Database Essays Team Building

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This report provides a comparative overview of teamwork, based on the European Working Conditions Surveys and 16 national contributions to a questionnaire. It considers how teamwork has developed as a new form of work organisation and takes into account the context at national and company level. The study assesses the positive and negative influence of teamwork on diverse aspects of working conditions, such as job autonomy, job satisfaction, work intensity, productivity and the learning environment. It also investigates the prevalence of teamwork according to various factors including sex, sector and occupation. The national contributions from the following 16 countries are available (as PDF files): Austria, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, SpainSweden and the United Kingdom.

Introduction

Defining teamwork

High performance workplace organisation

Scope of study

Incidence of teamwork

Teamwork and autonomy

Impact of teamwork on learning environment

Job satisfaction

Negative consequences of teamwork

Organisational environment

Conclusion

References

Annex 1: Sample survey questions

Annex 2: Survey sources


Introduction

This study maps the issue of teamwork, as covered by research into working conditions in European countries. First, the report briefly outlines how teamwork has developed and tries to take into account both the national context of individual countries and the context at company level in these countries. It thus addresses how teamwork has been incorporated into companies’ overall organisational strategy. Teamwork in this case is regarded merely as one element of the new forms of work organisation and as an important component of ‘high performance work organisation’ (HPWO).

The study then focuses on certain specific aspects of teamwork. Besides looking at the overall incidence of this type of work organisation in different European countries, the study examines the prevalence of specific forms of teamwork. It considers whether teamwork helps to give workers greater autonomy and higher job satisfaction. Moreover, it ascertains whether the presence of teamwork influences the learning environment in an enterprise. Attention is also paid to the possible negative impacts of teamwork, such as higher work intensity and work overload.

The study draws from the contributions of 16 national correspondents reporting to the European Working Condition Observatory (EWCO) . The national reports are also available: Austria, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom. The information on quantitative and qualitative research from the national correspondents is combined with statistical analysis of data from the European Working Conditions Survey (EWCS) of 2000/2001, which makes it possible to compare the individual participating countries. The third EWCS, from 2000, provides data for the EU15 countries, and the same survey was applied to the 10 new Member States (NMS) and Bulgaria and Romania in 2001, while they were all still acceding and candidate countries (ACC12) for membership to the European Union.


Defining teamwork

It is difficult to arrive at a single definition of teamwork. Several concepts exist and researchers in the field of working conditions differ in their view of what teamwork actually means. Work organisation using teamwork can refer to a wide range of possibilities, such as quality circles, cross-functional teams, self-managing teams or virtual teams. Many employers provide teamwork with varying degrees of autonomy.

The form of teamwork depends on task specificity. According to the definition proposed by Hacker (see below), a distinctive feature of teamwork at the assembly line is successive work actions to assemble different parts of a product. On the other hand, where the goal is to improve the production process, group teamwork is much more about complexity, communication and integrative work (O’Leary-Kelly, 1994). For the purposes of this study, teamwork is understood in a broader context without drawing a distinction between teams and work groups; it thus encompasses the following definitions:

  • team: ‘Groups of employees who have at least some collective tasks and where the team members are authorised to regulate mutually the execution of these collective tasks’ (Delarue, 2003);
  • group work: ‘Group work is defined by a common task requiring interdependent work and successive or integrative action’ (Hacker, 1998).

Cultural differences

The varying cultural context in countries may influence understanding of the term ‘teamwork’, due to different experiences in using the term in everyday language, experiences from a person’s own work, and the influence of the media and public debate. When analysing quantitative surveys in particular, it is not possible to be certain what respondents understand teamwork to mean, especially if the question does not offer a precise definition. Qualitative surveys may then complement this information.

Primarily, different historical experiences emerge in countries of the former western and eastern European country groups. In western European countries, and in particular northern European countries like Sweden, Denmark and also the Netherlands, the concept of teamwork has been in place for decades, experiencing a surge in the 1980s and 1990s. Conversely, in eastern European countries, new forms of work organisation and their influence on company efficiency have only been considered since the start of the 1990s, so their development has thus far been brief. In view of the transformation in key areas of the economy that these countries had to undergo, the implementation of new forms of work organisation was not a central topic for debate: rather, it was and still is a question of implementation at individual company level.

How employees understand the term ‘teamwork’ is linked to the popularity of the topic itself in the country in question. Employees may regard teamwork as any kind of cooperation with colleagues or have a clearer idea of a team that works on a common goal, makes joint decisions on what action to take and takes responsibility for the task.

In Bulgaria, a very broad concept of teamwork exists, which is underlined by the relatively high incidence of teamwork noted within the employee population, at 67%. According to a 2005 qualitative survey on the subject, ‘teamwork is understood as interdependent work in general by both employees and employers. For example, if people are grouped in departments or just work in the same premises, it is reported as teamwork.’

The national correspondent explained that it is also fashionable in Bulgaria nowadays ‘to put in all job advertisements "ability to work in a team" as a requirement for potential job candidates. In this sense, the ability to work in a team is mostly understood as the ability to cooperate and to be friendly and polite, which is an important but insufficient precondition for teamworking.’

