Project Management Institute

Team-oriented organizations come in varying shapes and forms

Concerns of Project Managers


Lewis R. “Lew” Ireland, PMI Fellow, Reston, Virginia

There are several names applied to the concept of using teams to prosecute work within organizations. The more common names are “self-directed teams,” “leaderless teams,” “team-centered management,” and “team-oriented management.” All names seem to embrace the concept of forming a team and allowing the team to decide how the work is to be accomplished. Some teams will have “team leaders” who guide the team's efforts, but rely primarily on the team's consensus as to how the work will be done. Other teams have “facilitators” who guide the team's maintenance activities, such as how the team makes decisions, how the team approaches tasks, how the team works together, and how the team conducts meetings. The facilitator does not become involved in performing the task.


Organization implementation of team-oriented work is generally in three different approaches. Organizations may choose total team-oriented implementation, work-level implementation, or vertical implementation through task teams. All three implementation approaches are being used by companies and public organizations at this time.

Total team-oriented implementation involves converting the entire organization into teams. Typically, there are three layers of teams: a management team, support teams, and production teams. The management team is composed of one senior manager and one representative from the support teams. Support teams typically comprise individuals who had formerly been middle managers and functional managers. Production teams are composed of former planners, production workers (skilled technicians and assembly workers), and other blue-collar workers.

Editor's Note: The transition to teams in the workplace has met with success in some companies and failed in others. The successes have their champions of the team-oriented work process while the failures have the detractors to tell all the reasons that team-oriented work processes are flawed because humans do not perform well in a team environment. Both the champions and the detractors focus on the end results of team-oriented work and often do not analyze the process of implementing teams in the work environment. In this guest-written column, Lew Ireland reviews the team-oriented environment, the implementation process, and the work performed by teams to provide a basis for determining whether a team-oriented work process is feasible for an organization.

Paul C. Dinsmore, PMP Feature Editor

The three -layered team-oriented organization is depicted in Figure 1. These overlapping ovals show the “pulling” of individuals from lower-level teams to the higher-level teams. This “pulling” improves the communications between team levels as well as giving the lower-level team members an appreciation for the work of the higher-level team.

Figure 1. Three-Tiered Team-Oriented Organization

Three-Tiered Team-Oriented Organization

An example is a Colorado three-tiered, team-oriented company that manufactures airplane components. This company started in 1992 with a new facility and hired all persons based on their ability to perform within a team environment. The company based pay on skills that the individuals brought with them or learned while on the job. The company established three tiers of teams.

Employee raises are based on skills rather than the typical performance evaluation or an inflation cost-of-living raise. An automatic pay raise was given when an individual demonstrated proficiency in nine new skills from the company's list of skills. No performance rating was rendered and no “manager's” evaluation was required.

Work is performed within a schedule of time: “A” time is two hours a day and is for training in skills; “B” time is two hours a day and is for team planning, organizing, and scheduling work; and “C” time is four hours a day and is for production work. As the workforce matured and gained skills, “A” time was considered excessive. Four hours a day of “C” time for production placed the company in a profitable picture. The apparent need to reduce “A” time, however, provides an opportunity to redistribute the time to either “B” or “C” times, or to both areas.

Unique aspects of the Colorado company's approach is that no one was hired to work as an individual, but all were hired to work within teams. Two individuals unable to work within a team quit. Production time is one-half of the available time and only production work may be conducted during “C” time. All “A” and “B” time activities are oriented toward “C” time production activities. No meeting maybe held during “C” time.


Partial team-oriented implementation involves the forming of teams only at the lowest level of the hierarchal organization, or at the production level, and retaining the senior management positions and the functional staff positions. This partial implementation retains a structure at the levels above production that permits coordination and communication with organizations and agencies external to the organization. It does not, however, take advantage of significant labor savings by streamlining the organization.

Figure 2. Lowest-Level Team-Oriented Organization

Lowest-Level Team-Oriented Organization

An example is an Ohio company that structured team efforts at the lowest level to focus work efforts on completion of a contract that had a tight schedule. Only the production workers were formed in teams and given team missions to perform. Managers and supervisors were specifically excluded from production teams.

