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Title: Learning cross-functionality and the power of identity : a case study of an Italian automotive organization
Author: Sala, Carla
Awarding Body: University of Warwick
Current Institution: University of Warwick
Date of Award: 2013
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This thesis discusses the relationship between identity and learning in cross-functional teams (CFTs). It focuses on how aspects of members’ identity affect the process of developing cross-functional (CF) teamwork and examines how emerging identity issues can account for different outcomes in the learning of CF teamwork. More specifically, the research focuses on what these emerging identity issues entail in terms of underlying and action-orienting meanings, and on how this can favour or hinder the learning of CF teamwork. This study argues that the collective process of learning how to operate as a CFT is influenced by relational, social and contextual issues. Theoretically, the thesis offers a number of contributions. A critique of current approaches to CF teamwork is provided, where a review of the relevant literature reveals a largely functionalist stance, with a main focus on researching the factors contributing to the effectiveness of CFTs. The thesis advocates an alternative interpretative stance to investigating the role of identity in learning cross-functionality, offering the possibility of an interpretation which is situated in the specific context and which is open to the understanding of emerging, possibly revealing issues. Furthermore, this thesis argues that, within this interpretative approach, by studying what favours or hinders the learning of CF teamwork, it may be possible to deepen our understanding of CFT dynamics. The learning of CF teaming has also been identified as one of the gaps in the relevant literature. The situated learning theory (SLT) and community of practice approach (Lave and Wenger, 1991) is thus adopted as an appropriate theoretical framework for researching the learning of CF teamwork, which is understood here as a practice. SLT suggests that individual learning should be thought of as emergent, involving opportunities to participate in the practices of the community as well as the development of a social identity which provides a sense of belonging and commitment (Lave and Wenger, 1991; Wenger, 1998). Theoretically and empirically justified, the new insight and main focus of this research consists of the consideration of events occurring not only within a CFT, but also beyond and before it, which are able to shape the identities involved, at different levels. This is beneficial, since it explains the different ways of engaging with the practice of cross-functionality and consequently the different learning outcomes. Within the situated learning literature there is surprisingly little explicit reference to theories of identity construction (Handley et al., 2006). A conceptualization of identity is thus derived by tapping into theories of identity which have not yet been developed in SLT, but which represent a useful theoretical development in this arena of studies. These gaps and issues were addressed by conducting qualitative research in a medium-sized Italian firm manufacturing car parts. In particular, an ethnographic study was carried out, using complementary methods such as direct observation, semi-structured interviews and documentary data. Investigations concerned two skilled workers’ CFTs devoted to developing the product ranges respectively of joints and pumps, and a managers’ CFT whose task was to design a new pump for a particular client. Three identities emerged as especially significant for the meanings they entailed and for the influence they proved to have on learning this practice: the sense of identity derived from relationships characterized by paternalism with significant others at work (i.e. the leaders), and the sense of identity derived from being a worker from Brescia, the specific geographical location of the study, and from being a worker or a manager, understood in terms of occupation and social class.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Economic and Social Research Council (Great Britain) (ESRC)
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: HD Industries. Land use. Labor