High-Performance Virtual Teams

High-Performance Virtual Teams

Ian K. Wong (Queen’s University, Canada) and D. Sandy Staples (Queen’s University, Canada)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-026-4.ch271
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In the past several decades, we have seen tremendous advancements in the development of communication technology. Since the invention of the Internet in 1969, there has been rapid development of Internet-based communication tools and technologies. This technology has revolutionized business practices by offering another important and effective channel for communication (Foo & Lim, 1997) and has allowed people to work on projects irrespective of their physical location. One resulting business practice that has been adopted in recent years is virtual teamwork. Virtual teams are groups of individuals who work together in different locations (i.e., are geographically dispersed), work at interdependent tasks, share responsibilities for outcomes, and rely on technology for much of their communication (Cohen & Gibson, 2003). The use of virtual teams has become widespread in organizations, and its use is expected to grow (Martins, Gilson, & Maynard, 2004; Powell, Piccoli, & Ives, 2004).
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In addition to the basic definition of a virtual team, all virtual teams have important characteristics that contribute to their overall success. To analyze the characteristics of the team’s situation, Cohen’s (1994) model of team effectiveness can be used as an organizing framework. The model identifies strengths and weaknesses that readers can use to inform their own design and operations of effective virtual teams. According to Cohen, there are several broad characteristics that all potentially effect how successful the team will be at meeting its task, and are therefore worthy of examination. These characteristics are listed in Table 1 and will be examined in detail in the following paragraphs. Although Cohen’s team effectiveness model is based on traditional teams (i.e., collocated), these characteristics have been found to be very important in empirical research on virtual teams (Pinsonneault & Caya, 2005; Staples & Cameron, 2004; Wong & Staples, 2004).

Table 1.
Characteristics of virtual teams affecting team effectiveness
• Design of the team’s task
• The characteristics of the members of the team
• The processes used by the team
• The organizational context of the team

Task Design

Appropriate task design can be a powerful motivator (Cohen, 1994). Both job characteristics theory (e.g., Hackman & Oldman, 1976, 1980) and sociotechnical theory (e.g., Cummings, 1978) suggest that group task design is critical for employee motivation, satisfaction, and performance. Both theories suggest that to positively impact performance and attitudes, the task should be designed according to the criteria specified in Table 2. The design of the virtual team and the structuring of its interactions in the early stages of team development have been found to help team members develop a shared language and shared understanding (Powell et al., 2004).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Virtual Team: A group of individuals who work at interdependent tasks, who share responsibility for outcomes, and who work together from different locations.

Virtuality/Virtualness: The degree to which team members are geographically distributed such that opportunities for meeting informally and/or face-to-face are reduced.

Task Design: The way key attributes of the task are arranged, in terms of the influence of these attributes on the effectiveness of a team in performing the task. Research has found key design attributes include the need for a variety of skills, the perceived importance of the task, the independence and autonomy given to people to determine how the task will be done, and the way task feedback is provided.

Team Processes: “Members’ interdependent acts that convert inputs to outcomes through cognitive, verbal, and behavioral activities directed toward organizing taskwork to achieve collective goals” (Marks, Mathieu, & Zaccaro, 2001, p. 357).

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