Influences of environment and leadership on team performance in complex project environments
The influences of project environment and leadership style on team performance are examined in a field study of 74 technology-based project teams. The findings provide insight into the business processes, organizational conditions, and managerial leadership styles most conducive to high project performance in complex and technology-based team environments. One of the most striking findings is the large number of performance factors associated with the human side. Organizational conditions that satisfy personal and professional needs seem to have a strong effect on cooperation, commitment, risk management, and ultimately drive overall team performance. This paper provides a framework for assessing leadership effectiveness and suggests conditions favorable for building and managing high-performance project teams in complex work environments.
Keywords: Team leadership, teamwork, project management, technology, project performance, complexity
There is no argument, effective teamwork is critically important to project performance and essential for competing successfully in today's global hyper-competitive environment (Ferrante, Green, & Forster 2006; Groysberg & Abrahams, 2006; Hoegl & Parboteeah, 2007; Nellore & Balachandra, 2001; Shim & Lee, 2001). However, building and managing a workgroup as a fully integrated, unified team is a daunting task with strong impact on business performance. This has been recognized by researchers and practitioners for a long time and documented in formal studies that can be traced back to the classic 1939 Hawthorne studies (Roethlingsberger & Dickerson, 1939), and their discovery of performance benefits associated with workgroup identity and cohesion (Dyer, 1977). In today's more complex and technologically sophisticated environment, the group has re-emerged in importance as the project team (Fisher, 1993; Nurick, Aaron, & Thamhain, 2006. Thamhain & Wilemon, 1999) and is supported by extensive research that focuses especiallyon the organizational dynamics and behavioral aspects associated with team leadership effectiveness (Barkema, Baum & Mannix, 2002; Groysberg & Abrahams, 2006; Jarvenpaa & Leidner, 1999; Jassawalla & Sashittal, 1998; Kearney, Gebert, & Voelpel 2009; Nellore & Balachandra, 2001; Ohba, 1996; Thamhain, 2007).
Yet, in spite of the well-established body of knowledge on conventional teamwork and team leadership, the expanding role of teams in our globally connected business world has created a new set of challenges and the need for more specific research into the dynamics of project teams in a geographically and culturally distributed setting, which is also associated with high levels of project complexity (Armstrong, 2000; Hoegl, Ernst, & Proserpio, 2007; Jasswalla & Sashittal, 1998; Kruglianskas & Thamhain, 2000; Manning, Massini, & Lewin, 2008; Shenhar, Dvir, Milosevic, & Thamhain, 2007). As companies try to leverage their budgets and accelerate their schedules, they form alliances, consortia, and partnerships with other firms, universities, and government agencies. These collaborations range from simple cooperative agreements to open innovation, a concept of scouting for new product and service ideas anywhere in the world. These collaborations extend team capabilities considerably, but also create additional management challenges, especially in communication, work integration, and team leadership unification. Whether Yahoo! creates a new search engine, Sony develops a new computer PlayStation®, the World Health Organization rolls out a new information system, or NASA launches an interplanetary mission, and from medical research to computer systems development, project operations are highly complex and geographically dispersed. They often span numerous organizational lines that connect a broad spectrum of personnel, support groups, contractors, partners, and customers, creating a business environment characterized by high speed, high change, and high uncertainty (Cutler & Smith, 2007; Shim & Lee, 2001; Zhang, Keil, Rai, & Mann, 2003). Most likely, successful implementation of these complex undertakings requires a great deal of innovation and creativity, and therefore, works processes that must go beyond linear execution of established plans. While some issues can be solved with established procedures and available technology, many others need “adaptive problem solving.” The team that has the necessary diverse skill set often comes from different functions and locations, with different cultures and interests and with very little experience of working together (Laufer, 2008). To facilitate this type of problem solving requires adaptive organizational learning and adaptive leadership that will create a team environment conducive to unifying the diverse team and be supportive of complex problem solving. Often, this requires changing work processes and adjusting plans, as well as shaping the project environment to be conducive for dealing with inevitable conflict, risks, and uncertainties (Cohen, 2009; Hoegl & Parboteeah, 2006).
