Academic journal article Research-Technology Management

What Makes High-Performance Teams Excel? A Case Study Demonstrates the Importance of Community and Commitment in Managing the Human Dynamics and Technical Imperatives of a High-Performance R&D Team in a Highly Competitive Industry

Academic journal article Research-Technology Management

What Makes High-Performance Teams Excel? A Case Study Demonstrates the Importance of Community and Commitment in Managing the Human Dynamics and Technical Imperatives of a High-Performance R&D Team in a Highly Competitive Industry

Article excerpt

Increasing competitive pressure to produce advanced technologies is a feature of the semiconductor industry. Further, like other organizations in high-technology industries with intensely competitive markets, IBM seeks to integrate its capabilities and competencies to achieve technology differentiation that will facilitate successful new product development and achieve market leadership.

In response to this competitive pressure and the concomitant technological challenge, the role of strategic alliances, collaborative ventures, technological outsourcing, and cooperative project development has been well recognized and explored (1-8). However, these theoretical works are of limited benefit to those practitioners coordinating the complex relationships, diverse technical roles, simultaneous goals, and critical task requirements of inter-organizational high-performance R&D teams (HPRDTs) that are often formed to meet that market challenge.

In this article we present insights from an in-depth case study of a successful high-performance R&D team from IBM's Semiconductor Research and Development Center (SRDC) in Fishkill, New York. While previous research on managing HPRDTs has focused on functional relationships and operational factors, this study reveals that although these factors are significant, the key influences on a team's success are likely to be much more humanistic. The case reveals the significance of individual recognition and engagement in the HPRDT. Further, the development of a shared technical agenda clearly facilitated a sense of commitment and community that was both fundamental to success and critically important to the operational success of the day-to-day activities of the line managers and employees.

What Constitutes an HPRDT

HPRDTs are characterized by the collection of highly trained technical and scientific experts from diverse sources to work collectively and simultaneously on complex technological projects where the demands for rapid development create an intensely challenging environment (9,10). HPRDTs provide an integrated knowledge resource to the technical supply chain as highly specific and refined functional units, which can deliver significant competitive advantage to those companies capable of organizing and managing them successfully. The effective management of an HPRDT--to a level where synergistic performance can achieve novel technical development and time-critical product delivery-requires not only procedural insight but also astute recognition of the importance of the tacit interpersonal dimensions of the team.

Every member of a high-performance team possesses unique knowledge that contributes to the development and refinement of the emerging technology. Complex outcomes required in the semiconductor industry, for example, necessitate a multidisciplinary, orchestrated team approach to achieve the project's mission and goals, and to meet the technological challenge. The semiconductor industry is a fiercely competitive business, both technologically and from a time-to-market perspective. It is not uncommon for leading companies to target new product qualification with announcements of new generations of technology offerings and customer solutions every 18-24 months. This high level of technological reiteration and redundancy places huge competitive pressures on industry players to produce the next generation of technological improvement.

How the Study Was Conducted

We used case narrative and iterative interviewing as an exploratory tool to provide evidence for inductive theory-building of success factors for high-performance teams. These techniques allow the investigator to explain how the interactions occurring with events in a specific context contribute to the observable outcomes ("processual interpretivism") (11,12). Interpretive validity is thus achieved through the narrative as the case reflects "the lived experience of the people studied" (13) and provides an opportunity for in-depth exploration of "a process . …

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