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Scarlat, C.; Bărar, D.S. Inter-Professional Communication in Complex IT Project Teams. Encyclopedia. Available online: https://encyclopedia.pub/entry/54159 (accessed on 14 June 2024).
Scarlat C, Bărar DS. Inter-Professional Communication in Complex IT Project Teams. Encyclopedia. Available at: https://encyclopedia.pub/entry/54159. Accessed June 14, 2024.
Scarlat, Cezar, Daniela-Anca Sârbu Bărar. "Inter-Professional Communication in Complex IT Project Teams" Encyclopedia, https://encyclopedia.pub/entry/54159 (accessed June 14, 2024).
Scarlat, C., & Bărar, D.S. (2024, January 21). Inter-Professional Communication in Complex IT Project Teams. In Encyclopedia. https://encyclopedia.pub/entry/54159
Scarlat, Cezar and Daniela-Anca Sârbu Bărar. "Inter-Professional Communication in Complex IT Project Teams." Encyclopedia. Web. 21 January, 2024.
Inter-Professional Communication in Complex IT Project Teams
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Organizational IT projects are becoming more complex, not only because of the time-to-market pressure and increased complexity of the specific IT problems they have to solve, but also because of the diversity of their team members. Besides cultural (language) diversity in the global context, there are two additional types of diversity: diversity of organization management (linked to project versus organization tensions), which is common to all organizational projects, and the professional diversity in particular, proper to IT projects. Amid all advantages of varied standpoints, the diversity might come with seeds of misunderstandings in communication, tensions, and even latent conflicts, which (if not timely and properly addressed) may lead to escalating conflicts.

complex IT projects teams way of working transcultural approach inter-professional

1. Organization Management Diversity

Organizational diversity is twofold: (i) the diversity of the organization’s management structure; and (ii) the diversity of the decision-making process.
First, the organizational management structure can be either functional or hierarchical, basically. However, in practice, there are a large variety of intermediary forms or combinations between the two basic types that can be met. Hence the functional and hierarchical diversity. In this respect, Yu, Kilduff, and West [1][2] have studied conflicts across hierarchies and argued that the ability to accurately perceive status hierarchies reduces status conflict—to the benefit of group performance.
Secondly, as decision-making typology, Kaneman and Tversky [3] distinguished between risk-free and risk-related decision processes: “Analyses of decision-making commonly distinguish risky and riskless choices. The paradigmatic example of a decision under risk is the acceptability of a gamble that yields monetary outcomes with specified probabilities. A typical riskless decision concerns the acceptability of a transaction in which a good or a service is exchanged for money or labor”. When probability is [quite well] assessed, then the decision process is less uncertain; it is just risky; decisions under risk are frequently met in both daily and business life: “Making decisions is like speaking prose—people do it all the time, knowingly or unknowingly. It is hardly surprising, then, that the topic of decision-making is shared by many disciplines, from mathematics and statistics, through economics and political science, to sociology and psychology” [3] (p. 433).
The risk dimension is associated not only with the missing information (uncertainty), but it is also related to time—the longer the time horizon; the more risky the decision is. This is exactly the case with strategic decisions.
In publishing the findings of their research, Kahneman, Lovallo, and Sibony [4] stated this: “When executives make big strategic bets, they typically depend on the judgment of their teams to a significant extent”. Hence, it is of interest to explore possible (even latent) conflicts between executives and project teams.
By categorizing the business decisions, Lovallo and Sibony [5] have analyzed 1048 major (strategic) decisions made over five years (back in the 2000s) by type and by company function. They asked managers to report on “the extent to which they had applied 17 practices in making that decision” (eight practices were related to the quantity and detail of the analysis, and nine practices described the decision-making process). They found that sound strategic decisions should be bias-free—in harmony with Tversky and Kahneman, who found that decisions under uncertainty are often influenced by biases [6] (p. 419): “Many decisions are based on beliefs concerning the likelihood of certain events […] Occasionally, beliefs concerning uncertain events are expressed in numerical form as odds or subjective probabilities. […] The subjective assessment of probability resembles the subjective assessment of physical quantities such as distance or size”.
Lovallo and Sibony [5] recommend a ‘four-step path’ for “leaders who want to shape the decision-making style of their companies”: (i) decide which decisions warrant the effort; (ii) identify the biases most likely to affect critical decisions; (iii) select practices and tools to counter the most relevant biases; (iv) embed practices in formal processes. This approach eventually led to the “strategic decision architecture of the firm” [7].
Therefore, besides the functional and hierarchical diversity, the decision process diversity highlights the primacy of strategic decisions as opposed to other types of decisions (call them non-strategic). Kahneman, Lovallo, and Sibony [8] argued that a disciplined strategic decision-making process is necessary to reduce strategic errors.
The literature survey on organization management diversity shows that studies related to strategic decisions are focused on the formalization of decision-making procedures in order to reduce the probability of strategy failures and points to the scarce literature on cross-functional and cross-hierarchical conflicts between project teams and company executives—conflicts that might have a negative impact on the organization strategy—and how to avoid these conflicts.

