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The Team Concept in Public Administration

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization. 

By Peter Melan
March 11, 2019

Teams are an excellent concept to embrace given the enormity of their success in the public sector. When members are brought together who are of complimentary talent, motivation and creativity, the organization will be able to utilize that skill set to resolve problems and complex tasks. Creativity is enhanced when members of the team are focusing on the presented problem. Each member of the team also participates in the discussion that allows for a detailed understanding of the issue in addition to contributing to the decision. Another effect of a team is the concept of reinforcement, where if a team member may fall behind or lack motivation, it is incumbent on the other members to help that individual remain a vital asset and contribute to the task. c Additionally, risk enters into the team concept as it is equally distributed amongst the members as opposed to being placed on a single individual.

Several types of teams are found in the workplace. The first type is the top management team. This team is the leadership of the organization, the highest level where the most critical decisions are made and enforced. Top management teams are usually comprised of the highest elected official or administrator-type position that the governing body chooses to lead. These individuals are the goal setters, who see how the organization should be and are focused on the system as a whole and not individually assessed.

The second type of team is the project team. This team is chosen by the top management team and is given specific tasks to complete. They focus on solving complex problems and are immediately dissolved once the solution has been recommended. The project team is not tasked with actually performing the work, but rather are the ones who create the solution.

The third type of team is the cross-functional team. This type of team takes into consideration members from different sections of the organization in order to solve a problem. There are no divisions or walls between these individuals who are tasked with coming together to effectively resolve an issue. Although some of the members may not be well-versed in the issue that requires resolution, offering an opinion on how any change could impact a separate department, whether intentionally or not, and having that additional dialogue may prevent any unintended consequence of the decision or policy change.

The fourth type of team is the process improvement team. This team is brought together to improve a defective or ineffective work process that is no longer viable. One of the important aspects of this team is to ensure the right individuals are chosen in order to fulfill the ultimate goal of rectifying the issue presented. Having someone who is resistant to change could be counterproductive. This becomes more of an interruption than an asset. Having a person who is negative and does not wish to participate adversely affects the team concept and why the team’s purpose was originally conceived.

The fifth type of team is a self-directed team. Self-directed teams are given tasks that are completed within their discretion. These teams have minimal oversight from leadership. This definition may seem overly independent and free-willing. However there is a requirement for leadership to intervene, not to micromanage, but to ensure progress is being made. The team must have a defined set of goals and timelines in order to report the findings to management. That may require intermittent updates since the concept of this team is to be self-directed and able to work independently.

The sixth and final type of team is a virtual team. This type of team has become increasingly popular due to advancements in technology, trust and independence. There is a strong reliance on trust when it comes to a virtual team since the individual is not under any direct supervision and is allowed to telecommute or have alternative working conditions. This type of team is highly effective when it comes to rewarding individuals who may seek accommodations that are not financial and could be used to entice additional work output that may not be normally accomplished from the traditional organizational environment. Goals and policies must be set in this type of team to avoid any abuse of the concept, which is possible given a lack of direct supervision.

Team effectiveness can be measured using a variety of milestones and goals that are clearly conveyed. A team was put together in order to accomplish a given task, such as solving a complex problem. The members were chosen by leadership with the intent of bringing these individuals together for a specific reason. They were chosen due to a specific talent, prior project success or expert knowledge in the field. One particular measure of success is to create certain timelines with deliverables that are documented and frequently managed. With all members of the team who are aware of their objectives, success for the entire group is attainable.


Author:Peter Melan is an at-large councilperson in the City of Easton, PA and the chair of public safety. He is in his first year of graduate studies in Public Administration at Ohio University. Peter is known for his creativity in solving problems using non-traditional methods, and for his experience in project management and data analytics.

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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