The Emergence of Collective Competence in a Brazilian Petrochemical Company**

By Bitencourt, Claudia Cristina; Bonotto, Fernanda | Management Revue, April 1, 2010 | Go to article overview

The Emergence of Collective Competence in a Brazilian Petrochemical Company**


Bitencourt, Claudia Cristina, Bonotto, Fernanda, Management Revue


Organizations seek new ways to stimulate collective competences. One possible way this can be done is though self-managing teams. This paper aims to understand the collective competences based on their constitutive elements: interaction, sensemaking and identity. For this study we investigated a Brazilian world-class petrochemical company, recognized by their excellence in working with self-managed teams. Two semi-autonomous teams were studied, distinct in its pattern and performance. The main results point out that the understanding of collective competences is more related to the dynamics and the interaction process itself rather than to the content of this approach and its constitutive elements separately.

Key words: collective competences, interaction, sensemaking, identity

Introduction

The adoption of work groups in organizations, be it by teams, staff, cells, or projects, occurs as a reply to the environment characterized by its complexity and flexibility or as an alternative for the labor organization (Le Boterf 2003; Leonard/Swap 1999; Shonk 1993; Zarifian 2001). In the models of labor organization that praise the collective issue, the focus on responsibility moves from the individual to the group.

In the 1990's, there was an attempt to make a change in management models considering the importance of collective practice. Interaction, communication, and the shaping of multidisciplinary teams with the idea of achieving common goals, became a required practice in organizations. Le Boterf (2003), Zarifian (2001), and Shonk (1993), among others point out the importance of the collective approach to achieve effective organizational results. There is a necessity to develop collective approaches when it comes to competences and, in this way, pursuit a better basis for strategies and organizational sustainability.

The approaches regarding competences usually focus on two basic views: strategic field and core competences or on HR management and managerial competences. Despite of the exhaustive research and papers published about competences, there is still a gap between these two levels, considering the distance between strategy and HR management by competences. Collective competences can be considered a way to stimulate the approximation of these two levels based on interaction of individuals and a collective construction of goals, as well as organizational understanding.

We believe that collective competences based on work teams could be an effective way to contribute to these discussions about managing understanding and, approximating core competences to managerial competences and HR development.

In this paper the comprehension of collective competence is based on some elements, which we call constitutive elements: interaction, sensemaking and identity. Our assumption is that these elements could offer a substantial basis to understand and develop collective competences.

The main question that guides our research is: what does collective competences mean and what are the elements that sustain and stimulate their development in work teams?

The concept of collective competences

In order to understand collective competences, we initially present the authors who discuss collective action in work teams. An important contribution to the theme comes from the Swedish authors influenced by the social-technical approach and by social learning practices.

According to Hansson (1998), "collective competence is the phenomenon of a group or organisation of people's ability to work toward a common task in a sufficient way". It is a context dependent phenomenon and each case of collective, competent action must be considered in relation to the context in which it occurs (Sandberg 1994; Hansson 1998; Frohm 2002).

For Hansson (1998), collective competence is formed by interpersonal and practical competences. Practical competence is described as "the ability to handle the assigned task in a proficient manner;" and interpersonal competence relates to "how proficient the ability to interact with the others in the group is". …

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