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Organizations are utilizing virtual teams, comprising workgroup members who communicate and collaborate with technology, to accomplish tasks. These teams are geographically distributed and communicate via computer-mediated communication systems (CMCS), and may never or rarely meet face-to-face. Relational links among team members have been found to be a significant contributor to the effectiveness of information exchange in the use of CMCS. In most cases, team members receive little or no training to improve the effectiveness of this form of communication. When training is used, it often focuses on software utilization skills, not on interpersonal communication dynamics. This paper discusses the effect of virtual team communication training on group interactions, especially for enhancing these relational links and thereby improving communication and information exchange in virtual teams. It was found that teams that were given appropriate training exhibited improved perceptions of the interaction process over time, specifically with regard to trust, commitment and frank expression between members. Discussion of the role of training on virtual team processes and outcomes is discussed and future research implications are presented.
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Training to improve virtual team
communication
Merrill Warkentin & *Peggy M. Beranek
214 Hayden Hall, College of Business Administration, Northeastern University, Boston MA
02115, USA, and *178 Morison Hall, CIS Department, Bentley College, Waltham MA 02154,
USA
Abstract. Organizations are utilizing virtual teams, comprising workgroup mem-
bers who communicate and collaborate with technology, to accomplish tasks.
These teams are geographically distributed and communicate via computer-
mediated communication systems (CMCS), and may never or rarely meet face-to-
face. Relational links among team members have been found to be a significant
contributor to the effectiveness of information exchange in the use of CMCS. In
most cases, team members receive little or no training to improve the effectiveness
of this form of communication. When training is used, it often focuses on software
utilization skills, not on interpersonal communication dynamics. This paper dis-
cusses the effect of virtual team communication training on group interactions,
especially for enhancing these relational links and thereby improving communica-
tion and information exchange in virtual teams. It was found that teams that were
given appropriate training exhibited improved perceptions of the interaction process
over time, specifically with regard to trust, commitment and frank expression
between members. Discussion of the role of training on virtual team processes and
outcomes is discussed and future research implications are presented.
Keywords: Computer-mediated communications systems (CMCS), media rich-
ness, relational links, social presence theory, teamwork training, virtual teamwork
INTRODUCTION
The rapid growth of the Internet and telecommuting coupled with increased globalization of
organizations have contributed to the growing number of people who work in virtual teams within
and between organizations. Virtual teams are groups of people engaged in a common task or
goal communicating through electronic means, which may be electronic mail (email), Web-
based communications, video and/or audio, but in general having considerable interaction on-
line. Miles & Snow (1986) defined a virtual team as an evolutionary form of a network organi-
zation; virtual team processes are enabled by communication and information technology
(Davidow & Malone, 1992; Jarvenpaa & Ives, 1994). Computer-mediated communication
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#1999 Blackwell Science Ltd
systems (CMCS) are sociotechnical systems that support and enhance the communication-
and co-ordination-related activities of team members engaged in computer-supported co-
operative work. These computer-based communication technologies are utilized to overcome
space and time constraints that burden face-to-face meetings, to increase the range and depth
of information access and to improve group task performance effectiveness, especially by
overcoming `process losses' (McGrath & Hollingshead, 1993, 1994). Further, CMCS increase
the range, capacity and speed of managerial communications (Culnan & Markus, 1987). They
can also `reduce or eliminate the expense and inconvenience associated with distributed work'
(Galegher & Kraut, 1994). One objective of using these technologies is to create similar levels of
communications' speed and effectiveness as those achieved at traditional meetings. Virtual
teams allow managers to assemble groups of employees to meet transient, unanticipated
needs (Hammer & Champy, 1993). Virtual teams that can fulfil constantly changing task
requirements can offer organizations the flexibility to remain competitive (Mowshowitz, 1997).
Virtual teamwork may be synchronous (`same time/different place') or asynchronous (`dif-
ferent time/different place'). Synchronous meetings are spontaneous, in which ideas are
exchanged with little structure. Participants communicate with each other in such a way that it is
sometimes difficult to attribute an idea to one participant or establish the reason behind a
particular decision. In contrast, asynchronous meetings are more structured than synchronous
meetings. These meetings rely more on documents exchanged among participants. Compared
with synchronous meetings, asynchronous meeting participants have longer to compose their
messages and therefore it is easy to attribute an idea to its originator and establish the reason
behind a particular decision (Warkentin et al., 1997). However, asynchronous meetings require
more time than synchronous meetings because information exchange takes longer. Asyn-
chronous meetings are frequently used by groups in which at least one participant is in a remote
location (Kinney & Panko, 1996).
CMCS technologies that support synchronous communication include AOL `chat rooms' and
the Internet Relay Chat (IRC). CMCS technologies that facilitate asynchronous meetings
include email, electronic document management systems and computer conference systems.
Computer conferencing systems, which are a `structured form of electronic mail in which
messages are organized by topic and dialogues are often mediated' (see Hiltz & Turoff, 1978;
Baecker, 1993) include Internet Usenet newsgroups and bulletin board systems (BBS) or
threaded discussion databases. The technology utilized in this paper (`MeetingWeb
TM
') is an
asynchronous BBS computer conference technology and is explained in detail below.
