Designing high performance teams for projects : a study of 49 project teams in the UK construction industry

Jenner, Mark Steven (1997). Designing high performance teams for projects : a study of 49 project teams in the UK construction industry. PhD thesis The Open University.

Abstract

Teams have been presented as a panacea to complex and turbulent business environments, but there are few examples of genuinely high-performing teams. This study considers the utility of work design as a means of improving the performance of project teams and thereby resolving this paradox. Grounded in quantitative methodology, and supported by relevant qualitative data, this study has used a single case experiment to examine the effects of multiple work design variables on the climate and performance of 49 construction project management teams. The single case environment provided an opportunity to study a large number of real work groups, executing broadly similar tasks, while controlling for the effects of organisational culture on social and work behaviour.

The results indicated that three levels of intervention - transformational leadership, team organisation and team performance orientation - were influential in either (a) directly influencing project team performance or (b) creating a team climate which was itself predictive of desired outcomes, specifically the moderation of project complexity and higher levels of productivity. In particular, the results showed that the `inspiring a shared vision' leader practice was influential in explaining the perceived satisfaction of customers with project team performance. This provides empirical evidence that visionary leadership is an important determinant of high performance in complex, fluid and uncertain work environments, such as construction project management.

Although task orientation and shared vision emerged as reasonably strong performance norms in the sample, it is generally difficult isolating the referent group norm(s) which explain(s) the variation in the performance of project teams working in myriad social, temporal and task conditions. Rather than attempting to manage group behaviour in realtime, therefore, the results of this study suggest that a coherent and integrated package of work design interventions can leverage exceptional value from project teams by helping each team to develop unique performance and behavioural strategies.

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