Technology is consistently evolving and impacting many organizations worldwide. It has changed many aspects in the workplace, including work styles, communication, and teamwork. Communication has been transformed into the ways of the virtual world, directly affecting group dynamics.
Organizations often form teams of employees to serve a variety of purposes and reach goals in a more effective manner than independent work. Teams used to work strictly through face-to-face interactions, but with growing technology, virtual teams have been created and are used fairly often.
“A virtual team is any team whose member interactions are mediated by time, distance, and technology.
The core feature is not the technology, but that the team works together on a task while physically separated. Group members can communicate through e-mail, voice mail, video conferencing, electronic bulletin boards, and intranets.” (Levi, 2007, p. 258) Many research studies have been done to assess the effectiveness of virtual teams, examining the positive and negative aspects.
This literature review is aimed to analyze several articles where researchers have explored many components of virtual teams and their impact.
Vroman and Kovacich (2002) wrote an article that analyzed “the interactions of a virtual interdisciplinary team.” They explain computer-mediated communication (CMC) to be the basis of virtual teams, which they then compare to face-to-face teams.
They examined the Interdisciplinary Training for Health Care for Rural Areas (ITHCRA) project, which is a team comprised of many different types of health professionals (e.g. clinical psychologist, nurse practitioner, nutritionist, etc.) The team’s ultimate goal was to develop an interdisciplinary health care curriculum, solely using CMC.
ITHCRA functioned the same as any other team working together would, and faced the same challenges and developmental processes (forming, storming, norming, performing, and transforming).
They additionally had to learn the ways of the new communication technology, which was an obstacle for many of the group members. The developmental process of the virtual team was similar to that of a face-to-face team, however, a number of differences were found.
The forming phase was very typical for team development. Team building and norm development took precedent of the project tasks initially. They had met face-to-face once, and after looking at their communication after this occurred, it was obvious they had formed social relationships and were more committed.
This raised the question: what would have happened if the face-to-face meeting did not take place? It may have been more effective to have two groups in this study so comparisons could be made (e.g. one group solely virtual, the other group allowed 1-3 face-to-face meetings). It is hard to determine whether certain aspects of team development would have taken place without the opportunity to see their team members in a more personal way.
Storming took place as well, which is when teams face certain conflicts. There were no apparent differences for this development in the virtual team. Norming, performing, and transforming phases of development all contributed to the team’s success and helped them complete their tasks and reach their goals.
Vroman and Kovacich (2002) provided a good analysis of ITHCRA and the ways in which it was successful and where the members were challenged. They portrayed virtual teams as being more convenient, effective, and less time consuming when completing tasks. However, it allows for less personal contact and can be more difficult for some to communicate and fulfill the expectations of the group project.
It may have been more effective to have ITHCRA communicate solely through CMC and compare them to a team with the same tasks and goals, but who communicated through a combination of CMC and face-to-face meetings. More valid results would be accessible to draw more accurate conclusions. It was interesting to use a interdisciplinary team, however, it may have acted as another variable besides CMC, which would then alter the results.
Kirkman, Rosen, Tesluk, and Gibson (2004) conducted a research study on the impact of team empowerment on virtual team performance. “Team empowerment is defined as increased task motivation that is due to team members’ collective, positive assessments of their organizational tasks (Kirkman & Rosen, 2002).
They examined team empowerment through the teams potency, meaningfulness, autonomy, and impact to determine its’ impact on process improvement and customer satisfaction. Kirkman et al. (2004) studied a service organization that utilized high technology and frequently formed virtual teams to complete the company’s tasks and goals.
Each team member had different roles within the organization and was separated from each other geographically. The researchers moderated the effects of face-to-face meetings to examine the relationship between team empowerment and both process improvement and customer satisaction.
Kirkman et al. (2004) used surveys, observation, a team empowerment measure they had created, and customer satisfaction and process improvement scorecards to test their hypotheses, which were that 1. Team empowerment will have a positive relation to virtual team process improvement, 2.
Team empowerment will have a positive relation to virtual team customer satisfaction, and 3.
The number of team’s face-to-face meetings will alter the relationship between team empowerment and process improvement (the fewer face-to-face meetings the stronger the relationship), and 4. The number of team’s face-to-face meetings will alter the relationship between team empowerment and customer satisfaction (the fewer face-to-face meetings the stronger the relationship).
Their results indicated support for hypotheses one, two, and three, but did not support the fourth hypothesis. The researchers produced a well-designed study with significant, meaningful results that help contribute to the understanding of virtual teams.
They operationally defined all of the terms and measures to provide an equal understanding for everyone. It seems that virtual teams have many positive characteristics that are more effective compared to the common face-to-face teams. With the rising technology, virtual teams may become the norm as researchers continue to understand their components and wire them for optimal success. Montoya-Weiss, Massey, and Song (2001) wrote an article on the findings of their research study.
They “examined the effects of temporal coordination on virtual teams supported by an asynchronous communication technology.” They measured the mechanism “process structure” to determine the relationship between conflict management behavior and virtual team performance.
They measured conflict management individually for each team member through a questionnaire they created. They defined their dependent variable, virtual team performance, as “the quality of the team rationale used to support the team decision.”
They examined the range, depth, and organization for each team decision. Lastly, they observed and analyzed all communication among the virtual team. Montoya-Weiss et al. (2001) had five hypotheses total, which were tested through statistical analysis. They predicted that for all conflict management behaviors, a positive interaction would result.