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Developing a Consulting Tool to Measure Process Change on Global Teams: The Global Team Process Questionnaire™

John W. Bing, Ed.D.

 

As international organizations strive to improve their global reach, the role of distributed teams and the role of human processes in improving performance on these teams are important success factors. However, there are few studies of such teams using instruments whose psychometric properties are understood, instruments that can both measure changes over time and compare teams. The Global Team Process Questionnaire™ is described and researched in this paper to identify its properties.

Companies using global teams (this term will be used for teams distributed regionally or globally) have found that such teams are required to expand internationally with effectiveness. "For the first time since nomads moved into towns, work is diffusing rather than concentrating. . . . In all industries and sectors, people are working across space and time." (Lipnack & Stamps, 1997, pp. 2-3) Global teams are utilized for research and development, to operate lines of business in a networked or matrix fashion, to serve the requirements of global customers in their locations and to implement innovations and change on a wide-scale basis. Organizations have found that global teams can be a competitive advantage and that not all teams are equally productive, even though they may be similarly constituted in terms of the professional qualifications of team members.

Managing such teams requires understanding the relationships between the following areas: (Rhinesmith, 1993):

Personal styles
Stages of team development
Effective team functioning
Stage of professional development
National culture
Corporate culture
Functional culture

Rhinesmith notes that it is a mistake to automatically assume that "cultural differences [are] the primary driving forces in multicultural interaction. Many observers have found, however, that most multicultural teams are driven first by personal factors and issues of team development such as roles, responsibilities, power, and conflict." At the same time, culture plays an undeniable role: "The mistake made by many managers is not that they leap to cultural solutions from personal differences, but that they do not know enough about cultural differences to determine whether or not they are a factor." (Rhinesmith, 1993, pp. 131-2).

In the face of the complex factors influencing the functioning of global teams, some kind of method is required to disentangle the threads of interactions. Team Leaders and their managers cannot be assumed to be experts in this area; if help is not forthcoming, leaders, managers, and team members must peer into the "soup" of such relationships and guess which ingredients are contributing to, and which detracting from, team effectiveness. Such guesswork may often be misguided and in any event guesswork is difficult to standardize. Great team leaders may be intuitive, but intuition cannot be passed on to others and is often inconsistently effective.

The Global Team Process Questionnaire™ (referred to below as the "GTPQ") is a device which has been designed to identify those factors contributing to and detracting from team effectiveness for both team leaders and members. These factors include communications, roles and responsibilities, leadership, trust and other factors (see the list of questions in Table 1) identified as critical to healthy team process.

Using such a tool as the GTPQ, improvements can be made through a targeted and efficient approach. Some of these improvements may be in the training and development of the team leader and team members; some may require personnel changes; and some organizational development interventions. The GTPQ is a diagnostic tool which allows decision-makers to take actions using better, more targeted information.

Five years ago a Swiss-based pharmaceutical company asked ITAP International, a consulting firm located in Princeton, New Jersey, USA, to develop a method for measuring process performance on three global teams. The teams were composed of scientists from Europe, the Americas, and Japan. They met four times over a period of two years, and continued their team responsibilities during the intervening periods. Their purpose was to reduce research and development time in three drug delivery areas: oral, skin, and subdermal. The teams were tasked with similar assignments and because the composition of the teams was similar, they became ideal candidates for studying differences in human processes on global teams.

A questionnaire was developed to measure human process on these teams, and was administered four times over the two-year period that these teams met together. At the end of the two years, specific questions from the GTPQ were compared with peer rankings provided by the participants and these correlated positively; in other words, the highest-peer ranked team also had the highest GTPQ results on the questions tested. In addition, measures on team process on all teams fell when the teams' parent company was merged with another company, providing support for the notion that the questionnaire results were reflecting the impact of "real world" events. (Bing & Smith, 1995).

Over the past five years, the questionnaire has been further developed and provided to other global teams, many of them working in the pharmaceutical industry, and it has also been provided to employees in the consumer products and information technology fields and to the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO).

The research outlined in this paper was conducted within the past year on two sister teams within a pharmaceutical company. Each team is focused on coordinating drug development within a single therapeutic area, or closely related area. The teams consist of representatives from traditional departments within the pharmaceutical company but the primary coordination and focus for drug development within therapeutic areas are the responsibility of the team and the team leader. These traditional departments include marketing, operations, clinical trials, regulatory affairs, and so on.

The stakes for the team, for the team leader, and for the company, are large. Very few compounds survive the rigorous weeding process required for registration and successful marketing of a drug, and generally there are few teams which manage to pull off such a success. Success is, of course, impossible with a compound which does not survive the process. However, in an odd way, certain kinds of failure are shadow successes; for failed compounds must be identified quickly and accurately to insure that the team accomplishes its mission of bringing only safe and effective drugs to market. Conversely, long, drawn-out processes which eventually lead to the withdrawal of a compound cost the company time and money and are double failures.

The teams studied herein completed the questionnaire for the first time some months ago, and the results are compared in this study. The questionnaires were administered electronically. Each team consists of about ten members. The results of this first iteration of the questionnaire has been reported to the team leaders.

Problem Statement

Teams are one of the principal mechanisms by which the operations of organizations are globalized, that is to say, are carried out internationally. It is likely that those teams that have the most effective levels of human process will assist the organization as a whole to be more productive. However, in order to test this hypothesis, it is necessary to develop cross-team human performance metrics and then to statistically compare these metrics with other measures of productivity. This paper presents an approach to the first half of this challenge.

A global team is defined here as a team which is located in more than one country, or that has participants from more than one country temporarily working in the same location. Pharmaceutical teams of the kind described in this paper typically have both configurations.

Theoretical Framework

Various superb quantitative and qualitative approaches have been undertaken to better understand national cultural differences (Hall, 1976; Hofstede, 1984; Trompenaars, 1993). These studies have been successful in widening awareness of the influence of culture on relationships, performance and effectiveness within organizations.

Group dynamics within a multicultural and global context has also been explored for some time, often in the context of studies on management and human resources (Adler, 1986; Hofstede, 1991; Odenwald 1993; Berger, 1996; Harris & Moran 1996; Black, Morrison, & Gregersen, 1999). In some of these studies, the influence of culture on organizations was studied primarily in terms of the entire organization or upon individuals working within the organization. It is only within the more recent past that the importance of global teams has been recognized as a key factor within international organizations.

Since the Global Team Process Questionnaire™ was created it has been utilized with global and multicultural teams in the pharmaceutical, chemical, consumer product, and information technology industries. There have been over twenty teams studied. Team sizes range from 4 to 32 members.

he Global Team Process Questionnaire™ is constructed of three parts. The first section consists of "base" questions which are used with all clients.

These form the statistical core of the questionnaire. These questions have been developed and redeveloped over time. For example, the question:

"Are the objectives of your team clear?"
was originally written:
"Is the agenda of your team clear?"

and was revised because the word "agenda" was sometimes taken to refer to the more limited sense of "calendar." Other questions were similarly revised over time. The questions have always been written in English because it has been the business language utilized by all of the teams studied.

