Team leader autonomy in manufacturing companies' new product development
Management writers have emphasised that both new product development and innovation need to be stimulated in corporations if they are to prosper (Kanter, 1983; Lawrence and Dyer, 1983; Ouchi, 1981; Pascale and Athos, 1981) and they have focused mainly on issues of marketing and organisational behaviour and only to a limited extent on job autonomy. In the thesis aspects of team leader autonomy in new product development companies are investigated critically and empirically. The empirical study is based on data obtained from fifteen semi-structured interviews and two questionnaire surveys. The problems of managing and monitoring team leaders is discussed and conceptually represented in an improved definition of 'autonomy' originally proposed by Bailyn (1985). Autonomy is characterized in multi-dimensional terms and provides a new approach to understanding the complexity of team leader autonomy. Following a review of the literature and a grounded theory analysis of the pilot interview data, a number of common manifestations of autonomy were identified and subdivided into 'operational' and 'strategic' components. The findings of the pilot and main questionnaire studies into the level of team leader autonomy granted by top management are reported and analysed using correspondence analysis. 'Strategic' autonomy is found to reside primarily with senior management whilst team leaders are delegated more 'operational' autonomy. The literature on innovation cautions against too much hierarchical control but also draws attention to the top management dilemma of exercising responsibility and control of strategic tasks without stifling employees' technical competence and entrepreneurialism. A major finding from the main study is that in high technology types of company, management shares 'strategic" responsibilities with the team leader more than in other types of company. Top management cannot abrogate responsibility for directing and managing the company but, it is argued, a number of the strategic tasks could become more the responsibility of the team leader.