Managing Multi-Site Work Groups
Managing multi-site work groups presents more challenges than managing single-site work groups. This research analyzes the available literature on the subject of managing work groups in general and through a survey of Motorola employees, delves deeper into the issues that work groups and their managers deal with on a regular basis. The analysis involved comparing the issues as defined by the survey participants and identifying the primary issues that exist. Maturity and leadership are the primary issues identified, and recommendations include improved training, and development of a peer-to-peer program for all work group participants across the organization.
Chapter One: Introduction Purpose The intention of this research is to identify the issues that contribute to the difficulties and challenges of managing multi-site work groups. Background and Statement of Problem Managing multi-site work groups is more difficult than managing single-site work groups. Whether producing a product, generating a presentation, or simply identifying common objectives, managing a work group is in and of itself challenging enough; add to that the vagaries of different sites, which at the very least creates some tricky logistical problems, and it is easy to see why finding the right strategy for leading multi-site work groups can be a struggle. It is often a daunting scenario that can put an experienced manager at wits’ end or drive a fledgling manager into a tailspin.
Multi-site work groups can be of tremendous benefit to any company. For the same reasons that a diverse workforce in general is a positive, multi-site work groups can add new dimensions of insight into the task at hand. A product development group in one site may understand a potential of the product that the other group or groups may not realize exists. A warehouse group in one location may have developed a process for handling a problem or issue that has hindered productivity in another. Multi-site work groups can also reduce cycle-time in the production of a product, improve the quality of the product, or enhance a company’s public perception in all locations.
These benefits all stem from the understanding that individual contributions are decidedly less than those that derive from a group. It is the old adage, “two heads are better than one,” writ large. Single-site work groups are beneficial; multi-site work groups can double or treble that positive impact. According to Merriam Webster, the definition of group is “two or more figures forming a complete unit in a composition,” and certainly, multi-site work groups fit that definition.
At first blush, the problems and issues that stem from work groups, however, can seem to outweigh the benefits. Dissension and friction, poor or invisible management, ineffective communication, and many other issues can strike at the heart of a work group, whether the participants are together at corporate headquarters and in the same room, or in 20 different locations across the globe. These issues are plausible whenever, or wherever, more than two people begin working on the same project. As Blair says: In the beginning, God made an individual – and then he made a pair. The pair formed a group, together they begat others and thus the group grew. Unfortunately, working in a group led to friction, the group disintegrated in conflict and Caian(sic) settled in the land of Nod – there has been trouble with groups ever since. (2002)
What makes multi-site work group challenges unique is that while managers would hesitate to halt collaboration within a single department or building, that might not be as unthinkable when the groups that cannot seem to work together are located half a planet apart. Since the ideal of any company is maximum utilization of resources with greatest profit, ending multi-site work groups should not even be a consideration.
Rather, as with any management problem, working to resolve the issues should be the first consideration. That those issues are similar and yet distinct for multi-site work groups is the premise of this research. Communication issues that are difficult with a single-site work group can be exacerbated by language differences, time zones, and non-verbal miscues from an unclear missive sent over an email system. What could easily have been resolved by a quick one-on-one meeting for the single-site work group member, can quickly become an international incident when multi-site work groups are involved!
Basic Research Questions The questions that form the underlying focus for this project are as follows: 1. What are the major issues that make managing work groups (in general) difficult? 2. How are the issues that affect multi-site work groups unique from those that affect single-site work groups? 3. How are the issues that affect multi-site work groups similar to those that affect single site work groups? 4. How are the perceptions of work group managers different from the members of the same work groups with respect to the major issues identified?
General Procedures The research will involve the following general procedures: 1. Review of articles and books relating to the dynamics and functions of work groups, the issues that are generally accepted to affect them, and the recommendations on how to manage work groups more effectively. 2. Survey of Motorola employees who may have participated in a multi-site work group or single-site work group. In addition, managers of work groups will participate in the survey, and be identified as such.
3. The subjects will be asked to evaluate their experiences with single-site work groups and with multi-site work groups through a series of closed questions. The results will be analyzed to review the key issues identified for work groups in general, and how multi-site work group issues compare with single-site work group issues. Scope and Limitations The scope of this research will include participants from Motorola answering a survey that relates to the issues of work group challenges. The participants will be located in Illinois in the United States, and Copenhagen, Denmark and Berlin, Germany. Research subjects will include work group participants and managers.
For the purposes of this project, multi-site work groups will be from a single corporation. That is, this paper will not attempt to identify the additional issues that may exist from cross-company multi-site work groups, such as a customer/vendor relationship might encounter. The data will be collected using a survey instrument in English only, and this may detract somewhat from the European participants responses. Definitions Likert Scale: A series of responses to a closed question that indicate varying degrees of strength of attitude. These responses are then used to quantify subjective responses for data analysis.
Multi-Site Work Group: Work groups in two or more locations within the same company that are working on the same project. Single-Site Work Group: Work groups in one location within the same company working on the same project Work Group: Individuals collaborating on a project under the direction of a leader/manager Possible Results It is likely that this research will show a large disparity in what groups think about working with one another, what the issues are that keep them from working in perfect harmony, and what the managers of those groups think the issues are. It will be interesting to see if the issues that single-site work groups encounter are similar to those that the same persons on multi-site work groups identify.
It is just as possible that there are no great variances in the types of issues, that the magnitude or impact is simply felt differently when group members are not located geographically close. Whatever the research shows, multi-site work groups are a fact of life, more now than ever. As corporations continue their reach toward globalization, understanding the issues that multi-site work groups face becomes ever more critical. Transition A look at how existing research understands the issues is reviewed in the next chapter. In an era where an electronic communication can reach the far-flung corners of the earth in milliseconds, it is hard to miss the impact managing multi-site work groups effectively can have on the bottom line.