The second section of the questionnaire consists of questions requested by different team leaders. These are typically related to process on one specific team, and are therefore unavailable for comparison with teams in other organizations, although they may be utilized for statistical comparisons on the same team over time or on a sister team in the same department or organization which uses the same question set. This is in fact the case reported in this paper.

Of course there are qualitative measures which provide insight into the processes and issues on these teams but which are not suitable for statistical manipulation. Therefore questions which require written responses are utilized to expand the information provided by the Likert-response questions and to serve as a check against the natural limits of closed questions.

How would measurement results from a questionnaire of this type differ on global and multicultural teams from domestic or monocultural teams? There is very little in the literature on this subject. However, landmark studies on national differences on questionnaire surveys by Hofstede, André Laurent, and Trompenaars have shown that certain questions will provoke responses that differ along national lines. For that reason the next step in questionnaire research on this subject should be to compare results based on demographics of global team members. These demographics will be added to the next iterations of the questionnaire mentioned herein. In the meantime, questions on communications and other human processes (goal-setting, trust-building) which have been shown to be especially sensitive to cross-cultural differences will likely indicate cultural differences; however we have no way of knowing which component is cultural, and which should be attributed to other causes. Even a question in this survey specifically related to culture, "What impact have cultural differences had on team performance?" is interpretational in nature and responses depend upon the respondents' concept of, for example, the roles culture and personality play in everyday life. Therefore, the data we now have available will not answer the question of the extent to which culture influences human processes on teams; that must follow the addition of demographic variables to the statistical analytic process.

This is an important theoretical question. From a practical point of view, however, team leaders and their managers are not particularly interested in the extent to which, for example, culture influences communications on their teams. They are very interested, however, whether communications as a whole on such teams are good or bad because in general they believe that this will effect the productivity of those teams. And when other forms of analysis implicates cultural factors, then in general managers and team leaders appreciate interventions to raise the awareness and skills of team members to understand and positively utilize these differences.

Methodology

Table 1 lists the questions utilized as "base" questions in the version of the GTPQ used in this study. Respondents use a six-level Likert Scale in assigning values as answers.

Two global teams performing similar work within a pharmaceutical company (developing discovered compounds from clinical trials through regulatory approval to market) were administered the GTPQ with the same questions within the same time period of one month. The teams contained twelve members each in number and were composed of medical doctors and professionals with doctorates in related fields. At the time the questionnaires were administered, both teams had members located in the U.S. and Belgium. The team leaders were also located one in Belgium and the other in the U.S. The questionnaires were administered by email and returned by email. The results were provided to the teams within one month of the initial administration of the questionnaires. These results were provided in two formats:

  1. For each question, statistical averages for the team's response and in addition, where available, pharmaceutical industry averages on the same questions. Comments were also collected and anonimized to provide an additional level of meaning to each question.
  2. "Spidergrams," sometimes called radargrams, were produced. These showed how each (anonymous) respondent had answered each question, and whether the respondents were in agreement or disagreement on the response to these questions.

One-way ANOVAS were run for the groups. The results were compared in order to determine the significant differences between the two teams on specific questions. The measurement level requirement for a data analysis with ANOVA is an interval scale. Although Likert scales are strictly speaking not interval scales (the difference between the scale items is not exactly the same for all respondents because of their assumptions), scales like the one used in the GTPQ are commonly treated as if they would provide this measurement level. The ANOVA table was chosen to display the significant differences between the two teams here in this report. To check the significance of differences on a higher statistical level a General Linear Model (GLM-Univariate) was computed for each question. The reported results were confirmed. (Krukenberg, 2000).

The results are compared to determine if these can yield recommendations to the team leaders to improve process effectiveness on the teams. Since neither group is a "control" group, and since neither group received an experimental treatment, the purpose of the comparison is not to determine whether a specific treatment did or did not have an effect, but rather to take a first look at whether the questionnaire can discriminate between teams in a useful way. "Useful," in this sense, means that recommendations for improvements in team process can be made from information provided through the use of the questionnaire.

Results and Findings

The following questions showed significant differences between the two teams at the .05 level.

5. How effective is the work of your team?
9. Group communications: My team has excellent / fair / poor communications.
10. Relevance of my team's work to the company's strategic goals?
11. Level of trust on team.
12. Ways of resolving conflicts.
13. Problem resolution on team.
16. Effectiveness of team leadership.
17. Consistency of direction from team members.

Table 1: One-way ANOVA
  Sum of Squares df Mean Square F Sig.
1. Have your skills and capabilities increased through participation in your team? Between Groups .01 1 .009 .008 .93
Within Groups 21.56 19 1.135
Total 21.57 20
2. Do you have time for work on your team's activities? Between Groups .01 1 .009 .008 .93
Within Groups 20.56 19 1.082
Total 20.57 20
3. Are the objectives of your team clear? Between Groups .02 1 .025 .016 .90
Within Groups 28.78 19 1.515
Total 28.81 20
4. Are the roles and responsibilities of the team members clear? Between Groups 3.11 1 3.111 2.05 .17
Within Groups 28.89 19 1.520
Total 32.00 20
5. How effective is the work of your team? Between Groups 5.00 1 5.001 4.33 .05
Within Groups 21.95 19 1.155
Total 26.95 20
6. Have you had the opportunity to inform others in your functional area of the work of your team? Between Groups .04 1 .036 .018 .89
Within Groups 36.92 19 1.943
Total 36.95 20
7. Have you had the opportunity to learn of comments on the work of your team from others in your functional area? Between Groups 1.02 1 1.016 .32 .58
Within Groups 60.22 19 3.170
Total 61.24 20
8. How do you rank the importance of the team to your company's future success? Between Groups 1.59 1 1.587 1.70 .21
Within Groups 17.72 19 .933
Total 19.31 20
9. Group communications: My team has excellent / fair / poor communications. Between Groups 22.92 1 22.921 18.36 .00
Within Groups 23.72 19 1.249
Total 46.64 20
10. Relevance of my team's work to the company's strategic goals? Between Groups 7.68 1 7.683 6.11 .02
Within Groups 23.89 19 1.257
Total 31.57 20
11. Describe the level of trust on this team (strong - moderate - weak). Between Groups 9.53 1 9.528 8.99 .01
Within Groups 20.14 19 1.060
Total 29.67 20
12. Are ways of resolving conflicts within the team clear / somewhat clear / unclear? Between Groups 12.44 1 12.444 7.82 .01
Within Groups 30.22 19 1.591
Total 42.67 20
13. When problems have arisen, have the team members resolved them effectively / somewhat effectively / not effectively? Between Groups 10.94 1 10.938 8.46 .01
Within Groups 24.56 19 1.293
Total 35.50 20
14. What impact have cultural differences had on team performance? Between Groups 1.65 1 1.648 2.92 .11
Within Groups 8.47 15 .565
Total 10.12 16
15. Is your functional area management aligned with the goals of the Global Team? Between Groups 1.43 1 1.433 1.37 .26
Within Groups 19.81 19 1.042
Total 21.24 20
16. How effective is the team leadership? Between Groups 15.50 1 15.501 11.80 .00
Within Groups 24.95 19 1.313
Total 40.45 20
17. Are team members pulling in the same direction? Between Groups 13.35 1 13.349 23.65 .00
Within Groups 10.72 19 .564
Total 24.07 20
18. Do the team's goals align with the business strategy? Between Groups .55 1 .546 1.63 .22
Within Groups 5.36 16 .335
Total 5.90 17
19. Is your functional area integrated into the team's overall activities? Between Groups .52 1 .525 .48 .50
Within Groups 20.78 19 1.094
Total 21.31 20
20. Do you feel that much of your time is spent listening to issues not relevant to your functional area? Between Groups 3.57 1 3.571 1.22 .28
Within Groups 55.67 19 2.930
Total 59.24 20

