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The Factors Affecting the Success and Development of Virtual Teams

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As the world transitions towards a more technological workplace, the importance of virtual teams which transcend geographic location, culture and organisational boundaries has become more and more relevant. Therefore, it is imperative to critically analyse and research factors and themes that affect the success and development of virtual teams. The themes of leadership as well as trust and cohesion will be discussed in depth based on their relevance in academic literature towards the success of virtual teams, as well as an analysis of HRM implications in order to understand what role the have to play in the development and success of virtual teams.

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Conceptualisation of Virtual Teams

Maholta et al. (2007) defined virtual teams as groups of organisationally dispersed co-workers that are formed using an amalgamation of telecommunications and IT to accomplish an organisational task. Kirkman et al. (2002) defined a virtual team as a collection of people who work without concern for geographical borders, organisational structure or time zones using ICT to collaborate and communicate. The notion of virtual infers permeable interfaces, project teams that rapidly form and reorganise in order to accommodate the dynamic needs of marketplace change.

As the technological nature in organisations shifts to a more complex, dynamic, and global environment, there has been growing importance on virtual teams in organisations. With the emphasis on a knowledge-based society, virtual teams have arisen as a significant component of organisational structure as the provide organisations with a large quota of tangible benefits. Furthermore, virtual teams offers employees greater flexibility since virtual team members are able to perform tasks in their own time more easily, which can significantly promote organisational flexibility.

LeadershipIn a thorough examination of various pieces of literature on virtual teams, it becomes apparent that leadership is a critical factor and indicator towards a team’s success. Maduka et al. (2018) defined leadership as the ability of an individual or collective to influence the behaviour or attitude of an individual, including the alteration of interactions within and between groups with respect to goals and vision. Kayworth and Leidner (2002) as well as Martins et al. (2004) argue that due to physical and cultural differences between team members, leadership plays a key role in team effectiveness. Furthermore, Hossein (2012) also maintains that effective leadership is essential to managing such a complex environment as well as keeping a successful organisation. Turkay and Tirthali (2010) also argued that effective leadership that exhibited virtual leadership competence has been shown to be a noteworthy influence inattaining positive project deliverables. Moreover, an effective leader can serve to improve team performance by providing regular, detailed, and prompt communication with their peers and the provision of articulate role relationships among the virtual team members.

Regarding effective leadership strategy, Ziek and Smulowitz (2014) concluded that leaders must be able to perform varying tasks in different situations. They drew on behavioural complexity theory to suggest, within a virtual team setting, leaders should exhibit varied and complex behaviours in order to be more effective. Furthermore, leaders of the team should be cognizant of dimensions, complexities, complications, and limitations of a virtual team; additionally, they must develop the required capabilities to effectively and efficiently manage such a team. To support this further, Kayworth and Leidner (2002) used surveys and interviews to study 13 diverse virtual teams. The survey results showed that both team members and leaders perceived communication efficiency, mentoring and satisfaction as imperative capabilities. However, the results from interviews displayed disparities among teams. During interviews, most of the team members perceived that a leader’s capacity to overcome difficulties was most important.

There are many desirable attributes that a leader should exhibit in order to achieve more desirable project goals. For example, Leaders of virtual teams should be able to acknowledge and understand differences between a virtualenvironment and conventional teamwork, to ensure they can effectively lead a high-performing team towards project success. Furthermore, Fleming (2006) claims that behavioural integration, collaboration, management of conflicts, positive project outcomes, and timely projects are all connected to desirable project leaders who have desirable capabilities. Moreover, Maduka et al. (2018) postulate that virtual team leaders should adopt a transformational style of leadership that is beneficial to meeting the team’s objectives. Additionally,Ziek and Smulowitz (2014) found that if emergent leaders were better at communicating with their team, they were much more likely to achieve success and meet project goals. Therefore, it can be seen that an effective leader can be instrumental in the success or failure of a virtual team. Trust, Cohesion and CommunicationAnother key factor influencing a virtual team’s success is their ability to trust and communicate with each other as well as their cohesive capabilities. Cummings and Bromiley (1996) maintain that a person trusts a group when several criteria are met. Firstly, that a person believes that the group makes an effort to engage with and meet commitments, that they are honest in whatever negotiations preceded such commitments, and that they do not take excessive advantage of another even when the opportunity is available. As virtual team members are geographically separated to work on tasks, trust becomes critical for both accomplishing the common objectives and holding the group together. This is because virtual teams members have to rely on others’ expertise and accountability to complete tasks. Furthermore, members’ good will sustains the team itself as a useful entity. Similarly, Powell et al. (2004) found that effective communication and collaboration without groups to be a leading indicator for a group’s success. A team with high cohesion was also found to have a positive correlation with job performance in work groups.