2. Professional Diversity

Projects need people of diverse professions to interact, and IT projects need even highly specialized, diverse professions in order to have a team to perform and achieve the project goal/s. Hence, attention is to be paid to professional diversity and inter-professional communication while dealing with IT projects.
The word ‘inter-professional’ refers to ‘between different professions’ (i.e., type of work that needs special training or a particular skill). Rizzo Parse [9] (p. 5) recommended avoiding the possible confusion between ‘inter-professional’ and ‘inter-disciplinary’, based on definitions of profession and discipline: “A discipline is a body of scientific knowledge that is ever-changing with the integration of creative conceptualizations and formal research findings […], a body of knowledge constituted with the existing theories and frameworks that are the basis of research and practice endeavors. The focus of the discipline is to expand knowledge to enhance the scientific grounding […] A profession is an organizational body consisting of persons who are committed to a vision and are educated with particular disciplinary knowledge to promote that vision. "The focus of the profession is to define, regulate, and monitor standards of education and practice [in that particular area of knowledge]”. It is important to note that managers are a particular type of professional.
Daudt, van Mossel, and Scott [10] (p. 8) made the distinction between inter-professional teams and multidisciplinary teams while analyzing a large team that had both inter-professional and multidisciplinary team members: “A multidisciplinary team is academic in character because it brings together members trained in different disciplines, whereas an inter-professional team is professional in character because it brings together members [with different professions…], plus academic researchers” [11]. Thus, you can have inter-professional team members corresponding to the same discipline but with different roles that correspond to different practices and skills. A similar distinction is valid when discussing cross-professional vs. cross-disciplinary.
In this respect, Ellingsen et al. [12] conducted research on students engaged in a cross-disciplinary project (engineering students versus work and welfare students). In addition, fresh project solutions, the research results have revealed cross-disciplinary conflicts: “major disruptions and conflicts driving the student projects, exposing inviting confrontations, social identity threats, managing diversity, and friction of ideas”—concluding that there is a need for tools and methods for training students (aka project team members).
The IT inter-professional teams are under scrutiny. However, the cross-disciplinary teams will not be excluded. An argument in this respect is provided by Angée et al. [13]: the analysis of big data and analytics projects highlighted that the main characteristics of such projects are that work is conducted by cross-disciplinary teams that are geographically distributed. Notably, when referring to cross-disciplinary collaboration, Mullaly’s [14] definition is applied—as representing the integration of different areas of expertise (be it subject matter knowledge, technical domains, organizational delineation, business emphasis, or operational focus).

