Nick Keca

About Dr. Nick Keca:

Welcome to my website, a platform to share research on Organisational Psychology,  Personality PsychologyCollaboration and developing the Performance of Organisational Teams, whether Collocated or Virtual.

The site is a work-in-progress so, if you’re interested in Organisational Development, the challenges of composing teams for optimal performance, and team collaboration in distributed matrix structures, then please revisit from time to time and check for new stuff.

Personality and Team Performance

Introduction to Nick Keca and his research Interests.

Having held senior executive roles in a variety of industry sectors over the last twenty-five years, I’ve often had to deal with some of the challenges faced by teams that are working in distributed matrix management structures.

Theory and Practice

I had first hand experience of the popular HR processes and practices associated with selection and team composition. In my experience, these resulted in disappointment and/or ‘unintended’ outcomes more often than was appropriate for best-practice – and that’s not a criticism of former HR colleagues. It therefore comes as no surprise that recent team research concludes that the majority of virtual teams fail to realise their objectives. While there are a wide variety of reasons for this, they mainly come down to negative performance impacts resulting from dysfunctional behaviour and ineffective collaboration. These in turn are due to a lack of understanding of the spontaneous pro-social behaviours required to support the intensive lateral social-interactions that take place between individuals and highly diverse, distributed teams undertaking Knowledge Work.

Because nobody seemed able to explain this properly, I decided to investigate and learn about the dynamics involved. So began the journey to my Doctorate.

Team Composition

The use of personality assessments in recruitment, selection and team composition (e.g. personality, cognitive/emotional intelligence, etc.) is one such practice that, in my experience, has consistently fallen short of delivering on its promise of behavioural predictability.

Personality Psychology

One of the challenges for HR practitioners relies to the esoteric nature of personality psychology in context of organisational performance. This is a specialist area of expertise, even in the field of Organisation Psychology. The subject matter isn’t easily accessible. The literature is vast; it’s fragmented, and results of team research studies are either inconsistent, or have unremarkable results of associations between personality traits and the ‘real-world’ practice of developing organisational performance. It’s probably also the case that few busy HR professionals have the sort of time needed to wring out some meaning from 100 years of personality research in order to make sense of it.

Questions needing Answers

As a practicing General Management and Operations Executive, I wanted to understand why, when the organisations in which I worked were able to exploit the information gained from personality assessment: –

  1. The teams of individuals operating in seemingly identical conditions have dramatically different performance outcomes?
  2. Teams, and team leaders, successful at one point in time, suffer from performance failure and variable results at another?
  3. So much management resource was being consumed in mitigating performance loss and recovering the costs of failure, of one type or another?
  4. How was it possible that an entire Global Leadership Team could have a similar DISC profile; was this deliberate and, if so, did it help the organisation to achieve its goals?

These questions fascinated me and I saw many examples of them during the course of my career. The need to understand the reasons for these anomalies, and how we might better compose teams for optimum performance, is what drives my interest in management research in Organisational Development, Personality Psychology and Personality Development. I also recognise that knowledge is pointless unless it is shared with those that can benefit most. This is my goal and it’s also what this site is all about.

In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they are not….Albert Einstein

Je pense, donc je suis (I think, therefore I am)…René Descartes

A Challenging Organisational Context

Business leaders today face a ‘perfect storm’ of challenging conditions that degrade the performance of their organisations. Conditions, that include: the demographic shift to and increasing role of KNOWLEDGE WORK, increasing task uncertainty and complexity, searing competitive pressures, GLOBALISATION, flattening and DE-LAYERING of hierarchical structures,  increasingly frequent RE-STRUCTURING, multi-team membership, shared leadership, self-managing teams, outsourcing of strategic non-core activities, technology development, functional fragmentation and specialism, increased diversity and colliding cultures, pluralistic management systems with (often) conflicting demands on scarce resources. Collectively, these combine to create uncertain conditions, they compromise engagement and communication, and disrupt coordination between individuals and teams. More importantly, the impact of these conditions is amplified by gaps in our understanding of best practice. Put simply, the adoption of team working practices within organisations has progressed beyond the understanding of what is required to enable repeatable outcomes and sustained high performance.

