Flexibility under Complexity: Work Contexts, Task Profiles and Team Processes of High Responsibility Teams

In: Employee Relations, Jg. 34 (2012) ; Nr. 3, S. 322-338
ISSN: 0142-5455
Zeitschriftenaufsatz / Fach: Psychologie
Fakultät für Ingenieurwissenschaften » Informatik und Angewandte Kognitionswissenschaft » Angewandte Kognitions- und Medienwissenschaft » Wirtschaftspsychologie
Purpose – The purpose of the present study is to introduce the elements characterising the work
context of high responsibility teams (HRTs) operating in high reliability contexts such as medicine or
aviation. Based on these elements, the authors reflected on the function of teamwork in these contexts,
which is strongly dominated by a notion of flexibility under complexity, based on the technical,
normative, and governance dimensions of teamwork.
Design/methodology/approach – Problem-centred interviews (n ¼ 11) based on semi-structured
guidelines were conducted. Subsequently, a survey was conducted using a questionnaire inventory in
six different HRT work contexts (n ¼ 551).
Findings – The interviews and survey results show significant differences regarding, for example,
hierarchy or stress posed on the HRTs. However, they also demonstrate relevant similarities
regarding, for instance, dimensions of complexity occurring in the teamwork contexts. Both
differences and similarities influence how the support systems of the teamwork dimensions should be
set up.
Research limitations/implications – The study provided an excellent overview of similar and
differing characteristics of the work context of different HRTs. However, it represents six specific
HRTs and might not be generalisable to teams in other high reliability organisations, such as in the
energy sector.
Practical implications – It is recommended that the characteristics of work contexts in HRTs
should be taken into account in order to set up support systems of teamwork dimensions that enable
teams to transfer the prevalent safety discourse into safety practice.
Originality/value – The innovative approach, which combines qualitative and quantitative data,
provided insights that can be used to support team functioning in the team’s specific work context.