All of the significant results were on the positive side for one team (Team A), and negative on the other (Team B). In other words, Team A showed consistently higher scores on team process than Team B for those questions which reliably distinguished the two teams. (For questions at a lower level of significance, the results were more scattered.) What kind of conclusions can be made from this limited information?

First, there is a difference in perceived process effectiveness between these two teams. The members of Team A clearly have a better opinion of their team's work than members of Team B. Interviews with members of both teams conducted during a preconference needs assessment confirmed these findings.

Second, there were broad areas cited for problems on Team B, including leadership, trust, and conflict resolution. Two months after the administration of this questionnaire, the leader of team B was reassigned to another position.

The purpose of this questionnaire is to analyze process effectiveness on teams and to suggest ways in which ineffective or harmful process can be reduced. By identifying specific areas for improvement, targeted change interventions can be made, either through training and development efforts or through other approaches. Conversely, the topics embedded in questions that elicit a positive response are not good candidates for useful interventions to improve team performance, since they are already highly rated.

For example, one of the areas that often comes up in the GTPQ analysis as one for improvement is question #3: "Are the objectives of your team clear?" However, in this case, there was very little difference between the two team responses, and the responses were within the normal range for pharmaceutical teams. (ITAP International has established a database of responses for teams by industry so that industry averages can be computed.)

On the other hand, another question (Question #9 in Table 1) which has in the past correlated with team performance (Bing & Smith, 1995) refers to the quality of group communications. Here, Team B's score is both significantly lower than Team A's response, and it is also significantly lower than the pharmaceutical industry average on this question. Therefore, any work with the team which focuses on communications has the assurance of targeting a significant problem. Other problems on Team B that can be approached to improve process effectiveness on the team are leadership, trust, problem and conflict resolution, and team cohesiveness.

Such a targeted approach can save an organization both time and money, since team leadership and upper management can make decisions on change and interventions based on a more assured understanding of the problems on such teams.

Conclusions and Recommendations

Clearly, this is only the beginning of research to determine both the effectiveness of this tool and what can be accurately described in terms of process effectiveness on global teams. Here are some areas which need to be researched:

  1. Demographic research: How do nationality or cultural difference influence the process effectiveness of teams? Do teams with members of many cultures have significantly different results on group process than do teams with fewer cultures? How does homogeneity or heterogeneity of age or gender influence processes on such teams?
  2. Measures over time: Do teams tend to improve their functioning in general over time without interventions?
  3. What is the relationship between types of interventions to improve team effectiveness and GTPQ-measured changes in effectiveness?
  4. Relationship of teams to the larger organization: What conditions in the larger environment foster team process effectiveness? What conditions can decrease such effectiveness? Are global teams in merging companies generally negatively impacted (replicating an earlier study)?
  5. Relationships of teams to each other: Can teams with high process effectiveness mentor those with lower effectiveness?

How this research contributes to new knowledge in HRD

Although there has been much research conducted on teams with respect to process effectiveness, there is less research in the area of global or cross-cultural team development, with some notable exceptions. (Berger, 1996; Devereaux & Johansen, 1994, Saphiere, 1996). However, little emphasis has been placed on two aspects of global team development: Long-term, longitudinal studies of individual teams, and cross-team comparisons. This paper focuses on cross-team comparisons; longitudinal study of teams is in progress utilizing these same two teams. There is some evidence already that longitudinal studies will detect both internal team changes and external influences on these teams.

Second, team development is typically handled through generic training courses, in which principles of good team development are provided. The same has been true for global team development. The approach taken through the GTPQ and documented in this paper offers the opportunity for team members, leaders, and managers of these teams to take specific steps both to remediate problems on such teams and potentially to have effective team leaders assist other teams in their business or academic areas with ways to improve process. Such targeted intervention should be both more effective in bringing desired results and in addition should be an investment to improve productivity.

NOTE: I would like to thank my colleague Jochen Krukenberg for his assistance in data analysis and interpretation during his professional research appointment at ITAP International.

References

Adler, N. (1986) International Dimensions of Organizational Behavior. Boston, MA: Kent.

Berger, M. (1996). Cross-Cultural Team building: Guidelines for More Effective Communication and Negotiation. London, England: McGraw-Hill.

Bing, J. & Smith, S. (1995). Unpublished research carried out at ITAP International and Sandoz Pharmaceutica.

Black, J., Morrison, A, & Gregersen, H. (1999). Global Explorers: The Next Generation of Leaders. New York: Routledge.

Devereaux, M. & Johansen, B. (1994). Bridging Distance and Diversity: Navigating the Challenges of Distributed and Cross-Cultural Business Teams. Menlo Park, CA: Institute for the Future.

Hall, E. (1976). The Silent Language. New York, NY: Anchor Books.

Hofstede, G. (1991). Culture and Organizations: Software of the Mind. London: McGraw-Hill.

Hofstede, G. (1984). Culture's Consequences: International Differences in Work-Related Values. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.

Krukenberg, J. (2000). GTPQ Report / Results. An unpublished manuscript of ITAP International.

Lipnack, J. & Stamps, J.(1997). Virtual Teams: Reaching Across Space, Time, and Organizations with Technology. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons.

Odenwald, S. (1993). Global Training: How to Design a Program for the Multinational Corporation. Homewood, IL: Business One Irwin.

Rhinesmith, S (1993). A Manager's Guide to Globalization: Six Keys to Success in a Changing World. Alexandria, VA: The American Society for Training and Development.

Saphiere, D. Productive Behaviors of Global Business Teams. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 20 (2), 227-259.

Trompenaars, F. (1993). Riding the Waves of Culture: Understanding Cultural Diversity in Business. London, England: The Economist Books.

 

This paper was presented at the February 2001 national conference of the Academy of Human Resource Development.

The Relationship between Process and Performance on Teams

John W. Bing, Ed.D.

 

The purpose of this paper is to provide evidence for the link between process and performance on teams so that team leaders and management, in making decisions to support the measurement and improvement of human process on teams, will have confidence that they will receive a favorable return on that investment. Although the use of appropriate metrics across teams also provides upper management with information that can be used strategically across a division or company, that issue is not examined here but will be in a later paper.

