An Examination of Team Effectiveness in Distributed and Co-located Engineering Teams

Maria C. Yang
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 77 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge MA 02139-4307

Yan Jin
Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering, University of Southern California
3650 McClintock Ave., OHE 430, Los Angeles, CA 90089-1453

Student project teams are an important and integral part of many engineering classrooms. This paper examines the social- and task-related dimensions of such co-located and distributed teams.Studies of distributed teams in the workplace observe that members often face social issues of building trust and cohesion that co-located teams do not. It is posited that distributed teams in the classroom must struggle with similar issues, and therefore skew into operating in a task focused fashion. In contrast, it is suggested that co-located engineering teams in the classroom regard teamwork from a socially-oriented viewpoint. A questionnaire was administered to co- located and distributed engineering student teams to assess members’ self-rated team effectiveness and their team challenges. The results suggest that co-located teams, in some ways, may indeed be more socially oriented in comparison with distributed teams, and that this social orientation may be detrimental to team effectiveness. Likewise, distributed teams appear to be relatively more task focused.


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