Academic journal article Informing Science: the International Journal of an Emerging Transdiscipline

A Groupware-Based Peer Review Process: An Exploratory Case Study

Academic journal article Informing Science: the International Journal of an Emerging Transdiscipline

A Groupware-Based Peer Review Process: An Exploratory Case Study

Article excerpt

Background to the Problem

The ability to work effectively as a member of a team is a vital skill in most organizations. Teams have been described as the basic business unit of the global economy and teamwork as "the final ingredient that makes all the other parts add up to something greater than the sum of their parts" (O'Hara-Devereaux & Johansen 1994, pp. 138-139). Teams have advantages over traditional hierarchical organizational structures as teams can be flexible and respond creatively and quickly to changing economic and social forces. Effective teamwork mandates that individuals have a wide range of communication skills and styles, including the ability to give and take frank criticism, provide self-examination of team effectiveness, and accept shared responsibility for outcomes (Weisbord, 1987).

As teamwork becomes more and more the norm for the way work is done, the issue of compensating individual team members for group productivity becomes apparent. Compensation is more than just salary--it tells us how well we are doing; it tells us the value of our work within the larger organization; and it tells us our value as compared to our fellow workers. In most organizations, compensation figures are computed based on set salaries or hourly wages. Increasingly, however, organizations are experimenting with systems whereby employees are rewarded for extraordinary efforts (Flynn, 1994; Work week: Evaluations, 1995). The resulting problem is how to allocate reward dollars to individuals for team outcomes.

As a potential response to this problem, some corporations are adopting aspects of university faculty peer review systems. In university merit/performance systems, the basic premise is that members of an academic community are able to give honest, evaluative, and constructive feedback to each other. Peer review appears to work in academe, if no other reason than historically, "it's the way we have always done it."

Several distinctions complicate corporate peer evaluation efforts, however. One primary problem has been identifying and measuring specific performance outcomes for diverse job categories. Effective work teams are often made up of individuals who have a wide range of content expertise and come from differing organizational levels; teams are often not truly "peer." The second problem has been behavioral, how to get the workforce itself to accept changes in the way its compensation figures are determined.

Additionally, since teams may exist for short periods of time or be ongoing; how often should reviews be done? In a given group, particularly a virtual group, an individual may have more--or less--responsibility than others; should criteria differ? Problems can also arise as the very concept of peer evaluation differs from most existing corporate evaluation norms and individuals= experiences with how evaluation should take place. These problems compound when a flat organization rewards team efforts rather than individual efforts. Even when concrete team outcomes are measurable, the question is how to recognize and compensate a specific individual for his or her contribution to a final product.

Team peer evaluations also add new layers of administrative issues for human resource professionals. Even if everyone understands and buys into the peer evaluation process, it is difficult to ensure the compilation of anonymous data in a timely manner and in an appropriate format for those who will use it. This is why groupware was considered to be a potential enabler of the peer review process, as it supports group processes and productivity (as opposed to individual productivity). Often called group support systems (GSS) or electronic meeting systems, groupware products are evolving.

Level 1groupware products include screen sharing capabilities and electronic mail. Level 2 groupware products are virtual toolboxes of support for group processes such as group writing, idea organizing, and voting. …

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