Romania is another example of a country where teamwork has a relatively brief history. The interest of specialists and of well-established companies in these issues started to increase only in recent years, as the economy became more stable and developed. Such companies have carried out case studies on teamwork but have not published this information.

Conversely, in countries such as Denmark, Sweden and Finland, teamwork has a relatively long tradition and, at the height of its expansion, numerous studies were conducted. The development of new forms of work organisation, including teamwork, was even supported by government initiatives. This raises the question of whether teamwork has already found its place in the majority of existing companies, at least in part, and whether the trend of organisational restructuring in the form of teamwork is stable. In Denmark, the evidence of trend data supports this hypothesis, showing a decreasing number of companies in which teamwork has been implemented in the last three years. According to the national contribution, ‘in the 2000 survey (SARA - see Annex 2 for an outline of all surveys cited in this report), approximately 34% of the companies surveyed responded that teamwork had been introduced within the previous three years. In 2004, this figure was approximately 26%.’

Similarly, in Sweden the subject of teamwork is much less current and relevant than in the last two decades of the twentieth century, and few new studies focus on teamwork in companies. At least two reasons for this declining interest are possible, according to the national correspondent.

One report talks about Swedish industry not believing in the ‘Swedish model’ (or sociotechnical theory) any more (Engström et al, 2004) and gives examples of several Swedish car production plants going back to regular assembly line production. Another report by Wallace (2003) confirms that workplaces that earlier were pointed out as good examples are now moving away from this way of working.

The second reason proposed by the Swedish national correspondent seems more likely: ‘Teamwork has become a common way of organising and working in Sweden, hence it is nothing new so not as many researchers study it.’

Another methodological question arises as to whether teamwork even exists in small companies. The Dutch report emphasises that ‘about half of the employers/organisations with 10 or fewer employees indicate that teamwork is not applicable’. However, other expert opinions confirm the possibility of teamwork in small companies (Pexová, 2004). The question of whether teamwork exists in small organisations remains open for possible further research.


High performance workplace organisation

The challenge for companies nowadays is to deliver quickly and flexibly new quality products and services, in order to be able to respond to greater and changing demands from clients. Standardisation and specialisation characterise traditional work organisation; the work is divided into different segments, from preparation to support roles, in which workers specialise in order to maximise productivity. Specialisation, control and routine are suitable when a constant demand for standardised products applies. However, for a fast changing demand, this method does not seem to work as well, and may lead to coordination problems and rigidities. Thus, companies started to look for new forms of work organisation (Delarue and De Prins, 2004).

A high performance workplace focuses on increasing people’s influence on the business as well as the impact of processes, methods, the physical environment, and the technology and tools that enhance their work (Burton et al, 2005). HPWO also implements a so-called holistic organisational approach which means featuring flat hierarchical structures, job rotation, self-responsible teams, multi-tasking and a greater involvement of lower-level employees in decision-making. A high performance workplace invests in its human resources and supports both their technical and innovation skills and their social skills; this promotes good interpersonal relationships in the workplace from which the company can also benefit. This type of organisation is different from the Taylorist work organisation, which is characterised by task specialisation, a pyramid hierarchical structure and a centralisation of responsibilities.

The need for new forms of work organisation as a good base for a high performance workplace is considered to be a key element and integral part of the Lisbon Strategy, which set its goal to make the EU economy the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world, capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion by 2010. Since then, this objective has been underlined in several European Council meetings. In 2005, the Presidency conclusions of the Spring Council stated that ‘new forms of work organisation … will contribute to adaptability’ and, in September of that year, the UK European Presidency organised a conference on the theme of high performance workplace organisations.

A core element in new forms of work organisation

While teamwork is considered to be one of the core elements of this new work organisation, different forms can be distinguished, and not all with the same consequences. In fact, wide differences emerge between the forms of new work organisation developed in different countries (Lorenz and Valeyre, 2003). A good overview of these can be found in the report Partners at work? A report to Europe’s policymakers and social partners (Totterdill, Dhondt and Milsome, 2002).

Under the traditional system - the Taylorist model - the work was divided into narrow functions with short, repetitive work cycles and the work method is prescribed in detail. However, as noted, this system does not offer sufficient scope for a process of upgrading and innovation, which is essential for quick change and adaptation. The slowness and relative rigidity of the traditional organisational scheme often earns it the name ‘dinosaur syndrome’. Thus, it was felt important to involve the workers themselves and, in order to be involved, they must have the possibility of exercising judgement, developing social contacts and learning (Green Paper on Partnership for a new organisation of work , European Commission, 1997 - see below under Policy documents). A paper of the European Work Organisation Network (EWON , 1998) also considers that enterprises should use the principles of HPWO - such as self-development and higher commitment of employees - as a competitive advantage.

From the point of view of the dynamics of company organisation, teamwork can be regarded as just one of many elements of organisational change. From the perspective of this study, however, teamwork is a very important HPWO factor, as it directly affects employees and the quality of their working life. It is perhaps for that very reason that it is regarded as one of the most progressive instruments of current company organisational practice.