To be effective in such a dynamic and often turbulent environment, team leaders must be both technically and socially competent, an argument supported by an increasing number of managers and researchers who point at the human side as the most challenging part. In fact, research shows consistently that performance problems on technology-intensive and complex projects involve largely management, and behavioral, and organizational issues, rather than technical difficulties (Belassi & Tukel, 1996; Hartman & Ashrafi, 2002; Whitten, 1995). Critical success factors (CSF) span across a wide spectrum of technological, organizational, and interpersonal areas that involve gaining and maintaining cohesiveness, commitment, technology transfer, self-directed teams, rapidly changing technology and requirements, resource limitations, innovation, and demands for flexibility and speedy implementation (Hoegl & Parboteeah, 2006). In these contemporary business environments, traditional models of management and team leadership are often not effective and can be even counterproductive (Arranz & de Arroyabe, 2008; Levardy & Browning, 2009; Schmid & Adams, 2008; Polzer, Crisp, Jarvenpaa, & Kim, 2006).
Yet, in spite of all these challenges, many enterprises and project teams involved with complex and technology-based ventures produce great results, even under extremely tight time and resource constraints. We should be able to learn some useful lessons. While formal conclusions emerge slowly, some studies point to two specific sets of variables—team leadership and organizational ambiance—as strongly associated with project performance (Thamhain, 2008, 2009), an area targeted for this field study with specific focus on technology-intensive project environments.
A Simple Model for Investigating Team Performance
Understanding the bases of influence to team performance is necessary before one can effectively study such phenomena, or actually manage and lead a project team. Thus, we must understand how a team's culture and value system evolves and what influences the dynamics of change. We know from prior research that team performance is influenced by four broad sets of inter-related parameters or variables: (1) team leadership, (2) organizational environment, (3) project type and its complexity, and (4) team composition. These four sets of variables influence both the team characteristics and the team environment, which in turn influences team performance and ultimately project performance. All sets are interrelated to some degree and influenced by the external socio-economic environment surrounding the enterprise. These relationships are graphically shown in Figure 1 to provide the backbone for the following discussion. The first area, team leadership style, enjoys probably the broadest coverage in research literature with a good collection of key articles, lessons, and contemporary perspectives summarized in two recent IEEE Engineering Management Review special issues (Wade, 2008, 2009). Yet, few researchers have considered the links between leadership style and the various other sets of variables that influence team performance. The second area, organizational environment, encompasses the enterprise ambience, including the physical and psychological environment, organizational support systems, senior management, and the overall culture and value system of the enterprise. Although less is known relative to the first two areas on how these variables influence project team performance, some researchers are finding significant connections between specific variables, such as senior management support, project alignment with enterprise strategy, and organizational structure and transparency (Thamhain, 2004, 2007, 2008). Third, project type and its complexities include the overall scope, interfaces, technological advances, multinational developments, and other factors that define the complexities of a project and its management. Typical examples are complex R&D undertakings, new product developments, multinational mergers, resort management, and foreign assistance programs. When describing these projects, managers point to specific complexity indicators that link to team management challenges. Some of these indicators are the high degree of technical difficulties, broad talent pools, evolving solutions (Bailetti, Callahan, & DiPietro, 1994; DeMaio, Verganti, & Corso, 1994); high levels of innovation and creativity, complex decision processes, high levels of uncertainty, intricate technology transfer networks (Keller, 2001, Thamhain, 2005); complex support systems, intricate multi-company support (DeMaio et al., 1994); and highly complex forms of work integration (Manning et al., 2008, Solomond 1996).
According to Shenhar (2001), projects can be categorized in four specific classes of complexity, which is useful for studying projects management at different complexity levels. The fourth area, project team composition, includes the skill sets, attitudes, functional ties, personal interests, and other characteristics of the individuals who make up the work group or project team. A rich body of knowledge exists in each of these dimensions with some new knowledge-based perspectives emerging, especially with focus on complex, technology-intensive project work (Janz & Prasarnphanich, 2009). In addition to the four primary influence areas recognized in the model, there are enterprise-external influences, such as socio-economic, competitive, and industry-specific conditions. All of these influences can be seen as exogenous variables, affecting team characteristics and ultimately team performance and project performance. These linkages suggest a simple mode, shown in Figure 1, which is being used as a framework for examining the influences of specific variables in the team environment on team characteristics and project performance, and to extract lessons for effective project management and team leadership.