3. Diversity as a Possible Source of Conflicts

Diversity does not necessarily mean conflicts; moreover, diversity assumes different ideas and opinions, and constructive debates on different opinions are supposed to be beneficial. This is exactly what happens in project teams—in IT projects in particular—as long as suitable principles and communication rules and protocols apply.
Culture-based differences—therefore; culture-based different opinions—are inherently associated with multicultural/multi-linguistic project teams among their members. Normally, the debates on these divergent opinions lead to better technical solutions for better team performance [1][2][15][16], and rarely to conflicts.
In the case of organizational IT projects under scrutiny, it is expected that the higher the hierarchy level of organizational management, the less frequent cultural-diversity-based conflicts will be. Although there are studies that have revealed that cultural differences among project teams cause conflicts, misunderstandings, and poor project performance. In addition, Ogbodo [17] found that, in a multicultural software development inter-professional project team (including software developers, testers, and business analysts), cross-cultural differences led to miscommunication and misperception that resulted in conflict. Conversely, Agarici, Scarlat, and Iorga [18] provided examples of avoiding conflicts by turning cross-cultural management conflicts into collaboration while working in global project teams.
A recent doctoral study conducted by Nnaji [19]—based on theories developed by Avruch [20][21] and Kim [22]—investigated challenges faced by 15 project managers or senior leaders of “multicultural software development teams with diversified team members” from the Nigerian IT industry. The results included language barriers, cultural differences, perceptions of time, a lack of tolerance, differences in work cultures, and perceptions and stereotypes.
Another study conducted by Aza [23][24] has explored the challenges faced by 12 project managers “leading multicultural software development project teams to successfully manage and resolve cross-cultural interpersonal conflict amongst project team members”. The findings exposed the challenges (as language barriers, cycles of mistrust, and competitive attitudes) and the skills needed (as excellent communication, negotiation, and emotional intelligence skills)—in order to minimize; eliminate; or mitigate the obstacles and the “resulting interpersonal conflicts”.
As culture-/language-based conflicts are relatively frequently studied, the conflicts resulting from organization management and professional diversity are less so. Therefore, there is an interest in investigating of conflicts generated by organizational management diversity (still in a multicultural context) within IT projects; the higher the hierarchy level, the higher the interest (topping the strategic level).
By identifying these conflicts, their actors, and the reasons behind them, analyzing and understanding their mechanisms, and assessing their intensity and management level (hence the research objectives listed in the next section), it is possible to propose possible solutions for avoiding these conflicts.

