Paradox and the negotiation of tensions in globally distributed work
Tensions are a major source of communication problems, coordination issues and conflict in globally distributed work (GDW). In this paper we argue that extant literature falls short of addressing tensions in GDW at two levels. First, it fails to fully account for the intrinsic and entrenched nature of tensions in GDW, suggesting instead that they can be resolved or made to disappear. Second, it does not examine the key interactions amongst different kinds of tensions. Drawing on qualitative data from a distributed finance organization and applying concepts from paradox theory, we show how globally distributed units negotiate knowledge, power and identity tensions in collaborative work. The findings illuminate how a sequential enactment of both formal and informal solutions can better address tensions and generate collaborative opportunities in GDW. Building on the findings, we develop a phasal model of tension evolution and management in GDW which explains how tensions evolve from a phase of suppression through to a phase of attenuation. We demonstrate the interactions of knowledge-power-identity tensions against a background of defensive, interactive and collaborative behaviors, and suggest several practical implications for GDW practice.
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- Business and Economics