Effective Tactics of Team Management: A Case Study on Volvo Car Corporation

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Project execution is essentially based on a project team performance. A team passes through phases of development from a forming phase to results delivery and learned lessons. Along with primary tasks dedicated by a project team to deliver a project results, there are some strategies and tactics whereby the effectiveness and interaction of team work are kept in high levels. This study discusses the effectiveness of particular team management tactics in practice. Volvo Car Corporation is the company used as a case to investigate some followed practices that may correspond to those tactics. The theories discussed are in relation to how to secure the right project team members, motivate team members effectively, and facilitate smooth communication flow within a team. Activities of monitoring the development a team performance in practice are also discussed.

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Effective Tactics of Team Management: A Case Study on Volvo Car Corporation

  1. 1. EFFECTIVE TACTICS OF TEAM MANAGEMENT: A CASE STUDY ON VOLVO CAR CORPORATION Hafez Shurrab 1
  2. 2. Abstract: Project execution is essentially based on a project team performance. A team passes through phases of development from a forming phase to results delivery and learned lessons. Along with primary tasks dedicated by a project team to deliver a project results, there are some strategies and tactics whereby the effectiveness and interaction of team work are kept in high levels. This study discusses the effectiveness of particular team management tactics in practice. Volvo Car Corporation is the company used as a case to investigate some followed practices that may correspond to those tactics. The theories discussed are in relation to how to secure the right project team members, motivate team members effectively, and facilitate smooth communication flow within a team. Activities of monitoring the development a team performance in practice are also discussed. Human resources in project management are one of other elements needed to get tasks done. They are commonly referred to as a project team. They are in fact deeply essential from a project management perspective. The way a project team is managed may end up with either extraordinary performance, or catastrophic results. In other words, if the human behavior is taken into project managers’ account while managing team development from the beginning, they will better understand project team members individually, and quickly explore the imbalance and deficiency related to a project team performance collectively. However, it is not enough to detect the causes of performance deficiency, project managers need to come up with corresponding solutions and treatments. That could be a way easier to be done for machines and regular systems, as the behavior of them and the reaction of their internal elements, overlaps and surroundings are to a large extent expectable. Thus, systems and machines behavior could be simulated in a way that helps managers to make the right decision, which results in higher performance, better quality and lower costs. Unlike that, human behavior and team chemistry are quite difficult to be expected beforehand. Moreover, the combinations of teams makes it tricky to come up with solutions that work smoothly for everybody. There is always a micro-scale and macro-scale for the reaction between team patterns. Therefore, making the right decision is not a cushy job for team management. Boddy (2003) proposes particular strategies and tactics whereby common problems in team management are most likely to be resolved or avoided. Theoretical Framework Securing Team Members Boddy (2003) described gathering and securing the right team members as not a simple easygoing task for many organizations. The organizational structure makes it more complicated to have the luxury of choices as available unchangeable skills for a project that are already in place may not fulfil the required balance of preferred roles indicated by Meredith Belbin's theory. Moreover, there is another challenge in resolving the dilemma between involving the right skill and right commitment as time plays a significant role, especially for those with required skills. Additionally, the size of the groups that involve more than 12 people may also complicate the coherence of team performance as it becomes harder to reach agreement and find proper solutions productively. However there are some special solutions to that slowness and that may include dividing the big group in sub-groups, rotating the membership to keep numbers down, and/or inviting excess people to join the steering group. The last one may affect the pace of decisionmaking process (Boddy, 2003). 2
  3. 3. Motivating Team Members The influence of motivating team members may result in significant difference in team performance. Project team can be motivated extrinsically (to achieve objectives irrelevant to the work boundary) and intrinsically (to achieve objectives in which increase personal satisfaction from doing the work) (Amabile, 1997). In projects, several intrinsically motivating practices are considered to ensure commitment and high performance. That may include taking staff concerns seriously to reinforce the moral of the project staff and hence keep their commitment high during the project period, generating excitement to raise the profile of the project by organizing events such as brainstorming sessions and kick-offs with a top management presence, and publicizing success by promoting successes and responsibilities of project members and their individual contributions. Publicizing success is effective when “Quick Wins” strategy is considered. The direct influence of planning for “Quick Wins” is that the sense of achievement becomes easier to gain for project staff and board members whom can then see a return on their investment. Besides, the success of a project becomes easier to be claimed by management (Boddy, 2003). Common Approach Tuckman and Jensen (1977) suggested a model for team development whereby project teams experience different phases throughout the project including forming, storming, norming, performing and adjourning. Only successful project team can passes through the storming phase when conflicts and disagreements usually emerge. There are administrative and social aspects