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Traditional teams are not faring well in today's rapidly changing business environment. Even when they establish clear roles and responsibilities, build trust among members and define goals according to the book, their projects often fail or get axed. Three MIT Sloan School researchers think they have found the reason: Traditional teams are too inwardly focused and lack flexibility. Traditional team-building activities are still important, they contend, but only when combined with a greater awareness of external stakeholders and information sources. Fortunately, a new, externally focused team has arisen: the X-team. The authors detail the high levels of performance that X-teams are seeing. And they explain how managers in a wide variety of industries and functions can establish the organizational structures that support such teams. The researchers outline the five components of X-teams they have studied: external activity, extensive ties both inside the larger organization and outside the company, expandable tiers or kinds of responsibility, flexible membership (switching roles, moving in and out of the team as needed) and execution mechanisms that facilitate getting the job done. The results are impressive. One observed X-team greatly improved the dispersal of innovation throughout its organization. X-teams in sales were seen to bring in more revenue. Drug-development teams were more adept at drawing in external technology. Product-development teams were more innovative than traditional teams ¿ and more often on time and on budget. Managers that recognize their own company in the new, flatter organizational structures, the increasing interdependence of tasks and teams, the constant updating of information and the overall complexity of work should consider creating an environment for successful X-teams.
The Comparative
Advantage of X-Teams
SPRING 2002 VOL.43 NO.3
Deborah Ancona,
Henrik Bresman & Katrin Kaeufer
Management Review
Please note that gray areas reflect artwork that has
been intentionally removed. The substantive content
of the article appears as originally published.
ften teams that seem to be doing everything right — estab-
lishing clear roles and responsibilities, building trust among mem-
bers, defining goals — nevertheless see their projects fail or get
axed. We know one such team that had a highly promising prod-
uct. But because team members failed to get buy-in from division
managers, they saw their project starve for lack of resources.Another
group worked well as a team but didn’t gather important competi-
tive information; its product was obsolete before launch.
Why do bad things happen to good teams? Our research sug-
gests that they are too inwardly focused and lacking in flexibility.
Successful teams emphasize outreach to stakeholders both inside
and outside their companies. Their entrepreneurial focus helps
them respond more nimbly than traditional teams to the rapidly changing characteristics of
work, technology and customer demands.
These new, externally oriented, adaptive teams,which we call X-teams, are seeing positive
results across a wide variety of functions and industries. One such team in the oil business
has done an exceptional job of disseminating an innovative method of oil exploration
throughout the organization. Sales teams have brought in more revenue. Drug-development
teams have been more adept at getting external technology into their companies. Product-
development teams have been more innovative and have been more often on time and
on budget.
The current environment with its flatter organizational structures, interdependence
of tasks and teams, constantly revised information and increasing complexity requires a
The current environment demands a new
brand of team — one that emphasizes
outreach to stakeholders and adapts easily
to flatter organizational structures, changing
information and increasing complexity.
Deborah Ancona, Henrik Bresman
and Katrin Kaeufer
Deborah Ancona is the Seley Distinguished Professor in Management at MIT Sloan School of
Management, where Henrik Bresman is a doctoral candidate and Katrin Kaeufer is a visiting scholar.
Contact the authors at, and
The Comparative Advantage
of X-Teams
networked approach. X-teams have emerged to meet that need.
In some cases, they appear spontaneously. In other cases,
forward-looking companies have established specific organiza-
tional incentives to support X-teams and their high perfor-
mance levels.
Our studies all support the notion that the rules handed
down by best-selling books on high-performing teams need to
be revised. (See About the Research.) Teams that succeed
today dont merely work well around a conference table or cre-
ate team spirit. In fact, too much focus inside the team can be
fatal. Instead, teams must be able to adapt to the new competi-
tive landscape, as X-teams do. X-teams manage across bound-
aries lobbying for resources, connecting to new change
initiatives, seeking up-to-date information and linking to other
groups inside and outside the company. Research shows that
X-teams often outperform their traditional counterparts.1
Five Components That Make X-Teams Successful
X-teams are set apart from traditional teams by five hallmarks:
external activity, extensive ties, expandable structures, flexible
membership and internal mechanisms for execution. (See
X-Teams Versus Traditional Teams: Five Components,p. 37.)
External Activity The first hallmark of the X-team is members
external activity.2Members manage across boundaries, reaching
into the political, informational and task-specific structures
around them. In some cases, the team leader takes on the out-
reach; in other cases, it is shared by everyone. High levels of
external activity are key, but effectiveness depends on knowing
when to use the particular kind called for: ambassadorship,
scouting or task coordination.
It doesnt matter how technically competent a team is if the
most relevant competency is the ability to lobby for resources
About the Research
Our research occurred over many years
and with many types of teams and indus-
tries. The bottom line is that certain team
characteristics coincided with better per-
formance. We call the high-performing
teams X-teams.
When we asked some managers with
responsibility for consulting teams to rate
teams with X-team characteristics, they
ranked them high — 1 or 2 on a 5-point
scale, with 1 being the best performer.
But they ranked more-traditional teams 3,
4 or 5.*In another study, 37% of X-team
customers said that the teams were
meeting customer needs better than in
the past, compared with 23% of more-
traditional teams’ customers.
Teams in two companies we call Zeus and Pharma
Inc. are of particular interest.
. Swallow is a product-development team at
Zeus, a multidivisional company developing proprietary
hardware and software products. It is especially illustra-
tive of X-team activity. Zeus has since been acquired by
one of the world’s largest computer makers.
Pharma Inc
. Pharma is a large international pharma-
ceuticals enterprise. At the time of our research, it had
experienced a string of mergers and acquisitions that
resulted in drugs being developed by different organiza-
tional units, each of which had a distinctly different man-
agement approach. The unit with the best-performing
teams illustrates organizational characteristics conducive
to X-team behavior.