Objective, Scope, and Method
The objective of this paper is to identify the links between team leadership style, project team environment, and team performance in complex and predominately technology-driven project organizations. The research reported here includes the latest phase of an ongoing field study into the drivers and barriers to project team performance. Because of the complexities, and the absence of specific theories or constructs, an exploratory field research format has been chosen for the investigation, involving questionnaires and two qualitative methods: participant observation and in-depth retrospective interviewing. Specifically, data were captured between 2005 and 2008 and are from 74 project teams who were engaged mostly with R&D and new product development. These are characterized in more detail under Data in the Method section. The study encompassed 23 companies in total. For each of the 23 companies, the research was conducted in three stages. In the first stage, interviews with project leaders and project team personnel, together with hands-on participant observations, helped (1) to understand the specific nature and challenges of the R&D and product development process within each company under investigation, (2) to prepare for the proper introduction of the questionnaire, and (3) to design the follow-up interviews. During the second stage, data were collected as part of a management consulting or training assignment, by questionnaire, observation, and expert panel. The third stage relied mostly on in-depth retrospective interviewing, providing perspective and additional information for clarifying and leveraging the data captured in stage one and two. As part of the action research, the data collection included other relevant source material, such as project progress reports, company reports, design review memos, committee action reports, financial statements, and information from the public media. These sources were especially helpful in designing questionnaires, interviews, and validating observations.
The purpose of this combined data collection method was to leverage the information-gathering process for identifying the drivers and barriers to effective team performance and for gaining insight into its management process. This combined method is particularly useful for new and exploratory investigations, such as the study reported here, which is considerably outside the framework of established theories and constructs (Glaser & Strauss, 1967; Eisenhardt, 1989). The format and process of the specific questionnaires and in-depth semi-structured interviews used in this study was developed and tested in previous R&D management field studies, which are similar in context to the current investigation (Kruglianskas, Isak, & Thamhain, 2000; Thamhain 2003, 2005).
The unit of analysis used in this study is the project. The field study, conducted between 2005 and 2008, yielded data from 74 project teams with a total sample population of 877 professionals, such as engineers, scientists, and technicians, plus their managers, including 17 supervisors, 65 project team leaders, 18 product managers, 7 directors of R&D, 8 directors of marketing, and 12 general management executives at the vice presidential level. Together, the data covered over 180 projects in 23 companies of the Fortune-500 category. The projects involved mostly development of high-technology products and services, such as information system, computer and pharmaceutical products, and financial services. Project budgets averaged $1,600,000. All project teams saw themselves working in a high-technology environment. The 23 host companies are large technology-based, multinational companies, mostly of the Fortune-500 category1. The data were obtained from three sources, questionnaires, participant observation, and in-depth retrospective interviewing, as discussed in the previous section.
A questionnaire was developed to measure the (1) characteristics of the work environment, (2) team leadership, and (3) team performance. Key performance indicators (KPI) included measures such as overall team performance, the ability of dealing with risk, effort, and commitment toward agreed-on objectives. To minimize potential biases that might result from the use of social science jargon, specific statements were developed to describe each of the 14 variables of the work environment and each of the five team-performance measures. For characterizing the project environment, team members were asked to think about their work environment and indicate their agreement with a series of statements on a five-point Likert-type scale: (1) strongly disagree, (2) disagree, (3) neutral, (4) agree, or (5) strongly agree. For example, to measure the perception of interesting, stimulating work, team members were asked to indicate their agreement with the statements such as “my job is interesting and professionally stimulating” and “I always enjoy my work.” The perception of recognition and accomplishment was measured with statements, such as “my work leads to significant accomplishments,” or “my efforts are being appreciated and properly recognized by the organization.” Similarly, team performance variables were measured on a five-point scale: (1) poor, (2) marginal, (3) good, (4) very good, and (5) excellent. Performance judgments were solicited from senior management, while judgments on the work environment were solicited from project team members. Hence, an independent set of scores was obtained on each of the environmental and performance variables. This method allowed the researcher to rank teams by (a) the characteristics of their work environments in each of the 13 variables, and (b) each of the seven performance measures, which then became the input data for the rank-order correlation summarized in Table 1. Further, data were captures during 125 interviews with the team leaders and line managers. The interviews with product managers, marketing directors, and general management executives were designed especially to gain insight into the issues and challenges of cross-functional integration necessary for successful technology transfer. The findings have been integrated into the Implications and Discussion section of this paper for additional perspective.
