People - 31.10.2018 - 00:00 

Effects of multiteaming on the company as a whole

In many companies, employees work in several teams. However, research often assumes that employees only work in one team. In his doctoral thesis, Stefan Berger has analysed this discrepancy and looked at team research from a new perspective.

31 October 2018. "Friends and former classmates each told me about their numerous projects, the agile project teams and the difficulty of managing everything at once”, says Stefan Berger. "However, most textbooks state that teams are 'stable, isolated and well-defined units'." Stefan Berger has investigated this discrepancy in his doctoral thesis "Multiteaming at multiple levels – an individual and firm-level perspective on multiple team membership": How does working in several teams affect individual employees and the company seen as a whole?

Working time is divided between more than one team
The statements of his classmates have already been confirmed by studies from the USA and Europe: 80-90 percent of all knowledge workers work in more than one team at the same time. Stefan Berger confirmed these figures in a survey of over 160 Swiss and German companies. "Only two companies do not practise 'multiteaming', i.e. dividing an employee's working time between more than one team." In multiteaming, employees not only work in several teams, but also take on several roles in their everyday work. "Depending on the character of an employee, role conflicts can arise". If an employee prefers to do many tasks at the same time, multiteaming boosts performance, satisfaction and health. If an employee is pushed into multiple roles, this has a negative impact on performance and health. "This orientation is strongly innate and relatively stable. However, employees can assess themselves quite well."

Company benefits thanks to multiteaming
Stefan Berger deliberately chose not to consider individual teams as the central observation unit. In addition to focusing on the individual in one study, in the two others he focused on the organisation as a whole. "Multiteaming promotes the flow of information between teams in companies", says Stefan Berger. "In addition, you also have a better utilisation of human resources: If there is slack in one project, employees can use their time constructively in other projects." However, it may lead to friction if prioritisation conflicts occur between teams. Leadership also needs to be fundamentally reconsidered. "The most effective solution is a combination of hierarchical and shared leadership." Another point of conflict seen by Berger is when some employees only work in one team, while others work in up to ten teams at the same time. "The company can only benefit from the positive effects if too much heterogeneity is avoided in this regard."

Everyone would benefit
It is also important to Stefan Berger that, especially in the era of digitalization, employees are considered not only as "human resources" but also as "human beings". Because, unlike other "resources", humans do care how they are "used". Companies have a social duty when assessing whether employees would like to work in several teams or not, especially from a health perspective. "Not only must the preferences of the company and the customer be taken into account, but also those of the individual employee", says Berger. He is sure that if companies take this into account in staffing decisions, everyone would benefit: the overall company, single teams and the individual employee.

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