Is communication with supervisor more important than other team members?

The motivation and management of global or virtual R&D teams has been a constant theme on this blog .  Since direct in-person communication is always diminished in virtual teams, I have been trying to understand the impact on communication between R&D teams and with managers on performance.  I recently found an article in the R&D Management Journal describing The impact of team-member exchange, differentiation, team commitment, and knowledge sharing on R&D project team performance:

This paper integrates team-member exchange (TMX), affective commitment, and knowledge sharing to examine how work unit TMX influences employees’ R&D project team commitment and intention to share knowledge, and how team knowledge-sharing intention and TMX differentiation influences team performance.

It appears that Team Member Exchange (TMX) and Leader-Member Exchange (LMX) are well known concepts used to understand the impact of communications on team performance. A recent Ph.D. thesis from Hong Kong University (Thanks Google!) provides some background:

According to  Seers A. (1989),  TMX  defined as  “an individual’s  perception of his or herexchange relationship with the peer group as a whole”. It was developed as one way to measure the level of exchange quality among coworkers. The concept of TMX has been applied to both traditional work groups as well as to self-managing teams

Similarly LMX is defined as:

Graen (1976) defined Leader-Member Exchange (LMX) as “an interpersonal exchange
relationships between a subordinate and his or her leader”. Through researching and studying over a quarter century, LMX has evolved into a general assessment of a work relationship between leader and member, measured by the extent to which there is a mutual sense of trust, loyalty, understanding, and support (Keup, L.C., 2000).

It appears that manager communication (LMX) only impacts job satisfaction. While enhanced team communication improves performance and job satisfaction. Hence R&D managers need to focus on deploying processes and tools that enhance communication between team members – especially virtual or global teams. Back to the R&D management journal paper: increased interactions and communications between team members enhances knowledge sharing, team commitment and team performance.

The results support the relationships between work unit TMX and employees’ intention to share knowledge and team commitment. In addition, the results show that work unit TMX increases intention to share knowledge through increasing group members’ team commitment. At the group level, the results support the relationships between team knowledge-sharing intention and team performance. The results also show that TMX differentiation moderates the relationship between work unit TMX and team performance. That is, greater work unit TMX is more likely to achieve higher team performance in a team with low TMX differentiation as opposed to a team with high TMX differentiation.

The Big Idea: Before You Make That Big Decision

Deciding which R&D ideas to invest in and how to prioritize product portfolio opportunities is difficult.  CTOs of several large companies have actually reported that R&D performance increases with cuts in budgets (TI, Pfizer).  However, we have often discussed the problems with reliance on gut feelings or irrationality of decision making.  Here is an interesting article from the Harvard Business Review about The Big Idea: Before You Make That Big Decision…:

Thanks to a slew of popular new books, many executives today realize how biases can distort reasoning in business. Confirmation bias, for instance, leads people to ignore evidence that contradicts their preconceived notions. Anchoring causes them to weigh one piece of information too heavily in making decisions; loss aversion makes them too cautious. In our experience, however, awareness of the effects of biases has done little to improve the quality of business decisions at either the individual or the organizational level.

Clearly, some intuition will always be necessary to make decisions about the future. However, should we try to minimize the impact of biases in our decision making?

Though there may now be far more talk of biases among managers, talk alone will not eliminate them. But it is possible to take steps to counteract them. A recent McKinsey study of more than 1,000 major business investments showed that when organizations worked at reducing the effect of bias in their decision-making processes, they achieved returns up to seven percentage points higher.

Cost of questioning and examining decision-making can be large. The article has some great pointers about when and how to dig into decisions.  Here is my version of a checklist based on the article to eliminate decision bias. (as you know, I love checklists):

  1. Is the decision sufficiently large to warrant an evaluation of bias? (do not question all decisions)
  2. Is there a  reason to suspect the self-interest bias in the team making the recommendation? (do a thorough review)
  3. Has the team has clearly fallen in love with its proposal and not evaluated other options? (Are credible alternatives included along with the recommendation?
  4. If there seems to be Groupthink because dissenting views were not solicited or explored.  (Solicit dissenting views, discreetly if necessary).
  5. Are the people making the recommendation overly attached to past decisions?
    1. Is the team is relying mainly on a memorable success?
    2. Is the team assuming that a person, organization, or approach that is successful in one area will be just as successful in another?
  6. Do you know where the numbers came from? Can you get better numbers / results from other models?
    1. If you had to make this decision again in a year’s time, what information would you want, and can you get more of it now? 
    2. Is the base case overly optimistic?
    3. Is the worst case bad enough?
    4. Is the recommending team overly cautious?
As the article points out, a key to eliminating decision bias (and literally, the success of all change), is discipline on the part of the R&D manager.  If we do not follow the same process that is required of all teams, the biases will never be questioned or eliminated.