In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Team Design Characteristics

  • Introduction
  • Situating Design Characteristics within the Broader Teams Literature

Management Team Design Characteristics
Greg L. Stewart, Kameron M. Carter, Thomas H. Ptashnik
  • LAST MODIFIED: 31 July 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846740-0168


Teams are a basic building block of organizations. Over the past twenty-five years, a great deal of research has focused on what can be done to improve team effectiveness. Team design characteristics represent inputs that can be manipulated by organizational leaders and can be grouped into three broad classifications: Team Composition, Team Task Design Characteristics, and Team Leadership. The first team design characteristic—composition—focuses on the attributes of individuals who are team members and is generally captured either as the average standing on a particular trait such as mental ability or as a pattern of a characteristic such as the variability in team member conscientiousness. Teams composed of members with desirable traits generally outperform teams composed of members who do not possess desirable individual characteristics. Members with negative individual characteristics harm cooperation and are often rejected by teammates. The impact of some team members—frequently labeled the strategic core—is, however, greater than the impact of others. Team Member Diversity of individual characteristics also corresponds with team processes and outcomes, although the effect is positive in some instances and negative in others. A particularly difficult methodological issue associated with team composition research concerns missing data that occurs when some team members fail to complete survey measures. The second team design feature—team task characteristics—arises from the work itself and how the team accomplishes its prescribed tasks. Some teams have a high level of collective autonomy whereas others work under strict hierarchical control. Teams vary in interdependence with some operating such that members work together very closely and others allowing members to work primarily as individuals. Differences in reward structure also vary from teams that are rewarded collectively to teams with individual-based rewards that result in some members being rewarded more than others. Moreover, an increasingly important task feature of teams is the degree of virtuality, with some teams interacting primarily face-to-face and others interacting mostly through electronic means. The third team design feature is leadership. Teams are facilitated by Empowering Leadership that encourages the team to collectively lead itself, by Shared Leadership that exists when leadership functions are dispersed throughout the team, and by Transformational Leadership that provides teams with a vision that transcends individual interests.

Situating Design Characteristics within the Broader Teams Literature

Research focusing on teams in organizations is generally grounded in a basic systems perspective that adopts an input-process-output model. For example, Gladstein 1984 proposed a model whereby group composition, structure, and resources operate as inputs that influence group processes such as communication and boundary management, which in turn correspond with outputs such as satisfaction and performance. Ilgen, et al. 2005 expanded the model to focus on inputs-mediators-outputs, with the mediator portion containing not only processes but also emergent states such as cohesion and trust. Although moving somewhat away from an explicit input-process-output model, Mathieu, et al. 2017 described structural features, compositional features, and mediating mechanisms as three construct domains associated with teams research. Cohen and Bailey 1997 adopted a framework similar to the input-process-output perspective with team effectiveness being influenced by internal and external processes related to conflict and communication; group psychosocial traits such as norms and shared mental models (similar to emergent states); and design factors that include group composition, task features, and organizational context. Stewart 2006 adopted the category of design factors as the basis for a meta-analysis that quantitatively summarized relationships with team performance for three categories: group composition, task design, and leadership. Carter, et al. 2019 found a strong upward trend in the number of studies incorporating team design features since 2004, with a total of forty-eight empirical studies being identified in 2016. Research related to team design characteristics, which focuses on the input portion of the classic input-process-output model, is thus rapidly expanding.

  • Carter, Kameron M., Brandon A. Mead, Greg L. Stewart, Jordan D. Nielsen, and Samantha L. Solimeo. “Reviewing Work Team Design Characteristics across Industries: Combining Meta-Analysis and Comprehensive Synthesis.” Small Group Research 50.1 (2019): 138–188.

    DOI: 10.1177/1046496418797431

    A comprehensive meta-analysis focused on team design characteristic and industry context. The number of published studies related to team task design features has increasingly accelerated since 2004. Relationships with team performance are reviewed both quantitatively and qualitatively for Team Composition, task design, and Team Leadership across studies conducted in three broad industrial groupings (high technology, manufacturing, service) and with students. Available online by subscription or purchase.

  • Cohen, Susan G., and Diane E. Bailey. “What Makes Teams Work: Group Effectiveness Research from the Shop Floor to the Executive Suite.” Journal of Management 23.3 (1997): 239–290.

    DOI: 10.1177/014920639702300303

    A comprehensive narrative review of team research. A heuristic model of group effectiveness is developed, and research is reviewed for three types of teams: work and parallel teams, project teams, and management teams. For each type of team, research findings are discussed for relationships between team effectiveness and seven categories: task design, group composition design, organizational context design, environmental factors, internal group processes, external group processes, and group psychosocial traits. Available online by subscription or purchase.

  • Gladstein, Deborah L. “Groups in Context: A Model of Task Group Effectiveness.” Administrative Science Quarterly 29.4 (1984): 499–517.

    DOI: 10.2307/2392936

    Presents a comprehensive model of group effectiveness based on the input-process-output perspective. Support was found for relationships between team input characteristics and processes, as well as self-reported measures of performance outcomes. Inputs and processes were not, however, related to the objective output measure of sales performance. Available online by subscription or purchase.

  • Ilgen, Daniel R., John R. Hollenbeck, Michael Johnson, and Dustin Jundt. “Teams in Organizations: From Input-Process-Output Models to IMOI Models.” Annual Review of Psychology 56.1 (2005): 517–543.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev.psych.56.091103.070250

    Review article that expands the input-process-output model by replacing the process portion with mediators to capture not only processes but also emergent states. The updated model adds an explicit feedback loop such that outputs influence inputs in an episodic manner across time. The model is further expressed in three stages: forming—links between inputs and mediators; functioning—links between mediators and outputs; and finishing—links between outputs and subsequent inputs. Available online by subscription or purchase.

  • Mathieu, John E., John R. Hollenbeck, Daan van Knippenberg, and Daniel R. Ilgen. “A Century of Work Teams in the Journal of Applied Psychology.” Journal of Applied Psychology 102.3 (2017): 452–467.

    DOI: 10.1037/apl0000128

    Chronologically outlines the theoretical advancements in work teams theory published in the Journal of Applied Psychology over the last one hundred years. Group research evolved independently across three schools of thought: individualist-orientation, groupy-orientation, and task contingency. The authors identified three themes as having integrated the work group literature: team tasks and structure, member characteristics and team composition, and team processes and emergent states. Available online by subscription or purchase.

  • Stewart, Greg L. “A Meta-Analytic Review of Relationships between Team Design Features and Team Performance.” Journal of Management 32.1 (2006): 29–54.

    DOI: 10.1177/0149206305277792

    A meta-analysis focused explicitly on team design factors. Relationships with team performance are assessed for group composition, task design, and leadership. For composition, overall desirable member characteristics were found to be more predictive of performance than were measures of Team Member Diversity. For task design, autonomy and interdependence had stronger relationships than task meaningfulness. Both transformational and empowering forms of leadership corresponded with improved performance. Available online by subscription or purchase.

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