Last Updated Sep 30, 2010 2:22 PM EDT
Harvard Business School professor Heidi Gardner, who is in the Organizational Behavior unit, researched how teams perform at large consulting and accounting firms. What she found is that as pressure increased, the team began to give more credence to the opinions of its "generalists" and dismissed the perhaps more important views of its members who were close to customers -- the knowledge specialists.
As a result, the teams could overlook critical information that would have allowed it to customize and adapt work for the customer. And ignoring customer needs, as you may have heard, is a sure way to lose business.
So what goes wrong when the pot is on boil? Gardner believes teams defer to generalists because these people are often senior or high-status with a wide-ranging knowledge of the business based on long experience. The customer-specific folks, while knowing their client organization inside and out, are usually more junior and without the cache of the veterans.
Teams under heightened pressure, Gardner says, just want to get the job done and tend to shut out dissenting views and new information. They "revert to the 'comfort zones' of behavior consistent with their roles on the team (that is, junior experts reduce contributions and more senior members become increasingly directive)."
According to Gardner, team leaders can combat this tendency by:
- Designing meetings so that junior members are heard early and often, and by building in time for reflection and open discussion periods.
- Including clients on teams or involving them in other ways.
- Emphasizing learning instead of mere task completion.