Making distributed R&D work – Internationalization of Teamwork in R&D-Teams and its formal and informal aspects

Publication Type:

Conference Paper


Gerpisa colloquium, Krakow (2012)


Focusing teamwork in R&D teams this paper deals with new forms of an international division of labor in the automotive sector and its formal and informal consequences.
We present theoretical implications and empirical findings from three case studies conducted in the joint research project ‘TRUST-Teamwork in cross-company cooperation’, which is financed by the BMBF and the ESF. In our research we surveyed 44 qualitative, semi-structured interviews in automotive suppliers, with a length of 60-90 minutes each.
For quite a long time transformations of the automotive sector depending structuring and restructuring processes in older and new production spaces have been taken place.. In the last years, also the R&D sector is affected from the ongoing processes. Especially (new) habitats in Eastern Europe and China have increasing R&D responsibilities. These habitats are not longer elongated workbenches, but part of globally distributed production and development (Voskamp/Wittke 2012). In our empirical findings we can identify three forms of transnational R&D cooperation: Subsidiaries acting as a support location, as associated partners of implementation, and performing their own projects including technical administration (Schilcher et al. 2011). The new transnational division of innovative work has led to changes in employment relationships, organizational structures, and team relationships depending communication processes and daily work.
Engineers in the headquarters are faced with colleagues with lower wages and lower working standard – and vice versa. Furthermore, employees of all habitats experience a lack of transparency concerning management’s strategy. Without clear perspectives in the cooperation, a high level of anxiety concerning employment security and mutual rivalry is increasing. Other challenges are cultural differences (Jameson 2007) like a differing feedback culture, which can lead to misunderstandings and the missing possibility to solve problems in face to face interactions involving the working subject. Due to these reasons, mistrust is increasing in the analyzed R&D- Teams and obviates trust-based teamwork.
These experiences show that there are formal and informal aspects which are important for a successful international division of labor (not only) in R&D teams. Not only new employment relationships, also their interpretation, not only the new organizational structures, also their communication and acceptance, not only new team relationships, also their impacts and team-building are very important. And R&D- Teams need solutions for both formal structures and informal cooperation.

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