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Geographically Dispersed Teams


As geographically dispersed teams become more of the norm in today's leadership arena it is critical to understand the issues that may arise in this setting and how to overcome those issues. As an example to follow and apply leadership theories and practical tips, we will focus on a team of 5 individuals enrolled in an online program, who are required to complete a complex assignment. As this setting is very familiar to many people, it has either been a positive experience or an overwhelming horrible experience. Since each team member should have the same vested interested in the assignment and overall grade, the hope would be that each person participate equally, however often times this not the case and a key reason team leadership is needed in this scenario. 

The geographically dispersed group is assigned the task of creating a presentation that is to convey the meaning of several theories. Four of the five group members live in the United States and one lives in Europe. The team has approximately 3 weeks to complete the assignment. All have different backgrounds, to include different ages and different phases of life. Within the three weeks, some members must find it within themselves to manage work, school, and personal life. While life changing events occur in all their lives, they must complete the task at hand. They have no assigned leader and they are all new to each other. How does this group thrive?



Relevant Issues     

  • There may be a member or two of the team who do not have the desire or drive to earn the same grade as the rest of the team. In a broader sense, not everyone that is randomly paired together and expected to work as a team have the same end goals. This will have to be addressed in order for team satisfaction and productivity. 
  • Members of the team most likely have different daily schedules, some with families and kids, some that work full time, some that do both, some that have no other responsibilities, and some that may live on the other side of the world. These are all issues that will need to be addressed up front in order for the team to collaborate on a cohesive project. Furthermore, it might be a challenge to figure out the best means of communication.  
  • There are issues that could arise with the various work ethics. As stated before not all members have the same end goal; also not all members complete the stages of a project in the same manner. A team can have those who work fast and those who are a bit slower at turning things in.
  • In a group setting, a phenomena known as social loafing may occur, as no one individual is responsible for the outcome, and a person may end up doing less work, relying on other team members (PSU, 2015).
  • Teams may also neglect to formulate before hand, agreements on how conflicts will be managed. Common misconception is that teams do not require leadership. While this is true in many cases, it is often best to agree on the nature of communication and how this will take place. For example, consider during a video conference, two members disagree on a topic. Basic rules will include no over talking, no public criticism, do not use authoritative tones and if no specific leader was chosen beforehand, then select at least one person who mediates in the event that the members are unable to control themselves.

Leadership Theories/Concepts

  • Shared leadership is essential for this type of geographically dispersed team. The research on shared leadership, especially in today's virtual world shows that "shared leadership is even more important for virtual teams. Virtual teams are more effective when there is shared team leadership" (Northouse, 2016, p. 365). In order to accomplish the task with participation by all members the team members will need to take turns leading different aspects of the team project. As Northouse points out, "the complexities of team processes demand the attention and focus of  all members of the team" (2016, p. 365). One way of ensuring there is shared leadership across the team is to divvy the project into smaller sections and disperse the responsibility across all team members. This way, each member has a piece of ownership and the ability to lead in whatever capacity they deem necessary.   
  • Since geographically dispersed teams are not just present in the United States, but globally it is important to address the role culture plays in leadership situations. As mentioned under potential problems, it is important for even a team in this academic setting to be aware of cross-cultural competencies that global leaders are needing to develop. The most applicable competencies to this type of scenario is "they need to be able to work simultaneously with people from many cultures" (Northouse, 2016, p. 428). Specifically with an institution like Penn State World Campus that has several hundred international students and global neighbors (PSU).   


Potential Problems   

  • There may be a team member who is unreachable and unresponsive. The other team members will need to agree on a plan of how to address and remedy that kind of situation. There is often times a significant difference in how team members communicate, therefore there needs to be an understanding that simply talking teamwork will not solve the issue.
  • There may be issues that arise due to the fact that team members have different beliefs. While culture and diversity in teams and leadership is an essential component, it must be remembered that there is potential for conflict as well. Various cultures perceive communication styles differently. This conflict may be easily resolved or it may manifest into something more serious like ethnocentrism or prejudices. 
  • There could also be a lack of compromise, i.e. one member may desire tasks to be completed when they say or how they say, this essentially leads to great conflict.


  • Various planning can prevent some of the issues that are presented with this type of situation. Planning and communication are key. One must ensure that all issues and expectations are clear and concise in this form of a team. Group planning also holds accountability to each member as does delegation. 
  • Taking the time to get to know each other, as most geographically dispersed teams will not meet face to face, will build trust and accountability as work on the project takes place (PSU, 2015). 
  • Take advantage of various technologies to enable virtual meetings and conferences when face-to-face meetings are not plausible (PSU, 2015).  It is also often times best to agree upon the mode of communication. That is to say, decide whether or not the team will conference via video, phone, email etc. It is often best to have several avenues of communication that are able to sync to one place. Though this may seem like a tedious task, it often times is not, due to the fact that today's informatics are designed to allow effective contact between members of geographically dispersed teams.
  • Ensure that all members are aware of the benefit of having a team. Ensure the teammates understand that with teams, more knowledge and skill is added to the project and that the flow of information will be more effective.
  • Before beginning the project, ensure that the team is well aware of the purpose in the formation of the team.
  • Evaluation and reflection upon completion of the project is critical to identify areas for improvement and to ultimately enhance future outcomes. 







Northouse, P.G. (2016). Leadership: Practice and Theory (7th ed.). Los Angeles, CA: Sage. 


Pennsylvania State University. (2014). Enrollment by Race/Ethnicity. Retrieved from:


Pennsylvania State University, (2015).  Lesson 9:  Team Leadership. [Lecture] Retrieved from:

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1 Comment

  1. Good points throughout.  I am sure each of our teams could benefit from your assignment.  I especially appreciated the video on cultural differences and how team effort can be impacted by social conflict.   I hope everyone reviews this post.