Over the recent past, the world has witnessed a transformation in organizational management. The transformation emanated from the unstoppable and unpredictable technological advancements. Advancements in the field of information and communication technology (ICT) led to pronounced transformations that changed the face of operations in a number of companies. The advancements in technology led to efficient communication within and outside organizations and changed their outlook and management. Smart managers who lead contemporary organizations understand that besides ensuring that their operations are inclusive, they should also match products with consumer expectations. Moreover, due to the efficiency in communication brought about by technological advancements, establishment, and management of virtual teams has become practical and attainable. It is within this backdrop that the paper explains the ways used in managing virtual R&D teams.
Background and History
R&D teams play an important role in the overall success of an organization. Their role, which espouses aspects of research and development, can propel an organization towards success and enable it to achieve its objectives. To ensure that an organization has the best expertise, its R&D teams began outsourcing smart minds across continents and are increasingly utilizing their expertise to execute the goals projected by respective organization. Gassmann and Zedtwitz (2003) state that an increasing number of organizations are utilizing skills from professionals spread across continents by means of efficient mediums of communication that comprise emails, faxes, and other forms of audio-visual forms of communication. The efficiency introduced by technology has made it easy for people around the world to work together irrespective of geographical restrictions. With good styles of management, the teams yield superb results and take organizations to higher levels of success as compared to competitors.
The history of virtual R&D teams is simultaneous to the progress in the field of technology. The progress in technology enabled companies to hire expertise from great minds across continents, a phenomenon that was initially impractical because of geographical restrictions. With the progress witnessed in the field of information and communication technology (ICT), enterprises can successfully hire R&D experts from Europe, Africa, Asia, and the United States. As technology progressed, communication media such as email, Skype, and Whatsapp emerged. According to Lillian (2014), the advent of dot-com phenomenon was a turning point that signaled the birth of virtual R&D teams. The dot-com era is an era characterized by the development of efficient and timely media of communication. These media made communication timely and very efficient. As such, communication and feedback yielded timely results, a factor that made it easy from companies to hire consultants and have virtual teams across the globe.
Methods used in Management of R&D Teams
The development of virtual R&D teams has had benefits and challenges linked to governance and trust that exist among its members. The fact that virtual R&D members work from different locations implies that the teams operate in a decentralized manner. Due to geographical restrictions associated with distance and location of the concerned members of the team, the challenges that take effect, in most cases, relate to trust and information hitches. To address the issues, there is need to develop a good method that can facilitate the efficient flow of information and prevent losses associated with communication breakdowns and distrust. Gassmann and Zedtwitz (2003) present the four methods that modern managers can use to lead virtual teams that include decentralized self-coordination, system integrator, core team as system architect, and centralized venture team. These methods of management are very useful in managing virtual teams and enjoying the benefits associated with the teams. Although the methods have drawbacks, their correct use leads to success and attainment of organizational objectives.
Decentralized self-coordination method of management is one that is effective when the members involved have high information on the concepts of a project under operation. The relevance of using the method in a scenario where members have high information and requisite skills transpires because of its decentralized nature. Unlike others, the decentralized method does not have defined leaders and, as such, it relies much on trust and corporate responsibility of each member tasked with a certain duty. Therefore, it is important to use the method when the guidelines of a respective project are clear and do not require frequent consultations from the organization. According to the assertion of Fernandez and Jawadi (2015), decentralized method of managing virtual teams is one that provides a lot of independence to its members. Therefore, the independence calls for a high responsibility and discipline without which the much-desired success of a respective company cannot materialize.
As a method used in managing virtual teams, decentralized self-coordination requires lots of prior information concerning specifics expected upon completion of a project. The independence that members have implies that challenges may arise in case the information concerning the expected deliverables is not sufficient. Moreover, because the members are not in a singular location for easy management, corrections may not materialize on time. Ebrahim (2015) notes that managers leading R&D teams in modern times have a complex challenge the regards management of virtual teams that undertake their duties from various parts of the world. Another challenge that necessitates the use of individuals who have expertise in the field and making sure that they have the right information on the deliverables is because other members may not accept any authority expressed by one of them.
In the words of Fernandez and Jawadi (2015), any attempt from one of the members to raise a point of concern on the course of the project in scenarios where there is a wrong procedure may not receive the expected attention from the team. Reluctant acceptance transpires because the members under the type of management expect that they should operate without interferences. Evidently, the decentralized nature of the method is a drawback that can at times hamper its effectiveness. It is paramount to outline the fact that irrespective of how a team is virtual and decentralized, there should be leaders who guide the team and supervise the progress of the project so that challenges are addressed on time.
The second method used in managing virtual is the system integrator. As the name suggest, the method uses an individual or an office which coordinates the operations of the team and supervises the manner in which the project progresses. Moreover, the integrator communicates all matters that help the team to undertake their duties successfully. Any hitches that emanate in the process of executing the project receive timely feedback and redress from the integrator. Using emails, faxes, or other audiovisual media, the members of virtual R&D teams contact the integrator and receive clarification on aspects that may perplex them. The experience is unlike the decentralized self-coordination method, which is highly decentralized and leaves little room for clarification or consultation. The method is effective and even in cases where the company requires a rectification of the project, the rectification measures will be handled by the integrator who communicates these measures to the team.