required for team members to agree on to be regarded as operating in the norming phase. Three main agreements are important in that respect and those are related to who is going to do what, which skills should be developed of whom, and how the decisions are made and modified within the team. However, for further enhancement of the team success, there should be a more holistic common approach as a framework. In addition to deciding how the skills of a group should be integrated to it to cooperatively react with advance performance, a common approach includes integrating new members into the team and supporting them, and practices of summarizing and circulating group discussions and agreements. The main benefits of having a common approach for a team could be gaining more mature mutual trust and effective constructive conflict. Therefore, the time needed to develop a common approach should be consistent with the time required to develop a shared purpose (Boddy, 2003). Planning for Effective Meetings Meetings are quite common aspect of organizational communication. People communicate with each other very often using electronic devices, but they feel good about physical meetings. However, if meetings are not planned and executed well, they maybe unproductive to hold. The success of meetings are basically associated with five factors. Meetings more likely to succeed if they are scheduled well beforehand and have duration limits for the whole meeting and each item involved. Moreover, successful meetings are meaningful to hold in the first place, and their relevant agendas and papers are distributed beforehand, while the resulting decisions from them are recorded and circulated within 24 hours (Boddy, 2003). Pattern of Content of Communication Organizational communication are to some extent similar to communication within a project context. Communication processes should be identified by observing who needs 3
  4. 4. to speak to whom and in what frequency. Each project type and its related mother organisation impose particular structure of communication to result in advance performance. Centralized communication networks are found to be more productive in simple and routine tasks, while decentralized communication network are required in complex and uncertain tasks. On the other hand, communication networks usually need facing up disagreements and providing direct physical support by the project manager (Boddy, 2003). Monitoring Progress and External Relations Project team members should be observed thoroughly, especially in critical tasks. A role imbalance could be recognized early and then corrected. A working method maybe found ineffective to be altered. The satisfaction of members may experience some inconveniences need to be eliminated. Any inappropriate aspect of team chemistry and interaction or even surrounding conditions could be recognized early if there is a proper monitoring system and wise project manager (Boddy, 2003). Purpose of the Study Projects are basically managed by teams. Therefore, project team development is very crucial to a project results. As a project team proceeds, significant failure potentials may show up because of team members themselves. However, project teams have some common enabling ground wherever a project maybe executed, and whatever a team culture could be. This study is dedicated to investigate the correspondence of team management approach adopted by Volvo Car Corporation with theories of effective team management practices proposed by Boddy (2003). Method The study is based on theories related to project team management discussed in the course literature of Boddy (2003). The theories are discussed as tactics or enabling practices for a project team success. Other theories involved are “Employee Motivation” discussed by Amabile (1997), and a model for team development suggested by Tuckman and Jensen (1977). Volvo Car Corporation is used as a case to investigate the addressed theories in practice. An interview with Christer Petersson, VCMS-HSE Development Group Leader and Senior Specialist Machine Safety, is used. The interview questions investigate the theories in practice for Volvo Car Corporation. Answers of the interview are used to analyze and discuss the company’s case in relation to the addressed theory (see Appendix). Results Securing and Motivating Team Members The interview conducted with Christer Petersson, VCMS-HSE Development Group Leader and Senior Specialist Machine Safety, revealed many facts related to the team management and development in Volvo Car Corporation. Mr. Petersson confirmed that they manage big teams to introduce a new car from the first step. Those big teams are divided into functional and cross-functional sub-groups. In many cases, members are reassigned to different project. However, any lack of specific skills are compensated by either external consulting companies, or trainees that are more ready to blend in projects. Cross-functional teams overlaps with different functional teams to join them together. As Mr. Petersson said, the required skills for critical functions such as chassis design and safety controlling are not compromised. They only rely on teams that are led by experts. Yet, committed team members seem to be given chances to be involved in many 4
  5. 5. projects, especially if the uncertainty levels are acceptable. In the discourse of motivation, Mr. Petersson confirmed that they in Volvo Car Corporation try to benchmark relevant motivating practices. He said that they strive to let employees feel at home in the company. Along with enabling their employees to have a good life, they also pay high attention to the value of individuals and take their concerns seriously. The project managers are asked to discuss personal issues of other team members if necessary and they try their best to resolve them. For excitement, some senior managers are involved in some sessions of brainstorming and other sorts of activities. Furthermore, short-term goals are integrated properly so that project members get the sense of achievement and look forward more future success. Mr. Petersson talked about internal periodic magazine that is distributed within the company and promotes some success stories of project teams and individuals that contributed in significant progress. Effective Working Methods When asking Mr. Petersson about having common approach in team management, he mentioned levels of common background that teams are expected to be