Geographic dispersion in teams : its history, experience, measurement, and change
Author(s)O'Leary, Michael Boyer, 1969-
Sloan School of Management.
Wanda Orlikowski and JoAnne Yates.
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This thesis begins with the simple argument that geographic dispersion has gone surprisingly unexamined despite its role as the domain-defining construct for geographically dispersed teams (a.k.a. "virtual teams"). The last few years have seen slow but steady growth in field studies of such teams, but our understanding of geographic dispersion and the role it plays in work is stillquite limited. The thesis attempts to open the "black box" of geographic dispersion, show that it is far from a new phenomenon in organizations, understand the ways in which it is experienced, propose ways in which it can be measured, and understand the effects of doing work at increasing degrees of dispersion. It does so through three studies which combine qualitative and quantitative methods, and draw on archival, survey, observational, and interview data. Study 1 uses rich archival data covering more than two centuries (1670-1950) of the life of one firm - i.e., the Hudson's Bay Company - to understand its far-flung managers' experience of dispersion. It shows that the managers experienced their dispersion through a combination of coordination, communication, isolation, and control challenges. It also serves as a "typifier," showing that modem "virtual" teams have deep historical roots. Study 2 proposes a multi-dimensional definition of dispersion, including spatial-temporal distance and configuration, as well as a series of new measures to capture those dimensions. It explores the measures and their relationship to communications frequency in a sample of 115 dispersed project teams from a Fortune 500 company.(cont.) Study 3 is based on field research with nine geographically dispersed internal consulting teams in a large, national humanitarian aid organization. It follows them from the inception to the completion of their work and compares two teams in detail. One team was moderately dispersed and one was a pilot for a more fully dispersed approach to the internal consulting projects. It finds that perceptions about timing and dispersion differ from more objective measures like those in Study 2. It also shows how dispersion is a challenge for team boundaries and calls for more attention to the weighting of different team effectiveness criteria. Keywords: geographic dispersion, teams, virtual teams, effectiveness, communications, history.
Thesis (Ph. D.)--Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Sloan School of Management, 2002.Vita.Includes bibliographical references.This electronic version was submitted by the student author. The certified thesis is available in the Institute Archives and Special Collections.
DepartmentSloan School of Management.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Sloan School of Management.