Go (Con)Figure: Subgroups, Imbalance, and Isolates in Geographically Dispersed Teams
Organization Science, Vol. 21, No. 1, pp. 115-131, January-February 2010
Posted: 14 Jan 2011
Date Written: 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 individual, subgroup, and team-level 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 two-site configurations. As predicted based on social categorization, we find that configuration significantly affects team dynamics – independent of spatio-temporal distance and socio-demographic factors. More specifically, we find that the social categorization in teams with geographically-based subgroups (defined as two or more members per site) triggers significantly weaker identification with the team, less effective transactive memory, more conflict, and more coordination problems. Furthermore, imbalance (i.e., the uneven distribution of members across sites) in the size of subgroups invokes a competitive, coalitional mentality that exacerbates these effects; subgroups with a numerical minority of team members report significantly poorer scores on identification, transactive memory, conflict, and coordination problems. In contrast, teams with geographically isolated members (i.e., members who have no teammates at their site) have better scores on these same four outcomes than both balanced and imbalanced configurations.
Keywords: team, virtual teams, geographically dispersed teams, geographic dispersion, configuration, isolation, imbalance
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