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Organizational Psychology – Virtual Teams

Answers the Question

How do organizations successfully utilize virtual teams?

How it began

Research into virtual teams continues with the growth of global organizations and remote working. The improvements in communication technology has enabled virtual teams to become normalized in most organizational settings but the setting is recognized as being messy.

They share many challenges as those experienced by face-to-face teams but these challenges are exacerbated by their virtuality: poor line management;

Underperformance from individual members leads to greater levels of dysfunction.

Other theoretical issues are also raised including: Where does team boundaries begin and end? How can technology be used to improve performance? What is the balance between local responsiveness and global integration?

Virtual Teams

Key Terminology

Virtual Teams – groups of interdependent coworkers who are geographically dispersed, dependent on technology, structurally dynamic and culturally diverse

Emergent states – important mediational influences with explanatory power accounting for variability in team performance.

In Brief

Input-process-output (IPO) Framework (Hackman & Morris 1975; McGrrath, 1984)
Inputs are factors that are controllable by organisations for example; leadership behaviours, team composition; HR policies; job design
Team processes are the interdependency of team activities required for teamwork leading to the achievement of team goals. Categories include action, transition or interpersonal. The lack of understanding of group values; regulative information and social cues negatively affect individual’s ability to reduce ambiguity, establish social identity to establish collaborative partnerships
Outputs include performance; attitudes and behaviours.

Individual-Level

Four themes are highlighted at individual level; 1) Communication effects caused by technology; Computer mediated communication is highlighted where individual or social identity will determine conformity to either personal or social norms. 2) relational demography where diversity affects individual expectations about teamwork 3) individual differences; where individual differences including personality characteristics and cognitive styles and the resulting commitment to virtual teams and 4) task type and characteristics; where relation to positive individual outcomes including trust, task attraction, social attraction and self rated task success impact adherence to a set of team work rules.

What does this mean for OD

  1. Reviewing technology to ensure leaner media (video-conferencing; e-mail) is used to facilitate communication clarity when team members have less task-relevant knowledge
  2. Check team composition; heterogeneous virtual teams are more superior that Face to Face teams, but Homogeneous teams are more satisfied, cohesive and experience less conflict.
  3. Keep virtual teams small – smaller teams participate more actively, are more committed to the team, have high goal and team member awareness and higher levels of rapport.
  4. Pay attention to the four critical success factors for virtual teams – communication; culture; technology and project management.
  5. The most successful virtual teams have more concentrated leadership behaviour focused on performance and keeping track of group work.
  6. Length of leader’s tenure increases levels of trust and technology support.
  7. Social communication is linked to building trust early in global virtual teams.
  8. Substantive and timely response and leadership are involved in maintaining trust at later stages.

References

Hackman, J. R. and Morris, C. G. (1975) Group tasks, group interaction process and group performance effectiveness: A review and proposed integration. In L. Berkowitz (Ed.) Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 8 pp. 47 – 101). New York. Academic Press

Kirkman, B. L, Gibson, C. B. and Kim, K. (2012) Across Borders and Technologies: Advancements in Virtual Team Research. In Kozlowski, S. W. J. (Ed.) The Oxford Handbook of Organizational Psychology (Vol. 2. pp. 789 – 858). Oxford. Oxford University Press

McGrath, J. E. (1984). Groups, interaction and performance. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall

 


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