Team Structure: Tight Versus Loose Coupling in Task-Oriented Groups

John R. Hollenbeck and Matthias Spitzmuller

in The Oxford Handbook of Organizational Psychology, Volume 2

Published in print July 2012 | ISBN: 9780199928286
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Library of Psychology

 Team Structure: Tight Versus Loose Coupling in Task-Oriented Groups

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By definition, teams are made up of multiple, interdependent individuals. The individuals within a team are separate and holistic units with their own identity, but this interdependence also means that the team is a holistic unit with its own separate identity. The dual set of identities embodied in teams creates an inherent figure versus ground confusion. In this chapter we use the concept of loosely structured systems (Weick, 1976) to help unravel this figure versus ground paradox. We show how the literature has operationalized four specific dimensions of structural interdependence: (a) task allocation structure (horizontal interdependence), (b) decision-making structure (vertical interdependence), (c) reward structure (outcome interdependence), and (d) communication structure (spatial interdependence). The literature reveals that organizations can no longer compete successfully via uncoupled structures, but at the same time, organizations resist the formation of tightly coupled systems. We discuss the virtues and liabilities of each of the four types of interdependence in teams, and describe why loose coupling may be a normative, and not just a descriptive, practice of organizations.

Keywords: team design; team structure; team interdependence; team decision making; teams as loosely coupled systems

Article.  25438 words. 

Subjects: Psychology ; Organizational Psychology ; Social Psychology

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