*D.G. Ancona, “Outward Bound: Strategies for Team Survival in an
Organization,” Academy of Management Journal 33 (June 1990):
For the product-development teams, using X-team characteristics
as predictors of adherence to budget and schedule — and innovation,
as rated by managers — yielded statistically significant results at
greater than .01.
Number Length of
Type of Company of Teams Time Studied Methodology
One telecommunications
company 100 4 months Interviews, survey
One educational-
consulting company 51 year Interviews, surveys,
logs, observation
Five high-tech, product-
development companies
45 2 years Interviews, surveys,
logs, observation
One multinational,
integrated oil company
2Life of
the teams
Project reports
One computer
52 years Interviews,
One large pharmaceuticals
company, 3 units
12 2 years Interviews, survey,
project reports
with top management. And even resources mean little without
an ability to reach outsiders who have the knowledge and infor-
mation to help team members apply the resources effectively.
Thus at any given time, any X-team member may be conducting
one or more of the three external activities.
Ambassadorial activity. Ambassadorial activity is aimed at
managing upward that is, marketing the project and the
team to the company power structure, maintaining the teams
reputation, lobbying for resources, and keeping track of allies
and competitors. Ambassadorial activity helps the team link
its work to key strategic initiatives; and it alerts team mem-
bers to shifting organizational strategies and political
upheaval so that potential threats can be identified and the
damage limited.
For example, the leader of what we call the Swallow team
wanted to manufacture a new computer using a revolutionary
design. The companys operating committee, however, wanted
only a product upgrade. The team leader worked with a key
decision maker on the operating committee to portray the ben-
efits of the product to the organization and eventually got
permission for the design. He continued to provide updates on
the teams progress, while keeping tabs on the committees key
resource-allocation decisions.
Scouting. Scouting activity helps a team gather information
located throughout the company and the industry. It involves
lateral and downward searches through the organization to
understand who has knowledge and expertise. It also means
investigating markets, new technologies and competitor activi-
ties. Team members in our studies used many different modes
of scouting, from the ambitious and expensive (hiring consul-
tants) to the quick and cheap (having a cup of coffee with an old
college professor or spending an hour surfing the Internet).
Effective teams monitor how much information they need
for some, extensive scouting early on to get the lay of the
land is all thats needed. For others, scouting continues
throughout the life of the team. In particular, teams working
with technologies created by outsiders can never relax their
scouting activities.
Task coordination. Task-coordinator activity is much more
focused than scouting. Its for managing the lateral connections
across functions and the interdependencies with other units.
Team members negotiate with other groups, trade their services
and get feedback on how well their work meets expectations.
Task-coordinator activity involves cajoling and pushing other
groups to follow through on commitments so that the team can
meet its deadlines and keep work flowing. When the Swallow
team needed to check some new components quickly and
learned that the testing machine was booked, team members
explored swapping times with another team, using the machine
at night or using machines elsewhere whatever it took to
keep the work on track.
Extensive Ties In order to engage in such external activity, team
members need to have extensive ties with outsiders. Ties that
academic researchers call weak ties are good for certain purposes
for example, when teams need to round up handy knowledge
and expertise within the company. One team we studied gave a
senior position to a new hire straight out of graduate school
because of his ties to important experts at prestigious academic
institutions. The ties were weak but extensive and contributed
immensely to the success of the teams project.
Strong ties, however, facilitate higher levels of cooperation
and the transfer of complex knowledge. Strong ties are most
likely to be forged when relationships are critical to both sides
and built over long periods of time.3In the case of Swallow, the
team leaders prior relationship with the operating-committee
member helped snare funding for the revolutionary computer
design. And the three team members from manufacturing had
ties that smoothed the transition from design to production.
Expandable Tiers But how to structure a large, complex team?
How to combine the identity and separateness of a team with
the dense ties and external interactions needed to accomplish
todays work? Our research shows that X-teams operate
through three distinct tiers that create differentiated types of
team membership the core tier, operational tier and outer-
net tier and that members may perform duties within more
than one tier.
It doesn’t matter how technically competent a team is if the most relevant
competency is the ability to lobby top management for resources.
The core members. The core of the X-team is often,but not always,
present at the start of the team. Core members carry the teams his-
tory and identity. While simultaneously coordinating the multiple
parts of the team, they create the team strategy and make key deci-
sions. They understand why early decisions were made and can
offer a rationale for current decisions and structures. The core is
not a management level, however. Core members frequently work
beside other members of equal or higher rank, and serve on other
X-teams as operational or outer-net members.
The first core member of the Swallow team was the leader; then
two senior engineers joined and helped to create the original prod-
uct design and to choose more members. The core members were
committed to the revolutionary computer concept and accepted its
risks. They understood how quickly they had to act in order to
make an impact on the market. The core members chose more
engineers for the team, helped coordinate the work across sub-
groups, and kept in touch with the companys operating commit-
tee and other groups. They decided when to get feedback from
outsiders, and they set up a process to make the critical decisions
about how compatible with industry standards to make the design.
They organized team social events and when members had to
work long hours to make a deadline, they even brought in beds.
Having multiple people in the core helps keep the team
going when one or two core members leave, and it allows a core
member who gets involved with operational work to hand off
core tasks. Teams that lose all their core members at once take
many months to get back on track.
The operational members. The teams operational members do
the ongoing work. Whether thats designing a computer,creating
an academic course or deciding where to drill for oil, the opera-
tional members get the job done. They often are tightly con-
nected to one another and to the core (and may include some
core members). In the Swallow group, 15 engineers were
brought into the operational layer to work on the preliminary
design. They made key technical decisions, but each focused on
one part of the design and left oversight of the whole to the core.
The outer-net members. Outer-net members often join the
team to handle some task that is separable from ongoing work.
They may be part-time or part-cycle members, tied barely at all
to one another but strongly to the operational or core members.
Outer-net members bring specialized expertise, and different
individuals may participate in the outer net as the task of the
team changes.
