Academic journal article Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies

Team and Project Work in Engineering Practices

Academic journal article Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies

Team and Project Work in Engineering Practices

Article excerpt

DOI

[To be announced]

Introduction

It is the aim of this article to investigate teamwork among professionals in engineering consultancy companies in order to discern how teamwork affects the collaboration and work practices of the professionals. The paper investigates how professional engineering practices are enacted in two engineering consultancy companies in Denmark where 'teamwork' has been or is an ideal for organizing work.

Team and project work is both a new and an old phenomenon. It is evident that people always have cooperated and coordinated work to achieve their goals and solve problems. But team and project work has-in the post-industrial era-also developed into the preferred mode of organizing work in many companies and public institutions. It is not only considered to be an effective mode of production but also an ideal mode to spur innovative, creativity, and knowledge generation/sharing. In recognition of the complexity and knowledge-intensive character of the challenges facing companies and organizations today team and project work models are adopted as the appropriate response (e.g. Alvesson 2004). The problems encountered by industry, in the healthcare sector, or in the educational sector call for an integration of diverse disciplinary knowledge and skills. Professionals from different strands and knowledge domains join up in order to cope with pressing problems. Interdisiplinarity and transdisciplinarity (Frodeman et al. 2012) are ideals for coping with complex, wicked, real-life problems, and team and project work are often seen as the preferred mode of organizing to achieve this.

In addition, team and project work is often considered to produce cohesion and identity among professionals in organizations, to level disciplinary, bureaucratic, and organizational barriers and thus enrich the work environment in general. Teamwork is thus often considered to stimulate personal as well as professional growth, autonomy, collectivity, solidarity, and wellbeing.

But contrary to this rosy picture of team and project work critical research has pointed to other less attractive consequences of teamwork (e.g. Baker 1999; Haregraves 2000; Heckscher & Adler 2006). The team can in fact also become a locus for (disciplinary) conflicts, unresolved organizational tensions, conflicting demands, and processes of group pressure, marginalization, and control-a convenient decentralized locus to deposit organizational tensions. The ideals of inter- and transdisciplinarity of teamwork often pay little attention to the professional traditions and professional identities that team members bring to teamwork (Buch & Andersen 2013a). Professionals are viewed as 'human resources' by HR managers and project managers and teams are composed according to the professionals 'competencies' to match 'team competence profiles' that are required to solve assignments and projects. Scant attention is given to traditional professional work routines, procedures, conventions, and practices in this rationalization of team formations. As a consequence, teamwork is often loaded with ambiguities, dilemmas, tensions, and conflicting narratives in relation to what should/ought to constitute 'professional' work, which procedures should be perused, how to frame and solve problems in the work process, and so on.

In engineering, consultancy team and project work goes back a long time. Projects are traditionally established around tasks and coordinated by project managers. Project members are assigned due to their expertise in specific technical fields that match specific tasks within the project. Teams are formed on a temporary and ad hoc basis and they typically follow the lifetime of the project. Characteristically, engineering work is very diverse and specialized and draws upon a broad variety of (scientific) disciplines spanning from physics and chemistry to logistics and management. New groups of professionals with academic degrees in the social sciences are entering engineering consultancy companies by increasing numbers and employees are supposed to collaborate with colleagues with very different professional training backgrounds, as well as customers and citizens. …

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