The inclusion of the integrator makes the operations of the team very successful and efficient. In modern times when consumers are trendy and ever changing, a project may require timely rectification in line with consumer demands that can change in an unpredictable manner. Therefore, with an integrator who can liaise between the team and company, corrections receive timely attention and delays diminish. Fundamentally, when team members have someone or an office that connects them with the organization and contacts from time to time to examine how they undertake their tasks, their discipline and responsibility improve. Gabrielli and Zaccaro (2017) explain that the discipline and responsibility is an outcome of supervision and regular management of human resources. Practically, with regular management and supervision, team members whether virtual or in an organization become more disciplined unlike in scenarios where the team has more levels of autonomy over their operations.
One of the drawbacks linked to systems integrator method is the reliance that it has on a singular office or individual serving as an integrator. Since virtual teams comprise members who may operate from various far-flung regions, employing a singular office or individual may not be effective in times of crises. During scenarios that require quick response from the team, the office or individual may not be effective. Additionally the fact that the team handles issues that concern research and development, any additional information that a member may need to relay across to other members depends greatly on the perception and attitude of the integrator. A negative perception held by the integrator concerning an issue raised by the team member may imply that the idea fails to take effect. Apparently, some ideas that have propelled organizations to greater heights and helped them outsmart competing firms are those that some leaders regarded as less practical.
Core Team as System Architect
Unlike the first two methods of virtual team management, the core team as systems architect uses a team that controls the operations executed by members. Through careful selection, team leaders, consumer focus groups, and consultants constitute members of a core team tasked with overseeing the progress of a particular project. Just like the integrator, the team supervises and follows up on the progress of projects. Additionally, the team provides the right course of action to that the teams should take in order to ensure a successful completion of the project. In effect, the core team acts as a leader, which shows the direction that subordinate teams have to follow. According to Gilson, Maynard, Jones, Vartiainen, and Hakonen (2015), careful selection of the individuals in the core team ensures that the decisions that they make resonate well with organizational objectives. By having a team that has client focus groups, team leaders, and consultants, the ideas advanced by the other teams as well as those they core team presents will be useful in enabling the organization to achieve the desired success.
Consequently, the core team thoroughly examines each idea before implementing it. The implication of careful examination is minimal losses that arise when organizations implement and later retract wrong ideas (Gabrielli & Zaccaro, 2017). Notably, by according a core team the role of guiding other teams within the virtual R&D group, the quality of the project heightens. The opinions presented by client focus groups, team leaders, as well as consultants have higher chances of matching consumer needs and enabling an organization to achieve client satisfaction, which eventually translates into loyalty. The scenario is unlike in other methods of management, which employ the expertise from a singular group of team members. Moreover, by having leaders of the teams, the flow of information across the virtual teams becomes swift because the leaders communicate with their colleagues on and when the subject organization arrives at a particular decision.
Fundamentally, the core team as system architect can fall under the class of the best methods used in managing virtual teams. Since the majority of individuals working under a virtual group are not within a single geographical region, the issue of trust and discipline needs to be championed by the organization. Vera, Nemanich, Vélez-Castrillón, and Werner (2016) elucidate that using team leaders and client focus groups, the organization successfully wins the trust and discipline from the members who receive information from their leaders and implement them. The fact that team leaders are among the core association selected by the organization implies that the mode of communication utilized resonate well other members. The members feel comfortable communicating with one of their own in the core team who is a leader in their respective team a factor that improves the flow of information and advances the quality of the project.
Centralized Venture Team
Centralized venture team is another method that organizations can use to manage virtual teams. Unlike the aforementioned management methods, the centralized method brings all the members to a single location so that they can easily manage and supervise their operations. Based on the locations of the members, the method compels the organization to relocate them to one location and assign a powerful leader who will oversee their activities. In the perspective of Boutellier, Gassmann, and Zedtwitz (2013), centralized venture team method uses the expertise of team leaders who coordinate the activities of other members and lead them in the right path of project execution. By ensuring that all the team members are in one location, the organization will be in a good position to manage and regulate the activities that members of the team undertake.
Therefore, issues associated with mistrusts and absence of responsibility diminish the moment the organization takes charge and relocate the team into a single location. It is also paramount to explain the fact that clarifications of perplexing issues become very easy and timely since the members and their leader are in a single location (Gassmann & Zedtwitz, 2003). The drawback that the method presents relates to the costs that an organization can incur when relocating the members and the dynamic nature of outsourcing prevalent in modern societies. Apparently, organization cannot conclusively have bright minds in one location, because the expertise held by the members may still be inadequate a phenomenon that compels the organization to continue looking for additional members.
The changing times occasioned by technological advancements have introduced a new phenomenon in the field of research and development. The phenomenon is the virtual team where individuals work from various places across the globe regardless of their geographical locations. While virtual teams are beneficial to the companies in that they introduce new skills and help them progress, there are challenges that can take place in the absence of correct management methods. Challenge of trust and discipline in execution of duties can arise if organizations do not employ the right method to manage the virtual teams. Some of the methods used in managing virtual teams include decentralized self-coordination, system integrator, core team as system architect, and centralized venture team.
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