Standard statistical methods were used to summarize the survey (Table 1). The agreement among the various populations was tested using Kruskal-Wallis analysis of variance by ranks. Further, the association among the various sets of variables was measured using Kendall's Tau rank-order correlation. Because the organizational and behavioral variables investigated do not necessarily follow normal distribution, non-parametric statistical methods are deemed more robust and appropriate.2 In addition to the statistical methods for testing agreements among populations and for determining correlations, content analysis has been used for evaluating the qualitative part of the interviews, questionnaires, observations, and action research.
Using the field data from the 74 project teams and their work environments, the 20 sets of variables were analyzed to determine associations with team performance and cross-correlation among the 20 sets. The findings of this field study are organized into two sections: (1) the influences of the team environment on project performance are analyzed and reported; and (2) the managerial implications are discussed together with specific recommendations for effective team leadership in complex project environments.
Influences of Team Environment on Project Performance
Organizational culture consists of complex and intricately linked arrays of variables. The sets of variables selected for this study were those suggested by managers and project leaders in our sample of 76 enterprise projects. These variables were perceived as having the largest impact on project team performance. Ultimately, these variables were grouped into 20 sets (Table 1). In this context, managers point out that for today's complex and technology-based undertakings, project success is no longer the result of a few expert contributors and skilled project leaders. Rather, project success depends on effective multidisciplinary efforts, involving teams of people and support organizations interacting in a highly complex, intricate, and sometimes even chaotic way. The process requires experiential learning, trial and error, risk taking, as well as the cross-functional coordination and integration of technical knowledge, information, and components. Most managers see their projects evolving through a fuzzy transformation process that cannot always be described objectively or planned perfectly, nor can their results be predicted with certainty. Furthermore, project performance itself is difficult to define and measure. Yet, in spite of all these challenges, many project teams work effectively, producing great results within agreed-on budget and schedule constraints. This suggests that even complex and technology-based projects can be managed toward agreed-on results, given the right team environment. This proposition is further explored and supported with this field study.
One of the consistent and most striking findings from the field study is the need for increasing involvement of all project stakeholders throughout the organization and its external partners. Using Kendall's Tau rank-order correlation, Table 1 summarizes the association among factors of the organizational environment and project team performance. They are listed in order of importance to overall team performance. The presence and strength of these organizational variables was measured on a five-point scale as a perception of project team members, while project performance was measured as a perception of senior management as discussed in the method section of this paper. Correlations of p = 0.01 or stronger shown in bold italics. As indicated by the two strongest correlations, factors that fulfill professional esteem needs seem to have a particularly favorable influence on project team performance. The five most significant associations are: (1) professionally stimulating and challenging work environments [τ=.45], (2) opportunity for accomplishments and recognition [τ=.38], (3) the ability to resolve conflict and problems [τ=.37], (4) clearly defined organizational objectives relevant to the project [τ=.36], and (5) job skills and expertise of the team members appropriate for the project work [τ=.36]. These influences appear to deal effectively with the integration of goals and needs between the team member and the organization. In this context, the more subtle factors seem to become catalysts for cross-functional communication, information sharing, and the ultimate integration of the project team with focus on desired results. The other favorable factors in Table 1 relate to overall directions and team leadership [τ=.35], trust, respect, and credibility among team members and their leaders [τ=.30], and business process, as reflected by cross-functional cooperation and support [τ=.27], communications [τ=.27], clear project plans [τ=.25], clearly defined authority relations, and sufficient autonomy and freedom of actions in line with the managerial expectations and accountabilities [τ=.23].
All variables were measured with descriptive statements on a 5-point Likert scale: (1) strongly disagree, (2) disagree, (3) neutral, (4) agree, or (5) strongly agree.