References

  1. Yu, S.; Kilduff, G.J.; West, T. Status Acuity: The Ability to Accurately Perceive Status Hierarchies Reduces Status Conflict and Benefits Group Performance. J. Appl. Psychol. 2022, 28, 114–137, Advance online publication.
  2. Yu, S.; Kiduff, G.J. Knowing where Others Stand: Accuracy and Performance Effects of Individuals’ Perceived Status Hierarchies. J. Personal. Soc. Psychol. Interpers. Relat. Group Process. 2019, 119, 159–184.
  3. Kahneman, D.; Tversky, A. Choices, Values, and Frames. In Thinking, Fast and Slow; Kahneman, D., Ed.; Penguin Books: London, UK, 2011; pp. 433–446.
  4. Kahneman, D.; Lovallo, D.; Sibony, O. The Big Idea: Before You Make That Big Decision…. Harv. Bus. Rev. 2011, 89, 50–60.
  5. Lovallo, D.; Sibony, O. The Case for Behavioral Strategy. McKinsey Quarterly 1 March 2010. Available online: https://www.mckinsey.com/capabilities/strategy-and-corporate-finance/our-insights/the-case-for-behavioral-strategy (accessed on 13 July 2023).
  6. Tversky, A.; Kahneman, D. Judgement under uncertainty: Heuristics and biases. In Thinking, Fast and Slow; Kahneman, D., Ed.; Penguin Books: London, UK, 2011; pp. 419–432.
  7. Sibony, O.; Lovallo, D.; Powell, T.C. Behavioral Strategy and the Strategic Decision Architecture of the Firm. Calif. Manag. Rev. 2017, 59, 5–21.
  8. Kahneman, D.; Lovallo, D.; Sibony, O. A Structured Approach to Strategic Decisions. Reducing errors in judgment requires a disciplined process. MIT Sloan Manag. Rev. 2019, 60, 67. Available online: https://mitsmr.com/2EKkmJ4 (accessed on 13 July 2023).
  9. Rizzo Parse, R. Interdisciplinary and Interprofessional: What Are the Differences? Nurs. Sci. Q. 2015, 28, 5–6.
  10. Daudt, H.M.L.; van Mossel, C.; Scott, S.J. Enhancing the scoping study methodology: A large, inter-professional team’s experience with Arksey and O’Malley’s framework. BMC Med. Res. Methodol. 2013, 13, 48.
  11. Korner, M. Interprofessional teamwork in medical rehabilitation: A comparison of multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary team approach. Clin. Rehabil. 2010, 24, 745–755.
  12. Ellingsen, P.; Tonholm, T.; Johansen, F.R.; Andersson, G. Learning from Problem-Based Projects in Cross-Disciplinary Student Teams. Educ. Sci. 2021, 11, 259.
  13. Angée, S.; Lozano, S.; Montoya-Munera, E.N.; Ospina Arango, J.D.; Tabares, M. Towards an improved ASUM-DM process methodology for cross-disciplinary multi-organization Big Data & Analytics projects. In Knowledge Management in Organizations; Springer International Publishing: New York, NY, USA, 2018; pp. 613–624.
  14. Mullaly, M. Project HEADWAY: Cross-Discipline Project Management; Project Management Institute: Newton Square, PA, USA. Available online: https://www.projectmanagement.com/presentations/723253/Project-HEADWAY—Cross-Discipline-Project-Management# (accessed on 28 June 2023).
  15. Weidmann, B.; Deming, D.J. Team Players: How Social Skills Improve Team Performance. Econometrica 2021, 89, 2637–2657.
  16. Hood, A.C.; Cruz, K.; Bachrach, D.G. Conflicts with Friends: A Multiplex View of Friendship and Conflict and Its Association with Performance in Teams. J. Bus. Psychol. 2017, 32, 73–86.
  17. Ogbodo, I. Effects of Conflicts between Developers, Testers, and Business Analysts on Software Development; Proquest: Ann Arbor, MI, USA, 2014.
  18. Agarici, C.; Scarlat, C.; Iorga, D. Turning cross-cultural management conflict into collaboration: Indian and Romanian experiences in global project teams. In Proceedings of the 14th International Conference on Business Excellence 2020: Business Revolution in the Digital Era, Bucharest, Romania, 11–12 June 2020; pp. 1024–1034.
  19. Nnaji, H.N. Challenges with Multicultural Leadership for Project Managers: A Qualitative Multiple Case Study. Ph.D. Thesis, Walden University, College of Management and Human Potential: Walden University ScholarWorks, Minneapolis, MN, USA, April 2023. Available online: https://scholarworks.waldenu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=13278&context=dissertations (accessed on 13 July 2023).
  20. Avruch, K. Context and Pretext in Conflict Resolution: Culture, Identity, Power, and Practice; Paradigm: Boulder, CO, USA, 2013.
  21. Avruch, K. Culture and conflict resolution. Palgrave Encycl. Peace Confl. Stud. 2019, 11, 1–6.
  22. Kim, Y.Y. Integrative communication theory of cross-cultural adaptation. Int. Encycl. Intercult. Commun. 2017, 18, 1–13.
  23. Aza, H.T. A Case Study of Cross-Cultural Complexities and Interpersonal Conflict Faced by Project Managers in Multicultural Software Development Project Teams. Ph.D. Thesis, Nova Southeastern University—NSU, Fort Lauerdale, FL, USA, January 2017. Available online: https://nsuworks.nova.edu/shss_dcar_etd/63 (accessed on 25 June 2023).
  24. Aza, H.T. Challenges and skills: Managing multicultural software project teams. In A Case Study: Cross-Cultural Complexities and Interpersonal Conflict Faced by Project Managers in Multicultural Teams; Editorial Académica Española: London, UK, 2018.
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