RELATIONAL LINKS
Developing relational links involves performing activities related to the member support and
group well-being function (Warkentin et al., 1997) by establishing position or group status of
members, defining task roles of group members and establishing norms for group interaction.
According to social information processing theory, the exchange of social information will help
teams develop relational links. This activity is a natural process between persons meeting face-
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to-face in which communication includes the content of the spoken word as well as cues that are
visually communicated. People rely on multiple modes of communication in face-to-face con-
versation, such as paraverbal (tone of voice, inflection, voice volume) and non-verbal (eye
movement, facial expression, hand gestures and other body language) cues. These cues help
regulate the flow of conversation, facilitate turn taking, provide feedback and convey subtle
meanings. As a result, face-to-face conversation is a remarkably orderly process. In normal
face-to-face conversation, there are few interruptions or long pauses and the distribution of
participation is consistent, although skewed toward higher status members (McGrath, 1990). In
the electronic communications arena, the use of `emoticons' or `smilies' (Pastmaster & Decair,
1997) when sending electronic messages, typing in ALL-CAPS or bracketing words in
*asterisks* to denote emphasis, or the use of exclamation points!! to `shout' are instances of
such socioemotional exchanges (Chidambaram, 1996; Walther, 1996).
The development of relational links among team members has been found to be a significant
contributor to the effectiveness of information exchange (Warkentin et al., 1997). Past research
on relational links has indicated that computer-supported groups, given adequate time, will
exchange enough social information to develop strong relational links (Burke & Chidambaram,
1995; Chidambaram, 1996). Methods of improving the interactive experience among virtual
team members have been investigated and devised (Warkentin et al., 1997). Recent research
has suggested that teams given virtual team communication training will develop stronger
relational links faster than teams without such training.
THE VIRTUAL TEAM PROCESS AND VTC TRAINING
This paper evaluates the effects of virtual team communication (VTC) training on group inter-
actions over time. Most studies concerning the use of CMCS and group communication have
focused on single-session uses and have not focused on the repeated use of CMCS, in which
group attitudes and outcomes can evolve over time. (In this study, each group worked together
on three sequential tasks over the course of 8 weeks.) It has been suggested that organizations
can accelerate the acceptance and utilization of CMCS technologies by training users in
relationship development. This paper explores the role of VTC training in enhancing these
relational links and thereby improving communication and information exchange effectiveness.
Some of the guidelines (see Table 1) for organizing and conducting CMCS meetings from
Table 1. Guidelines for successful virtual teams
Define the team's objectives Foster social presence (interaction, inclusion, and participation)
Assess agenda items Incorporate channels to share socioemotional cues
Identify appropriate members Establish the position of group members
Establish a team leader Define task roles
Establish norms for group interaction
Adapted from Jay (1976); Niederman et al. (1996); McGrath (1991); Warkentin et al. (1997)
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previous research (Jay, 1976; Niederman et al., 1996) include a definition of the objective of the
meeting, assessment of agenda items, identification of appropriate members and the estab-
lishment of a team leader. Other work has identified the necessity of fostering interaction,
inclusion and participation (McGrath, 1991), as well as incorporating channels for sharing
socioemotional cues between participants to increase the media richness of participants'
communications (Warkentin et al., 1997). Performing activities such as establishing the position
of group members, defining task roles and establishing norms for group interaction all can help
support the establishment of relational links (Warkentin et al., 1997). Drawing on these sources
and guidelines, a programme of VTC training was developed and implemented in this study and
the effects of this training are presented.
Several bodies of research address the impact of computer support on teams. In particular,
media richness theory and social presence theory state that computer-mediated group inter-
actions are lacking in their ability to share socioemotional information and cues needed to develop
trust, warmth and other interpersonal affections (Daft et al., 1987; Short et al., 1976). This
approach has been termed the `cues-filtered-out' view (Culnan & Markus, 1987). Central to this
approach is the premise that the written channel precludes the ability to exchange non-verbal and
paraverbal cues necessary for socioemotional exchange. Media richness theory (Daft & Lengel,
1986; Daft et al., 1987) suggests that media vary in the levels of richness according to the number
of cues they are able to convey, the timeliness of the feedback and the capacity of natural
expression. Rich media, such as face-to-face communication, are better suited to highly
equivocal tasks, and leaner media, such as written or textual, are better suited to less equivocal
tasks (Daft & Lengel, 1986); the appropriate match of medium and task is related to enhanced
managerial effectiveness (Zack, 1993). Social presence theory (Short et al., 1976) suggests that
the fewer channels available within a medium the less attention is paid by the users to the
presence of other social participants' interactions, and social presence declines as messages
become more impersonal (Hiltz et al., 1986). After reviewing the literature, Rice & Love (1987)
concluded that `CMC, because of its lack of audio and video cues, will be perceived as impersonal
and lacking in normative reinforcement, so there will be less socioemotional content exchanged.'