For example, when the Swallow team wanted to ensure its
initial design made sense to others, it brought in outer-net peo-
ple from other parts of R&D. For two weeks, the enlarged team
met to discuss the design, its potential problems, ideas for
changes and solutions for problems that operational members
had identified. Then those new members left. Meanwhile, desig-
nated members of the core group met weekly with different
outer-net members people from purchasing, diagnostics and
marketing for information sharing, feedback and smoothing
the flow of work across groups. Some X-teamsouter nets also
include people from other companies.
The three-tier structure is currently in use at a small, entrepre-
neurial startup we know except that the employees there say
pigs,”“chickensand cowsto refer to core, operational and
outer-net team members. Think about a bacon-and-eggs break-
fast. The pig is committed (hes given his life), the chicken is
involved, and the cow provides milk that enhances the meal. The
startups terms are handy for discussing roles and responsibilities.
A person might say, You dont need to do that; youre only a
chickenor We need this cow to graze here for at least two weeks.
Flexible Membership X-team membership is fluid.4People may
move in and out of the team during its life or move across lay-
ers. In a product-development team similar to Swallow, there
was a manufacturing member who shifted from outer-net
member to operational member to core member. At first, he was
an adviser about components; next he worked on the actual
product; then he organized the whole team when it needed to
move the product into manufacturing. He became team leader
and managed the transition of team members back into engi-
neering as more manufacturing members were brought in.
Mechanisms for Execution An increasing focus on the external
context does not mean that the internal team processes are
unimportant. In fact, traditional coordination mechanisms
such as clear roles and goals may be even more important when
team members are communicating externally, membership is
changing, and there are different versions of membership. The
trick is to avoid getting so internally focused and tied to other
team members that external outreach is ignored. X-teams find
three different coordination mechanisms especially useful: inte-
grative meetings, transparent decision making and scheduling
tools such as shared timelines.
First, through integrative meetings, team members share the
external information each has obtained. That helps keep every-
one informed and increases the informations value by making
it widely available. The meetings ensure that decisions are based
on real-time data from combinations of task-coordinator,
scouting and ambassadorial activity.
Second, transparent decision making, which keeps people
informed about the reasons behind choices, is good for nudging
everyone in the same direction and for
maintaining motivation. Even when
team members are frustrated that a com-
ponent they have worked on has been
dropped, they appreciate knowing about
the change and why it has been made.
Finally,measures such as clearly com-
municated but flexible deadlines allow
members to pace themselves and to
coordinate work with others. The just-
in-time flexibility allows for deadline
shifts and adjustment. If external cir-
cumstances change, then work changes
and new deadlines are established.
Putting the Pieces Together X-team com-
ponents form a self-reinforcing system.
To engage in high levels of external activ-
ity, team members bring to the table out-
side ties forged in past professional
experience. To be responsive to new
information and new coordination
needs, X-teams have flexible membership
and a structure featuring multiple tiers
and roles. To handle information and
multiple activities, they have coordina-
tion mechanisms and a strong core. The
five components cannot work in isola-
tion. They complement one another.
Although small or new teams may not
have all five components, fully developed X-teams usually do.
Supporting X-Teams
The more dependent a team is on knowledge and resources in its
external environment, the more critical is the organizational
context. Companies that want high-performing X-teams can
create a supportive organizational context with three-tier
structures mandated for teams, explicit decision rules, accessible
information and a learning culture. Within a company, its gen-
erally the organizational unit that sets those parameters, pro-
vides resources and lays down rules. (See Creating an X-Team.)
A large pharmaceuticals company that we call Pharma Inc.
illustrates the importance of such support. One of the authors
was asked to investigate a dramatic performance variation
among drug-development teams that were working on mole-
cules from external sources. (Such projects are known as
in-licensing projects.) A performance assessment showed that
the teams of one unit were doing well, the teams of a second
unit showed varying results, and the teams of a third unit were
doing poorly. To probe the differences, we picked a chronologi-
cal sequence of three teams at the best-performing site (the
Alpha site) and three teams at the worst-performing site (the
Omega site) for a careful study.
The story that emerged seemed almost implausibly black-
and-white: All the central steps the three Alpha teams took
seemed to contribute to positive performance, whereas the
opposite was true for the Omega teams. It appeared that
despite fluctuating external circumstances, the Omega teams
were sticking to a traditional approach that had served them
well enough when they worked on internally developed mole-
cules. The Alpha teams, however, were adapting to the chang-
ing environment by using an X-team approach, although they
didnt call it that. In the wake of the molecular biology revolu-
tion, which has led to increased use of in-licensed molecules,
they saw the importance of external activity and extensive ties,
and they adapted.
Traditional Teams X-teams
Internal Focus
Focus on trust, cohesion
and effective work
Ties to Other
Efforts to build close
ties and strong identity
One Tier
One structural tier:
team versus
Stable Membership
Leaders and members
Mechanism for
Coordination among
Mechanism for
Coordination among
External Activity
Combination of internal
and external activity
Extensive Ties
Internal ties
supplemented with
both strong and weak
ties outside the team
(and inside and outside
the company)
Expandable Tiers
Core, operational and
outer-net tiers
Movement across
tiers—and in and out of
the team
X-Teams Versus Traditional Teams: Five Components
Three-Tier Structure Organizational structure has a profound
effect on team behavior. All Alpha-unit teams used a mandated
three-tier structure that gave core members oversight of the
activities of operational and outer-net team members.
Importantly, the roles were not a reflection of organizational
hierarchy. Often a core-team member was junior in the organi-
zational structure to an outer-net member.
Having the core team tied to the outer net was particularly
helpful when much external technical knowledge was needed
quickly.With links already established, a core member could get
information from an outer-net member at short notice. The
brief time commitment for serving on the outer net gave
X-teams access to some of the companys most sought-after and
overbooked functional experts.
The Omega-unit teams, however, used a traditional one-
tier structure. In X-team terminology, the Omega teams had
only core members. Although that worked well for coordina-
tion, it hampered team membersability to adapt to changing
external demands.