reacting accordingly. When the big team is divided into function and cross-functional sub-groups, the boundaries of each group are agreed on. However, each group have the choice to decide which approach they will be using. Mr. Petersson justified this way of working by an example of some functional subgroups of whom prefer to function in some specific ways for problem-solving processes, from identifying problems to getting agreement on best solutions. In the context of communication and meeting holding, Mr. Petersson discussed the transformation that Volvo Car Corporation aim to reach. He said that meetings are becoming more integrated and effective than ever. The communication patterns they use is more centralized, except some cases of functional sub-groups. However, they strive to integrate more decentralized communication, especially in problem-solving tasks. Another facet of communication within team management Mr. Petersson discussed is how Volvo Car Corporation deal with disagreements. He said that everybody is encouraged to speak out when it comes to disagreements. They pay attention to everyone’s opinion and reveal all possible disagreements stuck in minds. They use the power of rationality, transparency and common sense to absorb disagreements. Mr. Petersson agreed that may take longer time than ignoring disagreements, but the negative effects of disagreements are least likely to appear. Moreover, once resolved, most of disagreements are not repetitive. Finally, Mr. Petersson talked about how team members are monitored and observed in Volvo Car Corporation, and that is by adopting Gemba Walk principle whereby project managers and coordinators are expected to spend around 80% of their time observing and assisting other members, and then suggesting particular improvements (Womack & Shook, 2011). Discussion and Conclusion The results show obvious convergence between effective tactics for team management suggested by Boddy (2003), and correspondent practices adopted by Volvo Car Corporation. Boddy (2003) discussed ways to resolve the dilemma of securing the right team members by setting a well plan to integrate both skilful and committed members in right manners. In Volvo, that plan is based on priorities, as the areas with high competitiveness records, such as safety, are not compromised by assigning any 5
  6. 6. committed members. On the other hand, they may assign some good committed trainees to routine tasks. According to Boddy (2003), group size should not accept more than 12 members to operate coherently. He suggested that big groups could be divided into smaller subgroups to overcome that challenge, which is the strategy adopted by Volvo Car Corporation. Boddy claimed that along with extrinsic motivating practices, there are four effective motivating practices including taking staff’s concerns seriously, generating excitement to project teams, publicising project team success, and integrating short-term achievements. Mr. Petersson confirmed that individuals’ concerns and opinions are highly considered, and nobody is left out even if they have hard time with their private lives. Additionally, the sense of urgency and excitement are triggered and heated up by conducting many activities such as kick-offs whereby the profile of the project with team members and their departments are raised. Publicising project team success are done in Volvo Car Corporation through distributing periodic internal magazine that promote team successes in details. Moreover, the plan of each team work is based on short-term milestones (from three to six months). Having a common approach is another enabler proposed by Boddy (2003), which is remarkably applied in Volvo Car Corporation by first creating a common approach for the big team, and then leaving enough space for each subgroup to determine their own suitable approach. For enabling effective communication within a team, Boddy (2003) emphasizes on holding effective meetings, aligning effective pattern and content of communication, facing-up disagreement, and observing the team. Likewise, Mr. Petersson claimed that meetings in the company are effective than ever and disagreements are always encouraged to be visible and discussed using the power of rationality and common sense. Furthermore, he said that the communication pattern are in a transformation to be more decentralized for problemsolving tasks. Finally, Gimba principle is being applied in the company to have better observing performance and results. It can be clearly understood why the employees of Volvo Car Corporation are highly committed to the company. Crister Petersson spent 40 years in the company, and he still enjoys it. That reflects how friendly the working conditions are, and how challenging and interesting to be a team member is in there. The effective intrinsic motivation, honesty, flexibility, rationality and challenge are all attractive aspects to technical skills found in Volvo Care Corporation. However, the changing environment of the global market should be highly considered for the dynamics of working teams. To conclude, the effective tactics proposed by Boddy (2003) are significantly found in practice. Volvo Car Corporation as a successful company in terms of complex team management greatly considers those tactics including securing the right members, intrinsically and extrinsically motivating their teams, and facilitating smooth flow of effective communication within the company. However, they need to be responsive to the global market by accelerating the pace of team development. 6
  7. 7. References Amabile, T.M. (1997), ‘‘Motivating creativity in organizations: on doing what you love and loving what you do’’, California Management Review, Vol. 40 No. 1, pp. 39-58. Boddy, D. (2003). Managing Projects – Building and Leading the Team. UK: Pearson Higher Education. Tuckman, B. W., and Jensen, M. A. (1977). ‘Stages of small group development revisited’, Group and Organizational Studies, 2, 419- 427. Womack, J. and Shook, J. 2011. Gemba walks. Cambridge, MA: Lean Enterprise Institute. 7
