The effect of time zone disparity on the performance of dispersed innovation teams

Jasper, S 2019, The effect of time zone disparity on the performance of dispersed innovation teams, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Graduate School of Business and Law, RMIT University.


Document type: Thesis
Collection: Theses

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Title The effect of time zone disparity on the performance of dispersed innovation teams
Author(s) Jasper, S
Year 2019
Abstract This study aims to assess the impact of time zone disparity on the performance of global innovation teams. The overarching research question addressed in this thesis is `What is the effect of time zone disparity on the performance of dispersed teams in a global innovation context where physical gaps, cultural gaps and language gaps are prominent?' The Australian biotechnology sector is used as a setting, as this sector typically relies on overseas collaborations that are time zone discordant. Using theories from international business, innovation management, and chronobiology, a theoretical framework is developed that links physical gaps, cultural gaps, language gaps and time zone disparities with innovation success. More importantly, the conditions under the control of management that mitigate the negative effects or amplify the positive effects of working across multiple time zones are identified and included in the theorisation. 

Several research aims were identified: firstly, a literature review which brought together a variety of research streams from different disciplines and combine them into a cohesive whole, with the study being informed by prior research in the fields of innovation management, virtual team management, organisational psychology, chronobiology (the underlying biological mechanism of the circadian rhythm), and performance. The second research aim was to construct a conceptual framework with the effect of time zone disparity on team performance, based on the four gaps identified in the research question (temporal,
physical, cultural and language), and the actions team members take to mitigate the potentially negative effects of these gaps. The third research aim was to conduct a series of interviews to obtain qualitative data. This data would be used to obtain themes that could then be further examined in the quantitative online survey. The fourth research aim was to conduct an online survey to obtain quantitative data, measuring the effect of the various issues that had been raised in the interviews, as well as the impact of the mitigating behaviours reported by the interview subjects. Finally, the fifth research aim was to synthesise the qualitative and quantitative data to bring together the findings of the research and formulate a cohesive and coherent narrative into the effects of time zone disparity on the performance of globally dispersed innovation teams. Because of the research aims, this study took a mixed method approach, in which a series of interviews were followed by an online survey with a larger number of participants. Data collection began with a series of 28 exploratory interviews completed to validate and enrich the framework, followed by an online survey among 153 informants in this sector. It is anticipated that by testing the framework and analysing the data we can bring greater understanding of the effects of time zone disparity within teams, while controlling for other factors that can also affect innovation performance. 

Firstly, the results of the study highlight a strong sense of isolation and exhaustion in the cohort, as many subjects studied struggled with the physical challenges of working across multiple time zones. Secondly, there were several temporal organisational approaches to staff working in teams that spanned multiple time zones, and there was generally a distinct lack of organisational input in terms of employees' welfare, and the data presents a solid opportunity for positive organisational input in terms of team performance.

In terms of contribution to theory, it is expected that the results of this study will contribute to understanding the effects of time zone disparity on dispersed team performance and suggest a conceptual model for time zone disparity and performance. This conceptual model has several components that, with impact-mitigating behaviours, ultimately influence performance. The contribution to theory also focuses on global innovation teams including business travellers. Most travel and jet lag research has been conducted in either healthy volunteers or athletes, who have different needs to business travellers in terms of cognitive
function versus physical performance (Czeisler & Fryer 2006), and this is particularly important in the Australian context, where often business travellers are isolated from other global innovation team members by the `tyranny of distance' (Blainey 1966; Gilding 2008).

In terms of contributions to practice, this study could provide possible directions for the management of teams that work across multiple time zones, including the development of guidelines for managing teams that are dispersed across multiple time zones to enhance the team's performance.

The limitations of this study were that firstly, the study subjects were all taken from one nation, Australia. Australian subjects typically partner with more distant nations and travel longer distances than their American or European counterparts, so the impact of time zone differences and jet lag may also be greater. Secondly, the study participants were all from a single industry, the biotechnology sector. Lastly, there was a degree of gender imbalance in the interview phase of the data, with only one third of the interview subjects being female. Future research on the effect of time zone differences and jet lag on globally dispersed
innovation teams could readily examine other industries that also have teams that span multiple time zones globally, such as information technology and banking. Similarly, while the Australian context was particularly fruitful in terms of locating team members working in globally dispersed teams, surveying team members based in other nations may provide an international context for this research. Finally, the effect of flying business class versus economy class can be developed further, as there are very few studies examining the suggested benefit of flying in business class from a performance perspective.
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Institution RMIT University
School, Department or Centre Graduate School of Business and Law
Subjects International Business
Keyword(s) Time zones
Innovation performance
Dispersed teams
Cultural distance
Physical distance
Biotechnology
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Created: Tue, 26 Nov 2019, 12:20:48 EST by Adam Rivett
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