The work performance of the team is higher than individual performance when the work requires a broader scope of knowledge, judgement and opinion. The advantage of teamwork is significant productivity growth in the spheres that require creative solving of different tasks, a high degree of adaptability and operational management. Teamwork also creates an environment that facilitates knowledge and information exchange and so-called knowledge sharing. Other advantages are the ability of new forms of work organisation to increase the potential for innovation that may add value to products or services, moving them into less price-sensitive markets. Moreover, the ability of new forms of work organisation to increase the employability of workers through multi-skilling and the acquisition of higher competencies in problem solving, communication and teamworking will help labour market adaptation, and also support new forms of local and regional economic growth and regeneration (Totterdill, Dhondt and Milsome, 2002; OECD , 2000). Teamwork could lead to more job autonomy, greater responsibility and higher job satisfaction. Most of the latest studies refer to the positive impact of teamwork on work productivity and company efficiency (Cohen and Ledford, 1994; Employee direct participation in organisational change [ EPOC ] survey, 1998).

Role in organisational change

New forms of work organisation are used by companies to implement strategic decisions that are taken in response to a range of business challenges and pressures (EWON, 1998).

A company’s attitude to the introduction of teamwork is important in the process of implementing and transforming the work organisation into a HPWO. Teamwork is not an answer to all company problems and organisational changes usually require interventions at all levels within an enterprise (Guest, 1995). If a company decides to introduce teamwork, this needs to be integrated into the entire organisational structure of the enterprise and this structure needs to be adapted to the new model; otherwise the effectiveness of teamwork is lost. If certain conditions are upheld, making organisational changes can be expected to have positive impacts, namely improved innovative capacity and operating efficiency, higher quality of output, better mutual relations at the workplace and higher productivity in general.

The principal conditions are sufficient autonomy for teams and direct participation by team members. As Ingrid Dackert (2004) comments, a team must have the right team climate to be innovative and beneficial in its work. Participation in accountability among individual team members and multi-skilling are important preconditions of team effectiveness. In multi-skilled teams, the borders between different job categories are broken down, thereby encouraging employees to broaden their skills and knowledge. There is also a considerable slimming down of the structure and a reduction of functions, which may make it hard for managers to accept some loss of power. Reorganising management functions in a way that creates room for autonomous teams is also an important precondition of increasing productivity.

These assumptions are confirmed by German research conducted by the Sociological Research Institute at the University of Göttingen, which also emphasises the importance of correct and comprehensive implementation of teamwork (Kuhlmann, Sperling and Balzert, 2004). The German study proposes a ‘coherence thesis’, founded on making close links between an organisation’s various dimensions. ‘The key issues are the integration of work organisation and teamwork with the overall company organisation and payment system. Pay and performance determination and different aspects of reorganisation promote a process optimisation that is actively supported by the employees.’

Impact on efficiency and productivity

The primary aim of this study is to measure a company’s productivity in connection with introducing new forms of work organisation through ‘soft indicators’ such as work autonomy, job satisfaction, opportunities for personal and professional development, and level of communication (Campion, Medsker and Higgs, 1993). Therefore, it will try to give an overall picture of the aforementioned trends on the basis of both theoretical and empirical surveys, by means of relevant experiences and studies cited in the contributions by the EWCO national correspondents.

For example, a Spanish study (Galve Górriz and Ortega Lapiedra, 2000) examined the efficiency of two plants of a company in the steel sector which practised two different approaches to teamwork. In Plant A, which did not register any increase in work efficiency, the organisation of work around a production line made the establishment of informal contacts in the workplace impossible. Secondly, teamwork training was only given to senior managers and did not take into consideration the specific needs of each production plant, failing therefore to customise the teamwork structures to the specific characteristics of each plant. Finally, hierarchical organisation within the company tended to weaken the information flow among the different business process levels, and thus diminish performance.

Conversely, Plant B had developed a teamwork structure that showed a high work performance. This result was possible due to use of a combination of Japanese and Swedish production models. Japanese production models are characterised by developing economic and technological aspects based on a flat, flexible and decentralised organisation that enhances a quicker adaptation to market changes. In the case of Swedish models, informal and open communication among workers is used to improve the communication flow within and between the different levels of the company.

A Portuguese study investigating the efficiency of teams in services sector companies emphasises the need for what is known as participation security so that the team functions well and proposes innovative ideas. The study examined 26 teams accounting for 70 individuals in total, who work for seven publicity agencies in the Lisbon region (Curral and Chambel, 1999). It considered both the quality and quantity of teams’ innovative benefits when tackling individual tasks. According to the national correspondent, the results show that:

the innovation in work groups depends on the type of interaction processes occurring. When using the quality and quantity of products and ideas produced by groups as measures of innovation, one may see that the groups which produce innovations of higher quality define their objectives clearly and try to achieve common agreement among all members of the group; they also have means of innovative performance control, processes of evaluation and reformulation of ideas and critical appreciation of opinions and suggestions from the team members. Moreover, these groups also have a climate of high participation security, which allows them to introduce more information necessary to the development of good ideas.

