Addressing Team Dynamics in Virtual Teams: The Role of Soft Systems

Addressing Team Dynamics in Virtual Teams: The Role of Soft Systems

Frank Stowell (University of Portsmouth, Portsmouth, UK) and Shavindrie Cooray (Curry College, Milton, MA, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/IJITSA.2016010103
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Computer Mediated Communication (CMC) is providing businesses with the means of assembling virtual teams comprising of members in diverse locations. However research shows that virtual team dynamics are different from face to face dynamics. Recent research adds force to the view that conflicts are more prevalent within virtual teams since participants are less likely to change their initial points of view when discussions are held virtually. This insight has implications for IS development since many IS are developed by virtual project teams. It is relevant to systems analysis since according to systems thinkers the process should include a discussion about alternative points of view leading to a group level shared view of the situation under analysis. If recent research is taken into account then conflict resolution in virtual teams is difficult which raises doubts about whether a group level view of a situation can be reached during systems analysis. In this paper, the authors strive to identify challenges associated with the application of soft methods in synchronous virtual teams since a review of literature shows that soft methods have not been used previously in synchronous virtual teams. The authors also explore if concerns about conflicts in synchronous virtual teams can be overcome through the use of soft systems methods.
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Introduction And Purpose

Information Systems (IS) development is increasingly conducted by geographically dispersed virtual teams due to the rise of trends such as outsourcing and globalization. Although researchers have explored dynamics in face to face teams (Larson and La Fasto, 1989; Jewel and Reitz,1981; Tuckman, 1965) research has also shown that the behaviour exhibited in virtual teams is different from the behaviour in face to face teams (Sarkar and Valacich, 2010; Sassenberg and Boos, 2003; Sia et al, 2002; Montoya Weiss et al, 2001). For instance recent research (Sarkar and Valacich, 2010) has demonstrated that participants in virtual teams are more unlikely to change their initial values, biases and preconceptions which hinder the process of conflict resolution. In this paper we explore the use of a method of inquiry based on soft systems thinking as a means of ameliorating the effects of conflict in synchronous virtual teams (Stowell and Welch, 2012 pp116-117; Champion and Stowell, 2001). Since there is a dearth of literature on the application of soft methods within virtual teams we also discuss the challenges faced when implementing soft methods in globally dispersed teams. We describe the results of an Action Research (AR) project undertaken between two educational institutions geographically separated by several thousand miles and provide insight on the use of soft methods in synchronous virtual teams and its effect on conflict.

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