Teams, problem detection and coordination

Klein, G. (2006): The strengths and limitations of teams for detecting problems, Cognition, Technology & Work. The paper is a "preliminary investigation of the ability of teams and organizations to detect problems": the author aims at identifying barriers that may restrict a team’s problem detection ability, caused by the difficulties of coordination. To do so, he examined different fields

Problem detection in operational settings requires expertise and vigilance. It is a difficult task for individuals. If a problem is not detected early enough, the opportunity to avoid or reduce its consequences may be lost. Teams have many strengths that individuals lack. The team can attend to a wider range of cues than any of the individuals can. They can offer a wider range of expertise, represent different perspectives, reorganize their efforts to adapt to situational demands, and work in parallel. These should improve problem detection. However, teams can also fall victim to a wide range of barriers that may reduce their alertness, mask early problem indicators, confound attempts to make sense of initial data, and restrict their range of actions. Therefore, teams may not necessarily be superior to individuals at problem detection. The capability of a team to detect problems may be a useful measure of the team’s maturity and competence.

What is interesting is the different list the author propose, about barriers to problem detection in individuals and teams. Here is the one about barriers to problem detection in teams :

Initial alert Production pressure discourages vigilance for problems Team members face differential consequences of problems Cue recognition The high cost of sending information filters out important messages A team member may fail to notify others in the mistaken belief that they already know A team member may assume that the absence of a message means that nothing happened There may be a disconnect between the data collectors and the data interpreters Inexperienced members as data collectors may miss early signs Unskilled data collectors can mask early signs of problems Bureaucratic rivalries disrupt the exchange of data Inconsistencies may be missed if they cross team boundaries There may be difficulty in communicating the urgency of a perceptual cue Sensemaking Multiple patterns allow multiple interpretations, so it is easier to deflect urgency The team may fail to realize that a common understanding has been lost The team may fail to use a central node to form a common picture of events and catch patterns Expertise is lost in trying to form interpretations using indirect evidence Problem indicators may be repressed Action Organizational inertia hinders action Challenges to credibility can prevent action

Why do I blog this? for my literature review about coordination and its inherent barriers.