Sometimes ideas are not picked up by team members or questions get directed to the wrong person. If this is the case, your team might have a problem recognizing each others expertise. This article uses research evidence to explain what cues people are using to form ideas about each others expertise, and includes a couple of tips, Academic Bullets, on how you can help your team members recognizing each others expertise accurately.
What does this mean for practice?
As manager, team member or employee you can observe when someone’s expertise is not valued. There are several simple steps you can implement to turn the situation around. Below are three evidence-based solutions. Schedule a free call if you like more information.
- Depending on the cultural mix in teams, use text or video/audio communication. For example, Asian team members will often have their expertise not recognized in face-to-face communication.
- Make role assignment explicit. Highlight the diverse expertise of team members. This is an easy way to highlight each others strength.
- Stimulate communication via a central tool, such as Slack. Central tools make it easier for everyone to get to know each other’s expertise.
How is expertise recognized ?
When you work in a team you bring several things into the team. Your team members are judging these to make inferences about your expertise fields and how good you are. These input factors are grouped into surface features, group structure, relational aspects, and communicative processes.
Of these three groups the communicative processes have the strongest impact on expertise recognition. If you want to achieve a deep understanding of the communicative processes in your team, you need to map your team’s communication network.
Using communicative processes to recognize expertise
Talking with team members can help your team get a more accurate understanding of each others expertise. However it is not just plainly talking with team members, but it is the degree to which you go to others to ask for task-related advice. That might sound counter-intuitive. But bear with me. When you ask someone for task related advice you have normally considered what you know and what you don’t know, and have shared this with the person from whom you seek advice. By sharing this information, you make it possible for the other party to get a more accurate opinion about what you know and don’t know. This helps expertise recognition.
Using surface features to recognize expertise
Surface features are all your characteristics that are visible to others. Inferring them does not require communication. For example, your age or gender are surface characteristics. In numerous recall studies people successfully used surface features to perform a task. In recall studies teams are given a list of items and asked to remember as many as possible. In those exercises, men normally remember stereotypical men topics such as cars and work tools, while women focus on categories that are stereotypical female.
Another surface feature is role assignment or job title. In most cases your job title reflects what you can bring to the company. It mirrors your tasks and hence your expertise. Therefore, job titles and role assignments are frequently used as an indication of your expertise.
Using group structure to recognize your expertise
Teams have many features that can be used to describe them. When considering expertise recognition, the diversity of expertise is a key feature. In teams, your expertise can be valued because you are providing unique information, or because you share the same knowledge than others. Theories support both points. The value of diversity of expertise can be one of three things:
- Diversity is positive. In this sense, having team members with many different expertise fields is important. If you want to measure this, use the Blau index.
- Diversity leads to inequality. Diversity leads to inequality when one expertise field is valued more than another field. Then team members aren’t equal anymore. The Coefficient of Variation or Gini Coefficient are used to measure this type of diversity.
- Diversity leads to subgroups. Diversity can also create subgroups, when people work only with those that share common attributes. To measure diversity as separation, use standard deviation.
Do you want to know more about how the different types of diversity impacts your team performance ? Schedule a free call with me.
Using relational aspects to recognize expertise
Relational aspects describe how team members are related to each other. This can be their physical location or their workflow. Relational aspects can influence expertise recognition because they spell out who you see at the office, and with whom you have to (or should communicate). In this sense you are not recognizing the expertise of your team member because you sit next to him/her. But you recognize their expertise as you communicate more frequently with those next to whom you are sitting.
Based on this little bit of result a goo advice is to not spread your physical office over two floors. This is bad for communication.
What makes virtual teams so special
Virtual teams are special, because they lack some of the key features which help to identify expertise. For example, the lack of face-to-face discussion can reduce knowledge sharing and make expertise recognition less accurate. However, this does not mean that virtual team members are incapable of correctly recognizing each others expertise.
In virtual settings, identifying surface characteristics can be more difficult. For example, while most names are only used for one gender, between cultures the same name can be used for men and women. For example: Benedict (French female name) and Benedikt (German male name). Other names are gender neutral. If a team doesn’t use videos or photos it is hard to pinpoint the gender. In some situation this doesn’t matter. For example, when the wrongly identified person is part of a minority group and would face discrimination during synchronous meetings. However, also in these cases, honesty and transparency should be a priority.
When expertise recognition is easier in virtual teams
Virtual teams have two advantages over standard face-to-face teams when it comes to expertise recognition. First, virtual teams who commonly communicate via text formats are able to reduce the negative effects of inter-cultural communication. This applies specifically when individuals from individualistic and collectivists cultures have to work together. While the former values when people “jump into the conversation”, the people from the latte group prefer to be “invited to talk”. Text based communication reduces these cultural differences leading to nearly the same rate of participation across cultures.
Also, as virtual teams are not able to meet face-to-face or bump into each other regularly at work, they often do rely more often on communal communication tools such as wikis, blogs, and shared file repositories. The advantages of these communication tools is that the knowledge of expertise is visible to all for a longer time. Slack with its different features and channels is a great example of how a communication tool can help recognize expertise.
Bazarova, N. N., & Yuan, Y. C. (2013). Expertise Recognition and Influence in Intercultural Groups: Differences Between Face-to-Face and Computer-Mediated Communication. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 18(4), 437–453. doi: 10.1111/jcc4.12018.
Treem, J. W., & Leonardi, P. M. (2015). Recognizing expertise: Factors promoting congruity between individuals’ perceptions of their own expertise and the perceptions of their coworkers. Communication Research, 1–27. doi: 10.1177/0093650215605154.