As a further example, it is worth considering the difference in productivity between workplaces where employees are organised in teams and workplaces where employees do not work in teams. In a national Dutch representative survey of labour relations, conducted by TNO Work and Employment, part of the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research (Nederlandse Organisatie voor toegepast-natuurwetenschappelijk onderzoek, TNO ) in 2005, managers appraised the performance of the work organisation using several parameters, including the ability to keep costs low, achieve identified goals within budget, customer satisfaction and product quality. It was found that overall productivity, based on an aggregate productivity scale, did not depend on whether the manager organised the work according to teams. Nevertheless, an assessment of selected performance characteristics does demonstrate certain aspects of teamwork:

Supervisors of teams with a minimum of four and a maximum of 20 persons who work on a product or service together, report more positively about the degree of flexibility of their employees than other supervisors. Flexibility was measured by the extent to which workers can be deployed in different tasks. The supervisors of teams also report somewhat more positively about the extent to which the team develops new products or services, although the association is very weak.

Policy documents

The Green Paper on Partnership for a new organisation of work , issued by the European Commission in 1997, emphasises the need for implementing new work organisation with the aim of increasing work flexibility and the social responsibility of organisations towards employees by enhancing their professional and personal development. New forms of work organisation are also regarded as an essential part of the Lisbon Strategy.

In the European countries under study, teamwork is not currently a topic of wide debate in government documents, as the Dutch contribution mentions.

The topic of implementing new forms of work organisation is hardly a policy issue in the Netherlands today. The standpoint of the government, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment are that this is the responsibility of the social partners, companies and workers … The last governmental initiative in this field of new forms of work organisation and teamwork dates from the mid 1990s. Since then, work organisation and teamwork have had a decentralised, indirect policy interest, mainly through policy on working conditions.

Enterprise-level collective agreements and higher-level collective agreements do not usually address new forms of work organisation or teamwork, nor are new forms of work organisation a priority interest for the vast majority of social partners. The Finnish contribution cites one of the few statements of the social partners on the issue of teamwork. In Finland, it is possible to conclude agreements enabling local workplaces to regulate ways in which teamwork can be established in the enterprise.

The Danish correspondent mentions the concept of ‘developmental work’ (Det Udviklende Arbejde), advanced by the Danish Confederation of Trade Unions (Landsorganisationen i Danmark, LO ) at the beginning of the 1990s.

The concept can be described as a strategy for securing the work environment standards and opportunities for skills and personal development in times of change. Team-based working arrangements were central in the discussion of developmental work. Recently, however, the concept was altered to focus on environmental sustainability and teamwork, in itself, seems to have receded into the background.

Overall, the national contributions cite few references to governmental documents, policies, programmes or social partner agreements discussing the implementation of new forms of work organisation and, in particular, teamwork. This absence of attention to teamwork in official government literature and other documents is most likely because the issue has been sidelined in countries where it was a topical concept in the 1980s and early 1990s.


Scope of study

Perspective of individual employee

According to the majority opinion of specialists in various fields, teamwork should help both to improve company performance and also to boost employees’ well-being (Gulowsen, 1972; Hayes, 2005). Provided that the conditions of autonomous decision-making are in place, with the corresponding powers and responsibilities for assigned tasks, teamwork enhances employees’ interest and motivation, not just in the context of the employee’s work task but also in the context of the corporate strategy as a whole. The key to increased company productivity should be increased employee satisfaction (Moldaschl and Weber, 1998). According to Nicky Hayes (2005), teamwork reduces fluctuations in performance and improves work morale. Leading researchers in the field of work organisation, Katzenbach and Smith (1993), are convinced that people working in a team function more efficiently, are less prone to stress and make a greater effort in their work. Furthermore, they spend less time incapacitated for work, come up with new ideas and try to improve their work.

This comparative analytical report intends to contribute to both specialist and public debate by looking at how teamwork, as one instrument of the modern form of work organisation, could contribute to quality of work and employment, how it is associated with the learning environment in enterprises and how it increases empowerment of workers. As noted above, it will measure the relationship of work productivity and new forms of work organisation indirectly through selected ‘soft indicators’ associated with higher productivity (Figure 1).

In addition, the report considers a subjective appraisal of the effectiveness of teamwork and its impact on the quality of working life of the employees themselves. Employees do not always welcome the introduction of teamwork, as was shown by the following case study of a UK company in the steel industry.

A UK paper, Worker responses to teamworking: Exploring employee attributions of managerial motives (Bacon and Blyton, 2005), revealed, after two years of investigation, that managers benefited disproportionately from teamworking in comparison with other employees. Employees perceived the introduction of teamwork merely as a means for furthering the careers of managers who were successful in its implementation. Many employees also adopted an even more negative view, complaining that teamwork was only introduced for effect, as a result of the company prioritising the claims of shareholders over the interests of employees or as a way of reducing the number of workers in the enterprise.

On the other hand, data from the Quality of Work Life survey in Finland show the opposite trend, whereby the employees themselves believe that productivity improves when work is completed in groups. This belief is stronger in the private sector and in the public sector at local government level than in the public sector at central government level.

For the purposes of this study, internal group dynamics are not examined. The interest is rather focused on the overall impact of teamwork on organisational performance and quality of individual working life. Therefore, issues such as leadership style, leader elections and work organisation within the team and task distribution will not be considered.

