Virtual teams: Volume 8


Table of contents

(14 chapters)

Widely accepted forecasts expect globally networked virtual teams cutting across firms and disciplines to become the dominant enterprise form of the 21st century. This chapter critically reviews concepts, experience, and evidence bearing on this new approach to business in the digital and global economy. Key aspects of the available literature (academic, consulting, and practice) are identified. It is important not to conflate an evolutionary theory of the firm with an interpretation of the causes, logic, and effects of a particular stage of that evolution. While recent forecasts are reasonable projections of the opportunities opened by advanced communication technologies and likely falling prices for communication, the projections tend to be general inform. Detailed knowledge concerning forming, maintenance, and use of global virtual teams is slender. How to address global networking and virtual teamwork should be considered in light of various cautions being published about various kinds of change management approaches. Technology and human skill and motivation development investment are essential.

Utilizing social identity theory as a framework, this chapter examines ideas concerning cyberspace collaboration. The defining characteristics of virtual teams, differences between identification, and cohesion and trust-based approaches are reviewed. Ideas regarding the nature of virtual team development including a proposed model of virtual team identity are explored.

This chapter describes the preliminary development and testing of a survey instrument, the Virtual Team Creative Climate (VTCC) instrument, designed to assess the work environment for creativity for virtual teams. The VTCC is made up of eleven scales representative of dimensions that influence virtual team members' creativity: acceptance of ideas and constructive tension; challenge; collaboration; dedication commitment; freedom; goal clarity; information sharing; management encouragement; personal bond; sufficient resources and time; and trust. The eleven scales are then collapsed into three broader essential components necessary for virtual team creativity: connection, raw materials, and management and team member skills (Nemiro, 1998, 2000). To test the reliability of the VTCC, the instrument was given to 77 management students, who also gave feedback on its design, format, and wording of questions. All eleven scales are described in detail, and reliability levels and sample items are also included. In addition, a sample graphic display of feedback from the VTCC is presented. It is suggested that the VTCC can be a valuable diagnostic tool for assessing the environment of creativity in a virtual team, and for suggesting areas for improvement.

This chapter advances a newly emerging theoretical perspective which views personal relationships as comprised of the small, everyday acts of interaction (Duck, 1998). Not only is this perspective generated in the communications discipline appropriate for examining how relationships are understood in all types of teams, it is particularly suited for understanding close working and personal relationships which occur among peers in geographically dispersed teams. Perspectives on relationships from the disciplines of interpersonal communication and relationships, information systems, and organizational behavior are reviewed and integrated to propose a framework for examining peer relationships in geographically dispersed teams.

The classic tension between differentiation and integration is played out between local and global perspectives within a globally dispersed team (GDT). It occurs as organizations attempt to develop corporate-wide processes across globally dispersed sites while simultaneously encouraging local innovation and adaptation. The tension between local and global interests is apparent in GDTs comprised of part-time members, pulled from their daily jobs, and charged with developing global processes for implementation at their local sites. Team members share a global perspective of organizational conditions or competitive factors that is often not understood or appreciated by their local supervision and coworkers. They must also navigate local conditions not appreciated by their remote teammates. This chapter presents a model to help understand the dynamics at play and the issues still to be addressed by researchers and practitioners.

Information Age (Davidow & Malone, 1992) is here and critically impacts work life. Such work systems have the characteristics of complex systems which move between ordered states near attractor points and disordered states. Some ordered states have bifurcation points where order is redefined and a qualitative change of the system occurs. We suggest that such points have occurred repeatedly in our economy over the past decade due to advances in information technology.

As our economy moves from one stable state to another, the organizing rules change. Our assessment reveals that virtual teams or organizations emerge as a logical form for organizing. This new form also meets Brown and Eisenhardt's (1998) call for a new organizing form. A new set of organizing rules is derived from a literature review and should facilitate understanding boundary issues, time issues and information management for practitioners.

Work teams have gained increasing importance as businesses shift to knowledge-based organizational structures. At the same time, advances in information technology have facilitated this change by enabling virtual work environments. To add to this complexity, the increasing demographic diversity of workers is coinciding with the rise in virtual and knowledge-based work environments. Therefore, it is critical that we understand the impact of these changes as they coincide in organizations today.

One of the extolled virtues of work teams is their potential to combine the unique knowledge held by individual workers, integrating these knowledge resources to bear on productive tasks. To effectively utilize their distributed knowledge, work teams have to perform three basic knowledge-processing activities: (a) knowledge acquisition; (b) knowledge integration; and (c) knowledge creation. However, work teams often have difficulty processing their distributed knowledge. The ability of team members, or lack thereof, to work effectively with each other is usually the problem.

