Academic journal article Issues in Informing Science & Information Technology

Effectiveness of Self-Selected Teams: A Systems Development Project Experience

Academic journal article Issues in Informing Science & Information Technology

Effectiveness of Self-Selected Teams: A Systems Development Project Experience

Article excerpt


The challenges of a fast-changing and competitive environment compel organizations across all business sectors to be pro-active and adapt. In many cases team-working has been introduced to cope effectively with these changes (Partington & Harris, 1999). Teams in the workplace not only have a profound effect on productivity, but also make organizations more responsive and have several intrinsic benefits for both the employees and customers (HR Focus, 2002; Katzenbach & Smith, 1993). According to Katzenbach & Smith (1993) "teams will become the primary unit of performance in high-performance organizations".

The field of Information Systems (IS) is heavily reliant on teamwork to improve the quality of information systems (Jones & Harrison, 1996). Many tasks that must be performed are unique and complex and thus require teams to possess a unique set of skills and knowledge (Waker, 2001). Most software projects in industry are accomplished by teams of professionals rather than by individuals due to the size of these projects but also because teams tend to perform better than individuals (Brown & Dobbie, 1999). Often technological issues receive most of the focus in an effort to improve IS project performance, while soft issues such as team dynamics receive little attention. The high failure rate of IS projects also provides an indication that the performance of IS team members is dependent on other members of the team and not on technical skills alone (De Marco & Lister, 1999). Finding innovative ways of designing IS project development teams to improve teamwork could thus result in more effective teams and thus higher performance overall (Leonard & Swap, 1999; Waker, 2001). Often organizations use one of many personality typing approaches to ensure diversity in team roles that may influence effectiveness and thus have a positive impact on task performance (Campion, Medsker & Higgs, 1993).

The importance of teamwork in industry demands universities to better prepare students for real life projects. One of the main benefits of team projects in tertiary education is to provide students with a unique experience of the multiple and diverse disciplines that are characteristic of the daily life of an Information Technology / Information Systems (IT/IS) specialist in industry (Scott, 2004). In addition to technical skills students also develop soft skills, like mutual respect for other team members, presentation and communication (Brown & Dobbie, 1999).

This paper explores the team selection structures and approaches as discussed in the literature in order to derive a sound base to support team selection from the perspective of the systems development group project course. Although students who have completed the course are of the opinion that the group project is one of their best and rewarding learning experiences--in over 90% of course evaluations students agreed very strongly that this was the case--during their undergraduate studies, it remains a demanding course with many deliverables and deadlines. Project teams should be supported and carefully monitored to ensure success. For this reason it is important to understand and investigate team effectiveness and the impact it has on performance. The paper will refer to the systems development group project as a group project, but the group of students working together on a specific project will be referred to as a team. The paper reports on the implementation of some of the guidelines for team effectiveness found in the literature, in the project course. Finally it highlights some limitations that currently exist, and proposes approaches and future research to address these limitations.


Team Structuring and Selection

DuBrin (2002) defines a group as "a collection of people who interact with one another, are working towards a common purpose, and perceive themselves to be a group". …

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