Key Success Factor 9: Team Collocation *
Collocation is a measure of whether the members of an IPT are physically located together or spread out among several locations. Many situations make it difficult for teams to be collocated. The nature of the program, the task, and the number and location of contractors and program offices all must be taken into consideration.
Full collocation, where the program IPT and the prime contractor are collocated, is considered to be the most effective for the team. This is especially so when the prime contractor representatives are part of the IPT. Current examples are the Navy's LPD 17 Program Office and the Marine Corps' AAAV program. Some IPTs may have membership scattered throughout the country, or in different offices within a given geographic area, such as the Pentagon, Crystal City and the Naval Surface Warfare Center Carderock Division, all located within metropolitan Washington, DC. The degree of collocation may change with the phase of the program. The number of people collocated may vary as well as the time they spend together.
Full collocation is considered the most desirable because physical distance among team members plays a significant role in determining their level and frequency of communication and their ability to achieve a high level of collaboration. Even small separations in space have a large influence on the frequency of interaction among team members outside of team meetings. The figure below provides a notional curve showing the probability of interaction among individuals as a function of the spatial distance between them.
Face-to-face meetings with all disciplines represented in the same location, where they can be brought together quickly to resolve problems, and get to the heart of the matter, will pay big dividends in terms of speed of decisions and team spirit. An example is the Marine Corps AAAV Program.
Being co-located is another technique to greatly accelerate and raise the reliability of communication. This in turn improves problem solving and decision making, which are both core activities in product development. Because physical proximity of team members is a great asset to a team, it is worth the extra effort required to obtain it.
As physical separation among team members increases, communication is still essential, although now it is at the expense of travel time and money to have face-to-face meetings. The increased use of VTC, E-mail, and conference calls will help resolve these virtual team communication problems. While these technologies can help transfer information, their communication effectiveness is a function of the nature of the information being sent and the interpersonal relationships of the team members. Where complex issues are concerned, they do not provide as effective a collaborative environment as face-to-face meetings.
Those IPTs that are separated physically require special attention from the team leader and all team participants. There is more need to develop a close sharing of information and individual experiences with stakeholders. A shared vision/approach takes on an even bigger role in helping the team leader achieve a good alignment of team member actions. The team leader has much less influence over team members and trust becomes a strong factor in effective team performance.
It is easy for team members to feel isolated and to lose their sense of unity unless there are frequent opportunities to be kept up-to-date. Team member empowerment takes on increasing importance when IPT members are separated and must act on their own. Another issue is keeping all team members advised of the real time situational context of the program and the sensitive issues that may come up.
As technology advances continue to increase communication bandwidths and the use of desktop video communication becomes more widespread, virtual teams will find it easier to work together. However, developing the desired trust and open communication will take longer if virtual communications is the predominant way of working together. Technology can serve teams well in the areas of common databases, simulations and knowledge support systems making information available to all team members independent of their spatial location or the time of access.
As the number of virtual teams and virtual organizations increases throughout industry and the government, their effectiveness will undoubtedly improve with time, particularly as technology provides more and more support. Virtual teams can provide leadership, feedback, and improved optimization of the various activities located throughout the country. In addition, they can quickly bring special expertise through their network as needed. These are some advantages over a fully collocated team. As Kostner (1994) points out, leading a collocated team and leading virtual teams are two different challenges.
* Navy IPT Learning Campus, Version 1.1.