TEAM BUILDING FOR NEW BUSINESS; Over-riding Organizational Influences, and Implications for Change

A Case Institute OB Program, PhD Thesis research report for circulation, April 25, 2010.

by William J LeGray

ABSTRACT:

“Team Building for New Business” research was ‘enabled’ at TRW. Results were: Productivity (job performance ratings) significantly correlated w Role Clarity and Job Security (beliefs), within a proposal task force. These findings have everlasting relevance for persons engaged in engineering and manufacturing, & other technological, endeavors. Categorical interview data was statistically analyzed, and a draft thesis was completed at year end 1965. A final thesis was posted (in story form) in LinkedIn’s BoxNet Files for sharing on April 25, 2010.

Author’s Note: Short story tales have been established as a particularly effective means of transferring learning, and wisdom, for the benefit of future generations, and just plain historical documentations.

INTRODUCTION

When it came time to begin organizing a PhD dissertation effort to conclude my further commitment to learning and contribute to higher education in the new field of OB (Organizational Behavior), I sought opportunities to be useful at a high tech company in town with whom CIT was affiliated. The company was a long-time Mid Western automotive supplier, and they also operated a space technology laboratories and program management facility in Redondo Beach California.

At the California location, pioneering efforts for OD (Organization Development) were conceived for Career Development (CD). And, shortly after the VP responsible for CD went to direct the OMSF (Office of Manned Space Flight) at NASA Headquarters, where I was invited to be a summer Intern. I was aboard to assist with the migration of OD/CD improvements into the “new NASA” organizational configuration, and assist with related matters.

The HRD VP at the company, in town (nearby CIT), believed my commitments and supported my efforts. So, I was able to speak with different managers about thesis topics that could be beneficial for Operational Effectiveness (OE) in various areas of the company. My first discussions were with the Research Labs, and my proposal was to investigate their “Organizational Climate (OC).” This was not a new subject in the social research area, but one that had been lingering around with loosely connected vague and emerging concepts for years. And, to provide an OC Survey competency, with more mobility, could be useful. However, the manager’s attention span for proposals about this sort activity was short. It was difficult to claim that the expected results (which were mostly unknown) would be worth “the trip”, considering the investment of resources that would be required.

Concurrently, about this time our CIT OB Program was starting up an OD development contract effort with the company. There were at least two of us (both PhD students) involved. Since, the other was more senior in the program, he was the primary contact regarding the contract. The company was in an economic “lull” and the supplier company had been working on a preparing a proposal to obtain a military production contract for the manufacture of weaponry components.

RESEARCH OPPORTUNITY

Fortunately, it became apparent that a useful OD contribution (and thesis research possibility) could be explored by interviewing members of the proposal team, and with a thorough analysis of the relevant data, a report out to the team (and the company) could be presented to record “what went right”, and “how to better conduct these proposal efforts” in the future.

When they began, the proposal team was not a front-runner. They were number 24 (down) on a listing of contenders. But, they were dedicated and hard-hitting. The team included people representing all the necessary technical disciplines from within the company. There were as many as 85 (max), but mostly there was a core group of 60 people involved in the task force effort. They’d already formulated a “plan and procedures” pathway, and had defined their “communications and workflow” requirements to do the job right.

The team was rapidly ascending upward through the list of competitors, and they became top contenders, with high hopes for the proposal they’d submitted. They had done their best to perform the “digging”, and “cooperative team effort”, required. This period, just after submittal, appeared to be the best time to conduct the interviews. And, each of the 60 people, most involved, were asked the same set of questions by one of the three members of the interview team. The 1-hour interviews were conducted in a semi-structured way, so that descriptive data about task force conditions would become available. Then, with codification, tabulation, and analysis, there would be possibilities for developing the “new guidelines” for future proposal efforts.

Time was of the essence because we wanted to capture impressions from the entire team, be able to analyze the data, and provide a report out before the team disbanded. After a few interviews, and getting together to discuss improving our Interview Questionnaire Sheet, we completed the 60 interviews (marking quantitative responses, and taking qualitative comments). We gathered a fantastic database- rich with actual perceptions from out of the situation, and offering much potential learning. We had obviously chosen a difficult path, and created hard work for ourselves, mostly because the output data obtained was only semi-structured and classified.

RESEARCH APPROACH

Our “clinical” approach promised the greatest of possibilities for revealing the “useful insights” we were trying to uncover. It would have been much easier to do a straightforward questionnaire survey, allowing rapid tabulations for quick feedback. But, then we would have preconceived the eventual findings, and fresh discoveries were the objective. However, because it was important to complete the interviews before the winner was announced, we made sure to collect a few easily quantifiable responses

Research methods are obviously a “classical issue” in conducting organizational, or related medical research, and this is why OD has evolved with practitioners using survey questionnaires, action research methods, and action learning facilitation approaches. All have a time and/or place, and utility, when aiming for new discovery, growth, and knowledge clarity.

