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Collaboration at a distance: from virtual teams to open source development
Other Talks in the Series: Team Effectiveness
What makes for a great team?
- Prof. J. Richard Hackman
- Department of Psychology, Harvard University, USA
Expertise and collective intelligence: when teams are (and are not) more than the sum of their parts
- Dr. Anita Williams Woolley
- Carnegie Mellon University, USA
Welcome to my presentation on Collaboration at a Distance From Virtual Teams to Open Source Development. My name is Jonathan Cummings, I'm a professor at the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University, and today I'm going to talk about three field studies I conducted as part of a research project funded by the US National Science Foundation.
Before I describe the three field studies, I'd like to talk a little bit about terminology. So by collaboration, I mean people who work together to achieve a common goal. In organizations, this goal is often solving a problem or completing a task, and in particular, people often use teams to solve these problems. Second, by distance, I mean the objective structural aspect of being in a different place or time. So where you're located, what time zone you're in and so on. Subjective demographic aspects of distance, such as culture, linguistics, social distance are beyond the scope of this presentation.
So when collaborate at a distance, there are a number of challenges that arise and so I want to share one example from a project. A team member says, "One of the problems that we have when working with people that are eight hours away in time zones, is the coordination of large projects. The engineers need to work together and talk through problems. So when there are significant time differences, they just can't make good solid progress without being able to talk." So what we started to do in the last couple years is starting to divide up the project to where each site has a completely separate job with some minor overlap with the other sites, but in general, they have one complete section of the project all to their own. Otherwise, what we find in trying to manage one functionality across multiple sites is that people were having to work a ridiculous number of hours in order to maintain that communication.
So as we saw from the example, working across space is different than working across time. So for example, a team member in Europe is communicating with another team member in Africa, can rely on the same time zone in order to communicate. However, team member in North America who's communicating with a team member in Europe, has to navigate the time zone problem going from East to West. So as a result, they have to figure out ways to synchronize communication and hand off task and otherwise work together across time zones. So it's important to keep in mind during this presentation about space not being the same thing as time.