Collaborative Approach to Successful Virtual Team Leadership

Collaborative Approach to Successful Virtual Team Leadership

Maureen Ellis (East Carolina University, USA) and Eric Kisling (East Carolina University, USA)
Copyright: © 2017 |Pages: 16
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-1049-9.ch005
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Abstract

Due to the changing nature of organizations to meet decreased travel budgets, a globalized economic recession, and increased travel costs, multicultural virtual teams are rapidly growing (Hardin, Looney, Fuller, & Schechtman, 2013). Virtual teams are dynamic typically constructed for a specific project or task-focused group. Based on collaborative principles using state-of-the-art communication technology to support collaboration, virtual teams are often faced with several challenges: distance, time, technology, culture, trust, leadership, and social loafing, which can occur when group performance is less than the sum of the individual's efforts (Robbins, 1995). Einstein and Scott (2001) consider social loafing a result of team members putting forth less effort than they would on an individual assignment/task, leading to discourse and loss of synergy. This chapter describes best practices utilizing experiential learning activities for students on virtual teams can enable students to learn, practice, and hone their virtual team skills to be effective workers in the 21st century workplace.
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Introduction

Beth is a very bright, energetic 35-year-old mother of two who recently returned to college to pursue her master’s degree in business education. Beth teaches full-time and her school-aged children are very active in sports, music and social activities. Because of Beth’s busy lifestyle, she chose to enroll in the 100% online option for completing her degree requirements.

This semester, Beth is taking a course in Second Life virtual world, which investigates the pedagogical and theoretical implications of integrating Web 2.0 technology tools in the classroom. There are numerous individual and two team assignments. Beth usually likes working with team members because it gives her an opportunity to meet other people like her and they can share their stories about work, family and school. When Beth found out she had a team assignment due for the final project, she was the first person to send out an email to the other four team members getting everybody organized. She was very active getting the team work plan together and helping everybody determine what role they would play to get the project done right well before the due date.

During the first virtual team meeting, Beth found herself disengaging with the other team members and not really wanting to participate. She didn’t really pay attention to the chat content and didn’t engage with the other team members. The other team members were anxious to get the work accomplished, so nobody took time to check with Beth to see why she wasn’t participating. Beth missed several key due dates and didn’t actively participate in the writing, editing or completion of the final paper. When the other four members wrote up their final team member assessments and group reflection, they all commented that Beth did not fully participate and wasn’t a team player. Beth’s score was significantly lower than the remaining team members.

Why did Beth, a straight-A student with strong interpersonal and team skills reduce her performance in a virtual group setting and engage in social loafing?

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Opportunities For Virtual Teams

Second Life (SL) is a social virtual world, which emphasizes the general use of immersive worlds for supporting a variety of human activities and interactions, presenting a plethora of new opportunities and challenges for enriching how we learn, work and play (Boulos, Hetherington, & Wheeler, 2007; Prasolova-Førland, Sourin, & Sourina, 2006). SL has opened up new opportunities for real time collaboration in immersive, three-dimensional (3D) rich environments regardless of user’s geographical distance, allowing users to more readily engage with the experiences as they are disclosed in real time (Gazzard, 2009). In SL, the user is represented as an avatar, a virtual representation and embodiment of the user, facilitating movement, choice, and interaction within the virtual environment. An individual’s personification with their avatar is the key to an immersive experience (Gazzard, 2009). A key tenet of SL is a collaborative environment which supports team work.

Skills we teach in the higher education classroom train students to be leaders once they graduate and enter the workforce. Team building is an essential skill for students in the classroom and then essential as they enter the work place; coupled with technology, students who have grown up immersed in it (digital natives), literally thrive in the virtual experience. Virtual teams have become increasingly prevalent within the contemporary workplace and have gained significant importance over the past decade. A corporation’s ability to successfully facilitate virtual teams and support their technological needs has become a critical imperative (Herman 2001; Lewis & Allen, 2005). Higher education must prepare and train students to successfully take their place on virtual teams following graduation.

With clear objectives to cut costs and increase productivity among workers, many organizations have adopted virtual teams. Virtual teams rely on interactive technology so members can work together when separated by physical distance (Gibson, Ivancevich, & Konopaske, 2006). Governmental agencies, public profit and non-profit, as well as private sector organizations make use of virtual teams, employing various technologies, including synchronous and a-synchronous communication tools supporting teamwork within business and educational environments.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Team Synergy: Synergistic relations within teams occur when every member of a team contributes something positive toward meeting an end goal. ( Einstein & Scott, 2001 ).

Collaboration: Collaboration is a process through which a group of people constructively explore their ideas to search for a solution that extends one's own limited vision ( King, 2007 ).

Dynamic Teams: Teams constructed for a specific project or they are task-focused groups and are based on collaborative principles, which are the collective work of two or more individuals with a sense of shared purpose and direction (Paloff & Pratt, 2006 AU28: The in-text citation "Paloff & Pratt, 2006" is not in the reference list. Please correct the citation, add the reference to the list, or delete the citation. ).

Virtual Teams: Virtual teams rely on interactive technology so members can work together when separated by physical distance (Gibson & Cohen, 2006 AU30: The in-text citation "Gibson & Cohen, 2006" is not in the reference list. Please correct the citation, add the reference to the list, or delete the citation. ).

Second Life: Second Life (SL) is a social virtual world, emphasizing the general use of immersive worlds for supporting a variety of human activities and interactions, presenting a plethora of new opportunities and challenges for enriching how we learn, work and play ( Boulos, Hetherington & Wheeler, 2007 ; Prasolova-Førland, Sourin & Sourina, 2006 ).

Avatar: An avatar is a virtual representation and embodiment of the user, facilitating movement, choice, and interaction within the virtual environment ( Gazzard, 2009 ).

Social Loafing: A phenomenon where workers exhibit a decrease in individual effort when performing in groups as compared to when they perform independently ( Einstein & Scott, 2001 ).

Experiential Learning: In an experiential learning environment, everything occurs within a social environment, our role as educators is to organize the knowledge, content and experiences into material that can be facilitated into quality learning experiences (Dewey, 1938 AU29: The in-text citation "Dewey, 1938" is not in the reference list. Please correct the citation, add the reference to the list, or delete the citation. ).

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