Statements were judged by team members [*] and senior management [#], as indicated.
Statistical Significance: p=0.10 (τ>20), p=0.05 (τ>.31), p=0.01 (τ>0.36); correlation of p=0.01 or stronger are marked in bold italics.
To a lesser degree, opportunities for career development and advancement [τ=.12], as well as job security [τ=.12], seem to have a positive influence.
It is interesting to note that the same conditions, which are conducive to overall team performance, also lead to (1) a higher ability of dealing with risks and uncertainties and (2) a stronger personal effort and commitment to established objectives, and their team members, as shown in the correlation table. The field data analysis moreover supports the expectation that project teams that are perceived as effective by their management are also seen as (3) creative problem solvers who can (4) effectively utilize time and resources. In fact, a high degree of cross-correlation exists among the set of four of variables, as measured via Kruskal-Wallis analysis of variance by rank.3 The test shows that managers agree on the ranking of team performance factors in Table 1 at a confidence level of 98%. That is, managers who rate the team performance high in one category are likely to give high ratings also to the other three categories.
In addition to the 13 most significant factors reported in Table 1, it is interesting to note that many other characteristics of the work environment that were perceived by managers as important to effective team performance did not correlate significantly as measured by a p-level threshold of 0.10. Among the factors of lesser influence to project team performance are: (1) salary; (2) time-off; (3) project visibility and popularity; (4) maturity of the project team—measured in terms of time worked together as a team; (5) project duration; (6) stable project requirements with minimum changes; (7) stable organizational structures and business processes that result in minimal organizational changes, such as caused by mergers, acquisitions, and reorganization; (8) minimum technological interdependencies, such as caused by the dependency on multiple technologies, technological disciplines, and processes; and (9) project size and duration, arguing that project scope, size, and implementation challenges by themselves do not necessarily translate into lower team or project performance. Furthermore, interesting to see that several of the weaker influences actually seem to have opposite effects to those popularly held by managers. For example, it appears that, the more stable the project requirements, the less overall team performance are to be expected. While these correlations are clearly non-significant from a statistical point of view, they shed some additional light on the subtle and intricate nature of project team performance in technology-intensive environments. It also provides thought for future research. From a different perspective, it is interesting to observe that influences that support intrinsic professional needs show a strong favorable performance correlation, while the findings give only weak support to the benefit of “extrinsic influences/motivators,” such as salary increases, bonuses, and time off, and metrics-related factors, such as team tenure, project duration, and changes. This is in spite of the fact that all influences in Table 1 were perceived by most managers as critically important to team performance4. This finding suggests that managers are more accurate in their perception of team members' intrinsic, rather than extrinsic needs. It also seems to be more difficult to assess the impact of project parameters, such as size, duration, or complexity,5 than the impact of human needs on project work performance. Yet, in spite of cultural differences among organizations, a general agreement exists among managers and project leaders6 on the type of factors that are critical to effectively building and managing high-performing project teams, which was confirmed via Kruskal-Wallis analysis of variance by rank.
Discussion and Managerial Implications
In our hypercompetitive, fast moving environment, project management is an organizational system or toolset for executing multidisciplinary business operations “better, cheaper, and faster.” When connected with a team of people with the right linkages and internal chemistry, this system can transforms resources, information, and other inputs into tangible results. It can deal effectively with contemporary challenges, such as geographically dispersed workgroups, complex work integration, risks, and non-linearity. However, success is neither automatic nor random! By examining the five subsystems or influence spheres to team performance (people, leadership, project work content/complexity, work environment, and overall enterprise ambience), we find that human factors connect with many of these areas and have the strongest impact on team effectiveness and overall project success. Specifically, variables of team culture, team values and skill sets correlate strongly favorable to desired traits of a project team and ultimately to overall project success. One of the consistent and most striking findings is the favorable impact of a professionally stimulating work environment. Project teams that described their environment as highly interesting and stimulating, with strong emphasis on recognition, trust, and respect were also seen by their managers as effective in transferring technology, interfacing with client, dealing with changes, risks, and cross-functional communications. All of these components are part of the work process that ultimately affects project performance, an association that was tested via Kruskal-Wallis analysis of variance by rank in addition to the Kendall-Tau correlation analysis (Table 1). The significance of this finding is that it provides a model for “performance projection.” Project teams that see themselves in a professionally stimulating environment also seem to be part of a more effective work process and seem to use work-related tools and techniques more effectively.
