Building Collective Awareness in Virtual Teams: The Effect of Leadership Behavioral Style

Building Collective Awareness in Virtual Teams: The Effect of Leadership Behavioral Style

Mohamed Daassi (University of Bretagne Occidentale, France), Nabila Jawadi (CREPA Center for Research in Management and Organization, France), Marc Favier (University of Grenoble, France) and Michel Kalika (Ecole de Management Strasbourg at the Universite Robert Schuman and the Center for Research in Management and Organization, France)
Copyright: © 2010 |Pages: 13
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-958-8.ch008


This chapter investigates the role of e-leaders in building and maintaining collective awareness within virtual teams. The authors examine the effects of behavioral leadership orientation on collective awareness building. The study explores the bi-dimensional structure of both collective awareness and leader behavior orientation. According to this conceptualization, activity-awareness is linked to task-oriented behaviors of e-leaders. Activities related to goal clarification, coordination and work monitoring are expected to provide more visibility regarding team members’ actions and their contribution to work completion. At the same time, social awareness is developed through the e-leaders’ relation-oriented behaviors. The development of aspects related to interpersonal relationships such as trust, cohesion, and conflict management reduce uncertainty regarding the behavior of team members. Interviews conducted with 12 members of two virtual teams confirm the authors’ theoretical development and emphasize information management as a key managerial practice for e-leaders to build collective awareness.
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Virtual teamwork, enabled by advances in information and communication technologies, seems to have become a prerequisite in the network economy. Virtual teams are composed of “geographically and/or organizationally dispersed co-workers that are assembled using a combination of telecommunications and information technologies to accomplish an organizational task” (Townsend et al., 1998, p. 18).

Virtual teams provide new opportunities for organizations as they allow them to reduce business costs, bridge time and space distances, and bring together experts regardless of their locations (Kayworth and Leidner, 2001-2002). Despite these advantages, virtual teams face greater challenges than their traditional counterparts, as they are made up of disparate members who must rely on information and communication technologies (ICT) instead of direct face-to-face communication. One major challenge for virtual teams is to build shared understanding that helps team members to face the uncertainty and ambiguity of the virtual context. These mechanisms are hindered by the use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) to communicate and coordinate work rather than face-to-face contact and direct interactions (Hinds & Weisband, 2003).

In this regard, the development of collective awareness within the team is considered as an effective means to establish visibility and clarity regarding the actions and behavior of team members. It helps them to reduce the uncertainty of virtual relationships and to establish a collaborative work environment.

On the other hand, many studies have underlined the importance of e-leaders in fostering cohesiveness, developing and maintaining trust (Jarvenpaa et al., 1998; Kanawattanachaï and Yoo, 2002), and enhancing performance (Hardin et al., 2006; Lurey and Raisinghani, 2001). Less is known about how e-leaders contribute to building and maintaining collective awareness in virtual teams (Weisband, 2002) as well as the mechanisms that help them to do so. Indeed, as a recent topic in virtual team literature, research on collective awareness has tended to focus on defining the concept within the virtual context and identifying its changing facets. Little attention has been paid to its effects and relations with other organizational mechanisms such as trust, cooperation or leadership.

The aim of this chapter is to identify the contributions made by the leaders to collective awareness building in virtual teams. We attempt to develop an integrative framework based on the current literature on both collective awareness and leadership within virtual teams in order to define a body of relevant managerial actions. We illustrate our developments with the results of two case studies that we conducted to analyze factors influencing collective awareness management in virtual teams (Daassi, 2006). The case studies are based on interviews with twelve members of two virtual teams. The interviewees were asked about their perceptions regarding the need for e-leaders and their contribution to collective awareness development.

This chapter is organized as follows. In the first section, we present an overview of collective awareness. We set out the definition and dimensions of the concepts and the reasons behind the need for collective awareness. The second section discusses the theories and taxonomies related to e-leadership as well as the different perspectives adopted to analyze it. This section also demonstrates the relevance of a behavioral approach in studying leadership and collective awareness building in virtual teams. The third section attempts to establish the links between the two concepts and explores what actions and behaviors allow e-leaders to manage collective awareness. Our analysis is illustrated with verbatim extracted from the interviews. Finally, the conclusion sum-up our results, present our theoretical and managerial contribution and point to some of the limitations and possible extensions of our work.

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