The Importance of Task Type in Virtual Teams

The Importance of Task Type in Virtual Teams

Andre L. Araujo (The College of William & Mary, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-59904-883-3.ch073
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Both scholars and practitioners have widely acknowledged that the successful management of virtual teams requires a good understanding about the nature of the task. A virtual team is a group of people who work on interdependent tasks guided by a common purpose across space, time, and organizational boundaries with technology-supported communication, substantially more than face-to-face meetings (Maznevski & Chudoba, 2000). Given that a significant portion of the literature on virtual teams finds its roots in the computer-mediated work literature, this chapter provides a review of the tasks that have been used in the computer-supported work literature in an effort to take stock of the current state-of–the-art research. The review is organized around McGrath’s task circumplex. Building on this review, two alternative frameworks that may guide future research on virtual teams are offered. Altogether, 50 empirical studies were identi- fied as meeting the criteria for inclusion, and 69 tasks were analyzed. The review focuses on research that examined the longitudinal effects of computer-mediated work on team processes and performance. This approach follows a large body of scientific evidence (McGrath, 1991) indicating that interactions between task and group processes vary according to a group’s development stage, thereby generating different outcomes over time. In other words, how the task shapes computer-mediated work interactions and performance cannot be understood without taking the role of time into account. In carefully selecting the studies to be reviewed, I ensured that the sample represented the wide range of longitudinal studies that examined patterns of change over time. Accordingly, studies that reported only cross-sectional results were not included in this chapter. The search was conducted using ABI/INFORM database on a number of well recognized academic journalsa. Following the introduction, the chapter is organized into the following four sections: (1) background, (2) task issues, (3) future trends, and (4) a conclusion.
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While extensive research has dealt with the effects of different task types for group work, McGrath (1984) proposes an integrated conceptual framework, known as task circumplex (Figure 1), to classify group tasks. Task circumplex has influenced a number of studies in the computer-mediated work literature (e.g., Chidambaram, 1996; Hollingshead, McGrath, & O’Connor, 1993; Miranda & Bostrom, 1993; O’Connor, Gruenfeld, & McGrath, 1993; Vician & DeSanctis, 2000), and therefore is used as the theoretical background for this chapter. Task circumplex can be divided into the following four main quadrants: generate, choose, negotiate, and execute. Each dimension is thoroughly explained below.

Figure 1.

The task circumplex Source: McGrath (1984)

Key Terms in this Chapter

Virtual Team: A group of people who rely extensively on computer-mediated technologies to work on interdependent tasks guided by a common purpose across space, time, and organizational boundaries.

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