The Proceedings of the BIRS Community


Analyses in this article are based on data contained in proprietary databases accessible to the author.

Completing complex work in an organizational setting often relies on the cooperation and action of colleagues working together. These can be individuals on the same work team collaborating to accomplish a task, or multiple people working across various groups in an organization for one purpose. In doing so, it is critical that workers complete their work task within the required timeframe in order to meet project timelines. On projects such as these, one person can become a bottleneck that slows down activities downstream. This can have negative outcomes for the organization, and can be frustrating to the individual in charge of driving completion of the project at hand. This research this topic of getting what you need from colleagues using a real-life example.

In this case study, the topic is explored through the lens of a technical writing team of a large company in the health care industry. This team works with people across their organization to create correct and complete technical documents. The team relies on these “subject matter experts” to help ensure that every detail in their documents is correct and complete. The experts have many other responsibilities in addition to completing document reviews for the writing team, and the writing team deals with varying deadlines depending on the criticality of each document. In this situation, it only takes one expert not completing their task on time to slow the entire process. There have been instances throughout the team’s history where this issue has hindered work completion. This topic has been researched in an effort to better understand the issue and suggest useful strategies to help curb the problem.

Specifically, the case study contains the history and the current state of work in this technical writing group. The goal is to uncover possible underlying causes and offer research-based solutions that could be used to stem the issue.

Generally, this research explores the idea of influencing coworkers, particularly when you hold no authority over those from which you need the action. The topic is applicable broadly in any organizational setting; therefore, the solutions offered may be useful to a wide audience.

Some expected themes of this research are:

1. Many and varied reasons underlie why workers are unable to get what they need from their coworkers.

2. Many equally important job tasks compete for time in the course of a workday.

3. The amount of work as well as the complexity has increased; therefore, workers may need to adjust their expectations in order to give experts adequate time to complete tasks.

4. There are ways in which the workers can ethically influence their peers to help get what they need.

5. There is no one-size-fits-all approach when working in a complex industry like the one explored in this research.