Lessons for Effective Team Leadership
The empirical results presented in this paper show that specific conditions in the team environment appear most favorable to project teamwork. These conditions serve as bridging mechanisms, helpful in enhancing project performance in technology-based organizations. Considering the exploratory nature of this study, an attempt is being made to go beyond the obvious results of the statistical data and to integrate some of the lessons learned from the broader context of the field research. The interviews and observations conducted in support of methodology and questionnaire development and the in-depth retrospective interviews were especially useful in gaining additional perspective and insight into the processes and challenges of teamwork. They also helped in gleaning lessons for effective management in technology-intensive and complex project environments.
Leadership—The Art of Creating a Supportive Work Environment
An important lesson follows from the analysis of these field observations. Managers must foster a work environment supportive to their team members. As shown by the statistical correlation, factors that satisfy personal and professional needs seem to have the strongest effect on the project team performance. The most significant drivers are derived from the work itself, including personal interest, pride, and satisfaction with the work, professional work challenge, accomplishments, and recognition. Other important influences include effective communications among team members and support units across organizational lines, good team spirit, mutual trust, and respect, low interpersonal conflict, plus opportunities for career development and, to some degree, job security. All of these factors help in building a unified project team that can leverage the organizational strengths and competencies effectively, and produce integrated results that support the organization's mission objective. Creating such a climate and culture conducive to quality teamwork involves multifaceted management challenges that increase with the complexities of the project and its organizational environment. No longer will technical expertise or good leadership alone be sufficient, but excellence across a broad range of skills and sophisticated organizational support is required to manage project teams effectively. Hence, it is critically important for project leaders to understand, identify, and minimize the potential barriers to team development. Leading such self-directed teams can rarely be done “top-down,” but requires a great deal of interactive team management skills and senior management support. Tools such as the project maturity model and the Six Sigma project management process can serve as a framework for analyzing and fine-tuning the team development and management process.
Managing Team Formation and Development
No work group comes fully integrated and unified in their values and skill sets, but it needs to be carefully nurtured and developed. Managers must realize the organizational dynamics involved during the various phases of the team development process. They must understand the professional interests, anxieties, communication needs, and challenges of their team members and anticipate them as the team goes through the various stages of its development. Many of the problems that occur during the formation of the new project team or during its life cycle are normal and often predictable. However, they present barriers to effective team performance. The problems must be quickly identified and dealt with. That is, team leaders must recognize what works best at each stage, and what is most conducive to the team development process. Tools such as focus groups, interface charts, and the four-stage model of team development (originally developed by Hersey and Blanchard, 1996), can help identify the leadership style and organizational support needed in facilitating effective and expedient team developments.
Developing and Managing Work Processes
Many influences to project team performance are derived from the organizational processes, which have their locus outside the project organization, and are controlled by senior management. They include the project management system, plus a wide spectrum of other enterprise subsystems, such as estimating, forecasting, progress measurements, purchasing, bid proposals and technology transfers, cross-functional communications, and general managerial controls. All of them affect the project environment in such critical areas as organizational stability, availability of resources, management involvement and support, personal rewards, stability of organizational goals, objectives and priorities, and therefore, help or hinder team performance. Project team leaders must work with senior management to ensure an organizational ambience conducive to effective teamwork. Effective project leaders create a sense of community across the whole enterprise. That is, they understand the various business processes of the enterprise and the factors that drive team performance. They can also influence and fine-tune these processes to be least disruptive and supportive to the project team and its efforts toward desired results.