The relationship between process and performance in individuals has been well researched. Employees require knowledge, skill, information, competencies, resources, motivation and incentives to perform tasks and will fail to perform tasks to the extent that these elements are missing or less than optimal.

This same relationship (between process and performance) exists on teams. At the most basic level, it is almost a tautology to observe that dissatisfied team members will contribute little to team productivity, and that therefore team productivity is related to the level of satisfaction of team members. It is of course obvious that satisfaction is not the only metric that relates to team productivity, and even if it were, there are many components which make up "satisfaction."

In considering the use of the Global Team Process Questionnaire™ (GTPQ), team leaders and management need to have a measure of confidence that the results of the questionnaire, combined with consequent and focused interventions, will yield improvements in output or productivity. Survey research can identify the most important components of team process and measure them in order to determine the relative health of the team and the likely productivity of that team. Below are some examples of research that supports this perspective:

1. Hendriks, Boone, De Brabander, and Witteloostuijn, in "Team Composition and Organizational Performance: An empirical research of IT firms in Belgium and The Netherlands"1 have identified factors which correlate significantly with insufficient adaptability of project planning. Among those factors which correlate at the <.05 level are:

a) Agreements in meetings are not implemented
b) Not sufficiently informed about each others' activities
c) There is not enough visibility of the management team in the firm
d) Decisions have to be revised repeatedly

2. Rhona H. Flin in "Crew Resource Management for teams in the Offshore Oil Industry"2 cites an adaptation of team intervention called crew resource management (CRM), initially provided to airline and NASA crews, for offshore oil crews. This training involves "enhancing team members' understanding of human performance, in particular the social and cognitive aspects of effective teamwork and good decision making."3 One of the most important reasons for providing team assessment and intervention is that a team "which shares the same understanding of the nature of a problem is more likely to generate a workable solution. . . . [T]he basis for shared problem models is effective communication among team members, and . . . active crews which communicate more efficiently make fewer operational errors."4 And assessments such as the GTPQ, when provided periodically, is in itself an evaluation of training and team effectiveness: "In fact measuring attitudes before and after CRM training is one of the techniques used for evaluating its effectiveness."5

3. A recent McKinsey survey, which examined differences between high and low performing top management teams, noted: "The most effective teams, focusing initially on working together, get early results in their efforts to deal with important business issues and then reflect together on the manner in which they did so, thus discovering how to function as a team."6 The pattern of action, reflection, change, action (sometimes called experiential learning) is enhanced when the reflective phase is based upon recent metrics which indicate exactly what problems and successes the team has undergone and what needs to be changed to improve team performance. "Structured self-discovery and reflection must be combined with decision making and action in the real world; the constant interplay among these elements over time is what creates lasting change."7

4. The following quote from Atul Gawande, "Annals of Medicine: The Learning Curve"8 indicates how important human process is to performance on technical teams, even more important than the technical competence of the leader:

Recently, a group of Harvard Business School researchers who have made a specialty of studying learning curves in industry decided to examine curves among surgeons instead of in semiconductor manufacture or airplane construction, or any of the usual fields their colleagues examine. They followed eighteen cardiac surgeons and their teams as they took on the new technique of minimally invasive cardiac surgery. This study, I was surprised to discover, is the first of its kind. Learning is ubiquitous in medicine, and yet no one had ever compared how well different teams do it.
The new heart operation-in which new technologies allow a surgeon to operate through a small incision between ribs instead of splitting the chest down the middle-proved substantially more difficult than the conventional one. Because the incision is too small to admit the usual tubes and clamps for rerouting blood to the heart-bypass machine, surgeons had to learn a trickier method, which involved balloons and catheters placed through groin vessels. And the nurses, anesthesiologists, and perfusionists all had new roles to master. As you'd expect, everyone experienced a substantial learning curve. Whereas a fully proficient team takes three to six hours for such an operation, these teams took on average three times as long for their early cases. The researchers could not rack complication rates in detail, but it would not be foolish to imagine that they were not affected.
What's more, the researchers found striking disparities in the speed with which different teams learned. All teams came from highly respected institutions with experience in adopting innovations and received the same three-day training session. Yet, in the course of fifty cases, some teams managed to halve their operating time while others improved hardly at all. Practice, it turned out, did not necessarily make perfect. The crucial variable was how the surgeons and their teams practiced.
Richard Bohmer, the only physician among the Harvard researchers, made several visits to observe one of the quickest-learning teams and one of the slowest, and he was startled by the contrast. The surgeon on the fast-learning team was actually quite inexperienced compared with the one on the slow-learning team. But he made sure to pick team members with whom he had worked well before and to keep them together through the first fifteen cases before allowing any new members. He had the team go through a dry run before the first case, then deliberately scheduled six operations in the first week, so little would be forgotten in between. He convened the team before each case to discuss it in detail and afterward to debrief. He made sure results were tracked carefully. And Bohmer noticed that the surgeon was not the stereotypical Napoleon with a knife. Unbidden, he told Bohmer, "The surgeon needs to become a partner [with the rest of the team] so he can accept input." At the other hospital, by contrast, the surgeon chose his operating team almost randomly and did not keep it together. In the first seven cases, the team had different members every time, which is to say that it was no team at all. And the surgeon had no pre-briefings, no debriefings, no tracking of ongoing results.
The Harvard Business School study offered some hopeful news. We can do things that have a dramatic effect on our rate of improvement-like being more deliberate about how we train, and about tracking progress, whether with students and residents or with senior surgeons and nurses. But the study's other implications are less reassuring. No matter how accomplished, surgeons trying something new got worse before the got better, and the learning curve proved longer, and was affected by a far more complicated range of factors, than anyone had realized.

This study suggests that process on teams can make the critical difference between an effective and a flawed approach to complex learning and productivity.

The following two examples relate directly to the GTPQ.

5. A study of the GTPQ showed that the questionnaire, when simultaneously administered to two Global Product Teams in the pharma industry, was able to distinguish between the higher and lower performing teams. Almost all of the questions on the lower performing team were answered more negatively than those answered by members of the higher performing team.9

6. Professor Robert L. Dilworth utilized the questionnaire in his graduate classes at Virginia Commonwealth University and noted that "qualitative comparison of GTPQ results with other evaluative reference points. . . suggest strong congruence. . . . " He used multiple evaluative methods and these dovetailed with the results of the GTPQ. He noted: "The GTPQ provides a basis for the team to target on specific areas that can interrupt or impede team effectiveness. That allows the team itself to deal with such problems. Since problems have been made evident by the team members, themselves, through anonymous completion of the GTPQ, the issues are made authentic and legitimate. It is worth noting that when results are excellent, good performance can end up being further bolstered (reciprocal causation). If an external facilitator, on the other hand, were to identify problems to the group based on observations of group activity, that would not tend to carry as much weight. It would be group process as seen through the eyes of someone not a continuous part of that process, rather than the inner conscience of the group."10

Process metrics is important to improving team performance. When impediments in team performance, whether intrinsic or extrinsic to the group, can be identified, appropriate interventions made, and follow-up measurements taken again to review progress, team productivity is likely to improve, all other things being equal. The "all other things" usually refer to those influences likely to impact all teams similarly, such as:
  • Communications from top management
  • Restructuring, mergers, and acquisitions
  • Change in senior leadership
  • External environmental triggers, such as regulatory, market, or competitive changes

For top management, an important benefit of utilizing metrics across teams is that the monitored results of these assessments can be used to test new or modified policies to determine if they are leading to improvements in process and productivity. For example, should management change the relative influence of the team leaders against functional heads, specific marker questions administered before and after the change can be used to determine the positive or negative impact of this change on teams across the board. This is very important to clarify whether the change is having the desired effect or, perhaps, the opposite effect. Without such monitoring, the consequences can only be inferred.

