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Geographically dispersed teams: forming, developing and maintaining

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We are all witnessing the mass globalisation, communication and computer technologies conquest of the world. Better said, we’re all feeling the consequences of it. Nowadays, our whole life is changed; from how we conduct our everyday tasks to how we spend our free time. Business is not a leftover; regional market has expanded itself in global frames, information and services became crucial goods for work along with a new ways of working that manage and utilise both human and material resources. Geographically Dispersed Teams (GDTs) also emerged as a result of this group of innovations. So, what are GDTs?

“Small temporary groups of geographically, organisationally and/or time dispersed knowledge workers who coordinate their work predominantly with electronic information and communication technologies in order to accomplish one or more organisation tasks"  - Ale Ebrahim, N., Ahmed, S. and Taha, Z., "Virtual R & D teams in small and medium enterprises”

Because of the controversy that follows this type of work, it has always been subject to dilemmas and debates. We might, as well, say that it’s the most challengeable part of project management and HR, and as such it has its own advantages and disadvantages.

GDTs bring a lot of advantages for both organizations and individuals. For instance, organistions can achieve cost savings and reduced office space. More important, they attain effective use of human resources because of the ability to choose team members according to their skills, regardless of their location.

Because of GDTs’ complex structure, they are a bit harder to develop and maintain, which can be subsumed as disadvantages. This fact, however, arises the main disadvantage, which is that traditional team processes are harder to conduct in GDTs. Team processes can be divided in two groups: task-related and social-related, and there are disadvantages in both.

For example, when it comes to task-related processes GDTs’:

  • Have less informal chats at the expense of task oriented communication
  • Have harder time dealing with conflict and achieving consensus    

And that’s why

  • It takes them longer to finish a task and achieve their goals

When it comes to social-related processes, the dispersion itself contributes to social boundaries, making unable for team members to bond, which results in creating “false” perception about the task and colleagues and making it harder to work together.

This means that not only GDTs are harder to develop and maintain, but they also, require explicit coordination. So how to achieve all of it?!

Forming GDT
There are several conditions that must be fulfilled in order to form GDT:

  • Know your organisation

What this means? You need to know whether your organization can support GDT and maintain it effectively. The answer to this question is crucial to the way you form your GDTs’ structure.

  • Carefully select  leaders and members

Team members are essential for a proper functioning of the team. Look for people that are open and honest with good communication skills. Moreover, they must be self-motivated and results driven.

There are the kind of people you need so that your GDT succeeds.

  • Wise use of technology

Go for a user friendly technology. There are so many tools that facilitate the “physical location gap”. Videoconferencing, intranets, emails, virtual team rooms, or advanced sharing and collaborating tools such as mind mapping software etc. can make the team members feel as if they are in the same room and bond with one another.

Developing and maintaining
As a manager, you need to cautiously choose several segments from your GDTs’ structure

  • Your teams’ vision, mission and objectives (always go for SMART)
  • Which problem-solving and decision-making processes your team will be using
  • Your group identity and norms

These segments are crucial for the effective work of your team. Likewise, there are a few more “informal” elements that you need to pay attention to.

Team dynamics
Not only that you need to choose the members of your team carefully, but also it’s necessary that you allocate roles and responsibilities in the team accordingly. You need to know your members’ qualifications, strengths and flaws. More important, you need to invest in training and development, in order to improve your members’ qualities and evoke their maximum.

  • Formal and informal communications

This is the most important segment, regarding the development and maintenance of your GDT. As the manager, you must encourage team building and bonding. How can you manage to do it?

Make sure that everyone is in “round the clock” contact (the previously mentioned tools are a big problem solver for it) and promote occasionally face-to-face meetings. Consider and respect the language, social and cultural barriers. Most important, strive for fair feedback and equal rewards. You need to respect the team if you want respect in return. The team that works in harmony achieves every goal, remember that.

All of the previously mentioned elements, properly used, form the todays ‘strategy:

Together Everyone Achieves More!


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