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Working in Virtual Teams
Overcoming Time and Geography?
Following from the section on Virtual Organizations, this section will look at a different form of virtual group: The Virtual Team. The Encyclopedia from CALT at Insead offers a large selection of material that may be of general interest for this and other sections concerned with different types of virtual group.
The concept of the virtual team is not clearly defined and it often overlaps with notions of the networked organization, virtual communities, electronic commerce and teleworking. Viewed in this way, virtual teams are seen as a way of overcoming differences in time and geography through creating a virtual co-presence (sometimes called virtual co-location) through the application of technology, i.e. they exploit reliable and consistent communications in order to work together and overcome some of the 'frictions' of time and geography.
In contrast to home based work and telework described earlier, but a greater proportion of the work is carried out 'on-line' as hot distributed collaborative work. When teams are physically co-located, the co-presence required for 'hot' working is not a problem. However, when work becomes temporally or geographically distributed is what is meant by 'presence' can be problematical, as can the mediating effects of the technologies used to achieve this.
Virtual Teams are seen as project or task focused groups. Team membership may be relatively stable (e.g. in an established sales team) or change on a regular basis (e.g. in project teams). Members may be drawn from the same organization or from several different organizations, (e.g. when projects involve consultants or external assessors). Further distinctions can be made on physical proximity, (i.e. whether or not the team members are co-located) and by work-cycle synchronicity, (i.e. whether or not the team members are in the same time zones).
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.
For a further discussion of this topic, see Virtual Teams: An example of Hot Distributed Collaborative Work? from the MSc IP HI2 course.
- See any of the books from the MIS books section
- Lipnack, J and Stamps. J, Virtual Teams: Reaching Across Space, Time, and Organizations with Technology. New York: John Wiley, 1997.
- Mohrman. S., Cohen. S., and Mohrman. A. Designing Team-Based Organizations: New Forms for Knowledge Work, Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1995.
- Shaw, G. (1993) The shape of our field: Business communication as a hybrid discipline. Journal of Business Communication, 30, 297-312.
- Tushman, M.L. and Nadler, D.A. (1978) Information processing as an integrating concept in organizational design. Academy of Management Review, 3, 613-624.
- Finholt, T. and Sproull, L.S. (1990) Electronic groups at work. Organization Science, 1(1), 41-64.
- El-Shinnawy, M. and Markus, M.L. (1997) The poverty of media richness theory: explaining people's choice of electronic mail vs. voice mail. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 46, 443-467.
- 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
- Chinowsky, P.S. and Goodman, R.E. (1996) Managing Interdisciplinary Project Teams Through the Web. Journal of Universal Computer Science. Vol. 2 No. 9 pp. 597-609
- Korine, H. (1999) The New Team Organization: Learning to Manage Arbitrariness. European Management Journal. Vol. 17, No. 1, pp. 1-7
- Williams T. A. (1994). Information Technology and Self Managing Work Groups. Behaviour and Information Technology 13(4), pp 268-276
- If you wish to search for additional sources of information, use the MIS links page
Identity in Virtual Teams
- Working Together, Apart - part one and part two
A short article in two parts by the improbably named Gordon Bennett on Web-enabled distributed teamwork.
- Managing Virtual Teams (.pdf)
Text of speech given by Lisa Kimball (no relation) for Team Strategies Conference, Toronto, Canada, 1997.
- Relationship Building in Virtual Teams (.pdf)
Information Technology (IT) provides the infrastructure for communication and collaboration tools for virtual teams, but it is the relational communication and factors of trust, commitment and communication that attention.
- Reviewing the impact of virtual teams in the information age
This paper provides an overview of virtual teams focussing on the definition of virtual teams, their salient characteristics, the communication issues they face, the technical issues involved, the issues raised by cultural diversity in the teams and the managerial implications.
- Cooperation and Conflict in Computer Communities
Many claim that Computer-mediated communication systems encourage wider participation, greater candor, and an emphasis on merit over status. Social hierarchies are dissolved and flatter, more egalitarian social organizations emerge. But as with earlier technologies, the central problems of social relationships remain, although in new and possibly more challenging forms.
- 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.
- Distributed Design Teams as Communities of Practice
The role of the team in design has long been established. Indeed the sheer size of design projects and the consequent range of design skills required makes teams an essential component of most successful design projects today. However, with the ever-increasing globalization of design and manufacturing, teams are less likely to be co-located, and are increasingly having to work across time and space in virtual teams. This paper applies the concept of Communities of Practice to case studies from the European product design, aerospace and construction industries.
- When No One's Home: Being a Remote Writer in Distributed Teams
Technology has permanently shifted communication, making remote interaction commonplace. Lack of face to- face contact can be a disorienting experience for any communicator. Project teams that are spread across multiple time zones have no guarantee of successful teamwork. Are the rules different for remote teams?
- Identity and Deception in the Virtual Community
Identity plays a key role in virtual communities. In communication, which is the primary activity, knowing the identity of those with whom you communicate is essential for understanding and evaluating an interaction. Yet in the disembodied world of the virtual community, basic cues about personality and social role we are accustomed to in the physical world are absent. The goal of this paper is to understand how identity is established in an online community and to examine the effects of identity deception.
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