In this chapter, factors “really” influencing virtual multicultural team work shall be described and a training design used for students and company members will be presented. So far, little attention has been paid to behavioural factors influencing virtual team work, or conclusions have been made from what is known about face-to-face teams. In this study, a bottom-up research with empirical data collected directly in the field, discovering such influences will be presented. With the help of grounded theory method factors influencing team members’ behaviour and team processes such as isolation, leadership, trust, commitment, conflict, information sharing, or culture will be described. A training design based on a real-time online business game which considers these factors provides a tool for acquiring the skills and abilities needed in virtual multicultural teams.
Growing internationalization has created a need for communication across geographical boundaries and time zones via e-mail, chats on the Internet, Internet platforms, or videoconferences. These are the tools that facilitate the interaction between people in different geographical regions. At the same time, virtual teams have become more and more common in the business world. According to Cohen and Gibson (2003), virtual teams can be defined as functioning teams whose members are geographically dispersed and whose communication is rather technology-mediated than face-to-face. As geographical distance is one of their key features, most of virtual teams are composed of members from various cultures, and can therefore be termed “virtual multicultural teams.”1
In the last few years, researchers have shown an increasing interest for this form of collaboration. Many studies focus on the specific characteristics of virtual teams, such as technological tools (e.g., Bélanger & Watson-Manheim, 2006; Duarte & Snyder, 2001; Riopelle et al., 2003) or communication (e.g., Pottler & Balthazard, 2002). Others deal with team processes and focus on issues such as team building (Beranek & Martz, 2005; Hart & McLeod, 2003; Huang, Wei, Watson, & Tan, 2002) or team performance (e.g., Driskell, Radtke, & Salas, 2003; Lawler, 2003; Levenson & Cohen, 2003). Others simply provide “best practices” (e.g., Lurey & Raisinghani, 2000; Kirkman, Gibson, & Shapiro, 2001; Staples & Webster, 2007). So far, little attention has been paid to behavioural factors (i.e., factors having an impact on or resulting from team members’ behaviour and team processes) influencing work in virtual teams. Researchers have only built their arguments on the assumption that such factors were of importance. This means that they considered a particular influence to be of importance in virtual teams and built their arguments or empirical studies around it. Other authors drew normative conclusions from face-to-face teams and provided (theoretical) links to virtual teams. Among these trust (e.g., Castelfranchi & Tan, 2001; Duarte & Snyder, 2001; Gibson & Manuel, 2003; Jarvenpaa, Shaw, & Staples, 2004; Kanawattanachai & Yoo, 2002; Krebs, Hobman, & Bordia, 2006), leadership (e.g., Davis, 2003; Duarte & Snyder, 2001; Lähteenmäki, Saarinen, & Fischlmayr, 2007; Tyan, Tyran, & Shepherd 2003; Zigurs, 2003), or conflict (Griffith, Mannix, & Neale, 2003; Hinds & Mortensen, 2005; Kankanhalli, Tan, & Wei, 2007) are dealt with most frequently. Regarding the crucial issue of culture, some attempts at stating its influence on virtual collaboration have only been made recently (e.g., Fischlmayr, 2006; Gefen & Heart, 2006; Huff & Kelley, 2005; Staples & Zhao, 2006). All in all, there is not only a shortage of theoretical knowledge based on empirical studies (c.f., Hertel, Geister, & Konrad, 2005), but also a need for the training of the skills required in virtual multicultural teams (e.g., Rosen, Furst, & Blackburn, 2006).
Key Terms in this Chapter
Cultural Sensitivity: Different cultures show different behaviour and attitudes. Cultural sensitivity implies being open, tolerant, and flexible in the interaction with foreigners, and adapting to their behaviour to a certain degree.
Grounded Theory Method: Grounded theory aims at finding theories and providing suggestions how to elaborate and advance processes of theory development which help to explain complex social phenomena. Through constant comparison data from the field are reduced to main influencing variables.
Leadership in Virtual Teams: Virtual teams in business most often have project leaders, but it is recommended that leadership should rotate in a team according to the different tasks and stages of a project. In self-managed teams leaders might emerge.
Trust: Having a relation to someone and having faith in this person. Distinction between cognitive and affective trust. Initial trust is also referred to as swift trust. Trust is said to be the glue that holds teams together.
Virtual Multicultural Teams: Functioning teams whose members are geographically dispersed, and their communication is technology-mediated rather than face-to-face. As geographical distance is one of their key features, teams are characterized by cultural diversity, and can thus be named “virtual multicultural teams.”
Behavioural Factors: Factors stemming from human behaviour. They might be due to personality, the situation, or are a reaction to the environment.
RealGame™: An online business game which is real-time processed and forms the body of a virtual team training design.
Electronic Communication Tools: Technology-mediated tools of communication such as e-mail, Skype, MSN, fax, videoconference, or chat. Computers or other electronic devices are used as tools for communicating.