Global market developments and the large-scale use of diverse applications in the area of information and communication technology have been key factors in the emergence of distributed teams. Such teams are often referred to as virtual teams. Virtual teams enable collaboration between people across traditional boundaries and offer tremendous opportunities for various achievements. Businesses are no longer tied to a single time zone and are, for example, able to develop software around the 24-hour clock. The Internet as the almost universal medium for interaction across boundaries has created an infrastructure that enables many organizations to launch virtual teams. Hardly any technical obstacle for communication and collaboration across geographic boundaries remain as these processes are supported by high tech collaboration solutions, such as groupware and other collaborative applications (e.g., videoconferencing, electronic blackboards). Virtual teams have a number of opportunities that are not found with colocated teams, such as involving rare expertise.
Being virtual is a matter of degree and refers, according to various authors, to dimensions such as spatial distance, time, cultural diversity, temporality, organizational contract, and mode of interaction (DeSanctis, Staudenmayer & Wong, 1999; Jarvenpaa & Leidner, 1998; Mowshowitz, 1997). Mediated communication is an important dimension. Some teams meet regularly face-to-face, but may have also some e-mail-based interaction, while other teams interact intensively and almost exclusively via various media and sophisticated groupware tools. Geographic distance and different timeframes may obviously be important reasons for groups to communicate electronically.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Media Richness Theory: Theory on mediated communication that highlights the extent to which a medium is capable of sending rich information (i.e., text, smell, pictures, noise, etc.) as well as the proposition that media use is most adequate if the medium is matched with the complexity of the task at hand.
Structuration Theory: A theory of societal processes on a high abstraction level. Adaptive Structuration Theory (AST) focuses on the analysis of the way existing technologies are taken up by groups and evolve in their role during the appropriation process (i.e., the process of adaptation to new technical tools, which changes the original situation).
Groupware: ICT applications that support communication, coordination, cooperation, learning and/or social encounters through facilities such as information exchange, shared repositories, discussion forums, and messaging.
Virtuality: The extent to which a group is geographically distributed, is organizationally and culturally divers, has different time frames for work, communicates electronically and whose members are freelance or have fixed contracts with an organization.
Team: A collection of individuals who see themselves and who are seen by others as a social entity, who are interdependent because of the tasks they perform as members of a group, who are embedded in one or more larger social systems (e.g., community, organization) and who perform tasks that affect others.
Dynamic Group Interaction (DGIn) Model: In this model elements of several theories with regard to group performance are brought together. Three levels of behavior are taken into account, that is, individual goal directed behavior, group processes and a macrosocial perspective. The various notions are brought together in a heuristic model concerning group processes. They are related to traditional input-process-output schemas.
Group dynamics: Field of inquiry dedicated to advancing knowledge about the nature of groups.