  8. 8. Appendix Interview with Mr. Crister Petersson, October 4th, 2013. Mr. Petersson has been working at Volvo Car Corporation for 40 years. He is a VCMSHSE Development Group Leader and Senior Specialist Machine Safety, Head of 3 project teams (Health & Safety, Energy management, Environment). He has quite long experience in project and team management (around 20 projects). 1. There is a difficulty in which the project manager may not have the luxury of choice, as the team may already be in place; there may be existing staff who cannot be moved; a department's nomination may be unchangeable. As well as skills, members also need the time and commitment to do the work. Project managers, if they have a say in the matter, can face a dilemma between those with the skill and those with commitment. A similar dilemma is between someone less skilled in the content or subject matter of the project, but makes up for that in their ability to exercise process skills. How do project managers in VOLVO resolve this dilemma to secure the project team? Projects associated with cars and automotive industry are generally required broad set of high skills. It is difficult to employ the best of them for all project you have. We have priorities for resolving this issue. For example, for some critical projects related to one of famous competitive advantages such as safety and comfort, best skills are always assigned. For some routine projects, we may accept some good trainees to do the job under the supervision of more experienced members. 2. It is difficult to operate a coherent team that involve more than 12 people, what strategies do project managers in VOLVO follow to overcome that sort of difficulties? To produce a car, you need a very big team engaged with design, quality, safety, manufacturing … etc. However, we divide that big team into subgroups operate coherently. Furthermore, cross-functional subgroups work in parallel with them to make them one coherent big team. 2.1. Project teams are motivated through intrinsic aspects of the work or extrinsic rewards. If both dimensions are met, it is believed that the practices of taking staff concerns seriously, generating excitement and publicizing success will further enhance the group progress. How does VOLVO react in that respect? 2.2. How do project managers in VOLVO take staff concerns seriously? Nobody is left out in Volvo Car Corporation. All members are taken seriously whatever small or non-critical their contributions to the company. An example could be discussing their hard times in their private life. We strive to let everybody feel home at Volvo. We believe that spending 8 hours a day working in a company makes it as same important as being home. Project managers are encouraged to get involved in all members’ concerns whether they are relevant or irrelevant to the work. 10
  9. 9. 2.3. How do project managers in VOLVO generate excitement to project teams? We have unique ways of driving activities similar to brainstorming sessions and kickoffs. Some senior managers and board members attend these kind of activities. Their main mission is underline the significant of the project and clarify its contribution to the overall long-term success. The atmosphere are well prepared to generate and create challenging spirits and raise the profile of the project with team members and their departments as high as possible. 2.4. How do project managers in VOLVO publicize success of project teams? Along with personal rewards, Volvo Car Corporation distribute a monthly magazine whereby all details related to the progress of project teams are promoted. We are keen that the successes of our members are made as visible as possible. By this, we try to tell that we are aware of everybody’s contributions and appreciate them. 2.5. How much does VOLVO consider and integrate Quick Wins? All projects are planned in a way that the requirements are fulfilled in short-term as well as long-term manners. High effort is paid for the early planning stages to come up with tight milestone so that project members as well as project managers become more comfortable to promote and claim the progress of the project. Besides, it makes it easier to more accurately estimate the overall time and cost of the project. 3. How do project managers in VOLVO create a common approach to how they will work together to accomplish their common purpose? As I said earlier, to produce a car, you need a very big team engaged with design, quality, safety, manufacturing … etc. Each one of these functional subgroups operates in particular ways. Therefore, we prefer through cross-functional teams to come up with general approach for all subgroups, and leave a space for each functional subgroup to determine the way they prefer to be working with on their smaller scale. 4. How frequently meetings are held in VOLVO projects? Project teams have different types of meeting. There is a daily status quick morning meeting whereby project members indicate their progress. Moreover, the regular meeting that may take from 2 to 5 hours are held weekly to resolve the pending issues and update the overall progress of the big time. 5. From your experience, how successful meetings should be planned and held? First of all, meetings should be meaningful and aligned with the strategic need of the progress. Besides, good meeting and planned and scheduled finely in advance. Everyone invited to a meeting should be aware of the topics and subtopic addressed for that meeting, which means that any relevant documents should be also circulated beforehand. Effective meeting organizers highlight outcomes and results of a meeting and distribute them to whom is part of the relevant decision making process. 11
  10. 10. 6. Which patterns of communication (centralized or decentralized patterns) are more considered within VOLVO project teams? How these patterns are suited to appropriate types of tasks? The current communication form seems to be more centralized. Each project member is asked to report the progress to two managers, the project manager, and the senior manager. However, we are in a transform to have more decentralized communication, especially where complex problem-solving tasks are aligned. 7. What do you deal with disagreements in Volvo Car Corporation? We use the power of rationality, transparency and common sense to absorb disagreements. That may be slow sometimes, but the negative effects of disagreements are least likely to appear afterwards. Moreover, once resolved, most of disagreements are not repetitive. 8. How the progress is monitored and evaluated in VOLVO projects? We started recently to adopt Gemba Walk principle whereby project managers and coordinators are expected to spend around 80% of their time observing and assisting other members, and then suggesting particular improvements. 12

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