Friday, 22 April 2011

Team management - some recent insights

I really relate to this topic and think it has been underestimated in its importance for managing successful projects. The team composition has changed significantly over a decade or more, as well as the communication channels with team members, and it follows that management practices should change too. What, if anything, does the present research find for us?

I have taken a different tack this time by only looking at some of the latest scholarly findings. Yes, there is still a gulf between the academic and business world, but they do have one thing we don't have: time to research. They have a different approach to communicating findings too - there is an academic vernacular - I wonder if that's been the topic of research! However, their insights do make you think and that in itself is worth a lot. Get your 'little grey cells ready' for an onslaught!

There's a summary of an article, Effective Leader-Employee Relationships in the 21st Century, by Edwin L. Mourino-Ruiz, as part of the 2010 Pfeiffer Annual: Consulting book edited by Elaine Biech, in Google Books.

Edwin cites good LMX (Leader-Member Exchange) as a concept linked to the positive and fruitful exchange of communication between a manager and employee. This builds up trust and commitment from the employee. Poor exchange, because of difference in personality etc., has a less fruitful outcome: it's like a self-fulfilling prophesy syndrome. We can relate to that. Not everyone gets on with everyone else. The theory grew from research 25 years ago from Graen and Uhl-Bien (1995) and has been built on since. It's a concept that you may come across in some training courses. But with the increase in virtual teams - yes, we've seen that - positive communication patterns, the building of trust and commitment become harder. Current researchers find that although technology increases the forms of communication it also allows for more miscommunication; citing the lack of non-verbal clues, the predominance of written communication and cross-cultural differences as factors. So, organisations with virtual teams are given the advice to recognise five challenges: building trust, cohesion, team identity, balancing interpersonal and technical skills, and recognising the performance of the virtual team members. (Kirkman, Rosen, Gibson, Tesluk and McPherson 2002). Notice that trust is number 1 on the list, hence the linking back to the earlier research about LMX!

Trust surfaces again in another article from a collection of symposium presentations 2010 - SIGMIS-CPR '10. Here, Mary Summer and Judith Molka-Danielsen take a look at Global teams and project success. Their tips are:
... that team commitment, trust, and team processes played a more important role than cultural differences in the effectiveness of the global IT teams.
Find the summary and access to the full article at: portal.acm.org.

However, others are probing what cultural differences mean. They are beginning to think that cognitive differences in the way individuals have of solving problems may influence team conflict, as well as the differences of culture having an impact. See Managing Cognitive and Cultural Diversity in Global IT Teams, by Katherine Jablokow and Mark Myers, in the IEEE Proceedings of 2010 summarised at: www.computer.org.

So, the question of trust with team members seems to be a popular issue, and cognitive and cultural differences might need to be managed in virtual team environments. Do you have any experiences that point to these being important issues. Who do you 'trust' in your organisation and does it make a difference to you? Will the popular concept that men and women think differently have to be expanded? What culture are you from and how does it affect your interaction?

Hope your little grey cells are not aching too much now!

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