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This case is about team conflict due to the project leader using an autocratic management style while supervising a virtual team. His style of management is creating severe problems with the team developing trust and group cohesion. This is negatively impacting the team’s ability to establish effective communication and coordination processes to successfully complete the project (Thompson, 2011).
This case is about task and emotional team conflicts. Conflict is referred to as disagreements and resistances between team members generated by perceived incompatibilities or divergence in perceptions, expectations, and opinions (Furumo, K. 2009) and it shatters trust and has negative impacts on team effectiveness.
One of the biggest conflicts is between the project manager, Didier, and the core team which consists of two different cultures; United States (U.S.) and France. Didier shows favoritism to his fellow citizens, the French. The conflict results from his inability to manage a cross-functional New Product Development team with an emphasis in reciprocal interdependence.
Core-team members have different views on how to handle the project which created a task conflict. Didier, the project manager, lacks the skills, knowledge and ability to effectively supervise a virtual team. He does not promote communication that reinforces collaboration to build team unity and trust to overcome the conflict. He does not attempt to establish an atmosphere of cooperation and trust. Didier’s behavior made everyone feel uncomfortable. The U.S. team favors decentralized communication while the French- based team members favor centralized communication. The French team is more controlling and dominant they refuse to consider any suggestion from the U.S. team based on their previous experience in handling similar project. The lack of trust between team members created emotional conflict, which affected team performance and team-member satisfaction. The strong emotional discontent produced strong hostility bias and created a situation in which task-based suggestions from the U.S. members were met with antagonism and rejection from the French- based members. Meanwhile, the French-based members felt unsecured that the U.S.-based members have more experience in handling such projects. Furthermore, the core-team did not assist the subteams in understanding the ways in which they are interdependent and the importance of the individual role in strengthening the relation with other team members with whom they are interdependent (Shaw, Zhu, Duffy, Scott, Shih, & Susanto, 2011).
Didier’s autocratic management style is making the U.S. team members feel alienated. Their inputs are not valued and bypassed when team decisions are being made. Didier should be using the team’s stability to stimulate collaboration and encourage open discussion among team members. This can be accomplished by establishing “structural coordination mechanisms that focuses on the stability of project team members” (Slotegraaf & Atuahene-Gima, 2011). Stability is defined as a cross-functional team that remains for the duration of the project, from project approval to product launch. Slotegraaf & Atuahene-Gima (2011) discusses how to overcome the potential downside of cross-functional teams by adopting an integration mechanism to elevate the team’s information sharing and collaboration when creating a New Product Development (NPD). “As team members challenge assumptions and ideas about critical issues, they have a greater opportunity to synthesize their different perspectives and evaluate different solutions” (Slotegraaf & Atuahene-Gima, 2011). Had Didier effectively managed the team’s different perspectives by allowing open discussions, he could have used supportive group technology to establish coordination and collaboration processes which would have generated innovative ideas and “decision making comprehensiveness” (Slotegraaf & Atuahene-Gima, 2011).
Furumo, K. (2009). The impact of conflict and conflict management style on deadbeats and deserters in virtual teams. Journal of Computer Information Systems, 49(4), 66-73.
Shaw, J. D., Zhu, J., Duffy, M. K., Scott, K. L., Shih, H., & Susanto, E. (2011). A contingency model of conflict and team effectiveness. Journal Of Applied Psychology, 96(2), 391-400. doi:10.1037/a0021340
Slotegraaf, R. J.& Atuahene-Gima, K. (2011). Product development team stability and new product advantage: the role of decision-making processes. Journal of Marketing, 75, 96-108. Retrieved from EBSCO database.
Thompson, L. L. (4th Ed.). (2011). Making the team: A guide for managers. New Jersey: Prentice Hall.
How is distance affecting team dynamics and performance? (20 points)
In this case Didier canceled several scheduled meeting. In addition he cancelled as well the cross-cultural workshop. The U.S. based team could interpret these cancellations as Didier is trying to avoid dealing with them. By cancelling these meetings both Us based and France based teams missed the opportunity to engage in constructive discussions about team processes.
Didier should have been more sensitive to unify team members, he does appear to have considered it a priority. Emphasizing the sense of unity and affiliation is essential for team success. (Schlenkrich, & Upfold, 2009). It is important to point out, however, that others on the team did not put enough effort to put the team together as well.
