In today’s day and age, when companies want access to globally available, highly skilled resources at lowest possible costs (from anywhere in the world), it is not uncommon to find that teams have become geographically distributed.
Yes, productivity can suffer due to team members not being at the same location, but then instead of complaining and sulking about these situations, smarter firms work on continuously improving the productivity of their distributed teams.
Effectiveness of geographically distributed teams can be improved by using a combination of modular team structure, technology (collaboration tools), well-defined team goals, better availability and sharing of contextual information , more frequent face to face
team interactions and a strong organizational culture.
For globally distributed teams, a modular team structure results in higher level of performance. This is because collocated teams work on similar items and there are clearly defined handoffs from one team to another team (in a different location). This structure helps eliminate the lack of social interactions needed for teams to perform.
However, for modular structure to work effectively, using strong project management methods is a key criterion for ensuring success.
Having common goals ensures that the entire team, irrespective of the geographic location, is marching towards the same target. Goals also need to be tied with the business strategy. One of the reasons teams put in greater effort into achieving common goals is because they clearly understand how their individual efforts can help impact company’s
strategy. It means a lot to the team members and they emotionally feel part of
Collaborative technologies (e.g. Skype, Cisco’s unified collaboration platforms, Microsoft’s Lync etc.) are an enabler for improving team performance. However, in the absence of other characteristics (e.g. modular structure, common goals, strong culture etc.),
technology on its own can’t help much.
While face to face meetings definitely help teams to gel together, this may not be possible in certain situations (due to need to keep travel costs down). In such cases, clear criteria should be established based on which travel costs for face to face meetings can be approved.
Teams can greatly improve group performance by effectively cultivating an enabling culture. Some of the guiding principle like customer is #1, high service levels at low costs, and being able to provide best-in-class services should be built in group’s DNA. The team needs to be motivated and should be strongly behind the culture. With the right
culture, teams can achieve high performance targets.
- Brett, J., K. Behfar and M. Kern, “Managing Multicultural Teams,” Harvard Business Review, November 2006
- Cramton, C. “Finding Common Ground in Dispersed Collaboration,” · http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6W6S-5N816C-1&_user=145269&_rdoc=1&_fmt=&_orig=search&_sort=d&view=c&_acct=C000012078&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=145269&md5=98c7a24dddbf91a527aeb95a87779af8
- Kiesler, S. & J. Cummings, “What Do We Know about Proximity & Distance in Work Groups?” Kiesler & Hinds, eds., Distributed Work, 2002. http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.61.1651&rep=rep1&type=pdf