Effective Leadership in Virtual-Like Organizational Arrangements

Effective Leadership in Virtual-Like Organizational Arrangements

Kenneth D. Mackenzie (University of Kansas, USA) and Larry E. Pate (Loyola Marymount University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-59904-883-3.ch039
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Abstract

Most studies of leadership focus on leaders who have responsibility for a group of people. This group is usually either an organization or a unit within one. Almost always, the leader is collocated with the “followers” and interacts with them in real time (i.e., synchronized communication). But what about leading when the group lies outside the usual lines of communication set off by the formal organizational structure; when its members are geographically distributed, when they do not belong to the same organization; and when many of the communications are asynchronized, multi-media, over multi-time zones, and criss-cross other countries, functions, and cultures? Leading these untraditional groups is still leading but, outside of the usual hierarchy, the leadership processes can be more dynamic, complex, and technologically dependent. This other world comes in many forms. The general class is called virtual-like organizational arrangements or VLOAs (Mackenzie, 2001). Table 1 presents a classification of VLOAs at different levels and aggregation of people and processes. This classification is illustrative of the immense variety of VLOAs that have been observed and documented. There are undoubtedly many other variants and mutations of VLOAs. Recently, the emergence of virtual teams has made them the most visible subclass of VLOAs. Virtual teams have been the subject of many books and research studies (cf. Davidow & Malone, 1992; Duarte & Snyder, 2006; Fisher & Fisher, 2001; Garton & Wegryn, 2006; Gibson & Cohen, 2003; Kostner, 1994; Lipnack & Stamps, 2000; Williams, 2002). Virtual teams are an important variant of VLOAs because the team’s interaction is facilitated and conditioned by distributed information technologies. What makes VLOAs interesting from both a theoretical and a practical perspective is that they are, in fact, anomalies or mutant organizational forms that have evolved out of real and/or perceived limitations of the traditional hierarchical form of organizations. VLOAs have existed for millennia. Over 2000 years ago, for example, the Roman Republic operated a multi-national, multi-time zone, multi-cultural VLOA in terms of its systems of treaties with conquered, client, or allied peoples. This system allowed Rome to operate with a miniscule bureaucracy while preserving significant parts of the cultures of its member states. Many VLOAs are highly functional and support the attainment of more effective organizations. On the other hand, some VLOAs such as terrorist organizations (e.g., al Quida, cabals, conspiracies, and other unregulated groups seeking power) are definitely designed to disrupt and destroy rather than enhance existing organizations.
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Introduction

Most studies of leadership focus on leaders who have responsibility for a group of people. This group is usually either an organization or a unit within one. Almost always, the leader is collocated with the “followers” and interacts with them in real time (i.e., synchronized communication). But what about leading when the group lies outside the usual lines of communication set off by the formal organizational structure; when its members are geographically distributed, when they do not belong to the same organization; and when many of the communications are asynchronized, multi-media, over multi-time zones, and criss-cross other countries, functions, and cultures? Leading these untraditional groups is still leading but, outside of the usual hierarchy, the leadership processes can be more dynamic, complex, and technologically dependent.

This other world comes in many forms. The general class is called virtual-like organizational arrangements or VLOAs (Mackenzie, 2001). Figure 1 presents a classification of VLOAs at different levels and aggregation of people and processes. This classification is illustrative of the immense variety of VLOAs that have been observed and documented. There are undoubtedly many other variants and mutations of VLOAs. Recently, the emergence of virtual teams has made them the most visible subclass of VLOAs. Virtual teams have been the subject of many books and research studies (cf. Davidow & Malone, 1992; Duarte & Snyder, 2006; Fisher & Fisher, 2001; Garton & Wegryn, 2006; Gibson & Cohen, 2003; Kostner, 1994; Lipnack & Stamps, 2000; Williams, 2002). Virtual teams are an important variant of VLOAs because the team’s interaction is facilitated and conditioned by distributed information technologies.

Figure 1.

Classification of virtual-like organizational arrangements

What makes VLOAs interesting from both a theoretical and a practical perspective is that they are, in fact, anomalies or mutant organizational forms that have evolved out of real and/or perceived limitations of the traditional hierarchical form of organizations. VLOAs have existed for millennia. Over 2000 years ago, for example, the Roman Republic operated a multi-national, multi-time zone, multi-cultural VLOA in terms of its systems of treaties with conquered, client, or allied peoples. This system allowed Rome to operate with a miniscule bureaucracy while preserving significant parts of the cultures of its member states. Many VLOAs are highly functional and support the attainment of more effective organizations. On the other hand, some VLOAs such as terrorist organizations (e.g., al Quida, cabals, conspiracies, and other unregulated groups seeking power) are definitely designed to disrupt and destroy rather than enhance existing organizations.

The variety of VLOAs raises important questions for understanding what is happening to traditional bureaucracies as they are confronted with more change, occurring more rapidly, than they can handle. Why do VLOAs emerge? Do they have a “dark side?” What special leadership problems do they present? What do the more traditional leadership approaches have to offer those involved in VLOAs, especially those engaged in virtual teams?

Key Terms in this Chapter

Leader: Any processual agent (usually a person or a unit) who is engaged in a leadership process.

Virtual Team: The most prevalent form of a virtual-like organizational arrangements, in which the team’s interaction is facilitated and conditioned by distributed information technologies.

Process: A time dependent sequence of events governed by a process framework.

Leadership: The processes of initiating, enabling, implementing, and sustaining change in the management of a group or an organization.

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