Explicit Decision Rules X-teams favor decision rules that adapt to
new circumstances. The Alpha units X-teams,like most product-
development teams, used traditional flow charts, but they con-
stantly updated them. Also, they complemented flow charts with
decision rules that allowed the charts to become evolving tools
rather than constraints. One such rule was that, all things being
equal, the search for solid information was more important than
speed. It wasnt that the teams tolerated slackers. In fact, at times
speed had to take precedence over information, but it was the
team leaders responsibility to identify when that should occur.
Another rule mandated that whenever important expertise
was not available in the time allotted, a team member would
be free to bring in additional outer-net members. Such rules
allowed for flexibility but spared team members any ambiguity
about what to do at important crossroads. Furthermore, the
rules gave them the confidence to act on their own and to raise
issues needing discussion. For example, it was never wrong for
a team member to suggest that a process be stopped because of
a lack of important information in that members area. Even if
the team overruled the request, speaking up on the basis of an
explicit decision rule was definitely appropriate.
The Omega units teams,by contrast, used process flow charts
quite rigidly and without complementary decision rules. Team
members had to stick to the planned process and were allowed
little latitude for tweaking the process even when they saw the
need. There was no mechanism for making adjustments.
Accessible Information Access to valid, up-to-date information is
always critical, but when knowledge is widely dispersed, the infor-
mation infrastructure becomes even more important. The Alpha
unit had processes that supported teamsneed for accessible data.
After every project, a report was written detailing important issues
and the lessons learned. The store of reports increased over time.
In addition, the Alpha unit maintained a know-whodatabase,
which provided names of experts in various fields and explained
the units historical relationship with those experts.
Unfortunately, at Omega, project reports were written only
occasionally and contained mainly the results of internal lab
tests. And Omega did not have a know-who database at all.
A Learning Culture A useful information infrastructure cannot be
established instantly. It has to be nurtured. Thats why Alpha
insisted on project reports whether or not the project was con-
sidered a success and regardless of time pressures on team
members. Alpha also saw to it that past team members con-
ferred with ongoing teams.
Strong recognition from top management at the Alpha unit
reinforced the information infrastructure. The relentlessly
Creating an X-Team
communicated learning culture not only generated positive
performance for any given team, but helped make every team
perform better than the previous one.
The Omega unit had no such practices. As a consequence,
new teams in that unit generally had to reinvent the wheel.
Is the X-Team for Your Company?
X-teams are particularly valuable in todays world (many com-
panies already deploy X-teams without calling them that), but
they are not for every situation. Their very nature as tools for
responding to change makes them hard to manage. The mem-
bership of the X-team, the size of the team, the goals and so on
keep fluctuating.
In a traditional team, coordination is mostly internal to the
team. It involves a clear task and the interaction of a limited
number of members. In an X-team, coordination requirements
are multiplied severalfold. The X-teams internal coordination
involves more members, more information and more diversity.
On top of that are the external-coordination concerns.
Executives considering X-teams must be sure the potential ben-
efits are great enough for them to justify the extra challenges.
The IDEO product-development consulting firm thinks
they are. IDEO, based in Palo Alto, California, is an example of
a company that depends on the innovativeness and agility of
its teams. During brainstorming, experts from multiple indus-
tries serve as outer-net members soliciting unique informa-
tion. Team members go forth as anthropologiststo observe
how customers use their products and how the products
might be improved. Employees at IDEO also have been busy
creating a knowledge-distribution system they call Tool Box,
which uses lively demonstrations to communicate learned
knowledge and expertise.5
We recommend using an X-team when one or more of three
conditions hold true. X-teams are appropriate, first, when
organizational structures are flat, spread-out systems with
numerous alliances rather than multilevel, centralized hierar-
chies. Flat organizations force teams to become more entrepre-
neurial in getting resources and in seeking and maintaining
buy-in from stakeholders.6
Second, X-teams are advised when teams are dependent on
information that is complex, externally dispersed and rapidly
changing. In such cases, it is critical to base decisions on real-
time data.7
Third, use X-teams when a teams task is interwoven with
tasks undertaken outside the team. For example, if every new
product that a team works on is part of a family of products that
others are working on too, teams need to coordinate their activ-
ities with what is going on around them.8
Increasingly, modern society is moving in a direction in
which all three conditions are routinely true. Thats why we
believe that, ready or not,more organizations will have to adopt
the X-team as their modus operandi.
1. D.L. Gladstein, Groups in Context: A Model of Task Group
Effectiveness, Administrative Science Quarterly 29 (December 1984):
499-517; D.G. Ancona and D.F. Caldwell, Bridging the Boundary:
External Activity and Performance in Organizational Teams,
Administrative Science Quarterly 37 (December 1992): 634-665;
D.G. Ancona and D.F. Caldwell, Demography and Design: Predictors
of New Product Team Performance, Organization Science 33 (August
1992): 321-341; D.G. Ancona, Outward Bound: Strategies for Team
Survival in an Organization, Academy of Management Journal 33
(June 1990): 334-365; D.G. Ancona and D.F. Caldwell, Compose Teams
to Assure Successful Boundary Activity, in The Blackwell Handbook of
Principles of Organizational Behavior, ed. E.A. Locke (Oxford: Blackwell,
2000), 199-210; D.G. Ancona and K. Kaeufer, The Outer-Net Team,
working paper, MIT Sloan School of Management, Cambridge,
Massachusetts, 2001; and H.M. Bresman, External Sourcing of Core
Technologies and the Architectural Dependency of Teams, working paper
4215-01, MIT Sloan School of Management, Cambridge, Massachusetts,
November 2001.
