Strategic momentum in virtual R&D project teams : a complement to management

Research output: ThesisPhd Thesis 2 (Research NOT TU/e / Graduation TU/e)

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In recent decades there is a growing interest in working in multidisciplinary teams. A main reason for this is that often solving problems in organisations needs the use of various different expertises. As these expertises often are not to be found concentrated in one place, this interest is increasingly shifted towards working in virtual teams. A virtual team is a team characterised by geographical dispersion of the members, who rely only on a limited extent to face-to-face communication. In this research I focus on a specific type of virtual teams, namely virtual Research & Development (R&D) project teams, an increasingly important mode of operation in innovation. However, managing virtual teams faces significant problems. A main cause is that managers can not constantly look over the shoulder of the dispersed professionals to see what they are doing. It is also difficult for the team members themselves to adjust their work to one another when they are cooperating without much face-to-face contacts. Such problems threaten the effectivity of the virtual R&D project team. Thus the field problem driving this research is: How to create an effective virtual R&D project team, given the starting conditions of the virtual R&D project team. The research strategy chosen here is design-oriented research (Design Science Research). In this approach one aims at the development of generic solution concepts for a type of field problem, to be used in designing specific solutions for specific cases of this field problem. I have based my solution concepts on the theory of 'strategic momentum'. Strategic momentum is a kind of flywheel effect. An organization or group of people has strategic momentum if it is able to pursue its objectives, in spite of disturbances and without (much) management interventions. A key indicator of the existence of strategic momentum is a 'momentum effect': an interference in work is solved without management intervention. The objective of my research is to investigate whether strategic momentum can be a sustainable feature of a team and, if so, to develop ways in which one can develop strategic momentum in virtual teams. I studied eight cases of virtual R&D-teams, analysing the emergence of their strategic momentum and the interventions used to increase it. I developed a way to measure strategic momentum in terms of the resources deployed in the right direction. More specifically: in chapter 3 an answer is given to the question of how strategic momentum can be defined and measured. Whether strategic momentum can be more or less a stable feature of a virtual R & D project team is answered in Chapter 4, in which I present the eight case studies. One cannot see strategic momentum directly, but only indirectly, for example when momentum effects occur: momentum becomes manifest e.g. when team members take the initiative to solve a problem in the direction of the team's objectives without consulting management. Momentum effects were found in all cases. Chapter 5 provides answers to the questions on how to create strategic momentum. The theory suggests that the development of team task insight, empowerment and collective commitment leads to the creation and sustenance of strategic momentum. My research supports this hypothesis. In chapter 6 I investigate through cross-case analyses (using crisp set Qualitative Comparative Analysis) how one can develop team task insight, empowerment and collective commitment. The results are presented in the form of design propositions, using the CIMO-logic. This logic runs like: for this problem-in-context (C), it is useful to use this intervention (I), which will produce through these mechanisms (M) the desired outcome (O).
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Industrial Engineering and Innovation Sciences
  • van Aken, Joan, Promotor
  • Rijsman, J.B., Promotor, External person
  • Cloodt, Myriam M.A.H., Copromotor
Award date11 Apr 2012
Place of PublicationEindhoven
Print ISBNs978-90-386-3077-9
Publication statusPublished - 2012


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