Friday, 9 September 2011

Managing teams

The social dynamic of software design work in teams is beginning to be understood as an intrinsically creative process. Creative teamwork is often difficult to pin down however as it may manifest unexpectedly and in unplanned ways. Interpreting high tech design and development as a creative process is the first step to suggesting approaches to structure and manage conditions to better enable productive team centred design and production (Ancona and Caldwell, 1990).
Contemporary innovations in software process knowledge reflect a renewed emphasis on the importance of coding (Sharp and Robinson, 2004, Mackenzie and Monk, 2004), leading us to conclude that co-design activities of software development present an empirical moment of central concern to organizational studies of software product development. Software design in teams is an inherently social activity (Winograd and Flores, 1986, Suchman and Trigg, 1996, Dittrich et al., 2002, Weinberg, 1971) but one which seems to constantly slip from management and control.

Managing Creative Interaction
The creative problem solving process involves generating waves of diverging and converging ideas. The process of productive interactive problem solves some key practices and joint understandings.
  • Focus
  • Suspend judgment
  • Build on ideas
  • Personal safety
  • Serial discussion
The capability to solve problems creatively and to engage in creative forms of collective production is dependent on a number of distinctive behaviours that become embedded in the institutional setting (Hargadon and Bechky, 2006) p485.

  • help seeking
  • help giving
  • reflective reframing
  • reinforcing.

While the unfolding process itself involves distinctive transitions.

Proficient teams of creatives will discuss, negotiate and establish group guidelines for brainstorming and other solution generative activities.

Design philosophies and development methodologies are rarely applied in a formulaic manner, rather they are used to initiate and facilitate the organization of design thinking, to better deliver usable computer systems supporting work and other activities.

Collaboration on teams is evident in how team members teach each other and learn from together to overcome problems faced by the team as a whole. However peoples’ behaviour may be conditioned in part by the reward structures of the organization. Can reward or compensation structures have an impact on people’s propensity to teach and their motivation to learn? If so what reward structures support this behaviour? Is compensate or reward anti-ethical to teamwork and collaboration?

Many reward structures have cultural aspects (motivated by personal and professional beliefs and values) but compensation also plays a part. The right compensation scheme can at the very least impose or remove some of the obstacles to cooperation, collaboration and teaching/learning/creative processes taking place between team members. In an experimental study Nancy Katz experimented with 100 participants in a Bolo exercise as used by US Army Research psychologists (Katz, 2001). 35 three to four person teams played a war game simulation against the computer, capturing refueling bases (illustration below).
From Scrapbook Photos
Figure: Credit: Atari Battlezone. Bolo is a networked multi-user, real-time tank battle simulation.

The simulation created a number of common conditions; dispersed information, time pressures, easily evaluated performance, undifferentiated member roles, and the need for collaboration. The following compensation structures were employed and group performance assessed (Table below).
Table: Compensation schemes trialled in Bolo exercise (Katz, 2001)
From Scrapbook Photos
So how does compensation structure perform as a determinant of team performance? Put another way, how do teams perform as collaborative units under differing reward structures? Katz found that the hybrid ‘threshold’ schemes were best at encouraging behaviours that maximized the team’s performance. Both threshold schemes were associated with cooperative behaviour, increasing the likelihood “that people with greater skills will help their teammates become more proficient.” (Katz, 2001) p22 The group threshold motivated teaching behaviour on the part of the most talented team members,
“encouraging high performers to teach and share information.” (Katz, 2001) p22
The individual threshold scheme was a driver for individual learning effort, motivating low performers to learn and improve themselves. The ratio scheme, while better than both equity and equality, encouraged anti-group behaviour.
“most likely because it placed a cap on performance rewards and made team mates constantly concerned about their performance relative to one another.” (Katz, 2001) p22
Another aspect that might seem obvious but needs to be highlighted. There team performance is learnt over time. Team behaviour is sensitive to its experiences, how long it remains together, the relative learning trajectories of its members, the shifting levels of knowledge, skill and expertise which change over time.
“enough time for highly skilled members to teach their less skilled counterparts.” (Katz, 2001) p22
Without the time and opportunity to learn the processes underlying collaborative, learning the work just cannot take place.