Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Team Unbound: The Theoretical, Methodological, and Managerial Implications of Fluid and Multiplex Boundaries in Teams
INSEAD Working Paper 2012/95/OB revised version of 2012/02/OB

The dynamism, competitiveness, and scope of work forces organizations to utilize teams with boundaries that are both fluid and multiplex – traits which are frequently not reflected in the way in which we characterize teams in our thinking and theorizing. I explore a critical difference between these two characterizations of teams: their boundedness. I suggest that to address the issues that arise when theories based on well-bounded teams are applied to unbounded- or weakly-bounded teams, we would benefit from considering boundedness not as a definitional element of the team, but as a dimension along which teams can and often do vary. Importantly, this implies three shifts in our thinking: from approaching and differentiating teams on the basis of their membership to doing so on the basis of their task, from viewing teams as stable entities to viewing them as states in an ongoing process, and from viewing them as selfcontained to viewing them as inextricably linked to the broader social system in which they are situated. I discuss the benefits and costs of changing how we think about teams, compare this proposed shift with other approaches to rethinking the construct of “team,” and provide guidelines for making this transition.