Deep Help in Complex Project Work: Guiding and Path-Clearing Across Difficult Terrain
Accepted at the Academy of Management Journal
59 Pages Posted: 20 Oct 2017
Date Written: October 20, 2017
How do teams working on complex projects get the help they need? Our qualitative investigation of the help provided to project teams at a prominent design firm revealed two distinct helping processes, both characterized by deep, sustained engagement that far exceeds the brief interactions described in the helping literature. Such deep help consisted of (1) guiding a team through a difficult juncture by working with its members in several prolonged, tightly clustered sessions, or (2) path-clearing by helping a team address a persistent deficit via briefer, intermittent sessions throughout a project’s life. We present a model theorizing these processes, which has two noteworthy features. First, it emphasizes the socially constructed nature of helping behavior. That is, the parties must establish and maintain a helping frame for their interaction, especially when help-givers are high-status external leaders. Second, the model specifies that the rhythms of deep help—the duration and temporal patterns of giver–receiver interactions—are resource-allocation decisions that also contribute to the social meaning of help. These findings illuminate the theoretical and practical overlap between helping and external leadership in knowledge-intensive project work, and the role of temporality in the helping process.
Keywords: helping, rhythm, prosocial behavior, external team leadership, social construction, groups and teams, time, qualitative methods, field research
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