Figure 1: Themes and characteristics related to work group effectiveness


Source: Campion, Medsker and Higgs, 1993

National working condition surveys and teamwork

The study also examines teamwork as a subject of research in working conditions in EU Member States. The contributions of the EWCO national correspondents, compiled on the basis of available national research, covered the various topics relating to teamwork in very different ways. Table 1 indicates the aspects of teamwork on which the different national studies focused.

CountryTeam typologyAutonomyJob satisfactionWork intensityLearning environmentWork productivityGood practiceGovernmental documents and initiatives
Austria - - - -
Bulgaria - - -
Czech Republic - -
Denmark - - - - - - -
Estonia - - - - - - -
Finland - -
France - - - - - - -
Germany - - - -
Hungary - - - - - -
Italy - -
Netherlands -
Portugal - - - - - - -
Romania - - - -
Spain
Sweden - - - - - - -
UK - -

Note: A plus ( ) sign was allocated where the topic was at least partly investigated in quantitative or qualitative research, or more fully within a purely qualitative study. The absence of a topic or only a passing mention that the problem was registered in a study is denoted by a minus (-) sign.

Source: EWCO correspondents’ national contributions

The individual aspects of teamwork were often outlined on the basis of both quantitative and qualitative research and case studies. A large volume of information about individual surveys came from secondary sources, as the authors often had no access to primary data and were thus unable to prepare the required data.

Annex 1 outlines numerous sample questions from national surveys, recommending useful questions to gather information about teamwork and its relation to autonomy, work intensity, job satisfaction, the learning environment and work productivity.


Incidence of teamwork

Data from the EWCS 2000/2001, which surveyed the employee population only, provided employees’ subjective assessments of their involvement in teamwork. However, it should be emphasised that, due to a hazily defined and understood concept of teamwork, the data do not give precise information on the extent of this kind of work organisation in each country in question.

The analysis of the incidence of teamwork derives from questions Q.27b.2 (EU15) and Q.24b.2 (ACC12): ‘Does your job involve, or not…? Doing all or part of your work in a team.’

The data are broken down by sex, size of enterprise, occupational activity and sector. The results reveal that the incidence and scope of teamwork cannot be differentiated according to the traditional scheme of old and new EU Member States. Pronounced regional differences emerge between countries; however, unifying criteria such as geographical location or similar political and socioeconomic conditions cannot be determined. The scale of teamwork thus depends more on other characteristics; it may be assumed that the internal company environment is key.

Overall, in the EU15, teamwork is most common in the UK and Ireland, at 80.6% and 76% respectively, while Estonia and Malta are the NMS where employees most commonly work in teams, at 81% and 80.1% respectively. While among the NMS, the lowest incidence of teamwork is found in northern regions, i.e. in Lithuania and Poland, at 38.3% and 54.3% respectively, among the EU15, the southern Member States of Spain and Italy - at 53.9% and 40.9% respectively - are the least likely to use teamwork (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Teamwork incidence in EU (%)


Figure 3: Job rotation incidence in EU (%)


Gender gap

Although it might seem that teamwork should not be gender specific, Figure 4 shows that more men work in teams in most of the countries under study. One major exception in this respect is Romania, where the gender gap in terms of more women being involved in teamwork reached 15.7 percentage points. Women also more commonly worked in teams in countries such as the Netherlands, Sweden, Ireland and Denmark, although the difference between men and women was not statistically significant. Fundamental differences between the sexes and their work organisation were found in Poland (a difference of 15 percentage points), Portugal, Greece and Austria, with more men than women working in teams. It is likely that these countries have more traditional work organisational parameters, particularly in sectors employing mainly women.

Figure 4: Teamwork incidence, by extent of gender gap


The results and indications provided by the national studies make it possible to state that teamwork is equally divided between men and women in countries where there is generally greater gender equality in employment, such as in Scandinavia and the Netherlands. Conversely, southern European Member States, such as Spain and Portugal, have more pronounced differences in terms of teamwork.

The main explanation for the gender differeces in teamwork most likely pertains to sectoral aspects, where women are more concentrated in certain sectors of the economy. Another less likely explanation might consist of the actual composition of teams, where women may be disadvantaged in this regard. Nevertheless, according to a Swedish study (Sandberg, 2004), a mixed gender team composition is considered to only contribute positively to the overall working climate.

Company size

Analysis of teamwork by company size reveals some differentiation according to the ACC12 and EU15 country clusters. While in the majority of the EU15 countries, a statistical correlation was found between company size and teamwork, in the ACC12 the situation was the exact opposite. Among the EU15, the incidence of teamwork did not depend on company size in Austria, Finland, Germany, Ireland, the UK, and Sweden, while in the other nine countries, a correlating effect was found. In the majority of cases, large enterprises with 250 employees or more have a relatively higher proportion of employees working in teams than small companies have (Table 2). Luxembourg and Italy are exceptions: in these countries, an increased incidence of teamwork was found in medium-sized companies, with 50-249 employees.

Conversely, significant statistical differences in teamwork by company size were not found in the majority of the ACC12. Where a statistical correlation was registered, the tendency was similar to that in the EU15: teamwork was more characteristic of large companies.

