DHB Enhancing the Effectiveness of Partially Distributed Teams: Pilot Studies on Distance and Leadership

  • Ocker, Rosalie (PI)
  • Hiltz, Starr Roxanne (CoPI)
  • Rosson, Mary Beth (CoPI)

Project: Research project

Project Details


Technical Description:

A partially distributed team (PDT) consists of multiple, geographically-distributed subgroups, where each subgroup contains collocated team members but communication among subgroups must occur primarily through information and communication technology. This hybrid configuration of local and remote subgroups leads to unique - and as yet poorly understood - behavioral dynamics within PDTs. The current research will conduct pilot studies in preparation for a larger-scale international field experiment of the behavioral dynamics associated with PDTs. Working with student groups from four universities, we will carry out two pilot studies. The first study will test and refine a set of experimental procedures that enact and track the process and success of partially distributed team projects, in the context of a disaster response scenario. The second study will implement a small-scale international experiment to help us test and select among several leadership configurations we are considering for use in a future large-scale international field experiment.

Although the pilot studies have been designed to develop and refine our experimental procedures and thereby reduce the risk and uncertainty of the large-scale international PDT experiment, they also have intellectual merit as scientific research. Working primarily from the qualitative data collected in the second pilot study, we will develop grounded theory to explain how PDT composition and leadership configuration interact with team dynamics, development processes and outcomes. The quantitative data collected in the study will provide converging evidence for our interpretation of leadership factors.

Broader Impacts and Importance:

Disaster response teams are often far-flung, and must collaborate and coordinate efforts across distance. They are a prime example of a distributed team: a group of people who carry out interdependent tasks guided by a common purpose and work across space, time, and organizational boundaries by using electronic communication technologies. When a crisis is of international proportions, the disaster response team is further likely to be a globally distributed team - a temporary, culturally diverse, internationally dispersed, and electronically communicating work group. Other common applications of globally distributed teams are software development projects and other international efforts of multi-national organizations.

A common configuration for globally distributed teams is the partially distributed team (PDT), which includes subgroups in the same location, working with one or more subgroups in other locations, supported by advancements in computer networking technologies. PDTs are prone to ingroup team dynamics (increased interaction with and preferential behavior towards members in one's subgroup; reduced trust and team cohesiveness, and increased conflict between subgroups). Members of a given subgroup conduct much of their teamwork via face-to-face interaction. The shared physical context coupled with the rich social cues present in face-to-face collaboration fosters cohesion, the development of a shared identity, and better conflict management within a subgroup. However, ingroup team dynamics between subgroups can threaten overall team cohesiveness and development and may have dire consequences on team performance. Furthermore, the impact of leadership on PDTs, an important determinant of team effectiveness, remains unexplored. In this research we will conduct two pilot studies, one of which is international in scope, to prepare for a large-scale global field experiment to study ingroup team dynamics for the purpose of increasing the effectiveness of PDTs. The task used in the studies will involve developing requirements for software that is to support local efforts in emergency response management and recovery.

This research has the following broad objectives:

. It will further our understanding of how globalization impacts the work force, and shed light on how organizations can increase their effective use of distributed teams.

. It will introduce into the university classroom, at both undergraduate and graduate levels, the research issues of cultural diversity and collaboration that arise with workforce globalization.

Effective start/end date9/15/068/31/08


  • National Science Foundation: $120,093.00


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