Teams and Parallel Learning Structures

Introduction of Teams and Parallel Learning Structures

Team building activities are now a way of life for many organizations thus team building assists in the development of group goals and norms that support high productivity and quality of work life.

The parallel learning structures are a vehicle for learning how to change the system and then leading the change process. These structures are a mechanism to facilitate innovation in large bureaucratic organizations where it acts as a generic label to cover interventions.


Employee involvement, teams, and employee empowerment enable people to make decisions about their work. This employee involvement, team-building approach, and employee empowerment increase loyalty and fosters ownership. A fundamental belief in organization development is that work teams are the building blocks of the organization.

A second fundamental belief is that teams must manage their culture, processes, systems and relationships if they are to be attractive.

The noun team has now become a verb teaming and rightly said, self-directed teams. Teams are important for several reasons. They are:

  • Individual behavior is rooted in the socio-cultural norms and values of the work teams.

  • Many tasks are so complex that they cannot be performed by individuals.

  • Teams create synergy.

  • Teams satisfy people’s need for social interaction, status, recognition, and respect.

Team Building of Teams and Parallel Learning Structures

Richard Beckhard, one of the founders of the discipline referred to as organization development gave a systematic framework for the most effective interventions to achieve positive organizational change. Beckhard’s team development model serves as a guide for executives and project managers. There are a variety of situations where new teams are formed.

The project-based, cross-functional work team has become the basis of the industry in the 1990s. Virtual team organization is rapidly becoming the model for flexibility and agility in organizing quickly and effectively to get jobs done. New teams usually have a clear task focus in the early going and there is usually a clear understanding of the short-term goals.

The new team members are also generally technically competent and there usually is a challenge in the project that will draw on their technical capabilities. While the early activities of a team are focused on task and work issues, relationship problems tend to develop as they do in any human system. By the time these interpersonal issues surface the team may be well along in its activities.

The issues may become very difficult and very costly to work out later in the game. There is a significant benefit if a new team takes a short time at the beginning of its life to examine collaboratively how it is going to work together. Beckhard provides a tool to set the stage for the most effective teamwork and high performance. Team Buildings an OD intervention can take many forms.

The most common pattern is beginning with interviews and other preliminary work, followed by a one-to-three-day session. During the meeting, the group diagnoses its function as a unit and plans improvements in its operating procedures. Several OD interventions are specifically designed to improve team performance. Examples are team building, intercrop team building, process consultation, Quality circles, parallel learning structures, and socio-technical system programs.

These interventions apply to formal work teams as well as startup teams, cross-functional teams, temporary teams etc. Team building activities are now a way of life for many organizations teams periodically hold team building meetings; people are trained in group dynamics.

Developing Winning Teams

Every organization uses some kind of formal teamwork to get projects done. Many of them create teams up by giving them a vague, imperfect plan, sending them on their way somehow expecting victory. Even if individual players are talented and creative, teams with firm goals and ways to achieve them alone succeed. Winning teams thrive on the structure that’s created from the bottom up, yet guided by strong, confident leadership from the top of the organization. A good team relationship requires nurturing from a strong leader.

Team Roles

Types of team roles defined by Dr. R. Meredith Belbin based on his studies at a Management College are as follows:

Overall nature of activitiesBerlin rolesDescription
Doing/actingImplementerWell-organized and predictable. Takes basic ideas and makes them work in practice. Can be slow.
ShaperLots of energy and action, challenging others to move forwards. Can be insensitive.
Completer/Finisherr Reliably sees things through to the end, ironing out the wrinkles and ensuring everything. Works well. Can worry too. Much and not trust others.
Thinkingproblem-solvingPlantSolves difficult problems with original and creative ideas. Can be a poor communicator and may ignore details.
Monitor/EvaluatorSees the big picture. Thinks carefully and accurately about things. May lack energy or Ability to inspire others.
SpecialistHas expert knowledge/skills in key areas and will solve many problems here. Can be disinterested in all other areas.
People feelings orientedCoordinatorThe respected leader who helps everyone focus on their task. Can be seen as excessively controlling.
Team workerCares for individuals and the team. Good listener and works to resolve social problems. Can have problems making difficult decisions.
Resource/investigatorExplores new ideas and possibilities with energy and with others. Good net-worker can be too optimistic and lose energy after the initial flush.
Overall functionsBelbin roles
Team worker