Company size
0-49 employees50-249 employees250 employees
%%%
Austria 65.0 70.1 72.3
Belgium* 49.8 60.6 64.6
Denmark* 58.5 67.9 76.0
Finland 64.8 66.7 75.2
France* 53.5 64.1 68.5
Germany 53.3 57.4 61.3
Greece* 56.8 67.7 69.7
Ireland 74.1 80.2 77.4
Italy* 37.2 48.3 43.7
Luxembourg* 66.4 81.0 68.1
Netherlands* 66.5 71.7 75.3
Portugal* 56.2 59.2 70.2
Spain* 51.5 57.9 60.9
Sweden 61.7 61.4 60.6
UK 79.0 81.0 85.5
EU15*59.666.169.3
Bulgaria* 63.8 75.9 84.6
Cyprus 66.0 63.9 72.8
Czech Republic 64.0 66.0 59.8
Estonia 80.0 82.9 88.2
Hungary 61.2 50.9 59.8
Latvia 70.8 77.6 72.8
Lithuania 36.7 43.6 46.1
Malta 79.9 83.0 73.5
Poland* 50.9 59.3 62.8
Romania* 63.1 73.8 81.9
Slovakia* 65.2 72.8 78.1
Slovenia 71.8 77.1 74.4
ACC12*60.365.065.5

Note: * Statistically significant differences: probability (p) ≤0.05.

Source: EWCS 2000/2001

Occupation and employment status

Teamwork is directly related to the type and nature of professions. The following analysis clarifies which professions have a high or low incidence of teamwork, according to the International Standard Classification of Occupations (ISCO).

The EU15 countries are typified by a predominance of teamwork among the three highest-level occupation categories, namely legislators and senior officials and managers (75.4%), professionals (66.7%), and technicians and associate professionals (68.9%) (Figure 5). A higher incidence of teamwork is also found among craft and related trades workers (68.2%), while a lower incidence of teamwork prevails among clerks (53.9%), plant and machine operators and assemblers (57.3%), and elementary occupations (52.9%). The results thus indicate that teamwork predominates among highly-skilled jobs with a higher than average degree of autonomy.

The conclusions from the national studies support this finding; in France, for example, according to the 1997 survey of organisational change and computerisation, teamwork is generally characteristic of managerial and planning or design positions with hierarchical or technical responsibilities. In the UK, the nationally representative survey of establishments, WERS 1998, shows that teamworking was least common in workplaces mainly comprising craft and related workers, and operative and assembly workers. Conversely, teamwork was most common among professionals. The Portuguese correspondent also states that teamwork is most frequently found among professionals, technicians and associate professionals, and managers.

Figure 5: Teamwork incidence, by occupation (%)


Notes: 1. Legislators and senior officials and managers; 2. Professionals; 3. Technicians and associate professionals; 4. Clerks; 5. Services workers and sales workers; 6. Skilled agricultural and fishery workers; 7. Craft and related-trades workers; 8. Plant and machine operators and assemblers; 9. Elementary occupations; 10 Armed forces. The low representation of armed forces, legislators (in Luxembourg and Portugal) and skilled agricultural workers means that there may be some bias. Armed forces and skilled agricultural workers are not taken into account when interpreting the data.

Source: EWCS 2000/2001

A similar model is also seen in the ACC12. The only distinct exception is the much lower proportion of employees whose work is organised in team form among services workers, at 48.6%, and the higher proportion of teamworkers among plant and machine operators and assemblers. It may be concluded that, in the ACC12, teamwork is more widespread among blue-collar workers than it is in the EU15.

Sector

The results of the EWCS 2000/2001 show a clear predominance of teamwork in industrial sectors (Table 3). By contrast, teamwork is less frequent in the services sector. Statistically significant differences between sectors were found both in the ACC12 and in the EU15.

Significant differences, at a significance level of probability (p) ≤0.05, were not found in Belgium, Finland, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Spain, Sweden and the UK. Among the ACC12, the same is true for Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Malta, Slovakia and Slovenia.

According to the EWCO data, the Netherlands was the only country with a marked predominance of teamwork in the services sector, at 71.4%. However, the national report, based on data from the 2005 TNO survey of labour relations, shows that teamwork is relatively evenly balanced between the services sector and industrial sectors. Data from the TNO survey draw attention to the predominance of teamwork in the agricultural sector, where 95.5% of employees work in teams; however, this proportion is most likely distorted by the low representation. The 2005 survey only finds substantial differences when using a more detailed classification of economic activity. The highest proportion of employees working in teams of a minimum of four and a maximum of 20 persons, who work on a product or service together in companies with 30 employees or more, can be found in the hotels and restaurants sector, at 82.4%, and in the financial services sector, at 76.2%. The lowest proportions are registered among employees working in the construction industry, at 48.5%, and in business services, at 59.4%.

Sector
Agriculture and fisheryIndustryServices
%%%
Austria* 78.9 72.8 63.1
Belgium

WF: What aspect of academics is Kibin trying to change?

