way to reward employees for thinking critically while also making helpful suggestions?

problem solving teams in organizational behavior

  • RK Rebecca Knight is a journalist who writes about all things related to the changing nature of careers and the workplace. Her essays and reported stories have been featured in The Boston Globe, Business Insider, The New York Times, BBC, and The Christian Science Monitor. She was shortlisted as a  Reuters  Institute Fellow at Oxford University in 2023. Earlier in her career, she  spent a decade as an editor and reporter at the Financial Times in New York, London, and Boston.

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  4. Problem Solving using an Organizational Chart UPS by Linda Pittman

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  1. Organizational Behavior Ch.10 (How to measure Team effectiveness Context, Composition)

  2. Understanding Work Teams || Organizational Behaviour || Md. Azim

  3. Building Effective Teams

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  5. The Organizational Grandparents Problem

  6. Intro to problem solving e-learning


  1. The Two Traits of the Best Problem-Solving Teams

    April 02, 2018 hbr staff/the new york public library Summary. An analysis of 150 senior teams showed that the ones who solve problems the fastest tend to be cognitively diverse. But this isn't...

  2. Problem Solving Teams: Creating resilient organisations through

    Problem Solving Teams are temporary structures that bring together leaders and team members from across the organization to focus on solving a specific problem.

  3. Organizational culture

    Organizational culture - Problem Solving in Teams and Groups 13 Organizational culture The following content comes from Organizational Behavior Just like individuals, you can think of teams and organizations as having their own personalities, more typically known as organizational or team cultures .

  4. Types of Teams

    The goal of an administrative team is to problem solve and then "sell" their ideas to the rest of the organization. Their focus could be internal, external, or both, and the team members are usually management level. An example of an administrative team might be a relocation committee that's dedicated to relocating a plant to a new area.

  5. How to Solve Problems

    How to Solve Problems. To bring the best ideas forward, teams must build psychological safety. by. Laura Amico. October 29, 2021. HBR Staff/EschCollection/Getty Images. Teams today aren't just ...

  6. Enhancing the Effectiveness of Work Groups and Teams: A Reflection

    Abstract. Teamwork has been at the core of human accomplishment across the millennia, and it was a focus of social psychological inquiry on small group behavior for nearly half a century. However, as organizations world-wide reorganized work around teams over the past two decades, the nature of teamwork and factors influencing it became a ...

  7. Complex Problem Solving in Teams: The Impact of Collective Orientation

    Introduction. Complex problems in organizational contexts are seldom solved by individuals. Generally, interdependently working teams of experts deal with complex problems (Fiore et al., 2010), which are characterized by element interactivity/ interconnectedness, dynamic developments, non-transparency and multiple, and/or conflicting goals (Dörner et al., 1983; Brehmer, 1992; Funke, 1995).

  8. When to Solve Your Team's Problems, and When to Let Them Sort It Out

    Balance the need to solve the present issue with consideration for how the way it is solved will influence future behavior. And in your desire to be useful and responsive, you might be tempted to ...

  9. PDF Problem Solving in Organizations

    3.3 Problem solving strategies 26 3.4 Theory-informed field problem solving 28 3.5 The application domain of design-oriented and theory-informed problem solving 30 3.6 The nature of field problem solving projects 31 3.7 The basic set-up of a field problem solving project 37 3.8 Characteristics of good field problem solving projects 39

  10. Conflict and Negotiation

    This stage is really the problem-solving and strategy phase. For instance, when management and union negotiate a labor contract, both sides attempt to decide what is most important and what can be bargained away in exchange for these priority needs. Stage 3: Behavior. The third stage in Thomas's model is actual behavior. As a result of the ...

  11. Work Teams in Organizational Behavior

    1. Problem-solving teams: These teams discuss ways of improving quality, efficiency and the work environment. They consist of 8 to 10 members from the same department. The team meets for a few hours each week.

  12. 10.5 Team Diversity

    Additional research on diversity has shown that diverse teams are better at decision-making and problem-solving because they tend to focus more on facts, per the Rock and Grant article. 10 A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology showed that people from diverse backgrounds "might actually alter the behavior of a group's social majority in ways that lead to ...

  13. Working in Diverse Teams

    In this chapter, we will discuss the effects of team diversity on group decision-making and problem-solving, identify best practices and challenges for working in and with multicultural teams, and dig deeper into divergent cultural characteristics that teams may need to navigate. Does Team Diversity Enhance Decision Making and Problem Solving?

  14. 9 Fun Team Problem-Solving Activities

    9 Fun Team Problem-Solving Activities. Problem-solving is the ability to apply critical thinking skills to come up with a solution to a problem. Problems occur daily in the workplace and often, teams need to come up with solutions. The primary goal of problem-solving exercises is to learn how to work together. In this article, we share benefits ...

  15. Problem Solving in Organizations: Skills, Steps & Strategies

    Skills. There are three main skills that good problem solvers have: Listening. Evaluating. Communicating. Listening is more than just sound waves hitting your eardrum; it is more about gaining a ...

  16. Organizational culture

    In addition to having implications for organizational performance, organizational culture is an effective control mechanism for dictating employee behavior. Culture is in fact a more powerful way of controlling and managing employee behaviors than organizational rules and regulations. When problems are unique, rules tend to be less helpful.

  17. Six Characteristics of Problem-Solving Team Leaders

    2. A big part of any leadership role is being able to troubleshoot. It might be strategizing to get a project that has derailed back on track, attracting new business or leveraging technology ...

  18. Types of Teams in the Workplace

    Troubleshooting teams, also known as problem-solving teams, are teams formed within an organization to deal with a problem after it has arisen. Project work teams can be defined as teams created ...

  19. Problem-Solving Activities To Help Promote Team Building

    Problem-solving team-building activities are an effective way to improve team collaboration. The key to making them effective is having well-planned activities. These activities facilitate shared experiences, bringing team members closer together. Here are a few problem-solving team-building activities to try: 1. The collapsing space game.

  20. Problem Solving Teams

    Skills: Problem Solving Teams consists of a workshop, or a series of workshops, where an existing team, such as management team or project team, finds solutions to specific work-related problems and creates an implementation plan. Problems can range from the technical to HR or leadership-related ones. A 4-step problem-solving process guides ...

  21. What Is Organizational Behavior: Jobs, Salaries, Education

    Organizational behavior is the study of how people affect and are affected by organizations and systems. Find out what it takes to work in this exciting profession. Organizational behavior professionals observe employees to understand and provide insights into the workplace. They note the dynamics between team members, how they behave towards ...


    Kinicki, Organizational Behavior 3e develops students' problem-solving skills through a unique, consistent, integrated 3-step Problem-Solving Approach that lets them immediately put research-based knowledge into practice in their personal and professional lives. Organizational Behavior 3e explicitly addresses OB implications for students' core career readiness skills, showing how OB provides ...

  23. Is Your Team Solving Problems, or Just Identifying Them?

    How can you encourage team members to think more creatively about solving problems? For starters, they need to see you doing it. Be a role model. Say: "We're going to talk about solutions; I ...