Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Article Type: Guest editorial From: Team Performance Management, Volume 20, Issue 7/8
Welcome to this special issue consisting of a selection of papers presented at the 17th edition of the International Workshop on Teamworking (IWOT), hosted by the TNO Institute, Leiden, The Netherlands, in November 2013. IWOT had its first conference in Nottingham in 1997, with researchers working both with qualitative and quantitative research strategies focusing on teamwork. The theme of the first conference was the increasing emergence of team working in general, with additional focus on socio technical systems theory, teamwork as a management idea, Japanese teams, autonomy in teams and cultural aspects of teamwork. The first conference resulted in an edited collection of the subject (Procter and Mueller, 2000), which has for years served as a significant resource for both academics and students.
The theme for the conference held in Leiden in 2013 was team working in organizations, including research from a variety of perspectives. There were sessions on team learning, cultural diversity and team composition, ambivalence, management and identity, work organization, team behavior and innovation performance, as well as lean production, sociotechnical teams and decision-making. The ambition of the conference is to be an arena for discussion of a large variety of aspects of teamwork, covering researchers from all over Europe. Out of the 22 different papers that were presented in Leiden, 5 of them have been further developed and found acceptable for publication in this special issue of Team Performance Management. The articles cover a variety of themes; creating space for increased team learning, understanding the emergence of high-performance work systems, the connection between direct participation and well-being and organizational performance, how interfering events affect team learning.
Overview of the contributions
Karin Derksen, Léon de Caluwé, Joyce Rupert and Robert Jan Simons have written the first article in this issue. The purpose is to create an instrument to assess the developmental space that teams create. Because of complex tasks, teams often outperform individuals in solving various tasks, being more creative and able to process more information than individuals are capable of doing. A complex task is defined as a task that requires the creation of new knowledge or new combinations of existing knowledge. Teams can be superior to individual, but struggle to outperform their best member. The authors identify several reasons for this. Team members take part in a political game where they fail to identify their own creative ideas, and teams tend to respond negatively to novel ideas because they tend to avoid failure or social rejection. Other reasons for being less creative occur when team members speak different “languages” and have different conceptual frameworks, they differ in cognitive abilities and motivation, and finally, team members appear less willing to share information with team members if they perceive them to be different from themselves. To overcome these barriers, Derksen and colleagues identify developmental space within teams as important, defined as the social space arising from interaction within a team and its environment. The space is created through four activities; creating future, reflecting, organizing and dialoguing. Developmental space is a relatively new concept, and so far there has only been qualitative research available. The current article provides us with a quantitative instrument to assess developmental space, which can serve as a tool for team striving for improvement in solving complex tasks.
In the second article, Jonas Ingvaldsen, Tobias Strand Johansen and Mats Mathisen Aarlott argue that high-performance work systems can emerge within organizations without being planned at a managerial level. High-performance work systems is a major label under which team organization has theorized and implemented, including such practices as self-managing teams, flexible work assignments, open communication, extensive training and decentralized decision making. High-performance work systems are presented in the literature as the “high road” alternative to scientific management, cost-cutting strategies and externalized employment relations. The question Ingvaldsen et al. raise is under what conditions such systems emerge, and how change agent can promote creation of high-performance work systems. In their literature review, they conclude that most research so far take a perspective of planned change initiated by human resource management experts as the most effective way to create high-performance work systems. However, through a case study, the authors present an example of a strong high-performance work system, which has emerged in the absence of managerial intervention. Instead, the authors propose that workers’ motivation and commitment can be explained by reference to a shop-floor culture of craftsmanship, workers’ identification with and belonging to the industrial community and high-task identity. Planned implementations of such work systems in the future would benefit from appreciating and building on existing norms of craftsmanship and solidarity. Reinforcing and officially endorsing these norms may be preferable to introduce novel normative ideals of teamwork, empowerment or quality.
The third article is written by Steven Dhondt, Frank Delano Pot and Karolus Kraan. Their interest is the relative importance of different dimensions of job control in relation to subjective well-being and organizational commitment. These dimensions are identified as job autonomy, functional support and organizational-level decision latitude, and the question is how these dimensions interact with work intensity and perceived well-being. The theme is interesting and topical question, while the European Commission has recently initiated a learning network for workplace innovation, in which employee participation is seen as important. Employee participation is twofold; one is the formal representation enforced by legislation, the other is direct participation in the workplace. The article focuses on the latter, examining the relative importance of the different dimensions of job control. Direct participation is a core characteristic of teamwork and team learning, and a central topic already in the First IWOT Conference. The argument has been that direct participation leads to better organizational performance and better quality of working life. Dhondt et al. apply a quantitative framework to assess the quality of jobs, subjective well-being and organizational commitment in connection with dimensions of job control, an important aspect of direct participation. The study is based on data from the fifth European Working Condition Survey. The authors conclude that functional support and organizational level latitude relate positively to subjective well-being and organizational commitment, and the three dimensions reinforce each other. For organizational decision-makers, the authors recommend to create job control opportunities at all three levels in the former to enhance commitment and well-being, a finding that fits well into the broader context of workplace innovations to improve performance and quality of working life simultaneously.
The fourth article by Rasmus Oertel and Conny Antoni is about reflective team learning, defined as an interactional process. The aim is to contribute to the existing literature by providing insight into the significance of interfering events as situational triggers of team learning and team adaption. The authors analyze how situational events are related to team adaption through reflective team learning behaviors. The events are defined as different types of interrupting, or rather interfering events. It can be examples of failure, novelty or different kinds of unexpected situations such as the introduction of new members, leading to changes in cognitive or behavioral patterns of the team. These “triggers” will enforce the team to start reflecting on their own work and patterns, and can lead to improved team learning processes, which again is positively related to team adaptation: innovation of new structures, capabilities and actions. The triggers of events will thus create new patterns of behavior. Data were gathered from 33 student project teams, collecting data throughout the project period in three phases. The results show that interfering events were related to reflective learning behavior, which also resulted in subsequent team adaptation. Reflective team learning thus seems to be stimulated by events that occur in a given time frame and interfere with team action processes and routines. The results suggest that team leaders and teams should perceive and use interfering events as learning opportunities instead of being perceived as a threat.
The last article is written by Monica Rolfsen, Stine Skaufel Kilskar and Nina Valle. The authors highlight the transfer of knowledge and practices within multinational corporations, and how such processes can influence teamwork on the shop-floor level. The aim is to link two theoretical positions in the literature; transfer of knowledge and practice on the one hand, implementing management concepts such as lean production on the other. Most descriptions of implementation of management concepts follow a fixed, top–down procedure, identifying detailed steps and phases to be followed. Transfer of knowledge within multinationals has identified concepts as institutional distance and practices that are infused with meaning. Combining this theoretical position with a distinction between different abstractions levels of concepts, the authors aim for building a theoretical framework to be able to understand transfer of concepts within multinationals. This is investigated through a case study where the concept lean production is intended to be implemented from a German headquarter to a Norwegian plant, focusing on a production team within the plant. The analysis shows that even if the attempt was to transfer the whole concept, only the tools and techniques where actually transferred, but the team’s local interpretations of these tool where completely different from what was intended. The tools were perceived as tools for improved control instead of improved team learning and development. One explanation is the lack of adjustment to the local context, language and earlier history of change management. The practical implication is that all concepts need to be translated rather than transferred; creating an organizational “blue print” is hardly possible.