We’re modernizing the college writing center. That means improving the antiquated model—where a student has to go in and see someone face-to-face to get help on an essay—and bringing that experience online. Students can get help for everything ranging from the brainstorming and idea stage of an essay to the final product where they’re looking for someone to proofread spelling, punctuation, grammar, and to give feedback. We provide 24/7, online writing help.

WF: Why is there a need for an online writing center?

Writing has become increasingly important. Having good writing skills is critical. Any job you go into, the need for clear written communication is a necessity, whether you’re doing a writing-focused job like content marketing or not. Blogging is also huge. In this day and age, you just need to know how to write well.

The problem is that writing education is really failing. Students aren’t given enough attention or help. Class sizes are too big. Getting the one-on-one help that they need is just a pain, and they’re too busy. Because writing skills are developed in school and at a younger age , if students don’t get the help then, and they don’t refine their skills then, it becomes very hard to figure out how to write well later in life.

Making that process of getting help more efficient and making more resources available online that are actually good, valuable, and interesting is the challenge we’re trying to overcome.

WF: What sparked this business idea?

I was applying to law school back in 2011, and my personal statement was kind of a mess. I needed to be very specific in what I was trying to communicate. I was having a hard time getting the feedback that I needed from family and friends. When I turned online for help, I just wasn’t finding anything with the feedback aspect that I was looking for. Kibin was born of that frustration with the inability to find the quick help that I was looking for.

We started as a free peer-to-peer model that focused mostly on the feedback portion. We had to eventually pivot out of that to a paid editing service. We’re now realizing that we need to be focusing more on the end-to-end help of essay writing rather than just the final phase of that process. That’s kind of the high level overview of how we’ve gotten to where we are today.

WF: What are the components to Kibin?

Our main revenue driver is our essay editing service, followed by our essay examples database. Our database is our main focus now, though, since it has an extremely scalable growth path. Other hugely important components are our free services, such as our essay help blog and our free thesis statement builder.

WF: How does your target market - students - find out about your services?

Usually, they learn about our services through web searches. There’s two main ways that a student would find us.

The first is when they’re looking for help on a specific essay that they’ve already been given an assignment for. When they search online for essay examples, we’ll pop up as one of the options and they’ll find an essay example that we’ve curated.

The second is when a student is searching for general essay writing help. Maybe they’re struggling with their thesis statement and they Google, “How to write a good thesis statement” and they find our blog which has tons of examples. We get a lot of eyeballs there; a lot of students are looking for help.

WF: How do you acquire users and convert them into customers?

The blog is great in terms of getting views; we’ve had more than 1 million unique views in April. One of our strategies is first passing people to the free thesis statement builder. In the thesis statement builder, you plug in the topic you’re working on. At the end of the builder, we have a call-to-action that says, for instance, “See essay examples on Shakespeare’s Othello.” They click through there and some percentage of those users become customers for the database. We also try to attach them to the essay editing service later down the line.

The other acquisition channel, which is really the biggest driver right now, is just the database content itself. Some portion of that content is indexed by Google. It goes back to the example where the student is typing in, “Essay example on Shakespeare’s Othello.” We pop up specifically with that essay content, and, in order to get access to the full content and the rest of the database, the student would need to pay for the service.

WF: How much revenue is each service generating?

Last year we were heavily weighted on the side of the editing service. We generated about $525,000 out of our total $595,000 in revenue from the editing service. The other $70,000 came from the database. This year we’re really focusing on the database for two reasons: 1) It has a much clearer, scalable growth path, and 2) The recurring revenue nature of this service. We’re on pace to expect about $300,000 from the database and about $650,000 on the essay editing side. Again, there’s room for big growth in the database, and that’s where 100% of our focus is right now.

WF: How often do people use your services?

In terms of people that use the editing service, we see, on average, 1 1/2 usages a month per person. Looking at it from a different angle, 90% of our users are using it twice in a semester.

WF: How many people use your services?

We have about 1,200 paying customers using the essay database on the recurring monthly plan right now. In terms of the essay editing service, in the first quarter of 2016, we had 2,700 customers that used the service.

WF: How do you ensure quality editing service?

We’re actually quite picky with the editors that we hire. We have about a 9-hour editing test that we use to vet potential editors. Then it’s reviewed by somebody internally, and once they’ve gone through and passed all the training material and the tests, we start giving them access to jobs.

We also have regular quality checks to ensure consistency. In between those quality checks we depend on the customers to leave feedback and be the early warning sign when there might be a problem. We do a really good job upfront of vetting people and making sure the quality is high on that side. As a result, we don’t run into a ton of problems in terms of customer complaints.

WF: How do you hire enough editors to meet the 24/7 editing demand?

This is a big barrier to entry when attempting to start an editing service from scratch, and something we really struggled with for the first couple years.

We used to have to run paid campaigns to find editing talent, especially to help our overnight coverage. But we now have the benefit of a diverse, global team, and we’ve been around long enough where we’ve been linked to on popular work-from-home blogs and forums. So all of our editor applicants are inbound now.

WF: What percentage cut do you take from the editing service?

Kibin takes 65%. Editors are able to earn raises and move up pay tiers, but the approximate share for the most committed editor would be about 35%. In terms of hourly rates, new editors tend to earn about $20/hour while our top editors earn $30 or more per hour.

