Teams and learning in organizations

Published on July 31, 2013 Reviewed on November 28, 2018   38 min

A selection of talks on Management, Leadership & Organisation

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Hello. My name is Amy Edmondson, and I'm delighted to be here to talk about my research on team learning and organizational learning in a more general sense. So, in today's organizations, it's absolutely crucial to be adaptive to changing situations; to be innovative, to continue to stay on the leading edge of what's possible in whatever industry you're in. Today, I want to talk about the role of teams in that overall aspiration. So, I'll review some of my research and research done by other people, but I'll start out very large talking about the nature of interdependent work in organizations. Then, we'll go further and see what that means for people trying to get work done in small groups and in larger groups, as well.
Let's start with the basics. Work is interdependent in organizations when it requires more than one person to get it done. 40 years ago, a researcher named James Thompson identified three different types of interdependence. Pooled, which is divide and conquer; figure out the tasks ahead of time, give them to different people, they'll do their job, and then, in the end, the product or service will be there. Sequential interdependence means that, essentially, each person does their job and throws the results of that job over the wall and then the next person picks up where he or she left off. That's interdependence where we each have an important part, but it has to be done in the right order. Reciprocal interdependence is where we have to, actually, talk back and forth. We have to coordinate, if we're going to do the work right. We have to be in actual conversations and reacting to each other's ideas. That's called reciprocal coordination. That is, essentially, what teams are designed for. Teams can be thought of as a design solution for reciprocal interdependence in organization. It's just too complicated to figure out who needs to do what ahead of time. Therefore, we create small teams, and we give them the challenge of having to work out the different areas of interdependence. Sometimes, it's because they're complex; they change as the work goes on, and sometimes, it's simply because it's a more motivating and engaging way to do the work.