In-group / out-group dynamics and effectiveness in partially distributed teams
Department of Information Systems
Doctor of Philosophy
Hiltz, Starr Roxanne
Kirova, Vassilka D.
Partially distributed teams
When organizations collaborate they often do so using partially distributed teams (PDTs). In a Partially Distributed Team there exist at least two distinct sub-groups. In addition, at least one of the sub-groups has two or more members that are geographically co-located. Co-located members can meet face to face; chat in the hallway; have lunch together; and otherwise socialize with one another. On the other hand, remote members must rely on technology to communicate and work together. This distinct characteristic of partially distributed teams makes them especially susceptible to the In-Group / Out Group dynamic (Huang and Ocker, 2006). This dynamic manifests itself when members of a co-located sub-group treat each other with preference or exhibit a more favorable attitude towards each other than they do towards their remote colleagues. We refer to such behaviors as 'Us-vs.-Them' and categorize their occurrences.
After examining why and how Us-vs.-Them occurs in Partially Distributed Teams, we attempt to understand under which conditions it exists and persists, as well as its relationship to effectiveness. We examine conditions of technology, team configuration, employee motivation, and organizational policies that may reduce Us-vs.-Them, and formulate a model for reduction of Us-vs.-Them and increase of effectiveness. We test our model using a survey instrument distributed to 238 industry professionals.
We found support among participant comments confirming the existence of Us-vs.-Them in partially distributed teams and its importance. We also found a strong relationship between Us-vs.-Them and effectiveness. High Us-vs.-Them showed a very high correlation to reduced effectiveness. We found support for the value of technology uniformity between sub-groups as well as technology reliability, for decreasing Us-vs.-Them. And we showed that just as in traditional teams, regular meetings are helpful in partially distributed teams.
Although we discuss informally implemented policies that proved to be valuable in partially distributed teams, we discovered that the more formal policies are the more effective type. Other important findings include: Us-vs.-Them is more prevalent in international teams as well as in teams that are composed of two sub-groups only; and when motivated by flexible schedule, work creativity, and challenging work, participants had higher perceived effectiveness ratings.
Most prior PDT research was conducted using student teams or case studies of one or two industry teams. A contribution of this dissertation research is collection and analysis of a large sample of industry data. Another important contribution is the isolation of Us-vs.-Them as a dependent variable. Understanding under which conditions it exists is important so that managers can identify it and prevent it from escalating.
njit-etd2009-075 (229 pages ~ 9,190 KB pdf)
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Created August 10, 2010