Balanced Teams

Teams work best when there is a balance of primary roles’ and when team members know their roles, work to their strengths and actively manage weaknesses. To achieve the best balance, there should be:

  • One coordinator or shaper (not both) for leader

  • A plant to stimulate ideas

  • A Monitor/evaluator to maintain honesty and clarity

  • One or more implementers, team workers, resource investigators or completer/finisher to make things happen

  • Identify types when starting up teams and ensure have a good balance or handle the imbalances.

Communication in Teams

Communication, the most basic of management essentials, is needed to ensure timely feedback and immediate updates in teams. In teams, clarity, frequency and responsiveness are the keys to communication. Most of the communication is nonverbal and the verbal forms used need to be clear and delivered often. Regular meetings in a place or via conference call or other technology are essential for teams.

Team coordinators should keep the agenda. Posted electronically in an area the whole team can access and encourage them to add to it. They should make answering team members’ emails and phone calls a priority.

Although team members hardly need to be affectionate to each other to work well together, some level of personal interaction is crucial for team bonding. Supporting tools that can be obtained inexpensively or for free like telephone and email, instant messaging systems, collaboration software, group bulletin boards or discussion areas and chat rooms are all useful for working and meeting together.

Varying methods of communicating and learning which methods work best for which team members are vital steps. One of the most often neglected pieces to building a team is providing a safe place for interaction and discussion without the manager. Teams need a staff room. Members often develop ideas they might not feel comfortable expressing in public.

Teams need them and if they ignore this need, they eliminate a chance for a free change of ideas. Accomplishments must be acknowledged and celebrated, as a group when possible and appropriate. A periodic newsletter and email with a section in it for accolades, an institution of a Puerto-peer award system, sending greeting cards or gift certificates from websites dedicated to these purposes.

The principles of managing teams well are similar to the principles of managing anybody or anything well.

Characteristics of High Performing Teams Members

  • Share a common purpose/goals

  • Build relationships for trust and respect

  • Balance task and process z Plan thoroughly before acting

  • Involve members in clear problem-solving and decision-making procedures

  • Respect and understand each others’ “diversity”

  • Value synergism and interdependence z Emphasize and support team goals

  • Reward individual performance that supports the team

  • Communicate effectively

  • Practice effective dialogue instead of debate identify and resolve group conflicts

  • Vary levels and intensity of work

  • Provide a balance between work and home

  • Critique the way they work as a team, regularly and consistently

  • Practice continuous improvement

  • Creating a team environment

Practices to Facilitate Development of Teams in Organizations

Organization Development facilitators should enable firms to hire team players by putting all job candidates through demanding office-wide scrutiny. Performance Incentives should be designed in such a manner that they are group-based and performance- appraisals should include team working as a criterion.

Intra-team conflicts should be resolved in the early stages Unresolved conflicts caused due to employees’ mutual bickering can kill office morale and productivity. Organizations are deploying paid ombudsmen to help staffers get along and stifle office conflicts as conflicts often arise in work teams, timely interventions to diffuse tensions and strengthen members’ interpersonal commitment should be introduced.

A good team relationship requires nurturing from a strong leader. Leaders might cling to the idea of success being based on individuals, but the value of a great group must not be ignored by the leader. Effective interpersonal interaction would take place among team players to communicate more effectively.

OD process should result in the development of a comprehensive and sustainable in-house leadership training program that would foster teamwork. The training programs should enable employees to learn how to handle different types of personalities.

Towards the completion phase of team building intervention, team members should be capable of avoiding reciprocal rudeness and maintenance of unconditional politeness, escaping the trap of cliques.

Prevention of polarization of members into opposing factions, perpetrating the value of teams, overcoming the phenomenon of groupthink which occurs out of excessive term and for unanimity and illusion of invulnerability of the group, understanding the power of group synergy and social-facilitation in raising an organization’s productivity are quintessential qualities of the members of winning teams.

