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In-Group (Us) versus Out-Group (Them) Dynamics and Effectiveness in Partially Distributed Teams

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3 Author(s)
Privman, R. ; AT&T Labs. Res., Florham Park, NJ, USA ; Hiltz, S.R. ; Yiran Wang

Research problem: In partially distributed teams, where some members are co-located while others are geographically distant, co-located members tend to treat one another as a preferential `”Us” versus treating distant members as the outsiders, `”Them.” Research questions: (1) To what extent is Us-vs.-Them reported as a problem across a wide number of organizational partially distributed teams, and is it significantly related to team effectiveness? (2) What do members see as the greatest challenges to partially distributed teams? and (3) Can partially distributed teams overcome in-group dynamics? If so, how? Literature review: In our literature review, we begin by discussing in-group dynamics to set the theoretical framework for our research. We call these dynamics us versus them (Us-vs.-Them) and show, through empirical studies and organizational studies, what makes partially distributed teams especially susceptible to such dynamics. The major susceptibility factors we find are: limited synchronous availability, conflicting goals and responsibilities, and uneven communication channels. We then review literature that exemplifies conflict in such teams (even if it is not the focus of the study). We attempt to relate the resulting conflict or problem reported to the susceptibility factors identified. Methodology: We use qualitative and quantitative analysis from a survey of 238 professionals, recruited through snowball sampling, reporting on their experiences in partially distributed teams. Snowball sampling limits generalizability of the findings. Results and conclusions: We find that Us-vs.-Them can be traced back to the susceptibility factors that exist in partially distributed teams, particularly an imbalance in communication channels between versus within subgroups. A strong negative correlation between Us-vs.-Them and effectiveness indicates the importance of future research on Us-vs.-Them reduction. A key finding is that some sur- ey respondents report effective outcomes despite Us-vs.-Them; these responders also report different concerns than those who view their teams as ineffective.

Published in:

Professional Communication, IEEE Transactions on  (Volume:56 ,  Issue: 1 )