Owning the code: status rivalry in work groups

Splitting a project between two or more groups has many benefits, but it also adds complexity for those participating in and managing the project. In order to maximize the benefits of distributed work, we need to know more about the factors behind success or failure.

by Anca Metiu
Last Updated: 23 Jul 2013

This paper finds that commonly studied elements of intergroup cooperation, such as communication processes and incentives, are insufficient and that status plays a key role in distributed work collaborations

In this paper Anca Metiu, assistant professor of organisational behaviour at INSEAD, argues that our knowledge about how distributed groups work together is missing an important component - an understanding of the importance of status. Metiu points out that most research into work groups and distributed working focuses on the contributions made by communication processes, incentives and ways of minimizing conflict.

However, Metui highlights work in the sociology and social psychology fields on closure - the means by which higher status groups maintain their status at the expense of lower status groups - and suggests that this phenomenon may prove valuable in exploring the interactions between distributed work groups.

Metiu conducted an ethnographic study of a software development project that was being carried out by work groups in California in the US and Bangalore in India. Status and geographical distance were found to be the main boundaries that shaped the groups' interactions, perceptions and actions.

The California group perceived themselves as having a higher status than the Bangalore group, and Metiu found this led to the American group employing informal closure strategies to reinforce their status at the expense of the other group.

This exploratory, qualitative study opens a new door to researchers seeking to understand better the difficulties in doing work across dispersed groups, and points the way towards improving the chances of success for current and future collaborations.
Status closure in distributed groups
Anca Metiu
Organization Science, July/August 2006

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