The traditional organizational workplace is dramatically changing. An increasing number of organizations are employing workers who are physically and geographically dispersed and electronically dependent on each other to accomplish work (Gibson & Cohen, 2003; Griffith, Sawyer, & Neale, 2003). Recent technological advances, combined with more flexible job design, have helped increase the number of people working in distributed environments. Hence, more employees are working individually and on teams that seldom, if ever, meet face to face. These virtual employees have the same work responsibilities as traditional employees in addition to the challenge of operating within the dynamics of these newly designed mediated workplaces. Rapid developments in communication technology and the increasing influence of globalization and efficiency on organizations have significantly accelerated the growth and importance of virtual teams in contemporary workplaces. Virtual teams are becoming more commonplace because of the possibilities of a more efficient, less expensive, and more productive workplace. Additionally, distributed teams are less difficult to organize temporal organizational members than traditional co-located teams (Larsen & McInerney, 2002; Lurey & Raisinghani, 2001; Piccoli & Ives, 2003). Although there are apparent advantages of organizing work virtually, the challenge for new member integration lies in the fact that team members must communicate primarily through communication technology such as electronic mail, telephone, and videoconferencing or computer conferencing. This increased dependence on technology as a medium of communication significantly alters the way new members are socialized to work teams. Additionally, team members’ ability to use complex communication technologies varies across individuals. This variation potentially may lead to inter- and intra-group conflict, as well as creating organizational work ambiguity, which refers to the existence of conflicting and multiple interpretations of a work issue (Miller, 2006). This article addresses the challenges of virtual team socialization with regard to newcomer assimilation and how newcomer encounter is an embedded process of virtual team assimilation.
Effective communication is central to organizational and team socialization. The way individuals are socialized in a team may determine his or her success within the team and the successful achievement of organizational and team goals. Team socialization and the communication practices associated with newcomer integration have been researched extensively (e.g., Brockmann, & Anthony, 2002; Lagerstrom & Anderson, 2003) since Jablin (1982) first explored this multilayered process. Socialization occurs when a newcomer of a team acquires the knowledge, behavior, and attitudes needed to participate fully as a member of that team. Jablin (1987) framed the stages of socialization as anticipatory socialization, organizational assimilation (encounter and metamorphosis), and organizational exit. Although there is an abundance of literature on traditional organizational socialization, research on virtual team socialization is beginning to emerge (Ahuja & Galvin, 2003; Picherit-Duthler, Long, & Kohut, 2004; Long, Kohut, & Picherit-Duthler, 2004).
Key Terms in this Chapter
Co-Located Team: A traditional team that shares a common goal and works toward that goal in a face-to-face, same-office environment.
Formal Mentoring: A deliberate pairing of a more skilled or experienced person with a lesser skilled or experienced one, with the agreed-upon goal of having the lesser skilled or experienced person grow and develop specific competencies.
Virtual Team: A group of geographically and organizationally dispersed workers brought together across time and space through information and communication technologies.
Informal Mentoring: The non-assigned pairing of an experienced person who respects, guides, protects, sponsors, promotes, and teaches a younger, less experienced personnel member who develops naturally at the discretion of the mentor and protégé, and persists as long as the parties involved experience sufficient positive outcomes.
Newcomer Encounter: A time for newcomers to learn behaviors, values, and beliefs associated with their jobs and organizations.
Swift Trust: A type of trust that develops quickly on the basis of shared tasks rather than on the basis of similar demographics or physical proximity.
Socialization: The process in which that member of a team acquires the knowledge, behavior, and attitude needed to participate fully as a member of the team.