Virtual Team Leadership: Perspectives from the Field

Virtual Team Leadership: Perspectives from the Field

Laura A. Hambley (University of Calgary, Canada), Thomas A. O’Neill (University of Western Ontario, Canada) and Theresa J.B. Kline (University of Calgary, Canada)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-110-0.ch007
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The purpose of this study was to improve the understanding of virtual team leadership occurring within existing virtual teams in a range of organizations. Qualitative data were collected through comprehensive interviews with nine virtual team leaders and members from six different organizations. A semi-structured interview format was used to elicit extensive information about effective and ineffective virtual team leadership behaviours. Content analysis was used to code the interview transcripts and detailed notes obtained from these interviews. Two independent raters categorized results into themes and sub-themes. These results provide real-world examples and recommendations above and beyond what can be learned from simulated laboratory experiments. The four most important overarching findings are described using the following headings: 1) Leadership critical in virtual teams, 2) Virtual team meeting effectiveness, 3) Personalizing virtual teamwork, and 4) Learning to effectively use different media. These findings represent the most significant and pertinent results from this qualitative data and provide direction for future research, as well as practical recommendations for leaders and members of virtual teams.
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Leadership Research

Previous leadership theories have used trait, behavioural, and contingency-based approaches to describing leadership effects at the individual, team, and organizational level (Yukl, 2006). Recently, these theories have received less attention, as an alternative paradigm has come to the forefront of leadership research. This paradigm has inspiration as a key tenet and the theories using the paradigm have been coined “the New Leadership theories” (Bryman, 1993). One similarity among the new theories is that they provide a rationale to explain how leaders can increase organizational effectiveness, and inspire followers to achieve outstanding levels of motivation, admiration, respect, trust, and commitment. These outcomes are the result of an emphasis on symbolism and emotionally-based leader behaviours (e.g., visioning, role modeling, risk-taking), in addition to cognitively oriented leader behaviours (e.g., adaptation, versatility, intellectual stimulation) (House & Aditya, 1997).

Of particular interest to the present study is the theory posited by Bass (1985) and later revised and updated by Bass and Avolio (1994, 1997). This theory, called the Full Range Leadership Theory (FRLT; Sivasubramaniam, Murray, Avolio, & Jung, 2002), was developed to integrate transformational, transactional, and laissez-faire leadership styles, and has been supported empirically (Judge & Piccolo, 2004; Lowe & Kroeck, 1996). It is widely accepted in the management and leadership literatures (Antonakis & House, 2002) and has served as the conceptual basis for many studies of virtual team leadership (e.g., Kahai & Avolio, 2006; Kahai, Sosik, & Avolio, 1997; 2003).

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