Up close and personal in entrepreneurial work-team relationships

​A strong team is a great asset for a start-up, but it can also be incredibly hard to build in the context of entrepreneurship. In her doctoral thesis, Pamela Nowell investigates how the uncertain, emotional, and changing nature of entrepreneurship shapes team member relationships and emotional dynamics, and how teams can put in the work to build the kind of relationships that help their ventures survive, and thrive.

​What challenges do you focus on in your research?

"Neither theory nor practice can tell us why some teams fail in their entrepreneurial pursuits while others stay the course. Part of the problem is that we study and support these teams as though they are typical work teams, when they are anything but. The uncertain, emotional, unstructured context of entrepreneurship along with all of the pressure that comes with having so much ‘skin in the game’ means that these teams have unique and intense emotional and relational dynamics. This is something that has remained a black box in this field. I work to understand the nature of these emotional and relational dynamics and how we can better study and support these teams as they engage in entrepreneurship."

How do you address the problem with your research?

"I address this problem by bringing in a new and unconventional perspective to study and understand these teams, i.e. family theory, close relationship theory."

What are the main findings of your research?

"The main findings of my work are that in the context of entrepreneurship, team member relationships act as a stand-in for organizational structures. In typical work contexts you have norms, processes, routines, and guidelines to help make decisions, build trust, manage conflicts, and create a sense of shared identity and mutual obligation. In entrepreneurship these have yet to be established, and thus the interpersonal interactions and relationships between team members play an outsized role in making things work and keeping the organization alive."

"As such, entrepreneurship demands a specific kind of relationship between team members – a close relationship. Close relationships are not what we think of typically when we think of relationships ‘at work’. They can take many forms, and do not mean cozy, but are rather quite challenging. In these kinds of relationships we see a lot of interdependence, openness, and a willingness to work on the relationship through leaning into conflict and difficult conversations and pursuing relationship expansion."

"As entrepreneurs don’t have organizational structures to lean on in their early work together, they need to lean on the quality and robustness of their relationships. This is why close relationships models such as the family fit to study and understand emotional and relational dynamics in this context (rather than traditional work team perspectives). So, rather than ‘keeping things professional’, this work context asks that entrepreneurs ‘get up close and personal’ in a way, which calls for interpersonal courage, intimacy, and a willingness to be vulnerable – all things that are required to build strong, lasting, close relationships. My work shows that entrepreneurship is not only so emotional because it is so high pressure and uncertain, but because it is so social, so interdependent, and so relational."

What do you hope your research will lead to?

"I hope that my work changes the way that we study and support entrepreneurial teams. If we want to have any hope of understanding how we should support these teams, how we should teach entrepreneurs to build thriving teams, and why some teams are more effective than others, we need to take relationships and emotions seriously and really understand how the context of entrepreneurship shapes and twists what we typically expect of work-team relationships. This is important for policy, for education, for research and for practicing entrepreneurs themselves. Re-conceptualize these teams as more than typical ‘work teams’, and drawing on fields such as family theory and close relationship science that have in-depth knowledge of the unfolding dynamics of emotions and relationships over time is a promising start for shedding light on the dynamics of these teams and how they work together over time."

Text compilation: Daniel Karlsson

The thesis defence will be online on Zoom, 28 May 2021 at 13.30, see link on thesis’ page
More about Pamela Nowell

Page manager Published: Mon 24 May 2021.