Path to Team Building Success

How to create effective teams, teamwork, and team building is a challenge in every organization. Work environments tend to foster rugged individuals working on personal goals for personal gain.

Typically, reward, recognition, and pay systems single out the achievements of individual employees. Appraisal, performance management, and goal-setting systems most frequently focus on individual goals and progress, not on team building. Promotions and additional authority are also bestowed on individuals.

Here is the information you need to develop teamwork and effective work teams in your organization which includes:

Employee Empowerment

Employee empowerment is a strategy and philosophy that enables employees to make decisions about their jobs. Employee empowerment helps employees own their work and take responsibility for their results. Employee empowerment helps employees serve customers at the level of the organization where the customer interface exists.

Employee Involvement

Employee involvement is creating an environment in which people have an impact on decisions and actions that affect their jobs. Employee involvement is not the goal nor is it a tool, as practiced in many organizations. Employee involvement is a management and leadership philosophy about how people are enabled to contribute to continuous improvement and the ongoing success of their organization.

Positive Work Relationships

A positive relationship with the team, supervisor, manager, customer, or coworker, at the work place, helps in building effective teams.

Parallel Learning Structures

Parallel learning structures coexist with formal bureaucratic structures. They show great promise as a techno-structural intervention to compensate for bureaucratic organizations’ inability to learn and adapt. A number of their applications are briefly reviewed. System-transforming innovations create the need for change in the very nature of the organizations in which they are implemented.

Parallel structures help people break free of the normal constraints imposed by the organization, engage in genuine inquiry and experimentation, and initiate needed changes. We believe parallel learning structures are a foundation of OD because they are prevalent in many OD programs. Parallel learning structures are often the best way to initiate change in large bureaucratic organizations’ method of work culture.

When to Use it

  • To develop and implement organization-wide innovations.

  • To foster innovation and creativity within a bureaucratic system.

  • To support the exchange of knowledge and expertise among performers.

  • To capture the organization’s collective expertise.

How to Use it

  • Look for existing, informal exchanges that naturally occur among staff members.

  • Have interested parties convene and develop a mission statement or list the outcomes.

  • Determine what support (e.g., time, facilities, and technology) would facilitate the information exchange and learning.

  • Publicize when and where the exchanges take place.

  • Establish a process for organizing and recording corporate knowledge.

Relationship to other Learning Strategies

As described below, learning strategies are often used in combination with one another or may be closely linked to one another.

  • Learning Groups (Teams)

    Learning Groups are formed for the specific purpose of gaining individual knowledge and expertise in a particular area. In contrast, Parallel Learning Structures focus on organizational learning rather than individual learning.

Xerox Corporation

Xerox found that its technical representatives (tech reps) often made it a point to spend time not with customers but with each other. The tech reps would gather in common areas (the local parts warehouse or coffee pot) and swap stories from the field. Rather than trying to discourage this practice to improve productivity, Xerox decided to formalize the knowledge exchange.

These technicians were knowledge workers in the truest sense. The tech reps were not just repairing machines; they were also co-producing insights about how to repair machines better. Rich knowledge transfer took place through these conversations that were not a step in any formal “business process” or a box in any official “org chart.”

So Xerox turned conventional wisdom on its head. Rather than eliminate the informal conversations in pursuit of corporate efficiency, the corporation decided to expand them in the name of learning and innovation. Xerox uses a system called Eureka. Eureka is an electronic “knowledge refinery” that organizes and categorizes a database of tips generated by the field staff. Technically, Eureka is a relational database of hypertext documents.

In practice, it’s an electronic version of war stories told around the coffee pot. Eureka has the added benefits of institutional memory, expert validation, and a search engine. Eureka operates as a free-flowing knowledge democracy; much like the natural, informal collaborations among tech reps. the system relies on voluntary information exchanges.

All tech reps, regardless of rank, can submit a tip, but they are neither required to nor are they explicitly rewarded. In Eureka, the incentive is to be a good colleague, and to contribute and receive knowledge as a member of the community.


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