Changing the Communication Culture of Distributed Teams ina World Where Communication is Neither Perfect nor Complete


  • Peter Weimann
  • Christian Hinz
  • Else Scott
  • Michael Pollock


communications culture, virtual teams, communication technology, communication pattern, change management


Distributed teams have been set up to work together across space, time and even organisational boundaries over the last few years, to increase the availability of scarce skills, reduce travel costs, and increase worker job satisfaction through fewer relocations. This has been due to globalisation, shorter development cycles and scarce human expert resources placing additional pressure onto project teams. Technological developments, such as various communication technologies, have helped to support this move to distributed teams. These communication technologies, including phone and video conferencing, mobile technologies and the Internet, help team members handle project tasks in a distributed or virtual team project environment. This case study based paper provides an analysis of the communication culture and tools of the distributed teams of a large German manufacturer. The communication behaviours and tools used by these real distributed teams working together in different settings on international projects are analysed. The advantages and disadvantages of the distributed work setting and the different technologies used by the teams were gathered via a questionnaire and interviews with the leader and members of the different teams. The findings show that regular face‑to‑face meetings, email and phone still play a pivotal role in team communications, even though a variety of communication tools is available. The results also indicate that, like non‑distributed teams, a need for common ground and shared meaning, or social context, are essential elements for the communications within a distributed team. Face‑to‑face meetings are still important to create a common ground and shared meaning in distributed teams. The complexity of the tasks needed to be performed by the distributed team is also affected by this social context. Team members often complain about misuse of the different tools, as well as a lack of communication rules regarding the different communication tools. The case study shows that team member satisfaction and team success can only be accomplished if the communication culture in the company takes into account the technologies used and the distributed work setting.



1 Oct 2010