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Virtual Leadership

Moving teams online during the covid-19 crisis

Written by E. Abrahamsson, J. O. Axelsson

Paper category

Master Thesis


Business Administration>Leadership




Master Thesis: Virtual team 2.2.1 What is a virtual team? The development of globalization and the development of technology are the forces that make it possible for us to engage in virtualization. Organizations can benefit from VT because they can use employees who are best suited to perform a particular task without worrying about where they work (Cameron and Green, 2020). In addition, VT enables organizations to operate in a highly adaptable, flexible and responsive manner because they are not affected by spatial boundaries (Bell and Kozlowski, 2002), which is required by today’s business environment if they want to remain competitive ( Duarte and Snyder, 2006). VT is defined as "a collection of individuals geographically and/or organizationally or otherwise dispersed, who collaborate to achieve specific goals through communication and information technology" (Zigurs, 2003, p.340). VTs can participate in any task, and there is no clear point where it becomes virtual, but the degree of virtuality of the team in different dimensions (Zigurs, 2003). Therefore, co-location teams can also demonstrate a high level of "virtuality" because geographic dispersion is not a single element that defines a virtual team (Kirkman and Mathieu, 2005). Zigurs (2003) provides a framework to systematically consider the "virtuality" of VT in four related dimensions: geography; time; culture and organization (see Figure 1). The definition of this dimension is the lack of physical proximity between team members scattered in different geographical locations (for example, Bell and Kozlowski, 2002; Dulebohn and Hoch, 2017; Malhotra et al., 2007; Townsend et al., 1998). “Although members of traditional teams work close to each other, members of virtual teams are usually separated by miles or even continents” (Bell and Kozlowski 2002, p. 22). This shows that as long as any team is not physically close, it will become virtual, because communication methods will inevitably change. Although co-location teams also use virtual tools to communicate, they are more like a complement to face-to-face interaction (Bell and Kozlowski, 2002). Geographic dispersion has the most significant impact on reducing spontaneous interactions (O'Leary and Cummings, 2007). Since space boundaries do not limit VT, they can naturally also transcend time boundaries, which enables them to work continuously across time zones. However, the synchronization of communication methods determines time dispersion, where asynchronous communication (such as email) brings a higher degree of time dispersion than real-time communication (such as video conferencing) (Bell and Kozlowski, 2002). Time dispersion has a great impact on the team. 2.2.2 The research before becoming a virtual team largely ignored the transition process of VT (Gilson et al., 2015). How to start a brand new VT has received more attention. Duarteand Snyder (2006) proposed 6 steps to successfully start VT, including selecting and contacting team members, defining the purpose of the team, and so on. In this regard, the creation of VT is not a transitional process. Similarly, Chinowsky and Rojas (2003) believe that the relationship must be established in the early stages of VT development. This may be the result of a common understanding of VT, that is, geographically dispersed individuals gather together through computer-mediated tools to solve common tasks (for example, Munkvoldand Zigurs, 2007; Saundersand Ahuja, 2006; Townsend et al., 1998). Breuand Hemingway (2004) explored what they called the “virtualization” of public sector organizations, which began to use temporary VT because the co-location inspection team was disbanded and replaced by a resource pool. For example, they concluded that when co-location teams become new managers and colleagues follow their example, knowledge sharing between co-location teams will be affected. In addition, they pointed out that virtualized team members must create and maintain more relationships, which is difficult to do at a distance. However, their research involved 400 resolved teams. Existing literature usually focuses on how to create VT from scratch when members do not know each other, such as facing challenges in building trust and effective communication (for example, Zigurs, 2003). However, the case we chose is composed of an existing team assuming that sufficient communication and trust have been established. However, the communication will change in some way because the team no longer interacts face to face as they would when they were in the same location. Here, our research gap becomes obvious, which proves this research. Due to the sudden occurrence of the covid-19 crisis, many organizations cannot proceed with the linear development of VT suggested in the literature. 2.2.3 Challenges faced by virtual teams So far, existing research has identified four main challenges for VT: communication (eg Dulebohn and Hoch, 2017; Munkvold and Zigurs, 2007; Saunders and Ahuja, 2006), creation and maintenance Relationships (e.g. Breu and Hemingway, 2004; Pauleen and Yoong, 2001; Saunders and Ahuja, 2006), building trust (e.g. Brahm and Kunze, 2012; Chinowsky and Rojas, 2003; Ford et al., 2017) and team members Lack of social interaction (eg Chinowsky and Rojas, 2003; Daim et al., 2012; Dulebohn and Hoch, 2017). Read Less