Both physical and emotional distances have implications for performance. Physical and emotional distance affect communication effectiveness, satisfaction with supervisors and leadership effectiveness
(Varela, Burke, & Landis, 2008).
Schlenkrich, L., & Upfold, C. (2009). A Guideline for Virtual Team Managers: the Key to Effective Social Interaction and Communication. Electronic Journal Of Information Systems Evaluation, 12(1), 109-118.
Varela, O. E., Burke, M. J., & Landis, R. S. ( 2008). A process model of emotional conflict: Emergence and dysfunctional effect in groups. Group Dynamics: Theory, Research, and Practice, 12, 112- 126. doi: 10.1037/1089-26126.96.36.199
3. What do you think about the decision to appoint subteam sponsors? What problems can it solve? Which problems might it not solve? (20 points)
The team structure is too big and adding more team members will not resolve the conflict. In fact, it will cause more problems such as distorting communication and slowing down processes (Thompson, 2011). Adding sub-team sponsors at this point would definitely affect the team’s decision making process. A sub-team becomes another layer within the team that information needs to be communicated to. By adding this layer, the increase for miscommunications is present because the original message can get lost the further it goes down the chain. Also, conflicts within the core group can trickle down and impact the subgroups since knowledge cannot be effectively shared (Sheng and Yeh, 2009). This was present in the case. The miscommunications between the U.S. and French core teams caused information to be relayed to the sub-teams at the last minute causing them to be frustrated.
Although the team members were directed not to rely on the sub team sponsors to resolve their conflict, that is exactly what they would do; none of the team members have been educated on how to effectively function as a cross functional virtual team.
Currently, the team is dominated by the project manager, which is negatively impacting the team’s performance. Appointing sub-team sponsors is a good way to mediate team conflict and improve team performance. Sub-team sponsors can assist with improving communication to increase sharing of information, create diversity of alternatives and teach the team members how to better understand and accept final decisions. Also, since each sub-team had a different focus, it helps distribute the project duties amongst the entire team establishing reciprocal interdependence; “high levels of task interdependence, which require interactions among group members to obtain crucial resources, consistently enhance performance” (Thompson, 2011). This eliminates the problems associated with working in a virtual group.
Melnic, A. & Puiu, T., (2011). The management of human resources with projects: the structures of the project team, the responsibility assignment Matrix. Economy Transdisciplinarity Cognition, 14(1),476-484. Retrieved for Business Source Complete database.
Sheng, C., & Yeh, C. (2009). The influence of a subteam’s cohesion on its mother team. China-USA Business Review, 8(4), 58-64. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.
Thompson, L. L. (4th Ed.). (2011). Making the team: A guide for managers. New Jersey: Prentice Hall.
4. If you were a consultant to this company, what course of action would you recommend and why? (40 points)
As pharmaceutical companies work to improve efficiency and product quality, teams are becoming more important than ever. It’s not easy to build an effective team, or to get members to work together for a common goal, but it can be done. Effective teams yield concrete bottom-line results, but equally important “intangible” benefits for their members, creating ongoing opportunities for empowerment and an atmosphere of continuous learning and improvement. An effective team is rewarding to work on, and the best teams create and foster an atmosphere of trust among members that enhances their ability to work and learn together.
Clear communications, proper team composition and structure, a focused agenda, and the coordination of team activities are prerequisites to an effective team. At the earliest stages of team formation, members must understand why the team is being set up, so they can embrace a common goal. Although team members look to their leader to provide resources and connect them to the rest of the organization, they are empowered to make decisions independently. For this reason, it is important to articulate how team members will work together and how they will be held accountable.
As a consultant I would recommend that they create a team atmosphere with a sense of mission. Make sure the team is set and ready to go. Have someone in the group, or in the sub-team who can help build teamwork by being there to help their team address any individual issues in their group. Make sure the members of the sub-teams understand the goal of being part of one big team.
Have them create a team mission statement with simple declarative sentences. The mission statement should come across, as making it seem like their job is truly important to the success of the company. Make them feel connected to the company. The mission statement should be short and general, yet has a powerful punch. Have them throw in some team guidelines, or “Norms,” on team interaction as well.
Periodically hold team meetings. For example, hold weekly meetings to go over the goals and share the direction in which the team is heading. This is a good chance to gain ideas for improvement, and if needed, how to ease any tension in the group. Update each meeting request with an agenda with items to be discussed, which can be done by passing out the needed paperwork to the team, or show in a PowerPoint presentation. This will show the team that the company is serious about their expectations.
