Cycle 2: WHAT DO THE TEAM LEADERS THINK ABOUT OUR TEAM COLLABORATION AND WHERE WE NEED TO BE GOING?
Lesser and Storck (2001) draw a strong distinction between a formal team and a community of practice. Two considerations are roles of authority and accountability. In a community of practice, authority and subsequent accountability is contained within the community. Roles and expectations are negotiated through interaction and expertise. In a work environment, authority and accountability are derived from organizational hierarchies and performance expectations. The challenge is to determine what role organizational leadership should play in fostering an environment that allows a practice to flourish.
Currently, our leadership team provides little functional oversight. We have a very autonomous work environment. Effective progress is defined as projects completed on time and customers satisfied. Within these parameters, our team is very effective.
It appears that the team enjoys the autonomy granted to us. In ideal circumstances, this is fertile soil for the development of a healthy practice because it provides a lot of freedom for members to construct their own practice without a lot of organizational interference. However, management does play a role in our activities and establishing expectations. In addition, those in leadership may even be considered members of the practice, even if at the periphery.
Many of the activities instigated because of this project are ongoing and potentially will play a role in what we do as a team. Thus, I felt it was important to understand the vision the leaders held for current and future practice. It was also important to clarify their expectations of the team.
As stated earlier, the fact that we have a conversation about collaboration and team interaction contributes to the increased awareness and reflection of these issues even if the answers provide little immediate value. Thus, the mere fact that I interviewed the leaders contributes to our practice and provides some reciprocal effect.
How Did I Evaluate the Cycle:
I interviewed my manager and team lead. I wanted to create an environment that is more conversational and informal. The focus of the conversation was around collaboration and team connection. I wanted to get a sense of what the leaders thought about us now and if they had a vision for where we could be. A side goal of the interview was to know them a little better. I used this opportunity to gain more insight into who they are and what background they have as they play an obvious role in our practice.
Assessment of Leadership
My manager comes from an engineering background. She has been with the organization for almost 27 years. When asked what she likes best about her current role, she said it is that she gets to live out her passion— developing people. Not only does she manage the documentation and training team, she oversees the internship program. She also enjoys that her current team plays a key role in effectively communicating the IT business goals. In fact, she believes that her ideal job is not much different from her current position.
Her definition of a team that collaborates well falls into these categories:
- Active sharing of information
- Not afraid to ask for help
- Proactive in offering assistance
- Proactive in engaging one another
When asked about our collaboration and how we are connected as a team, she rated the team a 7 of 10 on collaboration and 6.5 of 10 on connection. She was very satisfied with our work and qualified those ratings with positive affirmation of our:
- Understanding of interests, skills and talents
- Mutual respect for one another
- No negative conversation
- Capabilities and attitudes
Regarding what we could do to increase our connection, she offered this:
- More formal and informal sharing
- Increased brainstorming to broaden our approach
- Step away from functional focus to see alternatives
In an ideal setting, her vision for our team was that we could assume multiple roles and responsibilities, sharing in various elements of leadership. There is opportunity for team members to step up and assume more leadership.
Recently the organization changed its performance management process (PMP). Thus, there is an increased emphasis on goals that stretch our capabilities. The manager’s expectation was that we:
- Work towards group goals
- Maintain and build strong customer relationships
- Raise the esteem of the team through delivery of high quality products and satisfying customer expectations
- Team members need to play an active role in developing each other, be proactive, and step out of our comfort zones
My Team Lead
My team lead comes from a technical writing background. She has been with the organization for about 8 years. What she likes about her current role is that she is able to “influence things for the best” in the organization. Being exposed to, and learning new skills and concepts, engage her. Her perfect job is more altruistic and is focused on serving people and not necessarily connected to making money.
Her definition of a team that collaborated well fell into these categories:
- An environment where people are free to speak their minds
- Sharing of information and resources
- Exchange of ideas and concepts
When asked about our collaboration and how we are connected as a team, she rated the team a 5 of 10 on collaboration and 5of 10 on connection. While we have room to improve in the way we interact, she was very satisfied with the work we produced and qualified those ratings with positive affirmation by stating:
- We work together well
- Produce good work
- Clients are happy
Regarding what we could do to increase our connection, she offered that having two teams in different locations was a challenge. There is no history of collaboration. Thus, some of the dynamics are different which makes it difficult to exchange ideas. She would like to see:
- More team building activities
- Better virtual teaming
- More face-to-face interaction
Concerning a future vision and expectations, she felt we needed to:
- Play an active role in developing each other
- Push our limits
- Do more than we’ve done (get out of comfort zone)
- Learn new skills
Both my manager and team lead addressed key points that are important to the life of a practice. In fact, much of the conversation was spent around the ideas of collaboration and sharing. As a group of individuals, we work well together in a functional capacity. However, our ability to connect and share at a richer level is challenged. In discussing the challenges of having geographically dispersed team members, my team lead made the point that we do not have a “shared history of collaboration.” How can we develop individual and collective identity within our practice if we do not have the social connections or history of interaction?
Hildreth, Kimble, and Wright (2000), stated that a practice needs a sense of common purpose and develop a strong feeling of identity. In addition, the practice has regular contact, solves problems together, shares projects, and swaps experiences. This allows the members to learn from one another. The challenge for my team is how to instigate the types of interactions that allows the practice to develop.
During the interview with my manager, she stated, “we tend to have a myopic focus on our approach but not a lot of conversation about alternatives.” She was alluding to the fact that we are so focused and quick to do our work, that we do not give time to investigate alternatives that might help us. This is a similar challenge to communities of practice where Wenger (1999) states that communities can become so focused on their practice that they are not aware of the “wisdom of peripherality.” This can include “paths not taken, connections overlooked, and choices taken for granted.” His contention is that information remains invisible to the team “because it is easily marginalized.” It becomes marginalized because certain members are not full participants or their experiences are not considered for various reasons. Ironically, in this same interview, my manager said that her schedule has been so busy that she has been jumping from one activity to the next with no time to stop and reflect. This is a reality, for not only her, but our team as well.
At the core level, it appears that the leadership team affirms communities of practice-like activity. Some of the concerns going forward include knowing if the organization will commit the time, structural alignment, and resources to support such activity? I am going forward on the assumption that it will. An important point from an organizational perspective is to ensure that I am using terminology for my endeavor that is consistent with the organization’s terminology.
On a work team, legitimacy comes from the formal structure of the group. However, in a community of practice, legitimacy comes from the social relationships that develop in the community (Hildreth, Kimble, and Wright, 2000). The challenge going forward is to find a way to blend the formal expectations of the organization with the informal norms and expectations created by the practice.
Action for next cycle
I was encouraged that both my manager and team lead support increased collaboration. My next step was to interview my team. I wanted to gain clarity on their ideas and expectations. After completing the interviews, I reviewed the information from both cycles and used that to determine the next course of action.