References

1 Team Composition and Organizational Performance: An empirical research of IT firms in Belgium and The Netherlands
2 Flin, Rhona H., "Crew Resource Management for teams in the Offshore Oil Industry," Team Performance Management (1997), Vol 3, No. 2, pp. 121-129.
3 Flin, p. 121.
4 Flin, p. 128.
5 Flin, page 125.
6 Herb, Erika et al. "Teamwork at the Top." The McKinsey Quarterly 2 (2001), p. 34.
7 Herb, pp. 41-2.
8 Atul Gawande, "Annals of Medicine: The Learning Curve" The New Yorker, January 28, 2002, pp. 59-60.
9 Bing, John W., "Developing a Consulting Tool to Measure Process Change on Global Teams: The Global Team Process Questionnaire™" ) presented at the February 2001 national conference of the Academy of Human Resource Development).
10 Dilworth, Robert L. "Mapping Group Dynamics in an Action Learning Experience: The Global Team Process Questionnaire™ (GTPQ)" (presented at the February 2001 national conference of the Academy of Human Resource Development).

Metrics for Assessing Human Process on Work Teams

John W. Bing, Ed.D.

 

Management has been defined simply as "getting things done through others."1 Managing and leading complex organizations is challenging, at least in part because the most utilized tools to assess management's approaches are end-point financial measures. Reviewing quarterly profit/loss statements as a guide to management's skills is a bit like measuring a doctor's skills by the apparent health of the patient rather than reviewing the full set of analytic results which more effectively predict health or illness. We know too well that reliance on short-term profit results is no certain indicator of the long-term health of a company. We need other measures, measures that assess both the application of specific managerial approaches and policies in addition to the output measures of financial returns. In so doing, we increase the opportunities open to managers to understand and improve the effects of their policies and approaches.

I suggest in this article that measurement and monitoring of work teams over time is a crucial way for organizational leaders to both support improved team performance and to measure, through the aggregation of human performance metrics on a digital dashboard, changes in team performance and, in turn, to relate these measures to bottom line, financial changes.

CHARACTERISTICS OF WORK TEAMS

Work teams are the backbone of contemporary work life. Executive teams run corporations. Project teams create new products and services; matrix teams are involved in the development of everything from pharmaceuticals to the delivery of services in consulting firms and charitable agencies. Marketing and sales teams deliver products and services to customers. Except in the most traditional of organizations, for example sometimes in governmental organizations in which highly structured departments remain, teams are essential to the way organizations carry out their work.

Global Teams are a special genre of teams. Most of the examples in this article are drawn from global teams. The notion of global teams would have been thought at best unlikely until the last two decades. Within that time, communications infrastructures began to provide efficient support for synchronous and asynchronous contacts between distant employees, and corporations began to realign their workflow through those individuals and those geographical areas most likely to increase efficiencies and productivity. Thus, virtual teams and global teams were created to allow companies to improve competitive advantage. Such teams, however, provide managerial challenges, as the imperative to "get work done through others" is different when the "others" are not found around the proverbial water cooler but are embodied in bits and bytes on computers and telephone exchanges. With increasing distance between team members, it is much more difficult to build trust, which underpins successful teams.2

Cultural and linguistic differences also play significant roles in mediating communications on global teams. Although the business of most global teams is conducted in English, there is typically more than one language natively spoken by members of a global team. These members may have more difficulty expressing themselves in spoken or written English than do their native-English-speaking colleagues.

Cultural differences are more subtle intermediaries. In one project monitored by ITAP International involving a pharmaceutical team located both in the United States and in Spain, there were numerous complaints from the American team members because their Spanish colleagues copied e-mail messages to their bosses, which the Americans perceived as undermining forthright communications. In a meeting convened to work through issues uncovered in measurements of team process,3 the Spanish members of the team asserted that it was their responsibility to inform their supervisors of the progress made by their team; to do otherwise would be negligent.

Dutch pioneer Geert Hofstede measured cultural differences through a five-dimensional system.4 The dimensional set which emerged from his research - Power Distance, Uncertainty Avoidance, Individualism/Collectivism, Masculinity/Femininity, and Long/Short-Term Orientation - is the most researched body of quantitative crosscultural research in the literature. The Spanish scores for one of these dimensions, Power Distance, a measure in part of "subordinates' fear of disagreeing with superiors and of superiors' actual decision-making styles,"5 are significantly higher than those for the United States. That specific difference was the root cause of a number of communications problems within this team. As another example of Power Distance issues, the American department head, who supervised the team, thought that the Spanish supervisor controlled the Spanish contingent too tightly; the two leaders had a number of meetings before this issue was at least understood, if not resolved. In circumstances in which one culture dominates another by virtue of the authority of the home company, such differences are often hidden or suppressed but no less significant and are surfaced through the application of process metrics or, less fortuitously, subsequent team malfunctions.

MEASURING TEAMS

Teams are a bit like people in their complexity and types; and although progress has been made in measuring individuals with respect to their type, development and capabilities, the science of team metrics is in its infancy. This is even more notable in that teams could well be natural units by which top management might most efficiently determine the effectiveness of their policies and leadership; yet management has rarely attempted such measures. Reorganizations and restructurings are common; yet how many have been implemented in which appropriate pre- and postmeasures have been taken to determine the specific areas that require redevelopment and restructuring and most important whether such efforts have achieved desired results?

Indeed, much of the reorganization and restructuring of organizations, which is enormously expensive in terms of time and other resources, might well have been avoided had diagnosis of problems been undertaken and smaller-scale changes made. In addition, in the contemporary organization, teams are perhaps the most appropriate unit around which to make complex and ongoing measures of both human process and productivity. As Jones and Moffett write, "an effective measurement system gives work teams the same kind of business data once used only to manage entire organizations.6

Lacking such measures, it seems quixotic at best and malpractice at worst for management to reorganize work units.

The lack of team output measures also accounts for the difficulties that management has in rewarding teams. Although we have 360-degree measurement (typically in Western corporations) to measure the development of managers, very few team measures exist to support rewards systems for teams. Most team rewards are based on individual assessments rather than team effectiveness.

