Technology Enhanced Teamwork: Aligning Individual Contributions for Superior Team Performance

By Jude-York, Deborah | Organization Development Journal, Fall 1998 | Go to article overview

Technology Enhanced Teamwork: Aligning Individual Contributions for Superior Team Performance


Jude-York, Deborah, Organization Development Journal


Abstract

This paper will present observations and recommendations from a study of three teams and their uses of technology to enhance team productivity. The teams are representative of two large U.S. corporations with global extensions in the computer and telecommunications industries. Innovative socio-technical models were introduced to the teams to improve collaborative work processes and business results. Utilizing the Lotus Notes groupware application TeamRoomTM, teams made significant improvements in: synergistically building upon each other s work, aligning individual work around business plans, improving team communication, coordination and collaboration, and so on. The study contributes to our understanding in team performance enhanced with the use of groupware technology.

Introduction Increasing globalization, advancing technology and potential gains from effective team performance offer exciting promise for advancing organizational productivity. Teams attempting to work together on common work objectives while remaining in geographically dispersed work locations experience significant challenges. All teams struggle with communication, collaboration and coordination in their work, and while not every group of people at work should become an interdependent team of players, those who have urgent performance challenges requiring multiple inputs stand to gain from an increasing use of current technology to enhance their teamwork. Developments in technology have advanced so rapidly that corresponding human systems have not been able to keep pace. Although we now have electronic tools with great potential to enable superior team performance, many continue to sit on the shelf. Managers are too busy to learn the technology placed on their computers, technologists see technology as a stand alone tool, and the new frontier of socio-technical possibilities remains out in the distant horizon, locked behind the limits of our current paradigm of understanding.

Consider the following common scenarios in organizations today. Business plans are developed by management teams to align organizational contributions around common strategies. They are driven by annual corporate requirements, resulting in time-pressured drills to get paperwork in on time. Once submitted, the documents are not reviewed again until the end of the following year when the cycle begins anew.

These same teams spend anywhere from 40-70% of their time in meetings. Most people who attend these meetings feel the majority are unproductive and a general waste of time. Work is not saved in a common team memory, action items are not tracked between meetings and excessive time is spent on basic information sharing. These established behavioral patterns often result in redundant work efforts, limited accountability, lost productivity, re-work, ineffective organizational learning, and individual work that is not aligned with the team's overall mission in the organization.

This article presents observations and recommendations from a study of three teams and their uses of technology to enhance team productivity. The teams are representative of two large U.S. corporations with global extensions in high tech computer and telecommunications industries. All teams have members working in a virtual capacity, some with international challenges and some with cross-industry membership. Observations were made by consultants working with the teams, and from interviews conducted with team members. Innovative socio-technical models were introduced to the teams to improve collaborative work processes and business results. Two of the teams made stated improvements in building upon each other's work, aligning work around business plans, decreasing cycle time and minimizing faceto-face meeting time. The third team struggled in building their `social system' to include remote members and in achieving the results chartered in their mission. The Impact of Technology on Work While the community of technical experts excels at creating new tools, the user community often finds it hard to keep up. …

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