Friends and Enemies Within: The Roles of Subgroups, Imbalance, and Isolates in Geographically Dispersed Teams
Michael Boyer O'Leary
Georgetown University - Department of Management
INSEAD - Organisational Behaviour
February 1, 2008
MIT Sloan Research Paper No. 4689-08
Organization Science, Vol. 21, pp. 115-131, 2010
Research regarding geographically dispersed teams (GDTs) is increasingly common and has yielded many insights into how spatio-temporal and socio-demographic factors affect GDT functioning and performance. Largely missing, however, is research on the effects of the basic geographic configuration of GDTs. In this study, we explore the impact of GDT configuration (i.e., the relative number of team members at different sites, independent of the characteristics of those members or the spatial and temporal distances among them) on GDT dynamics. In a quasi-experimental setting, we examine the effects of configuration using a sample of 62 six-person teams in four different one- and twosite configurations. As predicted, we find that configuration significantly affects team dynamics - independent of spatio-temporal distance and socio-demographic factors. More specifically, we find that teams with geographically-based subgroups (defined as two or more members per site) have significantly less shared team identity, less effective transactive memory, more conflict, and more coordination issues. Furthermore, in teams with subgroups, imbalance (i.e., the uneven distribution of members across sites) exacerbates these effects; subgroups with a numerical minority of team members report significantly poorer scores on the same four outcomes. In contrast, teams with geographically isolated members (i.e., members who have no teammates at their site) outperform both balanced and imbalanced configurations.
Keywords: geographically dispersed teams, subgroups, team dynamics
Date posted: February 21, 2008 ; Last revised: August 7, 2012
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