Team Scaffolds: How Minimal Team Structures Enable Role-Based Coordination
Harvard Business School
Amy C. Edmondson
Harvard University - Technology & Operations Management Unit
April 15, 2013
Harvard Business School Technology & Operations Mgt. Unit Working Paper No. 12-062
In this paper, we integrate research on role-based coordination with concepts adapted from the team effectiveness literature to theorize how team scaffolds enable effective coordination among people who do not work together regularly. We argue that role-based coordination among relative strangers can be interpersonally challenging and propose that team scaffolds (minimal team structures that bound groups of roles) may provide occupants with a temporary shared in-group that facilitates interaction. We develop and test these ideas in a multi-method field study of a hospital emergency department that introduced minimal team structures that we refer to as team scaffolds. We adapt network methods to compare coordination patterns before and after team scaffolds were implemented. Our results show that the team scaffolds improved performance, in part by reducing the number of partners with whom each role occupant coordinated. We then analyze qualitative interview data to theorize the social experience of working in team scaffolds. We find that the minimal team structures provided a kind of social scaffolding that facilitated group-level coordination between roles. The temporary shared in-group that emerged in the team scaffolds supported a sense of belonging, reduced interpersonal risk, and led individuals to expect account-giving behavior from other roles. Our study contributes to research on role-based coordination, team and organizational boundaries, and team size.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 37
Keywords: Team Scaffolds, Role-based Coordination, Team Effectiveness, Multi-methodsworking papers series
Date posted: January 19, 2012 ; Last revised: April 16, 2013
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