UCL School of Management

Research seminar

How Helping Happens: Rhythms of Help in Creative Team Projects


Colin Fisher, Boston University


Wednesday, 10 December 2014
11:00 – 12:30
G21a, Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU

This paper examines how help was given and received over time in creative team projects at a design consultancy, where—as in many contemporary organizations—tasks were ambiguous and interdependence among members was complex. Using qualitative methods, we discovered three forms of help at this firm, which differ strikingly in temporal duration and help patterning (what we call their “rhythm”): (a) bursts, in which a help-giver and help-receiver met only once, briefly; (b) clusters, in which a single giver provided help over multiple, longer interactions; and (c) scatters, in which a single giver provided a variety of support throughout the project. Helping rhythm was influenced by the conditions that precipitated an episode, and affected the giver- receiver interaction at each phase of the helping process. Differences among the forms also created unique challenges, which sometimes derailed attempts to help, such that receivers found them unhelpful—or even harmful. We found that when team members recognized routine difficulties, they sought and received help in bursts. However, when teams faced more complex problems—or were unaware that they needed assistance—givers offered much deeper help via clusters or scatters. This research contributes to conceptualizations of helping, teamwork, and leadership in organizations that undertake creative work.

Last updated Tuesday, 9 December 2014