The production teams were formed in a relatively short time period and were functioning shortly thereafter. Observers noted that the teams performed the work better than individual efforts. All schedule objectives were met and the contract completed within cost, schedule and performance criteria.

Several issues were identified during the implementation of the teams. Some team members could not adjust to freedom of action because a supervisor had previously directed all work details. Because of the relatively short start-up period and perhaps a lack of team training, these individuals were placed in an environment that significantly differed from the “normal” workplace and typical senior managers' expectations. Supervisors and managers also showed signs of dissatisfaction with the team arrangements because they were not informed of the progress of work.


Parallel organization team-oriented implementation involves retention of the hierarchal organization and establishment of a parallel ghost organization. The hierarchal organization continues to perform the routine functions of the company while the ghost organization, consisting only of teams, addresses important issues. These important issues are not addressed on a timely basis because of conflicting goals within the hierarchal organization.

The parallel team-oriented organization is depicted in Figure 3. The layering of groups of individuals in both the organizations shows the level of issues to be addressed. The lack of connecting lines between the two organizations shows the separation of both work and individuals from the other organization.

An example of the parallel team-oriented organization is a County Government in Virginia. The County recognized a shortfall in overall performance based on using the typical hierarchal approach to managing. There was more emphasis on addressing the “Urgent-Important” and “Urgent-Not Important” work than tant” work. This recognition provided the impetus to form a parallel organization that functions at three levels with self-directed teams to specifically resolve “Not Urgent-Important” issues.

Figure 3. Parallel Team-Oriented Organization

Parallel Team-Oriented Organization

The County Government is currently implementing this parallel team-oriented approach and is training senior managers in the concept. The goal is to hire consultants to teach by example at all team levels. Consultants will be the “facilitators” and advisors to the teams, with specific emphasis on forming and maintaining teams. The teams are to perform the “Not Urgent-Important” work.

The concept has its strengths and weaknesses. First, the major strength is that a team-oriented approach to the important issues should improve the probability of finding solutions to existing problems that are too big to address or problems that span organizational boundaries. The major weakness appears to be that the parallel team-oriented organization has no reward system associated with its work. Only the hierarchal organization has a reward system that recognizes individuals' efforts.


Team-oriented approaches to improving productivity and profit pictures make it an attractive alternative to the hierarchal organization. Implementation of team-oriented approaches is different between new start-up companies and established mature companies. Implementation can include public service organizations as well as profit-oriented companies.

Team-oriented approaches require time to train and indoctrinate the top management, middle management, team members, and other internal company activities. Rapid implementation does not permit individuals to recognize and function to their fullest capability in a role as a team member. Also, it should be recognized that some individuals may not be able to function within a team because of personality, lack of interpersonal skills, or other characteristics that are counter to teamwork.

It appears that more companies are seeking solutions to internal productivity, competitive position, and labor cost reduction through team-oriented adaption. The team- oriented approach to managing, planning, directing, and implementing work may not always be the optimum, but it is consistent in producing results. Overall, companies and public organizations will be looking at team-oriented solutions in new and unique arrangements to solve complex organizational issues in a rapidly changing economic environment.❑


Lewis R. “Lew” Ireland is president of L.R. Ireland Associates, which specializes in project management and total quality consulting. He is also a director of Secure Network Associates, which provides communication services to the U.S. Government, and of the Total Facilities Management Institute, which specializes in training services for the construction industry.

Lew has more than 21 years' experience in planning and implementing projects ranging in value from $6,500 to $178,000,000 for both the public and private sectors. He holds a Ph.D. in business administration from Columbia Pacific University, an M.S. in systems management from Florida Institute of Technology, and a B.S. from Benedictine College. Lew is a PMI Fellow and a recipient of PMI's Person of the Year and Distinguished Contribution awards.

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.

PMNETwork • June 1994



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