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Trust and Member Inclusion as Communication Factors to Foster Collaboration in Globally Distributed Teams

As the information demands of a globalized work context becomes more evident, work and tasks once performed at a single location have been shifted to globally distributed interdependent locations (Gupta, Hedberg, Hou, Prendergast, & Crk, 2012). Gupta et al., (2012) describe this situation as the 24-Hour Knowledge Factory, a concept defined as “… separate and distinct global operating centers that facilitate the transfer of information from one work location to another, thus allowing for continuous operation (Abstract)” (p. 100). They provide the example of three or more globally distributed teams collaborating within each respective time zone, and transferring unfinished work at the end of their work day to another team which picks up where the others left off. This 24-Hour Knowledge Factory enables work on a non-stop basis, potentially increasing task or project efficiency and productivity (Gupta, et al. 2012).

The growing use of globally distributed teams has led many major US corporations to employ virtual teams; as noted by Lepsinger and DeRosa (2010) in a study conducted by Intel Corporation’s Communications department (ACM3), roughly 67 percent of the company’s employees participated in virtual teams. Virtual teams play an integral part in this [globally] distributed team environment (Jarvenpaa & Leidner, 1999). Jarvenpaa and Leidner (1999) describe a virtual team as one in which members are separated by location and tasked with a common collaborative project, but due to economic and/or practical constraints, computer mediated communication (CMC) provides the only viable method of communication.

Researchers have observed an increase in reliance on virtual teams and tools to support collaborative work within globally distributed teams (Bosch-Sijtsema et al., 2011). Bosh-Sijtsema et al. (2011) state “… information and communication technology (ICT) is substantially imbedded in [these] workplaces. The connectivity enabled by these technologies has opened new opportunities for how, when, and where people work” (p. 281).

...inclusion is a key factor that impacts the quality of communication in globally distributed teams

A preliminary review of previous collaboration studies in virtual and/or globally distributed teams revealed that trust and team member inclusion are consistently regarded as key communication factors that appear to have the most potential to create and support collaboration within globally distributed teams (Crisp & Jarvenpaa, 2013; Guenard et al., 2013; Jarvenpaa, et al. 1998; Muethel et al., 2012). Mayer et al. (1995) and Jarvenpaa, Knoll, and Leidner (1998) define trust as an individual’s or group’s belief that their distant team members will be accountable to each other and deliver on mutually agreed upon actions in distributed teams. Katz and Miller (1995) describe inclusion as a sense that team members experience when they feel valued and respected, are seen as individuals, and are able to attain a sense of membership within a collaborative setting.

This study is based on the assumption that if members in globally dispersed teams can identify the factors that tend to most impact virtual communication, they may be able to influence these communication factors to effectively support collaboration. For example, Larson (2010) notes that including team members during the decision making process can spark innovation by incorporating multiple diverse problem-solving approaches. As reported in studies on factors of communication in virtual team collaboration, inclusion is a key factor that impacts the quality of communication in globally distributed teams (Bell & Kozlowski 2002; Griffith et al. 2003; Jarvenpaa & Leidner, 1999; Kirkman & Mathieu, 2005; Maznevski & Chudoba, 2000; O’Leary & Cummings, 2007; Zigurs, 2003).

Selected References

  • Bell, B., & Kozlowski, S. (2002). A typology of virtual teams: Implications for effective leadership. Group & Organization Management, 27, 14–49.
    doi:10.1177/1059601102027001003
  • Bosch-Sijtsema, P., Fruchter, R, Vartiainen, M., & Ruohomaki, V. (2011). A framework to analyze knowledge work in distributed teams. Group & Organization Management, 36(3), 275-307
  • Crisp, C. & Jarvenpaa, S. (2013). Swift trust in global virtual teams trusting beliefs and normative actions. Journal of Personnel Psychology, 12(1), 45-56.
  • Griffith, T.L., Sawyer, J.E., & Neale, M.A. (2003) Virtualness and knowledge in teams: managing the love triangle of organizations, individuals, and information technology. MIS Quarterly, 27(2), 265.
  • Guenard, R., Katz, J., Bruno, S., & Lipa, M. (2013). Enabling a new way of working through inclusion and social media: A case study. OD Practitioner, 45(4), 9-16.
  • Gupta, A., Hou, L., Hedberg, T., Prendergast, C., Crk, I., et al. (2012). Creating the 24-hour knowledge factory. Information Systems Management, 29(2), 100-111.
  • Jarvenpaa, S., & Leidner, D. (1999). Communication and trust in global virtual teams. Organization Science, 10, 791–815. doi:10.1287/orsc.10.6.791
  • Lepsinger, R., & DeRosa, D. (2010). Virtual team success: A practical guide for working and leading from a distance. John Wiley and Sons. Kindle Edition.
  • O’Leary, M. B., & Cummings, J. N. (2007). The spatial, temporal, and configurational characteristics of geographic dispersion in teams. MIS Quarterly, 31, 433–452.
AIM alumna Nicol Davidson

Research Paper Author: Nicol Davidson, sr. systems engineer, Raytheon Intelligence and Information Systems (IIS). 2014 AIM Graduate.

Abstract: Organizations are commonly spread across different offices and increasingly across different geographical locations. This dynamic necessitates dispersed, virtual teams, meaning those that do not meet face to face. Finding the right communications medium and collaboration tools can be difficult. The purpose of this annotated bibliography is to identify literature that explores two key communication factors that could effectively create and foster collaboration in globally distributed teams: (a) trust, and (b) inclusion. This study is based on the assumption that if members of globally dispersed teams can identify the factors that tend to most impact virtual communication, they may be able to influence those factors to effectively support collaboration.