2. Ancona, Bridging the Boundary, 634-665.
3. M.S. Granovetter, The Strength of Weak Ties, American Journal of
Sociology 78 (May 1973): 360-380; D. Krackhardt, The Strength of
Strong Ties: The Importance of Philos in Organizations, in Networks
and Organizations: Structure, Form and Action, eds. N. Nohria and
R.G. Eccles (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 1992), 216-239;
and M.T. Hansen, The Search-Transfer Problem: The Role of Weak
Ties in Sharing Knowledge Across Organization Subunits,
Administrative Science Quarterly 44 (March 1999): 82-111.
4. D.G. Ancona and D.F. Caldwell, Rethinking Team Composition From
the Outside In, in Research on Managing Groups and Teams, ed.
D.H. Gruenfeld (Stamford, Connecticut: JAI Press, 1998).
5. R. Sutton and A.B. Hargadon, Brainstorming Groups in Context:
Effectiveness in a Product Design Firm, Administrative Science
Quarterly 41 (December 1996): 685-718.
6. For a recent interpretation of power dynamics in organizations,
see G. Yukl, Use Power Effectively, in The Blackwell Handbook of
Principles of Organization Behavior, ed. E.A. Locke (Oxford: Blackwell,
2000), 241-256.
7. Consistent with this logic, John Austin convincingly demonstrated
how team membersknowledge of the location of distributed information
has a positive impact on performance. See J.R. Austin, Knowing
What and Whom Other People Know: Linking Transactive Memory
with External Connections in Organizational Groups (Academy of
Management Best Paper Proceedings, Toronto, August 2000).
8. For an insightful account of how different tasks require different models
of team management, see K.M. Eisenhardt and B. Tabrizi, Accelerating
Adaptive Processes: Product Innovation in the Global Computer Industry,
Administrative Science Quarterly 40 (March 1995): 84-110.
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Management Review
... By contrast, teams that generate ideas responsively per external demands can acquire external resources as needed, which lead to successful team innovation implementation (Ancona & Bresman, 2002). However, these teams could suffer from lukewarm internal support from members who are not motivated to utilize internal resources, which will impair implementation. ...
... Examining internal and external resourcing behaviors of a team also expands the teams and innovation literature (Marrone, 2010). Team boundary-spanning or external activities have gained increasing attention in relation to team performance because organizational teams do not operate in a vacuum but function interdependently with external parties (Ancona & Bresman, 2002). Considering that innovation requires extra resources beyond routine performance, understanding innovation in teams further necessitates in-depth examinations of externally directed team processes in addition to internal team functioning (Marks et al., 2001). ...
A core challenge for team innovation is the successful translation of creative ideas into innovation through implementation. This study examines the tension between internal and external team resourcing behaviors that account for how teams translate their creative ideas into implemented innovation. Drawing on conservation of resource theory, we propose that motivational underpinnings of team idea generation predict team resourcing behaviors that directly affect team innovation implementation. Path analysis of a field survey data collected from 91 teams showed that teams that generated creative ideas proactively for internal interest effectively utilized internal resources but failed to acquire external resources for innovation implementation. By contrast, teams that generated ideas in response to external demands effectively acquired external resources but encountered diminished internal resources. These unbalanced resourcing patterns were partially resolved by team leadership, such that the negative indirect effect of responsive idea generation on innovation implementation via reduced internal resource utilization disappeared when internal-integration leadership was high. This study offers new theoretical insights into the transition between idea generation and implementation by identifying tension between teams’ internal and external resources as the core intermediating mechanism.
... Teams must promote creative ideas to develop support and mobilize resources from external constituents, such as other teams, top management, suppliers and vendors (Ancona & Bresman, 2002;Howell & Shea, 2006). Mobilizing external resources, including financial, human and informational means, from external actors is a continuous challenge for successful implementation because creative ideas have a high risk of failure and can thus be rejected or resisted by others (Perry-Smith & Mannucci, 2017). ...
... However, proactively generated ideas can challenge existing routines and other parties in power and are thus viewed as risky with questionable benefits (Baer, 2012;Janssen, Van De Vliert, & West, 2004). Given that external resource availability (Ancona & Bresman, 2002;Rao, Chandy, & Prabhu, 2008) is crucial for successful implementation, proactive creativity will be negatively associated with innovation implementation through a decreased supply of external resources. Hence, internal and external team behaviours will constitute positive and negative pathways, respectively, between proactive team creativity and innovation implementation. ...
Given that unrealized ideas are useless, this study focuses on how and when creative ideas are implemented in work teams. Specifically, we propose that teams' creative ideas based on proactive and responsive motivation activate different internal and external team behaviours to affect their innovation implementation. A sample of 68 teams from US organizations reveals that teams can easily mobilize internal team cooperation during implementation when they proactively generate creative ideas. However, such teams have difficulty securing external resources. Teams that generate ideas responsively have advantages in acquiring external resources but experience difficulty in developing internal team cooperation needed for implementation. Thus, teams with proactive and responsive creativity show positive and negative effects on innovation implementation via internal team cooperation and external resource acquisition. The negative effects mitigate when support for implementation and innovation incentive exists. The present analysis explores an important but largely neglected phenomenon of the connection between idea generation and implementation in teams and offers new theoretical and practical insights into the underlying mechanisms of realizing the benefit of team creativity.
... Meanwhile, in dynamic organizational contexts, characterized by team-based flat organizational structures, with high task interdependence and complexity, our suggested interventions shall be focused on transforming traditional teams into X-teams (Ancona & Bresman, 2007;Ancona et al., 2002). X-teams are typified by "external activity, extensive ties, expandable structures, flexible membership and internal mechanisms for execution" (Ancona et al., 2002, p. 34). ...
... X-teams are typified by "external activity, extensive ties, expandable structures, flexible membership and internal mechanisms for execution" (Ancona et al., 2002, p. 34). Forming this kind of teams follows the common tri-phasic pattern (i.e., team staffing, team building, and the creation of a supportive organizational context), ensuring on each phase internal communication openness and access to information, fluid composition, explicit goal setting, a learning culture prevalence and high connectivity between team members and their environment (Ancona et al., 2002). According with Hollenbeck et al. (2012), X-teams interventions are appropriate when the team has high Skill Differentiation, low Temporal Stability, and a medium to high level of Hierarchical Differentiation (see Figure 1). ...
