Heidi K. Gardner
Assistant Professor of Business Administration
Heidi K. Gardner is an Assistant Professor of Business Administration in the Organizational Behavior unit at Harvard Business School.
Professor Gardner researches, teaches and speaks on topics related to leadership, collaboration and teamwork in knowledge-based organizations, focusing especially on professional service firms. Her current research explores issues of peer collaboration (such as between partners in professional service firms) in complex, knowledge-based, high autonomy environments where people can choose whether to work solo or jointly, and where collaboration is especially challenging because it stretches over time and across projects. This work analyzes the benefits and costs to firms and individuals of working collaboratively, and investigates elements of leadership and organizational design that support (or hinder) the collaboration and innovation necessary for high-quality client service. She has also extensively investigated issues that allow project teams to most effectively use their members’ expertise in order to achieve their fullest potential.
Professor Gardner’s research was awarded the Academy of Management Organizational Behavior Division’s prize for Outstanding Practical Implications for Management. She has published articles in the Academy of Management Journal, Administrative Science Quarterly, Harvard Business Review, and Journal of Organizational Behavior, as well as chapters in edited volumes focusing on organizational behavior, multinational teams, and the management of professional service firms. She serves on the editorial board of Administrative Science Quarterly. Her research has been featured in media such as The Economist, Boston Globe, MSN.com, CNN Money, Fortune.com and CBSNews.com.
She currently teaches the Leading Professional Service Firms course both in the Executive Education program and as a second-year MBA elective. Professor Gardner also teaches a number of executive offerings at both the Business School and Harvard Kennedy School focusing on professional service firms, talent management and teamwork. Previously she taught the required Leadership and Organizational Behavior (LEAD) course in the MBA program.
Prior to her academic career Professor Gardner worked as a management consultant for McKinsey & Co. in London, Johannesburg and New York, as well as a manager for Procter & Gamble. She also held a Fulbright fellowship in Germany and previously lived in Japan while majoring in East Asian studies as an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania (graduated summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa). More recently, Professor Gardner earned a Masters degree (with distinction) from the London School of Economics and a Masters and PhD in Organizational Behavior from London Business School.
Performance Pressure as a Double-edged Sword: Enhancing Team Motivation but Undermining the Use of Team Knowledge
In this paper, I develop and empirically test the proposition that performance pressure acts as a double-edged sword for teams, providing positive effects by enhancing the team’s motivation to achieve good results while simultaneously triggering process losses. I conducted a multimethod field study of 78 audit and consulting teams from two global professional firms, revealing an irony of team life: even though motivated to perform well on a high-stakes project, pressured teams are more likely to engage in performance-detracting behaviors. Survey results show that, as performance pressure increases, team members begin to overly rely on general expertise while discounting domain-specific expertise, leading to suboptimal performance. I then use longitudinal qualitative case studies of six project teams across two firms to explore the underlying behavioral mechanisms that generate this outcome. Results reveal four limiting team processes: (1) a drive toward consensus, (2) a focus on common knowledge, (3) a shift from learning to project completion, and (4) increased conformity to the status hierarchy. Results also show that only domain-specific expertise—the kind that teams underuse when facing higher pressure—increases client-rated team performance. I thus find, paradoxically, that when teams need domain-specific expertise the most, they tend to use it the least, despite evidence suggesting they are highly motivated to do well on their task.
Coming Through When It Matters Most
All teams would like to think they do their best work when the stakes are highest—when the company’s future or their own rests on the outcome of their projects. But too often something else happens. In extensive studies of teams at professional service firms, Harvard Business School’s Gardner has seen the same pattern emerge over and over: Teams become increasingly concerned with the risks of failure rather than the requirements of excellence. As a result, they revert to safe, standard approaches instead of delivering original solutions tailored to clients’ needs.
Gardner has a name for this phenomenon: the performance pressure paradox. Here’s how it develops: As pressure mounts, team members start driving toward consensus in ways that shut out vital information. Without even realizing it, they give more weight to shared knowledge and dismiss specialized expertise, such as insights into the client’s technologies, culture, and aspirations. The more generically inclined the team becomes, the more concerned the client grows, which turns up the pressure and pushes the team even further down the generic road.
But forewarned is forearmed. By measuring each person’s contribution deliberately, ruthlessly insisting that no one’s contribution be marginalized, and framing new information within familiar contexts, teams can escape the performance pressure paradox and keep doing their best work when it matters most.
Dynamically Integrating Knowledge in Teams: Transforming Resources into Performance
In knowledge-based environments, teams must develop a systematic approach to integrating knowledge resources throughout the course of projects in order to perform effectively. Yet, many teams fail to do so. Drawing on the resource-based view of the firm, we examine how teams can develop a knowledge-integration capability to dynamically integrate members' resources into higher performance. We distinguish among three sets of resources: relational, experiential, and structural and propose that they differentially influence a team's knowledge-integration capability. We test our theoretical framework using data on knowledge workers in professional services and discuss implications for research and practice.
Expertise Dissensus: A Multi-level Model of Teams' Differing Perceptions about Member Expertise
Why are some teams more effective than others at using their members' expertise to achieve short-term performance and longer term developmental benefits? We propose that a critical factor is expertise dissensus-members' differing perceptions of each other's level of expertise. We argue that performance hinges on how team members perceive all others' expertise-not just how they view the most expert team member-and that even latent disagreement about how much each person can contribute will undermine individuals' development and teams' capacity building. We develop and test a multi-level model of expertise dissensus, finding that it hampers team coordination, increases task and relationship conflict, and lowers all dimensions of team effectiveness: team performance, team viability, and individual member development.
Managing Your Team's "Dissensus"
Have you ever been in a team meeting and wondered something like, "Why did the boss gave Jamie that assignment? I think Susan is a better match for the job." Or observed a colleague asking another for help and thought, "It never occurred to me to ask for his input on that topic." Or got stuck in a situation where it seemed like some team members really valued your opinion but another seemed to disregard you entirely?
Team members tend to assume that they all agree about how much knowledge everyone else on the team has, but my research shows that they often actually hold quite differing perceptions and that these differences can seriously hamper team effectiveness. I call this phenomenon "expertise dissensus."