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Building Effective Technology Support Teams: A Research Thesis
The effectiveness of technology support teams depends on the ability to combine theoretical and contextual technology support (Harich, 2006), as well as to share understandings with different kinds of specialists (Koutsoulis, 2006). In addition, the conduciveness of the social context for realizing intrinsic work goals-especially learning and mastering new technology support and skills-is an important aspect of the job.
Hiring is especially important since organizations often rely on the exploitation of technology support to achieve competitive advantage and the difference between hiring an average and a high-potential candidate can significantly affect an organization's reputation and profitability.
Graduates were hired on an annual basis, while experienced persons were recruited when vacancies arose. The emphasis in the workflows we studied was on hiring for immediate organizational requirements, so that, compared with the number of experienced hires, there were relatively few recent graduates. Positions requiring experienced employees were typically advertised both internally and externally, and specialist employment agencies handled initial screenings of external candidates. Thereafter, candidates were brought in for at least three sets of formal interviews, which in some organizations included psychological tests. These were not used at TELSV and WBMM but were at WBSD, where such a test had recently been instituted.'
The selection process was usually undertaken by line managers with relevant technology support, assisted by the most competent employees (who possessed relevant skills). Hiring criteria were closely followed. TEL was in some ways an exception with respect to hiring and other human resource practices, since these were regulated by procedures negotiated with the unions that represented lower-level TEL technicians and other workers. Selection was based on qualifications, experience, reputation (sometimes of the educational institution the person attended), and personal attributes.
The latter was emphasized (Ploof, 2004). For example, at TEL, managers preferred to hire people with whom they had worked before, and at WBMM a manager remarked that ?we rarely hire sight unseen, cold. People on the team keep their feelers out. We keep track of f the good people in the industry. Previous or current colleagues were often asked about prospective employees, sometimes through third parties' The importance attached to personality and work style is an acknowledgment that technology support teams is characterized by high levels of discretion, trust, and teamwork, features that can be enhanced or impaired by personal attributes. Such hiring situations are two-way streets, however: candidates need to be made familiar with the prevailing work culture to make informed choices about whether to accept a job. Thus, the emphasis given to personal attributes is best seen as a process of discovering whether there is actual or potential alignment of values and norms between candidates and their prospective managers and colleagues. The following extract from an interview with a money market dealer indicates the way management values-in this case, the desire to succeed in obtaining the position-significantly influenced candidate selection (Ryan, 2003).
Importance of Personalities in Technology Support Teams
In short, qualifications and experience are important criteria for recruitment, but they are only the baseline requirements. Also important are the candidate's personality, work style, and values, particularly the congruence between the norms and culture of the work organization and its management and those of the prospective employee. Together with the fact that hiring is mainly through the external labor market, these criteria point to a tendency for ER in technology support teams workflows to resemble a modified form of the technology support-intensive pattern.
The managers in the technology support team's workflows we studied were ambivalent about the value of training. It was regarded as important for developing novel solutions or new products that might give the company a competitive edge, but it was also seen as an expense (of time rather than money) that had to be measured against the achievement of short-term goals (U.S. Department of Education, 2004). A common solution to this conundrum was for managers to justify training related to the achievement of current work assignments and to restrict broader training to inexperienced recruits. Thus, a systems developer at WB remarked: I go to courses by going to my project manager and arguing that there is a need in relation to my current project. I've never pushed for anything that was not immediately task related. That would be futile (International Technology Education Association, 2003)'. At WBMM, new graduates were expected to participate in courses run by the relevant professional body, the Securities Institute.
By contrast, experienced dealers attended a course in computing arranged by the desk's technology support team. At TELSD, technology support teams did not attend any courses during the six-month period of our research. Survey evidence indicates that technology support teams viewed their immediate colleagues as the main source of learning, followed by manuals and reference guides (U.S. Department of Education, 2004). In third place were publications and research materials. Statistical analysis indicates that technology support teams were significantly more likely to refer to publications and research findings than service or sales workers (Harich, 2006). These results reflect the relative importance technology support teams accord theoretical technology support and new techniques.
The technology support teams disconfirmed the importance of external courses as ongoing sources of learning, drawing attention, rather, to the importance of learning from colleagues through on-the-job training (OJT). Money budgeted for training technology support teams tended to be under- spent. This reflected managers' concerns with meeting short-term targets and workers' commitment to their immediate projects. Workers also shared the view that ?courses are only good if you follow them immediately with practice.' At WBSD, technology support limitations (regarding computing architectures) and skill shortages (especially in relation to emerging programming languages) encouraged management to adopt a more proactive approach to training (Ploof, 2004). Consequently, a skills matrix, mapping the current reservoir of skills, had been documented. Periodic assessments were planned to compare skill requirements to available skills. Training decisions would be made accordingly.
Findings and Conclusion
Literature on post bureaucratic work organizations suggests that the network is replacing the bureaucratic model in contemporary workplaces. In support of this argument, researchers point to the dense interactions among workers and the increasing functional interdependency. Using the image of the two types of workers from research findings, workers in post- bureaucratic settings are seen as empowered and highly dependent on each other for support and learning and are most likely to be organized into participative team arrangements.
In contrast, workers in bureaucratic settings are dependent on their supervisors and managers rather than on co-workers and whatever learning takes place tends to be regimented. Our research indicates that there is no convergence toward a network model of work organization, but that, based on evidence of important deviations from the regimented model; service workflows incorporate elements of the empowered model. We would expect co-worker relations to be of least importance in organizations that resemble the B. And E types and for co-worker inter- dependency to be highest among technology support teams.
In subsequent sections we contrast the ideal with our empirical evidence about co-worker relations and team working in service, sales, and technology support teams workflows. We begin by examining learning and task interdependencies. Task inter- dependency refers to variations in the extent to which completing front-line work is dependent on co-workers' cooperation. Likewise, learning interdependency is present when on-the-job training involves co-workers, either as coaches or advisers, for example (Pretzer, 2002). These interdependencies are analyzed among both front-line co-workers (immediate co-workers) and between front-line and back-office staff (adjacent co-workers).
We conclude that co-worker relations amongst technology support teams are an important dimension of working and learning for front-line workers, regardless of the type of work- flow in which they work (International Technology Education Association, 2003). These findings are especially important in regard to service work, in which, according to the bureaucratic model,…[continue]
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