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After more than 80 years in predicting organizational performance, empirical evidence reveals a science of teams that seems unable to consistently implement solutions for teams performing in real work settings-outside and away from the isolated teams breeding in research laboratories in the academic context. To bridge this growing practitioners-researchers divide, we first identify five main challenges involved in working with teams today (purposeful team staffing; proper task design and allocation; task and interaction process functionality; appropriate affective tone; and suitable team assessment). And second, we offer a toolbox of interventions (empowering and restorative) to help practitioners to transform the potential threats inherent in these challenges into opportunities for team effectiveness. Our five-challenge diagnosis and proposed intervention toolbox contribute to better address research questions and theoretical falsifiability using teams performing in real work settings, and to assess and intervene in teams by adjusting their internal functioning to contextual conditions and constraints.
... This is because teams face changing environment and economic conditions, intensified competition [86], increased responsibility for completing complex cross-functional tasks [52]. To succeed, they must directly interface with important stakeholders [4]. That is, the proper functioning of a team relies on the support of both internal and external facilitators, which exist in the internal and external environment of the team. ...
... In addition, the lack of effect of interteam bridging social capital on TIA may be accounted for by the existent division of labor in corporations. While teams may request and retrieve assistance from their contacts outside the team [4], the separation between the teams in an organization creates practical barriers that prevent a team from fully absorbing and capitalizing on the acquired information and knowledge [28]. As a result, the ability of the team to conceive of solutions for unexpected problems is jeopardized. ...
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Enterprise social software platforms (ESSPs) have emerged as an important infrastructure that enables teams to perform in the turbulent business environment. The current study adds to the scanty literature on ESSP by revealing and confirming the underlying mechanisms through which ESSP contributes to a team’s ability to improvise. By surveying current ESSP users, we find that ESSP exercises its effect on team improvisation ability through team social capital as an important mediator. However, our results confirm the existence of two distinctive mediation mechanisms. First, intra-team ESSP use shapes improvisation ability through a team’s internal bonding social capital partially, whereas inter-team ESSP use contributes to improvisation ability through external bonding social capital fully. Second, intra-team (not inter-team) ESSP use casts an additional impact on improvisation ability through within-team (not outside-team) bridging social capital; however, this mediation effect exists only among teams that are equipped with a high level of absorptive capacity. Therefore, the current research sheds new lights on the ESSP and contributes to the research on information technology–assisted team improvisation. Our findings also inform practitioners in leveraging ESSP for enhancement of the improvisation ability of teams in the workplace.
... As organizations worldwide increasingly adopt a flatter organizational structure and network-based design, team members are expected to cooperate with both internal and external stakeholders (Choi, 2002). To do so, they must cross their teams' and even organizations' boundaries (Ancona et al., 2002;Marrone, 2010). Boundary-spanning behavior, defined as subordinate behavior that is intended to establish relationships and interactions with external actors and helps meet team objectives (Ancona and Caldwell, 1992;Marrone et al., 2007), has thus become a common organizational phenomenon. ...
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Based on social information processing theory, we provide a novel theoretical account of how and when leader humor influences subordinate boundary-spanning behavior. We develop a moderated mediation model explicating the mechanism of psychological safety and the boundary condition of subordinate interpersonal influence. Using multiwave data, we tested our research hypotheses with a sample of 452 members from 140 teams in a Chinese information technology (IT) company. Results showed that leader humor positively affects subordinate boundary-spanning behavior via increased psychological safety. Moreover, this mediated effect is stronger when subordinates have high interpersonal influence. These findings offer theoretical and practical insights into boundary-spanning activities and leader humor, which we discuss.
... There are mainly two topics of concern within the research on organisational decision making. The first is the way decisions are made (Vroom and Jago 1988) and the second is the issue of transparency (Ancona, Bresman, and Kauefer 2002). ...
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Communication between people is commonly thought to play a major role in determining the success or failure of collaborative design projects. We conducted 8 weeks of observation and 62 interviews in three design companies. Our findings indicate that communication is blamed for causing many problems which are not of obvious technical nature. However, such problems are more often symptomatic of underlying factors related to information, representation, individual, team, and organisational issues. Examples of factors influencing communication at interfaces are people's understanding of the ‘sequence of tasks’ or ‘goals and objectives’ in the design process. With a system-theory informed conceptualisation of communication, we propose that awareness of such factors could assist design practitioners in targeting interventions and researchers in generating hypotheses about communication and design performance.
... The actor-oriented scheme construct has been suggested as a new and promising way for organizing in a multiparty collaboration perspective (Fjeldstad and Snow, 2018). This scheme responds to the firms' need to leverage widespread knowledge and expertise to create innovative solutions and fast reactions to cope with emerging challenges (Ancona et al., 2002;Martin et al., 2013). By concentrating on the managers' networks of advice exchange ( Figures 2-3), and distinguishing between exchanges focused on mechanisms related to cognitive EJIM search and experiential learning (Berends et al., 2016), we confirm the existence of the key elements of the actor-oriented scheme consisting of (1) actors who have the capacity to selforganize, (2) commons and (3) infrastructures that enable multi-actor collaboration. ...
