As cost constraints and expanding geographic and temporal boundaries move organizations toward virtual team work for increasingly complex tasks, research focused on understanding how to best support virtual teams is warranted. Virtual teams consist of people that use electronic communications media for all or most of their communication regarding a common task. Virtual teams allow “organizing work teams by electronic workflow, not physical location” (Dutton, 1999). Since its introduction, Media Richness Theory (MRT) (Daft & Lengel, 1986) has been broadly applied to predict effects of various media and task combinations. The premise of MRT is that the information needs for performing a task should be matched with the medium’s richness or “capacity to facilitate shared meaning” (Daft, Lengel, & Trevino, 1987). The richest media is considered to be face-to-face (FTF), with failure reported for complex tasks using any leaner media (Lengel & Daft, 1988). Despite its wide use, this theory has only mixed support. For virtual teams performing complex tasks, the dire predictions of MRT have been eclipsed with success (Davidson, 2000; DeLuca, Gasson, & Kock, 2006; Kruempel, 2000; Kock & DeLuca, 2006; Majchrzak, Rice, Malhotra, King, & Ba, 2000; Maznevski & Chudoba, 2000; Miranda & Saunders, 2003; Ocker, Fjermestad, Hiltz, Turoff, & Johnson, 1998; Robey, Khoo, & Powers, 2000). This success requires a new explanation (Lee, 1994), one that considers “how” the communication occurs. Consequently, researchers have looked for an alternative theoretical lens to provide theory for the management and use of information and communication technologies (Zmud, 1995) that explains the interplay of teams and communication media, particularly when attempting to solve business problems with little or no face-to-face communication (Weber, 2002).
Key Terms in this Chapter
Media Richness Theory (MRT): A theory based on immediacy of communication and cues communicated, whereby face-to-face is labeled as the richest medium.
Asynchronous Collaboration Media (ACM): Electronic communication technologies that allow input at different times.
Media Synchronicity Theory (MST): A theory based on media characteristics, task communication function, and team processes. Synchronicity is more important for convergence than for conveyance processes.
Cues: Format by which information is conveyed, verbal and non-verbal language (e.g., tone, eye contact) as well as social cues (e.g., status, intimidation).
Immediacy: Rapid transmission of and rapid feedback from communications.
Lean E-Collaboration: E-collaboration using lean media.
Rehearsability: Fine tuning a message before sending.
Virtual Teams: Teams of people that use electronic communications media for all or most of their communication regarding a common task.
Parallelism: Effectively working in parallel (simultaneous conversations in process). Channel capacity so that multiple people can work all at once.
Business Process Improvement: Improved use of resources needed to execute a set of interrelated activities performed in an organization with the goal of generating value in connection with a product or service.
Asynchronous E-Collaboration: Collaboration among individuals engaged in a common task using ACM.
Reprocessability: Readdressing a message within the context of the communication event (e.g., re-reading, printing).
Lean Media: Media that lack many of the features of face-to-face communications (e.g., immediate feedback, presence of visual, auditory, and social cues) like e-mail and bulletin boards.
Asynchronous Creativity Theory (ACT): Theory that considers the effects of communication media capabilities on the traditional social and cognitive factors affecting creativity; the net effect of which is that teams using asynchronous e-collaboration may have and the effect of greater potential for creativity than synchronous face-to-face teams.