Teach them how to work as a team. Talk to your employees about how important it is that there is support amongst team members with respect for one another. Team members need to rely on other team members to accomplish the work or the goals of the team, which is the basic principle of team spirit. Show how the goals of the team tie into the organizational goals. Explain to the team why their part in obtaining the department’s goals is also part of the big picture within the company’s goals. When they perform to or above standards, the company is more likely to succeed.
Make their opinions count and always follow up. People like being taken seriously and if an idea is implemented, a strong sense of pride happens which can be contagious amongst other team members. Stress that you want your team to be innovative and that you’re always willing to do whatever it takes to improve any process, procedure, or make any functional improvements. Even if you cannot accommodate the request, or it is something they do not want to hear, at least they know you listened and took them seriously. Just make sure you always follow up with the reason why.
Make sure your team members are not afraid to speak up. If no one speaks up or contributes anything during a meeting, there are potential ideas that will not be shared, or even worse, there may be problems that are not identified. You want any ideas or concerns to be dealt with right then and there. You also want to make the timid people feel comfortable to participate. Let them know that their contribution to the team is just as important as anyone else’s opinions.
Make sure everyone understands what is expected. Just saying we need to work as a team and leave it at that does very little and sounds like a corny cliché. Give clear details of the expected goals, and potential consequences if the goals are not achieved. Clearly defined roles and responsibilities for each team member is key.
Team Building is not a one-time activity. Be prepared to continually work on improvements, ideas, functions, etc. Just calling a group of people a team does not necessarily mean they are working in harmony as a team. This should be looked at as a continuous ongoing project.
After forming the team, a clear agenda is needed so each team member understands what will be expected of him or her. Once the team is operational, a commitment to follow-up on team activities will ensure that roadblocks are removed and scheduled milestones are reached on time. Team members need to know that their team is accountable, and understand how their efforts contribute to the team’s success or failure.
The coordination of team activities is crucial to the “end-game” and team members need to understand how they will perform their work. Individual roles and responsibilities need to be divided, and members need to understand how information and resources will be shared. Work procedures and other operating guidelines should encourage efficiency and motivate team members to share responsibility and accountability.
Also, once the team has been formed, it is important to put procedures in place to facilitate the process of getting the work done. Communication is the key to a successful team process. Frequent discussions about team progress are important for keeping the team on track. When a given course of action is not working, the team must be able to assemble quickly and make required changes to redirect the work. Complex team projects can involve multiple production facilities located in different countries, posing the threat of culture clash-particularly when team members have different native languages. In such cases, the importance of frequent communication cannot be overemphasized. Regularly scheduled teleconferences and videoconferences can make the process much smoother.
Conflicts do arise and should be expected, even in the most effective teams, but procedures must be in place to manage these episodes so that they do not interfere with team process and progress. Providing coaching and facilitation services can help, but it’s largely up to the team leader to keep the team focused. Team members need to learn to appreciate their differences and work together to present a unified front for their project responsibilities. Self-awareness, flexibility and the appreciation of other team members’ perspectives and behavioral styles are important for an effective team process. Sharing information constructively, in the form of behavior-based feedback, creates a non-emotional and supportive environment in which every team member can learn and succeed.
In determining team effectiveness, many organizations simply evaluate team effectiveness in terms of team output. Although this is an important measure, team effectiveness should also be evaluated based on the way in which the team achieves its results. Process factors such as commitment to team work, level of participation, strength of communication and interpersonal relationships, effectiveness of decision-making and problem-solving, and individual/team learning are indicators of how the team works together and are likely predictors of the team’s ultimate success or failure. Effective teams provide a positive experience for and meet the needs of individual members. Team members whose personal needs are met are more likely to identify with and support team goals. They also trust their colleagues, not only for the duration of the current project but for future initiatives as well. They can anticipate their colleagues’ actions and respond to them appropriately. Trust also allows team members to engage in active learning and take risks while operating in a supportive environment.
Effective teams do not evolve naturally but rather have to be nurtured. Organizations and their managers must build their teams proactively and engage in a dedicated effort to support their success. Teams that not only meet customer goals, but also create trust and learning opportunities for their members, are the key to organizational success.
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