A Potluck of Personality: Culture of the Distributed Team at a College

Faculty Mentor(s)

Dr. Isolde Anderson, Hope College

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This ethnographic study explores the style of communication in an office that receives its information in a central location but does its work outside of that location. Because the work of Hope College’s Physical Plant is done through distributed teams, alternate communication patterns are used to compensate for face-to-face interactions between departments. Shared identity, a sense of participating in the “in group” of an organization; shared context, an equal share of access to similar resources and work structures; and spontaneous communication, or informal, unplanned interactions experiences among team members, are used to form the culture of the Physical Plant and help to manage conflict that arises. These patterns were identified through participant observation, formal and informal interviews, and document analysis. The culture can be captured by the root metaphor of a pot luck dinner: Everyone brings something different to the table and while there may be confusion and repetition among dishes, the focus of the event is on providing a good meal and building relationships. The data from this study could be used to develop other research on culture in distributed teams that are not separated through large geographical distances.

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