Purpose Business model innovation is a key element for firms' competitiveness. Its development can be supported by the establishment of an actor-oriented scheme to overcome hierarchical structures. The actor-oriented scheme is characterized by intra-organizational networks of relationships that can be established and dissolved between individuals. However, we lack an empirical perspective about its establishment; therefore, the purpose of this research is to advance our understanding of intra-organizational networks for supporting business model innovation. Design/methodology/approach Individuals create and manage knowledge aimed to innovate the business model through cognitive search and experiential learning mechanisms. Knowledge is spread within organizations by using intra-organizational advice networks, whose patterns reflect the presence of an actor-oriented scheme. This work applies social network analysis to network data from a multi-unit organization specializing in personal care services. We use a Logistic Regression-Quadratic Assignment Procedure to analyze intra-organizational network data on managers' advice exchange related to the learning modes of cognitive search and experiential learning. Findings Our research empirically identifies the main elements of an actor-oriented scheme in a business model innovation process. We find that managers are able to self-organize, because they are not influenced by their organizational roles, and that commons for sharing resources and protocols, processes and infrastructures enable advice exchange, thus showing the presence of an actor-oriented scheme in business model innovation process. Research limitations/implications This research is based on a cross-sectional database. A longitudinal study would provide a better understanding of the network evolution characterizing the innovation process. Practical implications The results of our study support organizational decision-making for business model innovation. Originality/value This study provides empirical evidence of how an actor-oriented scheme emerges in a business model innovation process.
In today's highly interconnected, uncertain and dynamic business environment, team boundary spanning has become an important determinant of the performance of new product development (NPD) projects. Despite the positive evidence supporting the use of boundary spanning activities by NPD teams, little is still known about how boundary spanning teams become high‐performance teams. The current study advances research on this subject by examining the mediating effect of team potency on the relationship between team boundary spanning and new product performance, as well as the moderating effects of team size and functional diversity on the relationship between team boundary spanning and team potency. Data from a time‐lagged survey study of 140 NPD projects found that team boundary spanning can promote team potency that, in turn, results in greater new product quality and new product creativity. The positive effect of team boundary spanning on team potency was found to be more pronounced for NPD teams of medium size and high levels of functional diversity.
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Symbolic narratives, such as an “ivory tower”, a “grey zone”, or a “black box” tell us about the gap between university and society, and academia and industry. Recently, they have been replaced by the Quadruple Helix model, which closes the gap by connecting four main stakeholders—government, university, industry, and society, into an innovation ecosystem. However, the roles of the different stakeholders are often blurred and difficult to define, and it is difficult to develop a basic approach to implement responsible innovations in industrial ecosystems in general. On the other hand, the interactions between stakeholder groups, especially universities and industry, are not sufficiently demonstrated in both scientific literature and empirical studies. We note that the responsible research and innovation (RRI) approach should facilitate a framework of shared taxonomy among stakeholders. By highlighting this situation, we follow the paradigm of emerging thinking and we seek to fill this knowledge gap theoretically and empirically. Therefore, in this study, we combined several strategies and perspectives. First, we conducted survey research concerning social capital in Poland and Lithuania to understand the impact of social capital and trust on stakeholder cooperation. Second, we conducted interviews with scientists who actively work to transfer knowledge into industry. Third, we utilized field notes from working experiences in research management. This work has theoretical and practical implications. The theoretical contribution of the paper demonstrates the construction of methodology based on emerging perspectives, and new theoretical insights, on professional discourses for implementing the responsible innovation approach in industrial ecosystems, by highlighting the commitments of main stakeholder groups. Practical input: our insights and empirical research will contribute toward sustainability policymaking and achieving substantial results in industrial ecosystems. The results indicate that if there is trust, then the government, companies, and society (in Poland and Lithuania) would be willing to cooperate with each other. However, there is a lack of trust and cooperation between universities and businesses. Stakeholders have become increasingly aware of the emergence of a science and industry cooperation as an open platform, enlarged with society and policies. They note the problem of making research public and transparent as part of a new mode of cooperation; however, they articulate RRI as a framework of shared taxonomy.
Why do great companies and other organizations fail, sometimes abruptly? Why do admired leaders fall from their organizational pedestals? Why do young and promising managers derail? Why do organizations create and reinforce rules that manifestly damage both them and those that they employ, serve and sustain? Leadership is a much-discussed but ill-defined idea in business and management circles. Analysing and understanding the skills and behaviours exhibited in leadership practice, leaders exhibit paradoxical activities that challenge our understanding of organizations. In this text, the authors identify leadership behaviours that compete toward business equilibrium: selfish versus selfless, distance versus proximity, consistency versus individuality, enforcing professional standards versus flexibility, and control versus autonomy. These paradoxical dilemmas require a reflexive and analytical approach to a subject that is tricky to define. The book explores the paradoxes of power and leadership not as a panacea for solving organizational problems but as a lens through which leadership and power are seen as an exercise in dynamic balance. Read this book as an invitation to the paradoxes of power and leadership that frame organizational life today. Be prepared to find surprises – and some counterintuitive arguments. Providing a thought-provoking guide to the traits and skills that will help readers to understand and navigate paradoxical leadership behaviour, this reflexive book will be useful reading for students and scholars of business, management and psychology globally.
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This article focuses on the activities teams use to manage their organizational environment beyond their teams. We used semistructured interviews with 38 new-product team managers in high-technology companies, log data from two of these teams, and questionnaires completed by members of a different set of 45 new-product teams to generate and test hypotheses about teams' external activities. Results indicate that teams engage in vertical communications aimed at molding the views of top management, horizontal communication aimed at coordinating work and obtaining feedback, and horizontal communication aimed at general scanning of the technical and market environment. Organizational teams appear to develop distinct strategies toward their environment: some specialize in particular external activities, some remain isolated from the external environment, and others engage in multiple external activities. The paper shows that the type of external communication teams engage in, not just the amount, determines performance. Over time, teams following a comprehensive strategy enter positive cycles of external activity, internal processes, and performance that enable long-term team success.
