Communication in Geographically Dispersed Innovation Teams
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The objective of this master thesis is to determine the most important factors for effective communication in geographically dispersed innovation teams. The relevance is pointed out by Leenders et al. (2003), who state that the internationalization of markets, specialization of skills and knowledge, and the requirement to involve an increasingly large pool of knowledge simultaneously in the NPD process, have all pushed firms to rely more and more on dispersed teams. The study is performed by examining what the literature emphasizes as the most important factors, then investigate the influence of these factors in two projects in a Norwegian software firm. Hence, the thesis is structured as a case study. The software industry is found suitable as it is knowledge intense, in addition the firm extensively work in geographically dispersed teams with the use of state-of-the-art ICTs. Specialized skills required in new product innovation teams, often reside in different countries, forcing collaboration to be mediated by electronic communication. The literature points out several in this regard. For one, team members hold different mental models, which makes collaboration difficult. Moreover, specialist possess much tacit knowledge, which some theory state can only be obtained through interaction. Hence, the lack of face-to-face communication can be detrimental for communication. There are also obvious barriers in cultural differences and language. The importance of psychological safety is stated by some to be the most important factor to ensure success in innovation teams, and interestingly pointed out by theory to be influenced by geographical dispersion, which also give rise to coordination issues like involvement, roles, formalization and procedures. Leenders et al. (2003) point out that research in virtual settings is difficult, due to the speed of change of technology involved. This thesis addresses a gap in the literature concerning communication in geographically dispersed innovation teams, where less attention has been devoted to mental models. The study contributes to theory by increasing knowledge about how mental models influence communication. The most important implication for managers is the emphasis of difficulties concerning knowledge transfer. The use of ICTs is not found to be optimal in the beginning of projects, since many implicit assumptions lead to misunderstandings. Also, the cultural differences, more specifically the difference in hierarchical structure, resulted in members failing to report progress and problems. It also caused members not to challenge and ask questions. Finally, ownership is found to have a big impact on motivation, and is affected by involvement and autonomy. Solutions and recommendations to the aforementioned challenges are listed in implications.