Some claim that more than half of all professional employees are now in virtual teams, where virtual means that one or more of the following is true: 1) team members are dispersed, 2) team members communicate electronically, and 3) team structure is shifting over time. I am the member of such teams, and my teams are also multinational (some count that as a dimension of virtualness too). All of these factors make it harder to manage teams, and especially hard for teams that innovate rather than perform standard tasks. Why? Because teams that innovate need close communications in order to share idea, develop them further, and avoid misunderstandings along the way. Distance, in any form, makes this harder.
So why let innovating teams be virtual? Part of the reason must be that managers are confident in the results. However, research in Administrative Science Quarterly by Christina Gibson and Jennifer Gibbs looked at the issue and found that there are significant drawbacks in making teams virtual. Along each dimension of virtualness, teams lost some innovation ability. But importantly, they also found that this negative effect could be reduced. If the teams were managed in a way that made communication psychologically safe, there was still reduced innovativeness in more virtual teams, but less reduction.
Psychological safety is a simple idea because it just means that team members should be able to say things without fear that other team members will react negatively, even if they are not sure that what they are saying is correct. This is important because when doing innovations, it is normal to be in doubt, but important to bring up issues, especially those that are uncertain, because innovation comes from testing out and resolving uncertainty. So, this is very useful research, with clear implications for how one can design teams for innovation.
The research also has two other features I wanted to mention. One is that the research is 10 years old, but still an important insight. Good research stays current a long time. The other is that part of the research was done on a fighter aircraft budgeted to 200 billion, so obviously a context calling for highly innovative teams. They don’t say what aircraft it is, but I can guess because I happen to know about an aircraft program that was budgeted to 200 billion but now costs 400 billion. Psychological safety matters.... The picture is in this post.
Gibson, C. B., & Gibbs, J. L. 2006. Unpacking the Concept of Virtuality: The Effects of Geographic Dispersion, Electronic Dependence, Dynamic Structure, and National Diversity on Team Innovation. Administrative Science Quarterly, 51: 451-495.
Administrative Science Quarterly is a generalist journal covering a wide range of research on organizations, as you can see in its invitation to contributors. One might think this would make it less influential in any particular topic, but this is not true. The leading generalist journals are seen as more prestigious than specialized journals, and as a result they get top quality papers, especially if those papers are meant to have wide impact. This gives them more readers, and readers who pay more attention. Equally important, generalist journals are places that assemble papers with multiple ideas that can cross-fertilize fields of study. Often they are the places to look for ideas that will grow and rejuvenate fields.
So is that true for ASQ and strategy? A paper by Sridhar Nerur, Abdul Rasheed, and Alankrita Pandey looks at how strategy developed over time, focusing on research in Strategic Management Journal and journals that cited it, or were cited by it. This inflates the influence of SMJ a bit, but is fair enough because SMJ is the leading specialist strategy journal. Next they looked at citations between journals staggered in time periods. These changed over time, as strategy research took shape, but I think that the figure below is a good example because it shows 1995-1999, which was a time period in which the strategy field nearly had its current shape.
Notice that there are two-way arrows between the leading generalist journals ASQ and AMJ (Academy of Management Journal), and ASQ and ASR (American Sociological Review). Other than that, all the arrows show journals learning more from ASQ than ASQ learns from them – they are one-way arrows (the arrows point in the direction of citations, so an arrow into a journal means a citation to the journal, which is the same as acknowledging influence from the journal). Interestingly, in this time period, there is no direct influence from ASQ to SMJ, so we cannot see ASQ shaping strategy directly, but we can track indirect influences such as ASQ to ResPol (Research Policy) to SMJ. This pattern of indirect influence started in 1990; before that ASQ directly influenced strategy.
Does this mean that ASQ was a starting point that lost influence? Not at all. In fact, all these journals cite each other, so the graph just shows the highest-volume citation paths. When adding up the paths, the total influence can be found, and Nerur, Rasheed, and Pandey show that ASQ maintained a top 3 rank as a source of new strategy knowledge in all time periods except 1985-1989. They also show a broader point—in the top 5 most influential journals in strategy, only one was a specialist: SMJ.
So we know that ASQ is influential in strategy, but it is not a strategy journal. It is a prestigious generalist journal, which makes it influential in many fields.
Nerur, S., Rasheed, A. A., & Pandey, A. 2016. Citation footprints on the sands of time: An analysis of idea migrations in strategic management. Strategic Management Journal, 37(6): 1065-1084.
This blog is devoted to discussions of how events in the news illustrate organizational research and can be explained by organizational theory. It is only updated when I have time to spare.