Using Soft Systems Ideas within Virtual Teams

Using Soft Systems Ideas within Virtual Teams

Frank Stowell (University of Portsmouth, UK) and Shavindrie Cooray (Curry College, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-9688-4.ch014
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Abstract

Recent research adds support to the view that the way that individuals act as part of a virtual group is different from behavior in face-to-face meetings. Specifically researchers have discovered that conflicts are more prevalent within virtual teams as opposed to face to face teams. This is because research has shown that participants are more likely to change their initial points of view (shaped by personal values, biases and experience) when discussions are held in a face to face environment rather than through virtual means. This insight raises doubts upon the effectiveness of CMCs as an instrument of organizational cohesion. In this paper we reflect upon this position and attempt to discover if these concerns can be overcome through the employment of Systems methods used in organizational inquiry. We do this through an evaluation of the results of a preliminary study between Curry College in Boston, Massachusetts, USA and Richmond University in London, UK.
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1. Introduction And Purpose

In this chapter 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 & Welch, 2012 pp116-117; Champion & Stowell, 2001). We describe the results of an Action Research (AR) project undertaken between two educational institutions geographically separated by several thousand miles who share a common language and intent, as a means of gaining understanding of synchronous virtual communication. The authors add to synchronous virtual team research and systems literature through the lessons learnt from an investigation of the feasibility of using a soft method of inquiry within a synchronous virtual environment. The approach was adopted as a means of creating shared understanding and managing conflicts. The lessons learnt from the study are relevant in the light of the rising use of virtual teams in various sectors including IT project development, education and business management.

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