Management's inattentiveness to such matters is, I believe, a constraint on improving the capacity of complex organizations to become more effective as learning organizations. For if management is not focusing on measuring the effectiveness and productivity of their organizations beyond financial measures, it is difficult to determine which parts of the organization are functioning well, and which are not, beyond a gut reaction. Such measures have the additional value of providing specific diagnostics, and therefore appropriate interventions, when teams falter.

TYPES OF MEASURES

There are two types of team measures to be discussed here, those of team process and those of team output or team productivity.

Productivity Measures

Some types of teams lend themselves to such measures more easily than others, and some measures are more typically applied than others. For example, a top management team might be measured appropriately by shareholders by means of the general productivity of the company in terms of its profit or loss over time; however, at the same time, measurements of the company as a learning organization are also important indicators of the capability of the company to maintain or increase productivity, and these are more difficult to make. At the shop floor level, measures are usually easier and can be made in terms of the number of units produced at specific levels of quality by work teams as well as the safety record of the unit over time; absenteeism, and so on.

Jones and Moffett, in a case study on measurement on work teams, list four common measures on such teams: productivity, quality, cycle time, and on-time delivery. They then note that:

To establish ownership, teams customize their measurement system in four ways. First, they can add a measure of their choosing that reflects the team strategy. Second, within limits they can determine the weighted importance of the measures to reflect their own thinking about strategy. Third, within limits they can set their own performance standards for each measure. Fourth, in some cases they can influence how a measure is calculated so that it comes more under their control.7

However, measurement often stops at the factory level.

While it may be more difficult to define appropriate metrics, various human resources department teams could be measured on the length of time required to recruit specific positions matched with supervisor satisfaction of the successful candidates and the costs involved; on the cost of payroll per employee; and training, by supervisor satisfaction with skills provided to subordinates.

Human Process Measures

Human process measures are likely to be precursors to productivity changes. Why? If communications fail or are marginal on a team, it is likely that productivity drops will not be far behind. If objectives are not clear, then how can a team reach them? If roles and responsibilities are muddy, how can the team efficiently carry out its work? If trust is lacking, how can a team work together? An American general who commanded troops in the first Gulf War commented: "We had an unusually strong team, and trust was a major factor.... You need people schooled and trained in their own type of warfare, and then you need trust in each other."8

Although there is face validity to the above statements, management is often reluctant to carry out measures to determine the degree of comparative effectiveness in these basic areas. In such resistance, there may be many missed opportunities.

COMPARING HUMAN PROCESS WITH OUTPUT ON TEAMS

Although this article is not focused on the measurement of team productivity, or outputs, it is important that human process metrics be combined with team output measures to correlate how changes in team human processes lead to changes in output. Of course, although finding of correlations do not prove causation, repeated correlations over time and with different teams will eventually build a solid base for viewing process measures and interventions as fundamental to improving team productivity.

A decade ago, a Swiss-based pharmaceutical company asked ITAP International to develop a method for measuring process performance on three global teams. The teams were composed of scientists from Europe, the Americas and Japan. They met four times over a period of two years, and continued their team responsibilities during the intervening periods. Their purpose was to create procedures to reduce research and development time in three drug delivery areas: oral, skin and subdermal. The teams were tasked with similar assignments and because the composition of the teams was similar, they became ideal candidates for studying differences in human processes on global teams and comparing results between the three teams.

A questionnaire was developed to measure human process on these teams, and was administered six times over the two-year period that these teams met together. At the end of the two years, specific questions from this questionnaire, now called the Global Team Process Questionnaire™ (GTPQ) were compared with peer rankings provided by the participants. These correlated positively; in other words, the highest-peer ranked team also had the highest GTPQ results on the questions tested.9

In Figures 1 and 2, process questions are correlated with the peer-ranked productivity of each team. In Figure 1, team objectives were compared with quality of output; in Figure 2, perceived communications levels were compared with peer-ranked outputs. In both cases, there were straight-line correlations between process and output.

Figure 1. Team Objectives vs. Quality of Output.
Figure 2. Perceived Communications Levels.

 

 

Team Process Examples

Let's review examples of measurement of human process on teams. The teams listed were all (except in one case) measured by the Global Team Process Questionnaire™, mentioned above, which has been construct-validated dimensionally, and which has proven reliable in repeated applications.10

The following examples are all taken from assessments of teams within the pharmaceutical industry. This industry makes extensive use of global teams in basic research, statistical analysis, product development, clinical development, regulatory, operations, and marketing and sales. During various stages of drug development and testing, many of these functional areas are representing on cross-functional coordinating teams supported by single-function teams. The functional teams are able to support a number of coordinating teams. Many of these teams may have member representation from more than one country.

FAILING TO APPROPRIATELY CHARTER A TEAM

One of the most important factors in a team's success is the initial chartering of a team. Chartering is, essentially, providing the internal and external objectives and structure for newly created teams and providing team members with an understanding of their roles and responsibilities. If this step is not appropriately provided, many problems can develop in the future activities of the team.

Figure 3 is the executive summary for a team that had not been appropriately chartered. The executive summary contains five dimensions (in a domestic version of the GTPQ, which has an additional dimension, Culture and Language).11 The domestic version is called the Organizational Team Process Questionnaire™ or OTPQ. Note that in all five dimensions this team lags the pharmaceutical industry averages that we maintain.12 In this summary, 1 is the "best" score and 6 the "worst," so the lower the score the better the outcome.

Figure 3. Executive Summary for an Inappropriately Chartered Team.

Figure 4 is a spidergram, in which each letter on the diagram represents a team member's score for this specific question - "Are the objectives of your team clear?" Only one of the nine team members indicated an understanding of the objectives; the remaining eight did not. This is another symptom of failed chartering and indicates that the team must go through a chartering process if it is to form the basis for teamwork.

Figure 4. A Spidergram.

ADDITION OF NEW MEMBERS INTO AN EXISTING TEAM

Over time, productive teams develop a sense of trust and a common approach to work, which can be disrupted when members transfer out or in. The larger the percentage of team members lost or gained, the larger the consequence.

Figure 5 shows data on four questions taken after the induction of 11 new members and a new team leader (with only three prior members remaining). All four questions show a distinct difference in perspective between the old team members and new members on the issues of team leadership, clarity of objectives, communications and trust. (In this table, 1 = best possible score; 6 = worst possible score). Here is clearly a case in which, based on the data, a new team leader combined with a large influx of new members requires a team rechartering effort. Otherwise, the old members will remain a disaffected group within the larger team.

Figure 5. Team Scores after Induction of New Team Members and Leader
Question Average Score
All Team Members
Average Score
Old Members
Average Score
New Members
Difference
Effectiveness of team leadership 2.50 3.33 2.22 -1.11
Clarity of Objectives 2.67 3.33 2.44 -0.89
Communications 3.00 3.67 2.78 -0.89
Trust 3.00 3.67 2.78 -0.89

 

DEGREE OF MANAGEMENT SUPPORT

Management support is an external but powerful force that can either buttress or retard the productivity of teams. Figure 6 is a comparison of two teams, one with perceived management support, and one without such support.