Within the context of a virtual team, trust must be developed in ways that are perhaps unconventional to regular teams. Jarvenpaa and Leidner (1998) postulate that trust might take on several different forms such as swift trust. They put forward the idea that trust is best created via the first initial communications between members. They also put forward that specific communication around projects and tasks is instrumental for trust development. Furthermore, they propose that social communication should act complimentarily to task communication rather than as a substitute to help facilitate the building of trust. Finally, they found that responding behaviours wer as vital as initiating behaviours as the verbalisation of criticism and excitement for specific tasks were key for project development. For trust and cohesion to develop in virtual teams, psychosocial aspects of the team dynamic need to be carefully cultivated, which ideally leads to greater success for team members and the group as a whole.

With regards to specific results regarding the effects of trust and cohesion on group performance Van de Vliert et al. (1995) hypothesized and discovered support for the effect of conflict management on relational outcomes, which improved team trust and satisfaction. This suggests that teams with higher levels of conflict management may be likely to develop greater levels of cohesion and a more satisfactory team experience. A high level of group cohesion also has key insinuations for group behaviour. Firstly, cohesion affects the amount of quality interaction among members. Research has found that highly cohesive groups that achieve success are much more likely to better communicators which clearly articulate issues and points of concern in order to solve them effectively and efficiently. Furthermore, interaction among members in highly cohesive groups is usually friendlier and more cooperative. This is because members of cohesive groups place a greater importance on the sense of belonging within groups. This enables better communication within group members and also leads to more constructive conversations which further project development. The majority of evidence in group research also indicates that cohesion tends to increase the productivity and performance of groups.

HRM Implications

There are several roles that HR has to play in order to help overcome implications and challenges around developing virtual teams. In order to understand potential roles they could play, the HRM functions should be examined alongside issues faced by virtual teams. For example, when doing recruitment and selection, HR could develop specific criteria for new employee prospects regarding virtual teams. For example, they could do psychometric tests in order to understand if an employee would be able to gel well with and develop trust with other members in a virtual team. In terms of job analysis and design, HR managers should ensure that they properly develop job descriptions to match the challenges the workers would face in a virtual team environment in order to properly prepare them for they will face. Performance appraisal would be a very effective tool in the HRM toolset as it would enable valuable insights to be gained on the successes and failures of the virtual team environment. It would also help gain further insights into which workers are best for a virtual team setting. Training and development would also be a useful tool to ensure that workers are gaining the proper skills from training in order to best take part in a virtual team. HR would also play quite a key role in helping to establish virtual teams. In order to set up an international virtual team, for example, there would need to be clear communication between various HR departments in order to ensure that the right candidates are chosen for the team. For example, there shouldn’t be too many leaders within the group as this may have a negative impact on team cohesion. It is clear to see that there is quite an important role for HR to play when examining the various challenges that come along with virtual teams.In conclusion, as the world continues to advance to a more technological state, virtual teams will likely become more and more prevalent in our society. Consequently, it is imperative that more understanding is gained in order to development higher performing virtual teams to accomplish more complex worldwide tasks.

This essay has shown that leadership as well as trust and cohesion are important themes to address when dealing with developing virtual teams. It has also proven that there is a key role to be played by HR in the management and development of these teams and that they should be an integral part of the establishment process. Further research should be done on this topic to ensure that future practices involving virtual teams can be done as efficiently as possible an ensure the greatest chance of success for organisations.

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