The 2010 Richard Beckhard Memorial Prize

The editors of the MIT Sloan Management Review are pleased to announce the winners of this year’s Richard Beckhard Memorial Prize, awarded to the authors of the most outstanding SMR article on planned change and organizational development published from fall 2008 to summer 2009.

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Courtesy of SAP.

This year’s winning article discusses the importance of managing virtual teams. In the past, companies would typically colocate the members of teams because of the high levels of interdependencies that are inherent in group work. Recently, more and more companies routinely organize teams over several locations according to the specific levels of expertise required to accomplish a task. The dispersion of team members, however, often leads to a number of problems, including difficulties in communication and coordination, a lack of trust and an increased inability to establish common ground.

The Winners

Frank Siebdrat
Consultant, The Boston Consulting Group Inc.

Martin Hoegl
Professor, WHU-Otto Beisheim School of Management

Holger Ernst
Professor, WHU-Otto Beisheim School of Management

Authors of: How to Manage Virtual Teams Summer 2009, Volume 50, Number 4, pp. 63-68 Reprint 50412

The authors investigated the performance of 80 software development projects with varying levels of dispersion, including those with members in different cities, countries or continents. They found that virtual teams can outperform their collocated counterparts when they have the appropriate processes in place. Those processes can be classified in two categories: task related — including those that help ensure each team member is contributing fully; and socio-emotional — including those that increase the cohesion of the group. The task-related processes were the most critical. Specifically, virtual teams that had processes that increased the levels of mutual support, member effort, work coordination, balance of member contributions and task-related communications were able consistently to outperform other teams with lower levels.

The prize committee found the article especially pertinent to Richard Beckhard’s legacy and said: “In a challenge to the conventional wisdom, Siebdrat, Hoegl and Ernst conclude that virtual teams can outperform colocated teams. But the research finds that success requires selection of team members based on more than just their expertise and availability. It also depends on task and social processes that help coordinate the work and facilitate communication. This article builds on Dick Beckhard’s long-standing goal of emphasizing management attention to such processes. We believe he would also support the message that there must be a fit of team member skills and management processes with the degree of dispersion and diversity of team members.”

This year’s panel included three distinguished members of the MIT Sloan School of Management faculty: Schussel Professor and chair of the MIT Sloan Management Review Erik Brynjolfsson, senior lecturer Cyrus Gibson and Erwin H. Schell Professor of Management John Van Maanen.

Richard Beckhard

One of the founders and architects of the field of organizational development, Prof. Richard Beckhard was a member of the MIT Sloan School of Management faculty for more than 20 years. A longtime friend of the MIT Sloan Management Review, Beckhard was known for his efforts to help organizations function in a more humane and high-performing manner and to empower people to be agents of change.

His books include Organizational Development Strategies and Models; Organizational Transitions: Managing Complex Change; Changing the Essence: The Art of Creating and Leading Fundamental Change in Organizations; and his autobiography, Agent of Change: My Life, My Practice.

The prize was established in 1984 by the faculty of the MIT Sloan School of Business upon Prof. Beckhard’s retirement and renamed the Richard Beckhard Memorial Prize after his death on December 28, 1999.

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