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Distributed teaming on JPL projects

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1 Author(s)
Baroff, L.E. ; Jet Propulsion Lab., California Inst. of Technol., Pasadena, CA, USA

NASA projects are created by teams of people. More frequently than ever before, these project teams include members who are "distributed" rather than colocated -- scattered in place, time, discipline or attention rather than collected and focused in every way. Distributed teams share many characteristics with colocated teams, but their geographic distribution precludes frequent face-to-face meetings among team members. This physical distribution makes shared vision and trust much harder to achieve within the team, and creates a vacuum where social aspects of team behavior would normally be. This paper addresses structures, actions and technologies that contribute to real team development of a distributed team, and the leadership skills and tools that are used to implement that team development. Some of the information is extrapolated from literature describing team development - I say extrapolated, because nearly all of that literature is focused on co-located teams, and almost none on "virtual" or "distributed" teams. Much more of the information in this paper is gathered from real-life experiences of JPL (and other) project managers who have led distributed teams themselves. They were eager to describe the difficulties they encountered, the various means they used to solve those difficulties, and both the successes and failures of their efforts. They left it to me to compare their experiences with the theories of human dynamics, and to generalize on their experiences. These generalizations are increasingly necessary, as the use of distributed teams increases in every industry.

Published in:

Aerospace Conference Proceedings, 2002. IEEE  (Volume:7 )

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