The top spidergram is tight, indicating a team that acknowledges and appreciates management support. The diagram on the bottom shows a team that as a whole believes that management support is lacking, although there are strong differences of opinion. In an intervention based on this data, a facilitator would probe the team for the reasons behind the perceived ambivalence of management support. Management, in turn, would have data indicating that their support was either not communicated or not sufficiently provided.

Figure 6. Comparison of Teams With and Without Management Support.

THE EFFECT OF MERGERS ON TEAMS

There are other outside influences on teams. In an early version of this measuring instrument, three teams were tested over six iterations on a variety of team process issues. On the first five iterations, there were changes in the process effectiveness of the teams, although team B was clearly the leader overall. However, on the sixth iteration, all three teams fell (see Figure 7). At first, we were puzzled. We had expected that our interventions would improve team process and performance. Were our interventions faulty? Then we realized that the steep decline in all three teams was caused by the effects of a merger with a larger pharmaceutical company, announced just after the fifth iteration of the questionnaire had been administered. As is often the case in mergers, team members expressed concern for their jobs and positions within the smaller firm with which they were associated. This provided support for the notion that the metrics were reflecting the impact of "real world" events.13

Figure 7. Effects of Mergers on Teams.

KEEPING A TEAM ON TRACK

A corporate leadership team, which had consistently improved over four iterations, had a noticeable fall-off in the fifth iteration GTPQ results. At a team meeting, a facilitator helped the team discuss the issues that had the most marked negative responses and the biggest drop from the previous iteration (see Figure 8). The team was then able to identify common themes - direction, ownership, deployment, communication and cooperation - which they were then able to weave into the strategic planning discussions held throughout the remainder of their off-site meeting. The example in Figure 8, of a specific question from the GTPQ, was but one question of a total of 28. However, the aggregated team results showed the same fall-off in human process effectiveness for this team. Again, this illustrates both the kind of results obtained as well as how the information can be used to quickly check performance declines.

Figure 8. A Specific Question from the GTPQ.

CONCLUSION

Process and outputs are inextricably linked on teams.14 Future research will indicate whether human process measures can forecast productivity changes or whether these factors are correlated in other ways. In either case, metrics that allow managers to drill down to specific problems with processes on teams will allow interventions in the most timely and efficient manner, and thus improve or maintain superior team performance.

Similarly, when aggregating and comparing collective measurements from many teams, for example as part of digital dashboards, managers will be able to look at both process changes on individual teams as well as cumulative data for departments and divisions.

This will lead to improvements at the individual team level, as well as cumulative changes across teams as a way of determining management performances. This represents an alternative to reorganizing departments or companies without pre- and post-data in the hope that such changes will improve financial performance. Large scale change is not always beneficial, although it is sometimes necessary for strategic business purposes. Knowing the difference between change for its own sake and change for a specific set of objectives may save companies both time and money and increase shareholder value.

ENDNOTES

1 Hofstede, Geert. "Business Cultures" in UNESCO Courier, April 1994, V. 47, p. 12.
2 Asherman, Ira; Bing, John W., and Laroche, Lionel, "Building Trust Across Cultural Boundaries" originally published in Regulatory Affairs Forum and available online here.
3 The metrics approach used in the cases illustrated in this article were provided through the Global Team Process Questionnaire™, created and utilized by ITAP International.
4 The Hofstede cultural data has been taken from Geert Hofstede, Culture's Consequences: Comparing Values, Behaviors, Institutions and Organizations across Nations, Second Edition. Sage Publications, 2001.
5 Hofstede, page 79.
6 Jones, Steve, and Moffett, Richard G., "Measurement and Feedback Systems for Teams," in Sundstrom, Eric, and Associates, Supporting Work Team Effectiveness: Best Management Practices for Fostering High Performance. Page. 157. Jossey-Bass: 1999.
7 Jones and Moffett, op. cit., p. 159.
8 Quoted in Mathieu, John E, and Day, David V., "Assessing Processes within and Between Organizational Teams: A Nuclear Power Plant Example," in Brannick, Michael T., Salas, Eduardo, and Prince, Carolyn (eds.), Team Performance Assessment and Measurement: Theory, Assessment, and Applications. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1997.
9 Bing, John W. "Developing a Consulting Tool to Measure Process Change on Global Teams: The Global Team Process Questionnaire™" (Page 4), proceedings of the 2001 national conference of the Academy of Human Resource Development and available online here.
10 Bing, op.cit.
11 The dimensions were created based on literature research and factor analysis of questions responses.
12 The database is maintained by ITAP International and is the collection of responses from over 100 teams, many followed through multiple measurements.
13 Bing, op.cit., p. 7.
14 For other examples of the relationship of process and productivity of teams, see Bing, John W., "The Relationship between Process and Performance on Teams".

John Bing is the chairman of ITAP International, a consulting firm with operations in Europe, the U.S. and the Asia Pacific region. His consuiting experience spans the Americas, Europe and Africa and the pharmaceutical, consumer product, information technology industries and United Nations' Agencies. He is the designer of ITAP International's Team Process Questionnaire family of consulting instruments and is developing a new version of the Culture in the Workplace QuestionnaireTM, originally created by Geert Hofstede. He has published papers and provided presentations at numerous professional conferences including the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) and the Academy for Human Resources Development and recently co-edited (with Darren C. Short) a volume entitled "Shaping the Future of HRD" in the Advances in Developing Human Resources series. Mr. Bing was a founding member of SIETAR (the Society for Intercultural Education, Training and Research). He is a member of the Research to Practice Committee of ASTD and is the recipient of ASTD's International Practitioner of the Year Award. A graduate of Harvard College, Bing received his Ed.D. from the Center for International Education, University of Massachusetts. He speaks Afghan Farsi and is an avid hiker whose goals include hiking to three of Colorado's 14,000-foot peaks each summer.

This article originally appeared in the International Association for Human Resource Information ManagementIHRIM Journal, November/December 2004, Vol. VIII, Number 6.

The Use of a Cultural Inventory in Global Leadership Training

John W. Bing, Ed.D.

 

Summary

This interactive session at the Leadership Without Borders: Developing Global Leaders conference in April 2001 focused on leadership training in a multicultural context. The specific inventory discussed, the Culture in the Workplace Questionnaire™, was also provided to participants in the conference online on six computers made available in the Cybercafé. Some of the participants were able to bring their own printout of this Questionnaire; others used a self-scoring version provided at the workshop. Overall, the session utilized discussion and exercises to promote active consideration of the role of this Questionnaire, and other inventories similar in purpose, in providing programs to employees and staff engaged in working with culturally different colleagues. The final exercise involved participants working in groups to design leadership development and training programs using cultural inventories.

Introduction

The first barrier to working internationally is ignorance of one's own cultural attributes, preferences, and characteristics. Without knowledge of one's own preferences, others' preferences may seem odd, different, and perhaps unpleasant or wrong-headed. These same differences influence both how leadership is perceived and in the same fashion mediate different views of appropriate roles of followers, members of teams, department members, staff of organizations, and so on.

