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Managing Virtual Teams: Media Selection, Trust & Leadership

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Managing Virtual Teams: Media Selection, Trust & Leadership

Gayathri Venugopal

Embry Riddle Aeronautical University (Orlando)


This paper aims to discuss the relatively new phenomenon of virtual team collaboration. These types of teams are made possible by advances in computer-mediated communication and software that allows people to work collaboratively on projects without being co-located or even working at the same time. Teams of this sort, however, present several unique challenges. These are discussed and particular attention is given to the role of trust, media selection and leadership roles. The paper then goes on to provide suggestions for effective leadership and management of virtual teams that would enable their efficient and effective performance.

Keywords: Virtual Teams, computer-mediated communication (CMC), trust, leadership

Managing Virtual Teams: Media Selection, Trust & Leadership

Teams are the typical building blocks of an organization: they provide companies with the means to combine the various skills, talents and perspectives of a group of individuals to achieve corporate goals (Siebdrat, Hoegl, & Ernst, 2009). Organizations face the challenges of an ever dynamic, constantly changing and complex business environment. With increased global competition, short product life cycles and the need for faster customer response times, many organizations have responded to their dynamic environments by introducing virtual teams that collaborate via communication technologies across geographical, temporal, cultural and organizational boundaries to achieve the organization's desired goals and outputs (Ebrahim, Ahmed, & Taha, 2009).

Powell, Piccoli, & Ives, 2004 define virtual teams as groups of geographically, organizationally and/or time dispersed workers brought together by information technologies to accomplish one or more organization tasks.

There are numerous factors that make distributed work and virtual teams an attractive and advantageous alternative to traditional collocated teams. Businesses that embrace virtual team working enjoy the benefits of global access to scarce, rare and new expertise. Collaboration and co-operation with outside agencies no longer involves moving tasks out of the workplace; outside agencies are invited into the virtual workspace. The entire workforce is both accessible and available and, theoretically at least, work can continue round the clock. Travel is one of the biggest overheads international businesses have to support and add to this, time lost to the business, below par performance due to jet lag. Hence, increased productivity and cost savings are attained through the implementation of virtual teams. The virtual workspace is also a huge step forward toward an environment friendly business practice. (Morris, 2008)

In the next section, we go on to discuss the challenges especially faced by virtual teams followed by brief overviews of media selection theories, the role of trust, and leadership in the virtual team environment.


Challenges in Managing Virtual teams

While the virtual teams can offer increased flexibility, responsiveness, and diversity of perspectives that differs from "normal and typical work groups," the differences between these teams and more traditional ones is sometimes a problem. In many organizations with strong cultures, a shift to this form of work and management can be quite alien and many managers even resist the change fearing loss of their power and impact in the organization.

Virtual teams are usually geographically distributed with the electronic communication between members sometimes being the only tangible evidence that the group exists. Most of these teams tend to be informally structures and self-managed. The roles and status of team members are determined by the value they bring to the group.

Establishing and sustaining a clear sense of group identity and good group dynamics with a stable normative structure is essential for groups to be effective and is a much more complex problem with virtual teams. Since there are fewer social cues and more restricted communication in virtual teams, establishing consistent roles and expectations is not always an easy thing to do either. (Nydegger & Nydegger, 2010)

Communication presents itself as a fundamental challenge in virtual teams. While no form of computer mediated communication (CMC) may be as rich as face to face interactions, by matching the appropriate communication technology to task demand, virtual teams can operate effectively (Hunsaker & Hunsaker, 2008). In geographically distributed teams, cultural and organizational differences increase the risk of communication breakdowns. This is mostly due to misunderstandings that arise due to lack of a common ground and feedback delays. The process of building consensus is also closely related to knowledge sharing.

Another vitally important aspect of team effectiveness is trust. Trust tends to diminish when there are fewer visual and vocal cues as in CMC groups. The establishment of trust is essential for enhanced group performance and depends in large part on the exchange of information, hence helping virtual teams find ways to enrich their communication is very important.

Related to the issue of trust is cohesiveness, which is the extent to which members feel connected to and a part of the group and if virtual teams are to be effective they must feel a sense of cohesion and connectedness. These factors obviously depend upon members trusting and liking one another and these in turn depend on the quality, type, and amount of communication they have. (Nydegger & Nydegger, 2010)

In general, team processes can be classified into two categories: task-related - to include communication, coordination and task-technology structure fit and socio-emotional - to include trust, cohesion and relationship building (Powell et al., 2004). Siebdrat et al. 2009 establishes that virtual teams with processes that increased the levels of mutual support, member effort, work coordination, balance of member contributions and task-related communications consistently outperformed collocated teams with similar/lower levels



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