Managing Globally Distributed Teams with Alignment and Adaptability

Li, Ye

Document Type: Doctoral dissertation
Year of publication: 2014
Place of publication: Mannheim
University: Universität Mannheim
Evaluator: Mädche, Alexander
Date of oral examination: 2 June 2014
Publication language: English
Institution: Business School > Wirtschaftsinformatik IV (Mädche -2015)
Subject: 650 Management
Keywords (English): multicultural distributed team , globally distributed team , global virtual team , distributed software development
Abstract: As a result of globalization and advances in information and communication technology (ICT), teams in organizations are increasingly operating across geographical, temporal and socio-cultural boundaries (Connaughton & Shuffler, 2007; Kumar et al., 2005). Such teams, known as globally distributed teams (GDTs), bring various benefits to organizations, such as providing access to large skilled labor resources, improving responsiveness to global markets, reducing costs of global operations, and increasing innovation through integrating diverse skill and knowledge sets (Bergiel et al., 2008; Martins & Schilpzand, 2011). Since GDT members are geographically distributed, they communicate and collaborate mainly with the support of information and communication technology (ICT). Thus, globally distributed teams are also termed as global virtual teams (GVTs) in some literature to emphasize the “virtuality” of the teams (Maznevski & Chudoba, 2000). In some other literature, the term “multicultural distributed teams” (MDTs) is used to represent GDTs to highlight the cultural diversity in these teams (Connaughton & Shuffler, 2007). In research, GDTs have been studied for at least one decade. Lipnack and Stamps’ (1997) book “Virtual Teams: Reaching across Space, Time, and Organizations with Technology” opened up discussions and exploration on distributed teamwork. Since then, researchers in various disciplines, especially in management and information systems (IS), have worked jointly to define the scope of studies on GDTs (Bell & Kozlowski, 2002; Kirkman & Mathieu, 2005), understand GDT characteristics and team dynamics (Ahmad & Lutters, 2011; Anawati & Craig, 2006), and examine effective ways of using GDTs to achieve organizational goals (Hertel et al., 2005; Lurey & Raisinghani, 2001). Despite the extensive use of and research on GDTs, there is clear evidence showing that the work processes and outcomes in GDTs are unsatisfactory. Economist Intelligence Unit’s (2009) survey involving 407 respondents from different industries show that 56% of the respondents’ GDTs were not well managed. Similarly, RW3 CultureWizard’s (Solomon, 2010) survey involving 600 employees in multinational corporations reported that 40% of the respondents considered their GDTs were underperforming. The underperformance can be explained by the unique challenges faced by GDTs, which is related to the geographical and temporal separation, as well as cultural diversity among GDT members. First, GDTs face challenges introduced by geographic separation among GDT members. The geographic boundaries limits the team members’ interpersonal connection due to the lack of physical situatedness (Sarker & Sahay, 2004). The reduced interpersonal connection further leads to ineffective communication and suspicions arising from the inability to verify remote members’ actions (Sarker & Sahay, 2004). Moreover, if teams are partially collocated, geographic separation can promote the formation of location-based faultlines (Lau & Murnighan, 1998; Polzer & Crisp, 2006), which negatively influences team cohesion, trust, communication, and collaboration at the GDT level (Panteli & Davison, 2005; Polzer & Crisp, 2006). Second, GDTs face challenges introduced by temporal separation among team members. In some GDTs, team members are located in different time zones, which forms temporal separation among them. The temporal separation reduces common working hours shared by the team members, which constrains the amount, breadth, and depth of information transferred across different sites (Cummings et al., 2009). The constrained information transfer channels can further lead to increased conflicts and delays (Bergiel et al., 2008; Massey et al., 2003). Third, GDTs face challenges introduced by national cultural diversity among team members. For example, GDT members may have different levels of proficiency of the chosen team language. This difference causes higher communication cost for both native speakers and nonnative speakers, which can result in miscommunication (Sarker & Sarker, 2009; Shachaf, 2008) and reduced team cohesion (Shachaf, 2008; Wei & Crowston, 2010). Further, culturally diverse members differ in their communication styles and conversation structures. These differences may cause misunderstandings and information sharing difficulties, which disturbs team processes, and affects trust and team cohesion (Maznevski & Chudoba, 2000; Sarker & Sahay, 2004; Shachaf, 2008). Moreover, culturally diverse members differ in their values (e.g., individualism vs. collectivism, time orientation) (Hall, 1977; Hofstede, 1991). These cultural values although not visible, substantially shape team members attitudes toward and behaviors in interpersonal interactions and work, such as willingness to engage in reciprocal interactions and perception of deadlines (Salazar & Salas, 2013). The different attitudes and behaviors may increase team conflicts (Hanisch & Corbitt, 2007; Kankanhalli et al., 2007), impede knowledge sharing (Li, 2010; Stetten et al., 2012), cause delays (Huang & Trauth, 2008), and harm trust (Jarvenpaa & Leidner, 1999; Zolin et al., 2004) and team cohesion (Shachaf, 2008). To achieve high performance, GDTs need to overcome the challenges introduced by geographical and temporal separation, as well as cultural diversity simultaneously. It requires a unique set of managerial interventions and management theories. This set of interventions and theories should necessarily reflect knowledge in the disciplines of management, IS, communication, and psychology.

Dieser Eintrag ist Teil der Universitätsbibliographie.

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