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Experimental research indicates that people in face-to-face brainstorming meetings are less efficient at generating ideas than when working alone, This so-called productivity loss has led many brainstorming researchers to conclude that there is overwhelming evidence for the ineffectiveness of these sessions, We question this conclusion because it is based on efficient idea generation as the primary effectiveness outcome and on studies that do not examine how or why organizations use brainstorming. We report a qualitative study of a product design firm that uses brainstorming sessions. These sessions had six important consequences for this firm, its design engineers, and its clients that are not evident in the brainstorming literature, or are reported but not labeled as effectiveness outcomes: (1) supporting the organizational memory of design solutions; (2) providing skill variety for designers; (3) supporting an attitude of wisdom (acting with knowledge while doubting what one knows); (4) creating a status auction (a competition for status based on technical skill); (5) impressing clients; and (6) providing income for the firm, This study suggests that when brainstorming sessions are viewed in organizational context and the ''effectiveness at what'' and ''effectiveness for whom'' questions are asked, efficiency at idea generation may deserve no special status as an effectiveness outcome. We propose a broader perspective for assessing brainstorming effectiveness in organizations.
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In 1973, Mark Granovetter proposed that weak ties are often more important than strong ties in understanding certain network-based phenomena. His argument rests on the assumption that strong ties tend to bond similar people to each other and these similar people tend to cluster together such that they are all mutually connected. The information obtained through such a network tie is more likely to be redundant, and the network is therefore not a channel for innovation. By contrast, a weak tie more often constitutes a “local bridge” to parts of the social system that are otherwise disconnected, and therefore a weak tie is likely to provide new information from disparate parts of the system. Thus, this theory argues, tie strength is curvilinear with a host of dependent variables: no tie (or an extremely weak tie) is of little consequence; a weak tie provides maximum impact, and a strong tie provides diminished impact. Subsequent research has generally supported Granovetter’s theory (Granovetter 1982), but two issues have been neglected in the research stream. First, there is considerable ambiguity as to what constitutes a strong tie and what constitutes a weak tie. Granovetter laid out four identifying properties of a strong tie: “The strength of a tie is a (probably linear) combination of the amount of time, the emotional intensity, the intimacy (mutual confiding), and the reciprocal services which characterize the tie” (1973:1361). This makes tie strength a linear function of four quasi-independent indicators. At what point is a tie to be considered weak? This is not simply a question for the methodologically curious. It is an important part of the theory itself, since the theory makes a curvilinear prediction. If we happen to be on the very left side of the continuum of tie strength, then increasing the strength of the tie (going from no tie to weak tie) will increase the relevant information access. On the other hand, at some point making the ties stronger will theoretically decrease their impact. How do we know where we are on this theoretical curve? Do all four indicators count equally toward tie strength? In practice, tie strength has been measured many different ways.
How do teams complete a task involving critical knowledge that is both complex and external to the team itself? I explore this question in an inductive study of new product development teams in the pharmaceutical industry. Specifically, I investigate different approaches to managing the task of core technology sourcing (the identification, evaluation and integration of an external technology that constitutes a core subsystem of the product). This research resulted in two key findings. First, in contrast to previous research suggesting that effective teams limit external search for complex knowledge in different ways, the study finds that a positive outcome is associated with continuous deployment of many different search modalities. By coupling this search behavior with intensive communication and flexible decision-making, internal coordination problems are offset and benefits of external search are leveraged. Second, this research shows that search behavior is heavily dependent on factors external to the team. Specifically, search behavior is enabled by factors in the task environment, such as how organizational structures and processes are designed, and by the knowledge handed down by previous teams. I develop the concept of "architectural dependency" to capture how the behavior of core technology sourcing teams is dependent on factors configured across three fundamental dimensions (the team, the task environment, the behavior of previous teams), and importantly, the way that they are linked together. These architectures of factors are molded only slowly over time, and I found this change to be driven by the overarching organizational regime adopted at the organizational level.
This study tests a comprehensive model of group effectiveness with 100 sales teams in the communications industry. Results indicate that traditional theories of group effectiveness match the implicit theories of team members. These theories account for 90 percent of the variance in team satisfaction and self-reported effectiveness but none of the variance in the teams' sales performance. The findings suggest that theories of group effectiveness need to be revised to include the way in which teams manage interactions across their boundary and the impact of the organizational context.
Examines 2 aspects of team composition that can influence external activity: team member demography and team configuration. The demographic component focuses on functional and tenure diversity. Although these dimensions have been studied extensively in prior research, their effects on external linkages (and not internal dynamics) are examined. The 2nd component, team configuration, represents the need to create more fluid and changing team boundaries. Teams can be configured along 4 dimensions: high or low use of experts, full or part-cycle membership, full or part-time assignments to the team, and the extent to which there is a mix of core and peripheral membership. Variance along these dimensions shifts the permeability and breadth of the team boundary and hence its ability to successfully relate to the external environment. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
This paper contrasts two theoretical models for firms' achieving fast adaptation through product innovation. The compression model assumes a well-known, rational process and relies on squeezing together or compressing the sequential steps of such a process. The experiential model assumes an uncertain process and relies on improvisation, real-time experience, and flexibility. The two models are tested using data from 72 product development projects drawn from European, Asian, and U.S. computer firms. The results indicate that using an experiential strategy of multiple design iterations, extensive testing, frequent project milestones, a powerful project leader, and a multifunctional team accelerates product development. In contrast, the compression strategy of supplier involvement, use of computer-aided design, and overlapping development steps describes fast pace only for mature industry segments. The results also show that planning and rewarding for schedule attainment are ineffective ways of accelerating pace. We conclude with linkages to punctuated equilibrium and selection models of adaptation, fast organizational processes, organic versus improvisational structures, and complexity theory.
This paper combines the concept of weak ties from social network research and the notion of complex knowledge to explain the role of weak ties in sharing knowledge across organization subunits in a multiunit organization. I use a network study of 120 new-product development projects undertaken by 41 divisions in a large electronics company to examine the task of developing new products in the least amount of time. Findings show that weak interunit ties help a project team search for useful knowledge in other subunits but impede the transfer of complex knowledge, which tends to require a strong tie between the two parties to a transfer. Having weak interunit ties speeds up projects when knowledge is not complex but slows them down when the knowledge to be transferred is highly complex. I discuss the implications of these findings for research on social networks and product innovation.