Understanding dispersed team dynamics is a timely consideration, as non-traditional teams are becoming more and more commonplace. Corporations are cutting down on real estate costs, offering employees more flexible work models, and investing in expertise located anywhere and everywhere around the world, resulting in geographically dispersed collaborations. While collocated teams (every team member working on the same site) may have the advantage over dispersed teams in many respects, studies show that more thoughtful configuration of dispersed teams may actually give them the upper hand.
“Within dispersed teams, there is first and foremost a mutual knowledge problem,” says JoAnne Yates, Sloan Distinguished Professor of Management, who teaches in the new, upcoming Executive Education program, Communication and Persuasion in the Digital Age. “When you’re collocated in the same building, you are aware of what your team members know and do not know. And you understand context. When working across distances, this is not necessarily true, and there are all kinds of failures that can come from that. You may not, for example, understand delays in communication. When you don’t get a response right away and you’re expecting one, you make all kinds of assumptions, and most are disparaging about the other party. Then perhaps you find out there was a holiday—like Patriot’s Day, which occurs only in Massachusetts. It’s important to have ways of understanding the specific context your colleagues are working in and of establishing trust and common ground.”