Leading for Team Adaptation in Global Virtual Teams

Leading for Team Adaptation in Global Virtual Teams

Petros Chamakiotis (University of Sussex, UK) and Zakia Khan (Birkbeck, University of London, UK)
Copyright: © 2017 |Pages: 12
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-1049-9.ch065
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Abstract

There exists significant evidence in the relevant literature that global virtual teams (GVTs) have become ubiquitous in most sectors and have attracted both scholarly and practitioner interest. Despite this—and the fluid and dynamic character of GVTs—there exist gaps as to what team adaptation looks like in the GVT context and how leadership can be exercised to support it. The chapter presents an exploratory case study with members of GVTs in a global organization in the financial services industry. Drawing on interviews with selected participants, the chapter makes the following contributions: 1) It shows what GVT adaptation looks like, highlighting its heterogeneous character; 2) It identifies challenges GVT members face when trying to adapt; and 3) It explains how leadership can be exercised to support GVT adaptation. Recommendations for practitioners and educators are provided, and implications for future research discussed.
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Introduction

Virtual teams have become ubiquitous in most sectors and have attracted both scholarly and practitioner interest (e.g., Lipnack & Stamps, 2000). They comprise dispersed individuals who work together toward common goals using computer-mediated communication (CMC) systems (e.g., Bell & Kozlowski, 2002). Though relatively recent, the virtual team literature is rich with researchers in this field offering insightful findings on how they can be best managed, given their unprecedented challenges. For example, traditional leadership styles (e.g., centered leadership) or hierarchical leadership styles (e.g., Hoch & Kozlowski, 2014) may not be suitable in a virtual team environment; as Chamakiotis and Panteli (2010) argue, leadership in virtual teams, or e-leadership, as they refer to it, may take the form of shared or collaborative leadership at different stages of the virtual team lifecycle.

Despite this and some other accounts on leadership in virtual teams, there exist significant theoretical gaps in the field. For example, scholars are agreed on the fluid and dynamic character of virtual teams (e.g., Wageman, Gardner, & Mortensen, 2012), as well as on the fact that their members are expected to adapt to change more frequently, compared to traditional, face-to-face (F2F) teams (Gilson, Maynard, Jones Young, Vartiainen, & Hakonen, 2015), given the increased cultural heterogeneity and also the discontinuities that characterize them (Watson-Manheim, Chudoba, & Crowston, 2012). However, we do not know how virtual teams should be led in order accommodate change and the rather frequent need to adapt to different cultures, technologies and circumstances (Gilson et al., 2015).

This chapter aims to cover part of this gap by improving understanding of the role of leadership for team adaptation and change in the context of global virtual teams (GVTs) in particular. In this regard, a case study with a global, UK-headquartered, financial services organization is hereinafter presented. Being the first one on this topic, the study presented here is qualitative and exploratory in character, and draws on 10 in-depth, semi-structured interviews with virtual team members, leaders and non-leaders. GVTs provide a pertinent context within which leadership behavior can be examined and it is hoped that this chapter will add to debates in the literature on the changing nature of leadership in view of globalization and virtuality, which have been found to impact on the way in which individuals, teams and organizations perform (Panteli, 2009). The ensuing findings are expected to be of value to both, academics and practitioners—considering the rise in the deployment of GVTs in industry—as well as to educators who aim to educate learners on the benefits and challenges of leading and managing teams that do not operate traditionally, but which are globally dispersed and whose members collaborate via CMC.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Team Adaptation: The process by which a team responds to change.

Virtual Teams: Teams whose members are dispersed (not necessarily global) and who communicate via technology to accomplish an organizational task.

Global Virtual Teams (GVTs): A team whose members are globally dispersed and communicate via technology to accomplish an organizational task.

Heterogeneity: Diversity/variety in terms of culture, nationality, educational background, work experience, etc. Also, something that comes in different shapes and sizes.

Computer-Mediated Communication (CMC): Communication (usually between organizational members) which is accomplished via technology due to the members being in different locations (geographically dispersed).

E-Leadership: Leadership which refers to virtual, computer-mediated, or electronic environments (an example of which are GVTs).

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