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Knowledge Management and Virtual Teams
The concept of the virtual team is not clearly defined, and it often overlaps with notions of the virtual or networked organization, the virtual workplace, virtual communities, electronic commerce and certain forms of teleworking. Team membership may be relatively stable (e.g. in an established sales team) or change on a regular basis (e.g. in project teams). Its members may be drawn from the same organization, (e.g. production planners and production operatives) or from several different organizations, (e.g. when projects involve consultants or external assessors). As we are also considering DCW where teams are temporally and/or physically distributed, further distinctions can be made based on physical proximity, (i.e. whether or not team members are co-located and can interact face-to-face or are geographically separated) and on work-cycle synchronicity, (i.e. whether or not members interact in the same or different time periods) as shown below.
From Effective Virtual Teams Through Communities of Practice
In this lecture we will attempt to simplify this situation by only considering one type of group: a project or task focused team (See Task Groups and Communities Compared for a more detailed discussion of this distinction.)
The main goal for a 'task' group is to fulfill a task (e.g. to deliver a product or service). Once the task has been completed, the group can be dissolved (although the same group can be re-formed around a new task). A task group is a formal group that, in most cases, is created in a top down fashion by the management of an organization. The organization or hierarchical structure of task groups usually parallels existing organizational hierarchies. The successful completion of the task (or repeated success in a series of tasks) is usually rewarded financially or by promotion. For task groups the membership is simply the people that are needed to complete the task (although task definition may be dependent on the people that are able to participate).
Based on our previous discussion of KM and DCW, one might expect the needs of distributed task based teams to be met solely by managing the hard knowledge that they need to complete their task. However, studies of such teams indicate that this is not the case
For a task group, the task usually provides the initial motivation to work together over time and space. However, in order to keep working together and/or to make working together a success more is needed. A team is more than a group of individuals working in isolation. A balance of dealing with factual content, relationships and the coordination of a central process is required. Social aspects such as a shared social context, a feeling of trust and a human interest in each other need to be balanced against the more process orientated aspects such as the planning of work and the scheduling of activities to maximize the overall performance of the group.
Aspects of such 'real life' working are often underestimated when introducing the technologies needed to support virtual working. If people work together using technology, the functionality of the technology often places an undue emphasis on a single central process such as the task or content management; peripheral processes, like social interaction are under-emphasized. Research has shown that groups that pay attention to social processes, have higher levels of satisfaction and produce better results.
For example, closely coupled (hot) working is often a feature of traditional co-located team work. Typical examples of such work might be creative 'brain storming' sessions or meetings to decide a strategy. When groups are co-located interaction and co-presence is not a problem. However when the work becomes temporally or geographically distributed, what is meant by 'presence' can be problematical, as can the mediating effects of the technologies used to communicate.
One solution that has been proposed to solve this problem is to use technology, such as videoconferencing or avatars, to simulate co-presence, i.e. to create a 'telepresence' or a 'virtual presence'. However, although significant technological advances have been made, many so called virtual teams still find that this type of work is most effectively performed in face to face meetings where the issue of trust and the ambiguity that surrounds identity in the virtual world are most easily overcome.
- Bradshaw, P, Powell, S and Terrell, I (2004) Building a Community of Practice: Technological and Social Implications for a Distributed Team, Chapter 16 in Knowledge Networks: Innovation through Communities of Practice, Paul Hildreth and Chris Kimble (Eds), Idea Group Publishing
- Majchrzak, A and Ba, S. (2000) Technology Adaptation: The Case of a Computer-Supported Inter-Organizational Virtual Team, MIS Quarterly Vol. 24 No. 4, pp. 569-600
- Townsend. A, DeMarie. A.M. and Hendrickson. A.R. (1998) Virtual teams: Technology and the workplace of the future, Academy of Management Executive, 12(3), pp 17-29
- Warkentin. M.E, Sayeed. L. and Hightower. R. (1997) Virtual Teams versus Face-to-Face Teams: An Exploratory Study of a Web-based Conference System, Decision Sciences Journal, Volume 28, Number 4, Fall.
- Iacono, S and Weisband, S (1997) Developing Trust in Virtual Teams, in: Proceedings of the Thirtieth Annual Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences, Hawaii, 1997, pp. 412-420.
- Lipnack, J and Stamps. J, (1997) Virtual Teams: Reaching Across Space, Time, and Organizations with Technology. New York: John Wiley.
- O'Hara-Devereaux, M., Johansen, R. (1994). Global work: bridging distance, culture and time. Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, CA.
- Effective Virtual Teams Through Communities of Practice
This paper examines the nature of virtual teams and their place in the networked economy. It presents a framework for categorizing virtual teams and argues that fundamental changes have taken place in the business environment which force people and organizations to operate in two spaces simultaneously: the physical space and the electronic space. Using the evidence from two recent sets of studies, it highlights some of the barriers to effective virtual team working and demonstrates the critical importance of trust and social bonding to the functioning of such teams.
- Communication and Trust in Global Virtual Teams
This paper explores the challenges of creating and maintaining trust in a global virtual team whose members transcend time, space, and culture. The challenges are highlighted by integrating recent literature on work teams, computer-mediated communication groups, cross-cultural communication, and interpersonal and organizational trust. It reports on a series of case studies of global virtual teams whose members had a common collaborative project but were separated by location and culture and which used asynchronous and synchronous computer-mediated communication.
- Studying Teamwork in Global IT Support
As modern organizations increasingly operate in a global economy, they need IT support around the globe; favourable economic conditions also encourage the use of offshore IT teams. However, when IT efforts "go global," issues and challenges typical of IT development and support are magnified. In this paper, we review and integrate three research areas that contribute to our understanding and management of global IT support teams: studies of global teamwork practices, small group dynamics theory, and studies of virtual teams.
- Workspace Awareness for Distributed Teams
Research in distributed problem solving in the last years focused on distributed applications which cooperate to accomplish a task. Another level of distributed problem solving is that of human teams which are distributed in space and cooperate in solving a problem. In this paper we will introduce distributed problem solving from the `human level', briefly present the accompanying research area of Computer-Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW) and the different basic mechanisms of computer support for workgroup computing, and then focus on the awareness information that is of special importance for supporting coordinated cooperation of groups with unstructured tasks.
- Knowledge Sharing Practices and Technology Use Norms in Dispersed Development Teams
Dispersed, cross-functional development teams-a particular type of virtual team-confront a wide range of knowledge-based challenges in their dispersed work. This study explored how such teams interact to overcome the barriers and reap the benefits of their "built-in" knowledge diversity. In particular, we sought to understand (1) how teams use various collaborative technologies at their disposal to share knowledge and (2) whether shared-or disparate-expectations around the use of those technologies influenced knowledge sharing practices.
- Major Challenges in Multi-Cultural Virtual Teams
Some of the problems that multi-cultural virtual teams experience include: time delays in replies, lack of synergy among cross-cultural team members, communications breakdowns, unresolved conflicts among members, limited hours allowed to be worked and different holidays. This paper reviews major challenges faced by multi-cultural virtual teams and describes some managerial implications.
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