A framework for managing successful distributed collaborative teams

Ms Sarah Nisbet1, Mr Hamish Holewa2

1eRSA, Thebarton, Australia,

2Atlas of Living Australia, Canberra, Australia



In this presentation we will share our experiences and learnings from creating high performing cross-institutional collaborative teams. The authors of this paper have both had significant experience in creating and leading highly successful collaborative teams made up of members from multiple institutions, such is the nature of programs of work they’ve been involved with. In this talk we will discuss methods and strategies for building a culture of success, and advice for achieving best possible project outcomes.



There is increasing evidence of the benefits of distributed and collaborative teams[1],[2]. Benefits include access to diverse talent, skills sharing, decreased staffing costs, improved productivity and better employee satisfaction. The ability to utilise distributed teams has become easier due to modern technologies that enable and equip these teams[3].

Increasingly, within the higher education sector diverse teams are required to deliver services over disparate campuses and across institutions. These teams are often multidisciplinary and have specialised skill sets (such as marketing, development and change management). Furthermore, these teams may not reside under a traditional single line management structure or within the same institution.

These challenges require a collaborative culture to achieve success outside of the traditional project management structure. These include establishing shared ownership of success and failures, providing clear direction, goal setting and allowing sharing of knowledge and outputs in a distributed environment. Whilst the development of collaborative environments has been made easier with the use of technology it still requires leadership in setting the culture.

This presentation will present a framework that details the functions required in developing a collaborative culture. In particular, it will look at approaches such as investment in physical meetings, open and transparent planning and decision making, collaboration technologies and recognising effort and their role in achieving success. The framework will be set in a practical context with examples provided from the presenters’ experience of developing and successfully implementing multiple national cross institutional projects in the fields of users support and ecoscience application development.



[1] L. Plotnick, S. R. Hiltz and R. Privman, “Ingroup Dynamics and Perceived Effectiveness of Partially Distributed Teams,” in IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, vol. 59, no. 3, pp. 203-229, Sept. 2016.

doi: 10.1109/TPC.2016.2583258

URL: http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/stamp/stamp.jsp?tp=&arnumber=7551248&isnumber=7552615

[2] Håkonsson, D. D., Obel, B., Eskildsen, J. K., & Burton, R. M. (2016). On Cooperative Behavior in Distributed Teams: The Influence of Organizational Design, Media Richness, Social Interaction, and Interaction Adaptation. Frontiers in Psychology, 7, 692. http://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00692

[3] Bell, B.S., Kozlowski, S.W.J. A typology of virtual teams: Implications for effective leadership
(2002) Group and Organization Management, 27 (1), pp. 14-49.

DOI: 10.1177/1059601102027001003



1Sarah Nisbet, Chief Operations Officer, eRSA

Sarah Nisbet is eRSA’s Chief Operations Officer. Sarah began her career delivering communications solutions in the health care sector where she mastered the art of working across institutions, departments and organisational silos.

Sarah has a Bachelor of Media from the University of Adelaide and an Industry Certificate (Festival & Event Design & Management), she is also a member of the Australian Science Communicators and the Public Relations Institute of Australia.

She specialises in delivering creative and innovative marketing and communication solutions and has managed local and national projects for eRSA, NeCTAR, NeAT, AeRO and the State Government of South Australia.

Sarah is currently the Project Manager of the Australian National Cultures and Community Project, which is looking to enable better data sharing and discoverability between researchers and archives. Alongside stakeholders, such as National Library of Australia, National Australian Archives, Tasmanian Archives and Heritage Office (TAHO) and Queensland State Archives, we’re developing an Open API to test the concept that if a research adds value (transcription, metadata, annotation) to a dataset from a cultural institution, how can that be shared back to the source institution (API, catalogue record, linked records, machine to machine capabilities)? This pilot project aims to operationalise a national, sustainable and scalable API standard that will allow data (and metadata) sharing and transfer between the Prosecution Project, TAHO and QSA.

2Hamish Holewa, Program Manager, Biodiversity and Climate Change Virtual Laboratory

Hamish Holewa is the COO for the ALA, and Program Manager for the Biodiversity and Climate Change Virtual Laboratory and EcoCloud national eResearch programs. Mr Holewa specialises in large scale, multi-institutional eResearch infrastructure programs and has successfully led many national collaborative projects in areas such as health, open data, ecology and climate change and cloud compute and user support. Mr Holewa has extensive research management and policy development experience and has been involved in 16 international research projects and is author on 36 research publications.

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