I realised that these issues are prominent in the development of Operating Models involving PEOPLE, PROCESSES and SYSTEMS. Identifying the needs associated with developing and implementing re-engineered processes is fairly straightforward. Similarly with designing and implementing new systems. However, the people element of operating models always seemed to the implementation of new policies, of process compliance through learning and development; and almost never about the often large numbers of individuals affected by these operating models, and their likely motivations and behaviours.

Knowledge Work increases task uncertainty and complexity, such that knowledge work requires intensive collaboration between interdependent individuals who are often deployed in distributed structures. This impacts teams because the ambiguity associated with knowledge work increases interdependence, creates role and goal conflict, and increases stress, especially for those individuals who are intolerant of ambiguity/uncertainty (e.g. studies of matrix organisations report that the complex decision-making processes within matrix structures result in role conflict, ambiguity, negative attitudes, motivational loss, moral disengagement, and other factors known to degrade performance. This increases the demand on the quality and quantity of social-interactions between team members, and on the understanding of the motivations and behaviours needed to realise them.

Globalisation results in the fragmentation and distribution of core processes, increases diversity, and has spawned a new form of distributed working, the ‘Virtual Team’. The impacts associated with virtual working are not trivial. Surveys suggest that more than sixty-six percent (66%) of employees are now working virtually. This impacts teams by creating challenges associated with maintaining effective lateral social-interactions between diverse stakeholder groups. Despite the prominence of distributed working, it has been found to have both positive and negative impacts for organisations. Positively, by reducing cost, boosting productivity, increasing diversity, and spreading demand on scarce resources. Negatively, by requiring team members to assume roles in multiple teams (i.e. between sixty-five percent (65%) and ninety-five percent of knowledge workers participate in multiple teams simultaneously). The trend juxtaposes with reports that a significant proportion of distributed teams suffer performance failure. For example, in 2000, the Gartner Group found that fifty percent (50%) of virtual teams failed to achieve their goals. More recent reports suggest that performance failure rates may actually be as high as eighty-two percent (82%). Although technology enables distributed working, and brings together diverse, dispersed team members, virtual teams have difficulty: collaborating effectively, gaining a shared understanding of tasks and goals, and/or maintaining the necessary levels of trust and social-cohesion between team members. For example, the personality profiles of individuals typically engaged in scientific/technical roles frequently done through distributed structures, is inconsistent with the typical personality profile required to ensure that pro-social behaviours are spontaneous.

De-layering of hierarchical structures results in decreased leadership and flat, wide structures that result in increased TEAM SIZE. The impact of increased team size is known to be decretive to performance due to the exponential relationship between team size and interaction volume , which degrades team performance through inefficiency, over-collaboration, dysfunctional behaviour and burnout. According to data collected over several decades, the time spent on collaborative activities has increased by more than 50%, creating concerns that collaboration is having a negative impact on the productivity of knowledge workers. Indeed, it is reported that Knowledge Workers are spending so much time collaborating that they are unable to complete their tasks.  Given metrics indicating a global decline in productivity, and suggestions that organisational bureaucracies are increasing, not declining, there is an forming view that collaboration is becoming counter-productive, and the associated lateral social interactions within and between teams has a detrimental effect.

Continuous Learning: Be a Part of the Change

If you’ve read this far, you may have opinions, and/or insights of your own. These are not trivial issues. They have a profound consequence for organisations and the people that work within them. Therefore, improving understanding and finding solutions to these issues is what I, and the pages of this site are dedicated to.

If you’re interested in the topics associated with Organisation Design, Leadership, Team Working, and People Management more generally, please browse the site, and revisit from time to time. My aim is to continually update it by adding the latest research and sharing the best business management articles I can find.