WF: How does pricing for the editing services work?

It depends on two variables: the length of the essay in terms of the word count, and then how fast the customer needs it delivered. All pricing is done on a per-word basis rather than an hourly rate. We’ve found this is the easiest way to help customers understand exactly what the cost will be. The highest cost per word is 5 or 6 cents for the fastest delivery time. Then it goes down to 2 1/2 cents per word if you have the luxury of waiting a little bit longer.

WF: What’s the size of the market?

Every student writes essays. Every single student. Even if you’re a chemistry or physics student, you’re writing lab reports, you’re writing some kind of essay or you’re required to take English 101 at some point in your college career. To me the market is every student.

Today there are about 750 million students worldwide. If you shrink that down to the US, there are about 35 million. I’m talking high school and college level students. Then, I just look at what our annual spend per student is right now. That’s about $110. If you multiply that across the US market alone, that’s about a $3.9 billion market there.

Besides students, we’re also taking a look at businesses, authors, academics, job seekers, etc.

WF: What other markets will Kibin be expanding into?

In the past we’ve done editing for several customer segments including students, businesses, job seekers, academics, and authors. But we’ve found that focusing our efforts on students right now is the most logical thing to do.

Editing has always been the core of our business, and when people think of the core they mistake it for the largest piece. But the core is generally a smaller piece of a much larger whole. Our database business will soon overtake our editing business in terms of revenue. So when I think about expanding outside of students, I think about what segment we could provide editing services to that would also be complemented by a larger, recurring revenue business.

We have some ideas on where to take that, but I think it’s important to note that the student segment itself has the potential to be a billion dollar business on its own.

WF: What does Kibin do that its competitors don’t?

Right now, the biggest person in the essay database space is a company called Study Mode. It’s been around quite a while, but they don’t do the greatest job of really putting together a high quality database. We, on the other hand, are all about quality. Everything we do, from our editing to the content that’s in our database, is about quality. We actually manually review any potential essay submissions for the essay database before publishing anything.

That doesn’t mean that every essay in the database is an A quality essay, or even a B, because I think that there’s definitely value in looking at what makes a bad essay. But every essay has to be something we believe is useful. It’s not just gibberish. It’s not a copy-and-pasted Wikipedia article. It’s something of value. None of our competitors do a great job of really vetting the content of the database to make sure it’s useful.

WF: What’s something that Kibin is trying to implement to make its services better?

One other thing that we focus on, that nobody else does, is improving the ease of discoverability. We want to ensure that customers will be able to find what they need quickly and easily within a database of hundreds of thousands, or even millions of essays. Finding what you’re looking for can be daunting if the database is not organized in a very logical or easy to search manner. That’s a process we’re prioritizing in developing.

WF: What does the growth rate look like?

Our essay database revenue has been growing at an average of 15% month to month for the last 12 months (see slide 8 in deck).

WF: How exactly do you accelerate growth?

Adding essays to the database is one of the easiest ways to accelerate growth. The more essays we have, the more traffic we generate, and the more customers we acquire.

Beyond that, we’ve done very little in terms of optimization. We’re just now testing our first price hike for the essay database, but we’re still priced at literally half of what competitors charge, and we offer a better product. We also haven’t done anything in terms of conversion rate optimization. We have a lot we could do in terms of driving down the cost of our content acquisition, link building, and SEO efforts. So there are a lot of growth levers we can play with to really move the needle. We just haven’t had the bandwidth to do these things yet, which is another thing we’ll be solving with this fundraising round.

Finally, as we start to really optimize the essay database engine, we’ll start looking at our attachment rate to the editing service. Essentially the editing service will be complimentary to the database where we leverage the database customers as our acquisition strategy by cross-selling the editing service.

WF: Are there any risks for Kibin?

There are two main risks: Scaling quickly and our reliance on Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

Right now, we’re adding about 10,000 essays per month to the database. That means we’re manually evaluating those essays for quality, fixing issues, and creating SEO-rich pages for each one. It’s quite the process. And we want to take this up to 100,000 essays per month or more with this fundraising round. Obviously this comes with challenges, but we’ve worked the last six months to put the infrastructure and processes in place to be able to scale.

In terms of our reliance on SEO, it’s something we’re aware of. A Google penalty would really hurt us. That being said, we do not use, and never have used, any black hat SEO or shady link building strategies. We also create long form, educational content on our student essay writing blog that really helps communicate that we’re an authoritative voice in this space.
So while these are both risks, we recognized them early on and have taken adequate steps to mitigate them as best as possible.

WF: What are the main challenges that you’re facing right now?

Our main challenge right now is getting capital to grow the business. This may not seem like a huge challenge, and it isn’t. But you need to understand that we’ve been at this awhile. We’ve shifted the focus of the business twice now in an attempt to find a scalable growth path. We’ve now done that and we simply need to add fuel to the fire.

We’re not looking for product market fit, we’ve found it. We’re not in danger of going out of business, we’re profitable. We’re not trying to figure out our unit economics, we’ve put processes in place to scale profitably over the last 18 months. So our biggest challenge is simply getting more capital to grow at an accelerated rate.

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