For each of the questions discussed with the participants, the study team developed a minimum number of response categories. Initially, there was a total of 39 questions on the Interviewer’s Questionnaire. Then, to determine areas of strong “perceptual” consensus and get closer to identifying those conditions that seemed to be most relevant amongst the participants, information from each of the interviews were codified. For each of the questions discussed, the study team developed a minimum number of response categories, and 207 “clear” response categories emerged. Each question, with two or more response categories, provided the TF “conditions” data required for analysis. In addition, data was collected for a few other study variables from the company’s records.

To analyze this abundance of data about task force conditions, the relatedness of each study variable to performance ratings and overall attitude scores was an objective. Independently, each member of the study team judged which of the 207 factors he thought indicated a favorable or unfavorable condition. The result was solid agreement that there were 33 favorable and 33 unfavorable kinds of response categories. For each participant, a response ratio (=  # of favorable / # of unfavorable responses) provided an overall attitude score for each individual.

In addition to quantifying a “new” abstract variable like the overall attitude score, the managers became very interested in learning how the various conditions related to productivity. So, performance ratings were obtained for each of the 60 participants regarding “how one did the job he was expected to do.” And, all the rating supervisors agreed that this “was” the rationale for each of the ratings. The regular rating scale, in use throughout the company, was used, and it had five intervals from “low (did not satisfy)” to “exceptional (consistently high level).”

To compare “reported conditions” and “more favored/less favored performances”, the Chi Squared procedure was used. Participants with above and below ratings (relative to the supervisor’s mean ratings) provided the two “productivity” groupings. Since only categorical data came from the interviews, the usual statistical assumptions associated with the “Bell shaped curve” (linearity, equal intervals, and normality) did not apply, and it became necessary to apply non-parametric statistical techniques. The Chi Square Test proved to be the most useful method for validity testing.

SOME SIGNIFICANT RESULTS

The results clearly established (with p= 0.05 strength) that:

1. Whether or not one’s previous job was ongoing (an indication of Job Security), and

2.  Whether or not task force job expectations were made clear (an indication of Role Clarity),

were. both, significantly related to job performance ratings (a indication of Productivity). Restated, these findings provide a solid  basis for concluding that Job Security and Role Clarity. both, significantly affected an individual’s contribution to overall team performance and productivity.

There were other significant factors more weakly related to “productivity”:

1. Feeling responsible, and having frequent home department backing (both with p= 0.10), and

2. Job on TF was a voluntary assignment (not arranged), expected job duration was clear, individual received orientation to TF by TF manager rather than someone else, and recognition of contribution was direct versus being just subtle (all four with a strength of p= 0.20).

And, from among the, approximately, 73 emergent (response) “condition” categories, there were several related to  “favorable overall individual attitude ratios” (with a strength of p= 0.05, or better):

+ Having a choice re the TF job, feeling good about the job, having clear job expectations, being able to meet expectations,

+ Orientation was adequate, was able to influence work, work was challenging, work was in keeping with talent, there was adequate progress feedback,

+ Rated well by management, having good management direction, contributions were recognized, felt chances of winning were good, and would want to work on the team if the contract was rewarded to their company.

And, actually, the company did win the contract award- an absolutely, remarkable, “all out effort” achievement.

Note: Many of the above findings would appear to be “common sense” expectations, but now with the application of some statistical power, the statements are “more than” just suppositions.

REFLECTIONS

Over the interim 45 years, since this research report was first drafted, I’ve made assertions many times, on experience summaries, by stating the following:

“Productivity (i.e. job performance ratings) significantly correlated w Role Clarity and Job Security (beliefs), within a proposal task force. This finding has everlasting relevance for persons engaged in technical, human endeavors. December 1965.”

Finding the opportunity to conduct organizational research, such as “this” particular one, is usually a once in a lifetime experience. And, the validation of conclusions (for espousing recommendations) was very tedious. And, since the above findings relate to “over-riding organizational influences, and Implications of needs for change”, it has been disappointing to see little progress about correcting much of the “lost work” affecting our nation’s productivity.

Quite frankly, the “down-trodden” condition of some segments of scientists, engineers, and other technologists has been of great concern to me for almost 55 years. If one only begins to become more sensitive to our existing infrastructure repair/replacement, and new alternative energy needs (for example), there should be “ample embarrassment” about the management and technological obsolescence conditions prevalent in our society, today. And , as a result, lots of motivation to organize better, together.

One suggestion is that someone, some influential change agent group, or some governance activity (somewhere) should focus on resolving these issues better, i.e. finding ways to “become more  effective” and “avoid abnormal unemployment.”  To often, to many people (educators and students) have paid a high price for valuable talents that were disrupted- and basically “benched” on the sidelines.

Perhaps, more consideration should be given to creating a better “follow through”, after people have been “inspired and encouraged to deep dive” for learning and skill development? Perhaps, we should be more responsive to “our shameful use of human resources conditions”, while our society is  “up against” severely increasing needs for talent?

April 25, 2010

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