The empirical results presented in this paper show that specific conditions in the project environment appear most favorable to team work. These conditions serve as bridging mechanisms, helpful for enhancing project performance, especially in complex, technology-based organizations. Many of these influences to team performance originate in the project environment with strong behavioral implications. Specifically, organizational conditions that satisfy personal and professional needs of team members seem to have the strongest effect on commitment, the ability to deal with risk and contingencies, and overall team performance. Most significant are those influences that derive from the work itself. Interestingly, people who find their assignments professionally challenging, leading to accomplishments, recognition, and professional growth, also seem to function more effectively in a complex and technology-intensive team environment. Such a professionally stimulating ambience also lowers communication barriers, increases the tolerance for conflict and risk taking, and enhances the desire to succeed. Other influences on project team performance are derived from organizational processes. They have their locus outside the project organization and are controlled by senior management. These processes affect the team in terms of organizational stability, availability of resources, management involvement and support, personal rewards, stability of organizational goals, objectives, and priorities. To be effective, project leaders must work with senior management, to ensure an organizational ambience supportive to effective teamwork. The findings also validate some commonly accepted success factors, the importance of cross-disciplinary involvement of all project stakeholders throughout the organization and its external partners. Managers point out, that for today's technology-based projects, success is no longer the result of a few geniuses, experts, and skilled leaders. Rather, project success depends on effective multidisciplinary efforts, involving teams of people and support organizations interacting in a highly complex, intricate, and sometimes even chaotic way. Especially for complex, technology-intensive efforts, the process requires experiential learning, trial and error, risk taking, as well as the cross-functional coordination and integration of technical knowledge, information, and components. Most project managers in these complex environments see their role as leading a team of professionals through a fuzzy process that cannot always be described linearly or planned perfectly, nor can results be predicted with certainty. Yet, in spite of all these challenges, many project teams that were observed in this study work effectively, producing innovative results within agreed-on budget and schedule constraints. This suggests that complex projects can be managed, given the right team environment and leadership. This observation is further supported by the statistical analysis of the field data summarized in Table 1. Succeeding in today's ultra-competitive word of business is not an easy feat. No single set of broad guidelines guarantees success. However, project success is not random. A better understanding of the criteria and organizational dynamics that drive project team performance can help managers in effectively integrating project teams with the enterprise. Effective team leaders are social architects who understand the interaction of organizational and behavioral variables and can foster a climate of active participation, accountability, and result orientation. This requires sophisticated skills in leadership, administration, organization, and technical expertise.
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1 65% of the companies in the sample fall in to the Fortune 500 classification, 23% are Fortune 1000 companies, while the remainder are smaller firms. None of the companies in the sample can be classified as small or medium size.
2 Many of the variables investigated as part of this study contain ordinal measurements, such as “strong agreement, agreement, disagreement, etc.” Although these measures can be rank-ordered, they do not necessarily follow a normal distribution. Therefore, parametric statistical methods are not seen appropriate. Instead, distributionfree, non-parametric methods have been chosen. The limitations of non-parametric methods, regarding their ability to extract less information in exchange for more flexibility, are being recognized. The issues of methodological choice have been discussed extensively by N. H. Anderson in his frequently quoted article “Scales and statistics: parametric and non-parametric,” Psychological Bulletin, 58, 305–316 (1961).
3 The Kruskal-Wallis one-way analysis of variance by rank is a test for deciding whether k independent samples are from different populations. In this field study, the test verified that managers perceive in essence the same parameters in judging high team performance.
4 The influence factors shown in Table 1 were determined during the exploratory phase of this field study, during interviews and discussions with over 100 managers, asking them “what factors and conditions are seen to be important to high team performance and ultimately high project performance.” These discussions resulted in over 500 factors, variables, and conditions seen as “very important” to high team performance. Using content analysis of the 500 factor statements, 22 categorical factors were developed. In addition to the correlation analysis (shown in tables 1), the 22 factors were “tested” with 75 managers and project leaders. Each person was asked to rank the criticality of each of the 22 factors to project team performance. The chosen Likert-type scale was: (1) highly important, (2) important, (3) somewhat important, (4) little important and (5) not important. Averaged over all factors and all judges, 86% of the factors in Table 1 were rated as “important” or higher (managerial perception).
5 Variation in project complexity is seen here as a difference of complexity within the selected projects chosen for this study, which are all categorized as “complex” and technology-intensive.
6 These agreements have been qualitatively confirmed during interview discussions with managers, as well as quantitatively validated (including the factors shown in Table 1) via Komogorov-Smirnov analysis of variance by ranks, at a confidence level of 95% or better.
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