Distributed Organizations

Many projects require more than a single team to perform the technical work.  And even single-team projects are embedded in a larger organization that provides a variety of vital functions such as marketing, human resources, product management, and more.  For these reasons, relationships beyond the team are important for a successful project.

Organizations that are distributed around the world or even around a single country provide significant challenged for collaboration, coordination, and communication.  It is often very difficult to work together when cultural differences lead to significant misperceptions and misunderstandings.  Informal, communication-based coordination mechanisms that are so important and effective for co-located groups are seriously degraded or break down altogether at distances.  Without the opportunity to observe each other in action, vital knowledge about who knows what, who has which skill, and who is responsible for what is unavailable, leading to fumbling and inefficiency.  How can a manager identify the particular issues a project is facing and determine the best way to address them?  In this section, we will seek an understanding of some of the key coordination mechanisms in distributed organizations and how to adapt them.

Slides

Readings

Hofstede, G. The business of international business is culture. International Business Review, 3, 1 (1994), 1-14.  (Look here for a critique of Hofstede’s work, and here for his reply.)

Moreland, R. L., Swanenburg, K. L., Flagg, J. J. and Fetterman, J. D. Transactive memory and technology in work groups and organizations. In B. Ertl (Eds.), E-Collaborative Knowledge Construction: Learning from Computer-Supported and Virtual Environments, pp. 244-274, Hershey: IGI Global, 2010.

Additional Resources

Akgun, A. E., Byrne, J. C., Keskin, H. and Lynn, G. S. Transactive memory system in new product development teams. IEEE Transactions on Engineering Management, 53, 1 (2006), 95-111.

Armstrong, D. J. and Cole, P. Managing distances and differences in geographically distributed work groups. In P. J. HInds and S. Kiesler (Eds.), Distributed Work, pp. 167-186, Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2002.

Cataldo, M. and Herbsleb, J. D. (2008). Communication Networks in Geographically Distributed Software Development. In Proceedings, Computer-Supported Cooperative Work, San Diego, CA, pp. 226-235.

Desanctis, G. and Monge, P. Communication processes for virtual organizations. Journal of Computer Mediated Communication, 3, 4 (1998).

Grabowski, M. and Roberts, K. H. Risk mitigation in virtual organizations. Organization Science, 10, 6 (1999), 704-721.

Grinter, R. E., Herbsleb, J. D. and Perry, D. E. (1999). The Geography of Coordination: Dealing with Distance in R&D Work. In Proceedings, GROUP ’99, Phoenix, AZ, November 14-17, pp. 306-315.

Herbsleb, J. D. and Grinter, R. E. (1998). Conceptual Simplicity Meets Organizational Complexity: Case Study of a Corporate Metrics Program. In Proceedings, 20th International Conference on Software Engineering (ICSE ’98), Kyoto, Japan, April 19-25, pp. 271-280.

Hofstede, G. National cultures in four dimensions: A research-based theory of cultural differences among nations. International Studies of Management & Organization, 13, 1/2 (1983), 46-74.

Krishna, S., Sahay, S. and Walsham, G. Managing cross-cultural issues in global software outsourcing. Communications of the ACM, 47, 4 (2004), 62-66.

Lee, G., DeLone, W. and Espinosa, J. A. Ambidextrous coping strategies in globally distributed software development projects. Communications of the ACM, 49, 10 (2006), 35-40.

Moreland, R. L., Argote, L. and Krishnan, R. Socially shared cognition at work: Transactive memory and group performance. In J. L. Nye and A. M. Brower (Eds.), What’s social about social cognition? Research on socially shared cognition in small groups, pp. 57-84, Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1996.

Setlock, L. D., Fussell, S. R. and Neuwirth, C. (2004). Taking it out of context: collaborating within and across cultures in face-to-face settings and via instant messaging. In Proceedings, ACM conference on Computer supported cooperative work, Chicago, IL, pp. 604-613.

Wegner, D. M. Transactive memory: A contemporary analysis of the group mind. In B. Mullen and G. R. Goethal (Eds.), Theories of group behavior, pp. 185-208, New York: Springer-Verlag, 1987.

Wegner, D. M. A computer network model of human transactive memory. Social Cognition, 13, 3 (1995), 319-339.