Therefore, one of the most important aspects of training and development of employees and staff who are working with international colleagues is to provide them with an understanding of:

  1. The nature of cultural differences
  2. The role such differences play in the workplace
  3. One's own cultural preferences
  4. Other colleagues' cultural preferences
  5. Implications of these differences to workplace effectiveness
  6. An approach to working in a multinational, multicultural workplace

This interactive session was fortunate in having participants who were already very well acquainted with points 1 & 2. Discussion took place around the remainder of the issues. The following discussion refers to overheads utilized during the session, which are available online (see note at end of paper).

Discussion

The disagreement that occurred between the U.S. leadership and that of the People's Republic of China over the collision of two airplanes illustrates the opportunities and dangers in international/intercultural communications. When power is wielded internationally, cultural differences are sometimes filters, which distort messages, and are sometimes excuses for willful misinterpretation. In any event, leaders have an obligation both to understand what those differences are in order to send messages which are received in the way they are intended and to accurately interpret messages from the other side or sides.

Leadership and Culture

Leadership attributes are also, in part, culturally determined. For example, the notion that leadership is a relationship or process, not a personal characteristic, and that leadership is distributed equally among members of a group (Ajarimah 2001) are characteristics of group-oriented cultures. In individualistic cultures, leadership will more typically be seen as a unique quality possessed by individuals, rather than a quality to be found among all members of a group.

Of course national culture is not the only determinant of workplace behavior. The organization enforces its own practices. Individuals have their own personality, which they draw upon in all circumstances (and which are measured by a number of instruments, including the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator); and the larger social and political environment enforces its own rules on the workplace. All of these, as well as professional and generational differences, must be taken into consideration when considering influences on leadership behavior in the workplace.

Mental Models

The Culture in the Workplace Questionnaire™ is based on the work of Geert Hofstede (Geert Hofstede, 2001). The mental map used by Hofstede in his original work has four dimensions (he later added a fifth), which are well known in the field of intercultural studies. The dimensions listed below are slight modified in their terminology from the original in order to provide more "teachable" terms:

Individualism - Collectivism
High Power Distance - Low Power Distance
High Need for Certainty - Low Need for Certainty
Achievement - Quality of Life

Hofstede's four dimensions are relatively easily understood.

In addition to the map defined by Hofstede, there are others as well, the best-known being the work of Fons Trompenaars, which consist of seven dimensions (Trompenaars & Hampden-Turner 1998). Trompenaars developed a questionnaire that yields a cultural profile. Others, drawing upon the basic research cited above as well as on others, have constructed their own. All are probably incomplete maps of humankind's cultural terra cognita, but they represent a great advance over the tools available a generation ago.

Each pole of Hofstede's dimensions confers some advantages and some disadvantages to the possessor of these cultural preferences. For example, extreme individualism (which, according to Hofstede's research, is a U.S. characteristic) usually leads to initiative and individual rewards; but on the other hand, individualists are often isolated and have little loyalty to the group.

In the same way, high power distance (or preference for a supervisor who provides clear instructions and direction) has the advantage of creating clear hierarchies and well-defined reporting relationships, but sometimes leads to arbitrary policies and weak subordinate initiative.

Example of the Influence of the Four Dimensions in Leadership

The influence of the four dimensions on a specific case of leadership is reported in a study of the effect of national culture on automation in airline cockpits (Sherman & Helmreich, 1996). In this study, high power distance and high need for certainty predicted a high level of acceptance of cockpit automation; pilots from high individualistic cultures were reported to be less likely to accept automation. U.S. pilots were therefore more likely to resist aspects of cockpit automation than their peers from countries where acceptance of authority and structure is more prevalent.

If the effect of culture on leadership issues among airline pilots, long thought to be a rather homogeneous group, is strong, culture's influence is likely to be equally pronounced on the leadership of organizations.

How to Use Culture Profile Instruments (CPI)

In this interactive session, participants computed their scores and then discussed in pairs how their leadership styles might differ on the basis of their results. Such instruments can be used in the following ways:

  1. In relocation training, a CPI can be used to focus the work plan of employees an a new cultural work environment, using national averages to help expatriates learn a greater range of behaviors and reactions than they may have developed in their own culture.
  2. In management training, a CPI can help managers understand their own cultural profiles and learn how to manage (and be led by) colleagues who are culturally different.
  3. CPIs can be used in coaching sessions to help employees navigate culturally complex workplaces.
  4. An example of the use of a CPI, in this case the Culture in the Workplace Questionnaire™ in leadership training, follows.

Leadership Training in the Health Care Industry

The Culture in the Workplace Questionnaire™ was utilized in leadership training with a global management team in the health care industry. This is a Fortune 100 firm that has incorporated intercultural training in much of its leadership training. It was used during a half day of a three-day program. The global team consisted of Marketing Directors, IT Directors, R&D heads, and New Business Development Directors. The questionnaire was provided in advance over the Internet.

  1. The trainers first described the Hofstede dimensions and how the dimensions may influence workplace behavior. After reviewing their individual scores, participants then discussed the overall combined score for their team for each dimension.
  2. The participants were then regrouped to discuss major business issues for which their team was responsible and which were previously identified.
  3. Each of four groups then considered one dimension's influence on business issues-for example, the influence of high power distance on the rollout of new training programs in specific countries.
  4. Each group then made recommendations on a single dimension's influence on that business issue which were then transformed into action items (e.g., to make certain that text of a new product introduction conforms in all respects to local rules and regulations, and that this fact is brought to the attention of the appropriate local officials, an important factor in high need-for-certainty countries).
  5. A plenary session then selected two-to-three action items to address over the period until the next meeting of the team.

Such an approach both teaches and demonstrates culturally effective leadership within a global company.

Design of Leadership Programs

At the end of the interactive session, participants were asked to think about designs for leadership training using cultural profile instruments. Although there was no dearth of approaches or ideas, some of the respondents spoke of the barriers to such approaches within organizations. This is especially true when intercultural leadership challenges are associated with top management, seldom accountable to human resources staff.

Conclusion

Some 25 years ago, near the beginning of cross-cultural training programs for business, there were few well-tested instruments that could be utilized in training and development programs. Over this period, approaches have been developed from basic and applied research that provide effective training for leaders of complex international organizations. Culture Profile Instruments are an important part of the curricula that can now be applied in the field of leadership development.

References

Ajarimah, Ahmad A. (2001). Major challenges of global leadership in the twenty-first century. Human Resources Development International, 4.

Hofstede, Geert. (2001) Culture's Consequences: Comparing Values, Behaviors, Institutions and Organizations Across Nations (Second Edition). Thousand Oaks CA. and London: Sage.

Sherman, P. J. & Helmreich, R. L. (1996). Attitudes toward automation. In Proceedings of the Eighth International Symposium on Aviation Psychology. Columbus, OH: Ohio State University.

Trompenaars, Fons, and Hampden-Turner, Charles (1998). Riding the Waves of Culture: Understanding Cultural Diversity in Global Business (Second Edition). New York: McGraw-Hill.

John W. Bing is President of ITAP International, in Newtown, PA, USA.

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