Understanding Virtual Teams
Advances in information technology over the past decades have increased the number of teams in various settings working across time and space. This new organizational formation has heightened interest by both academics and practitioners to explore virtual work teams. Although there is an increasing emphasis in the literature relating to the study of virtual teams, the work is still in its early stages of development (Powell, Piccoli, & Ives, 2004). The most prominent theme in the literature to date has focused on the challenges experienced by virtual teams, especially as relates to media richness and information communication technology tools (Andres, 2002; Maznevski & DiStefano, 2000; Powell et al., 2004). Specifically, this research has focused on the ways in which a business deals with the opportunities and challenges that are associated with the development of virtual teams and its effective use of information mediated technology. Studies have provided insights regarding the use of various communication channels from collaborative such as face to face, telephone, video conferencing, and instant messaging to asynchronous such as letters and e-mail (Majchrzak, Rice, Malhotra, King, & Ba, 2000; Pauleen, 2003; Townsend, DeMarie, & Hendrickson, 1996; Watson-Manheim, Chudoba, & Crowston, 2002). More recent works have begun to focus on areas such as team design, culture, training, relationship building, trust, communication, coordination, and task/technology structure fit.
Numerous definitions of a virtual team have been posited in the literature to date. Although variations exist between the definitions, most researchers agree in general terms that a virtual team is a group that is distributed and works across time and space using information communication technology (see Ahuja, Galletta, & Carley, 2003; Bell & Kozlowski, 2002; Jarvenpaa & Leidner, 1999; Lipnack & Stamps, 1999; Manzevski & Chudoba, 2000; Powell et al., 2004; Wong & Burton, 2000). One issue that has arisen with respect to definitions and terms in this area is the semantics concerning the words “team” and “group.” Both terms are used interchangeably. However, it has been noted by some researchers that the term team “should be reserved for those groups that display high levels of interdependency and integration among members” (Powell et al., 2004). Considering this distinction, this article will define a virtual team as a “group of people who interact through interdependent tasks guided by a common purpose that work across space, time and organizational boundaries with links strengthened by webs of communication technologies” (Lipnack & Stamps, 1997, p. 7).