Collective Identity and Learning in a Virtual Team

Collective Identity and Learning in a Virtual Team

Garry G. Burnett (George Washington University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-106-3.ch018
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This chapter introduces Media Synchronicity Theory as a means to examine the influence of technology use on the relationship between a multidimensional model of collective identity and its impact on the multidimensional team learning in virtual teams. The study was conducted in an educational setting over an academic semester. Hypotheses testing suggest that the basis for a team’s collective identity does impact team learning. The authors believe that a clearer understanding of the underlying relationships will enable academicians to improve their course offerings to provide more realistic representation of existing team tasks, technology use, and work-groups presently found in organizations.
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Due to the increased competitiveness and complexity of today’s global business environment, there appears to be two developments that are increasing in popularity. The first trend is the use of collaborative teams that span functional, geographic, temporal, and cultural boundaries (Biggs, 2000; Kanawattanachai & Yoo, 2002). These virtual teams enable organizations to leverage their employees’ unique skills and experiences regardless of where workers are located. The second trend is a heightened awareness of the importance of fostering learning in organizational settings. Of particular interest with regard to fostering learning is creating an environment that encourages teams to adapt to market changes by altering their current routines (i.e., improving efficiency) or by experimenting with new procedures (i.e., employing innovative ideas). Since Van der Vegt and Bunderson (2005) found that learning teams are more efficient, have higher quality output and superior overall achievement, it is expected that these positive team outcomes might also be associated with teams that must discover new routines or processes to meet team and organizational goals. These types of team outcomes are critical to organizations, since they are fundamental to an organization’s success and they are believed by some to be a catalyst that leads to a firm’s competitive advantage (Senge, 1990).

These relationships are not the sole domain of for-profit organizations. They can also be found in academic settings. For instance, institutions of higher learning, whose students are more efficient, have high quality standards and who have higher levels of overall achievement, might have a competitive advantage when compared to other academic institutions in terms of attracting high caliber students, securing funding sources for teaching and research, and increasing recruiting from top businesses. These same universities emphasize that their use of advanced technologies will provide students with a world-class education. However, are these students better prepared to function effectively in situations that require widespread use of technology? Furthermore, will these students have the ability to adapt current processes and/or to develop new routines? For several reasons, this is not necessarily true. First, new entrants into the workforce may be ill- prepared to operate successfully within teams that interact primarily through Information and Communications Technology (ICT). Although group projects are commonly used in many college and university courses, their focus has been limited to traditional face-to-face interactions and not on the use of multiple ICTs that are prevalent in today’s firms. While this approach may facilitate course delivery, it does little to introduce students to the “new way” of working in modern organizations. Second, the tasks (i.e., student assignments) that are being performed tend to be limited in scope and are designed to facilitate assessing objective outcomes (e.g., presentations, reports, and examinations). Given the current complexity of the marketplace, these tasks may not challenge students to extend themselves beyond rote learning.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Exploitation: Teams that refine processes, improve efficiency, and concentrate on execution (March, 1991).

Team Virtuality: Consists of three components: the degree that teams use virtual tools to coordinate and communicate; information value; and synchronicity (Kirkman & Mathieu, 2005). The first dimension is the reliance on virtual tools, and refers to the extent which teams use virtual technologies (i.e., e-mail, video conferencing, chat, document sharing, etc.) to coordinate work activities and to communicate when compared to face-to-face interaction. The second dimension, informational value, consists of communication and/or data that is valuable to a team’s effectiveness such as the technology’s capability to transmit rich information (e.g., nonverbal cues such as facial expressions and body-language) as well as the content of the data itself. At issue is how important that information is to the success of the virtual team. The final dimension is synchronicity, which concerns how well the team is able to support simultaneous communication (e.g., face-to-face interactions and technologies such as video conferencing and instant messaging accommodate interactive immediate exchanges).

Exploration: Teams that experiment, take risks, and innovate (March, 1991).

Collective Identity: Answers the question “who are we?” Scholars generally agree that it is a multidimensional concept (Ashmore et al., 2004) comprised of an individual’s perception that their self-image is based on the various social groups or categories with which he or she views him or herself as belonging.

Cognitive Dimension of Collective Identity: Individuals can either evoke their self-concept when they appreciate they share similar values with a social group, or change their beliefs to become more similar to the social group (Pratt, 1998). This categorization is the basis for in-group and out-group distinctions, and is the means by which an individual cognitively places him or herself within a social group.

Affective Dimension of Collective Identity: Provides a feeling of connectedness or shared substance between an individual and a social group.

Media Synchronicity: Describes the extent to which particular communications media engender a sense that all participants are working on the same content or activity at the same time (Dennis & Valacich, 1999; Dennis, Valacich, Speier, & Morris, 1998).

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