The increasing demographic diversity of workers presents similar challenges for organizations. Demographically diverse workers have more unique knowledge, leading to increased knowledge differentiation in work teams. A work team that has high knowledge differentiation is one whose members possess different expertise. The unique knowledge held by individual team members effectively enlarges a work team's pool of knowledge resources. However, the increasing demographic diversity of workers often results in work teams having more difficulty processing their distributed knowledge because team members are not able to work effectively with different others. That being the case, the potential for demographically diverse work teams to more effectively perform productive tasks is lost.

We realize that demographically diverse work teams are a special (and important) case of teams in that they are both high on differentiated knowledge and high on the potential for conflict and other process losses. However, with an increasingly global marketplace, this special case is quickly becoming commonplace. Therefore, it is critical that we find ways to help demographically diverse work teams limit their process losses and realize their full potential.

Virtual work environments only heighten the need for demographically diverse work teams to minimize their process losses. Team members are often separated by both geographic space and time, which makes it even more challenging for them to work effectively with each other. In such environments, team members are often isolated from one another and find it difficult to feel a part of their team. Interestingly, computer-mediated communication has been shown to enhance team performance by helping team members communicate more effectively with each other. In fact, empirical work by Bhappu, Griffith, and Northcraft (1997) suggests that computer-mediated communication can actually help demographically diverse work teams process their distributed knowledge more effectively.

In this chapter, we will discuss the effects of demographic diversity and virtual work environments on knowledge processing in teams. More specifically, we will describe when computer-mediated communication is likely to enhance knowledge processing in demographically diverse work teams and when it is not. In doing so, we hope to provide both workers and managers with a set of guidelines on how to best navigate these organizational changes.

Present research on Concurrent Engineering (CE) mainly focusses on technological aspects like information sharing, and common communication platforms, or coordination systems such as CE-Tools like CAD, CAM, DFA or QFD. In the European context, the implementation of Concurrent Engineering certainly involves changes of organizational management and people. traditional way of work. For the success of Concurrent Engineering, organizational, managerial and human issues are very important.

This chapter presents the results of a current research project that is being carried out at the Chair and Institute of Industrial Engineering and Ergonomics of the University of Technology in Aachen, Germany. It shows the results of a study about cross functional teams in a Concurrent Engineering environment. Based on a multi-dimensional model of self directed work organization for teams in Concurrent Engineering, preconditions were generated to design and develop learning organizations which use Concurrent Engineering. Based on this team model for a learning organization in CE, requirements for soft skill qualification for team members were developed.

In the core of the Concurrent Engineering Team research, there are three levels: individual issues, team issues and organizational issues. Individual issues focus on the differences among team members that may influence the cooperation in the team (different specialization, different work departments, different values, different socializations etc.). The team level issue focusses on the internal management of a CE team (goal system, distribution of tasks, sharing of team rules, interaction style, interpersonal relations, team leadership etc.). Finally, the organizational level can be regarded as a team-external support environment for team management (management, commitment and involvement, empowerment of the team leader etc.). The individual and organizational levels influence the team level factors.

But cross functional organization effectiveness in a Concurrent Engineering environment is more than the design of teams. The implementation of Concurrent Engineering must change the whole organization. An effective organization can be based on eight principles of the Learning Organization, as pointed out by Senge or Probst. The objective for the design of this organization is to be self-organized.

To reach these principles in a CE team environment, the involved team members must be qualified to be prepared for new work in a crossfunctional organization. A soft skill qualification system for Concurrent Engineering will be presented at the end of the research project. Contents of this qualification model include communication in teams, techniques of group discussion and project management.

Virtual teams have received increased attention in both the practitioner and academic literature, yet little attention has been given to the development of individual team member physical health as a way to improve virtual team performance. While some recent research has examined the role of physical health on managerial andlor employee performance (e.g. Frew & Bruning, 1988; Neck & Cooper, 2000; Shephard, 1999), we argue the role of physical health on an organizational team is equally important. Consequently, this chapter specifically examines the benefits of physical fitness on virtual team performance, and suggests that there is a positive relationship between team member physical fitness and overall team performance.

The increasing focus on global organizations, horizontal organizational structures and inter-organizational cooperation has created the virtual work team. This paper identifies the research-based similarities and differences between traditional and virtual teams and presents a conceptual framework specifying virtual team competencies based on virtual team performance research. Related organizational interventions are presented.

Publication date
Book series
Advances in Interdisciplinary Studies of Work Teams
Series copyright holder
Emerald Publishing Limited
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