Training teams to adaptively utilize technology for communicating such types of information may
help computer-supported teams develop relational links faster and more efficiently.
However, other CMCS studies have found that computer-mediated teams do share relational
information (Adler, 1995; Chidambaram, 1996; Walther, 1996; Warkentin et al., 1997). Social
information processing theory (Walther, 1996) suggests that relational intimacy may take longer
to develop in computer-supported groups and was used as the basis for testing a temporally
bounded model of group behaviour. The basic argument underlying this model is that computer-
supported groups, given adequate time, will exchange enough social information to develop
strong relational links. Thus, whereas computer support was expected to limit group interaction
initially, the model predicted that over a period of time such constraints would dissipate. The
results show evidence of such shifts among computer-supported groups. Walther (1996)
suggests computer-mediated communication does not differ from face-to-face communication
in terms of the substance but in terms of a slower rate of transfer, and suggests the use of
`emoticons' and ALL-CAPS to exchange socioemotional information.
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Group cohesiveness has been linked to a number of positive outcomes, such as enhanced
motivation, better decisions and more open communication (Mabry & Barnes, 1980; Keller &
McGrath, 1988; Budman et al., 1993). Groups that are more cohesive also tend to communicate
more openly, exert more influences on members to conform to group norms and display higher
task satisfaction (Seashore, 1954; Keller & McGrath, 1988; Miranda, 1991; Burke & Chidam-
baram, 1995).
The team performance model (Drexler et al., 1988) represents a macroview of the meeting
process and can be used from the moment teams are formed. This model (see Figure 1)
summarizes the basic dynamics of teams and involves seven stages. Each stage provides an
important step in the team-building process. The model contributes to the task outcome of the
meeting as well as to the relationship outcome. A critical part of any meeting is the development
of a relationship among the participants to provide a foundation for trust and commitment
(Chidambaram, 1996). Each of these stages of the model can be consciously approached
during a meeting. In the `creating' stages of the meeting model, members get to know one
another, generally by introductions and developing an understanding of other group members.
This helps foster interaction as well (McGrath, 1991). In this creating stage, members also
define the task (Niederman et al., 1996) and determine how to break the task up into steps if
needed, defining task roles and establishing norms (Warkentin et al., 1997). It is at this point
that members may want to identify a team leader, as suggested in Niederman et al. (1996).
Figure 1. Team performance model. Adapted from Drexler et al. (1988).
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Training to improve virtual team communication
Electronic communication has benefits and drawbacks that have often been referred to as
`process gains and losses' (Nunamaker et al., 1991). Overcoming the drawbacks involves first
understanding what they are and then having mechanisms for approaching them. Drawbacks
include information overload, free-riding, flaming and fewer information cues. Structuring the
electronic conversation is necessary to help to overcome information overload. The system
used in this study helps structure the meeting by providing for new topics as well as hierarchical
responses to topics. In addition, comments were identified by group member names, which may
not prevent free-riding but will identify those actively participating. Group members were urged
to send messages to non-participating members (if any) in an effort to draw them into the group
and foster inclusion and participation (McGrath, 1991).
Although it has been found that electronic communication channels initially lower relational
intimacy, the members of such teams will develop ways of exchanging socioemotional com-
munication and, over a period of time, groups using computers will gradually develop close
relational ties (Burke & Chidambaram, 1995; Chidambaram, 1996). The research also showed
that members of a group will eventually reveal group feelings and attitudes. In addition, it was
argued that members were able to build a representation of the group, even in anonymous
conditions (Chidambaram, 1996). Further support for the importance of relational links was
found by Warkentin et al. (1997), who showed them to be a significant contributor to the
effectiveness of information exchange and went on to present steps that could be taken to
improve the interaction experience of virtual teams.
McGrath (1990) offers the TIP theory (time, interaction, performance), which purports that the
development of relational links in groups involves performing activities related to the member
support and group well-being functions. According to this theory, groups make contributions to
group discussions at three different levels: (1) production function, (2) member-support func-
tion, and (3) group well-being function. In addition, all three functions are achieved by means of
one of four modes Ð (1) inception, (2) solution, (3) resolution of conflict, and (4) execution of the
performance. The development of relational links involves performing activities relating to either
the member-support function or the group well-being function. A team with no past history that is
working on a challenging problem with much technological and environmental uncertainty will
have to engage in all three functions and in all four modes to avoid detrimental effects on
performance. This is another area in which appropriate training may facilitate improved out-
comes.
Because the exchange of socioemotional information will help teams develop relational links
and because stronger relational links in groups have been associated with higher task perfor-
mance, anything that improves the level of exchange of socioemotional information can improve
the outcomes of virtual team processes. Further, because it has also been shown that higher
total levels of information exchange within groups is associated with improved outcomes and
that information exchange is strongly affected by the group's internal dynamics or relational
links, efforts to build stronger relational links within virtual teams should also result in improved
task performance. Therefore, it is proposed that teams that have received VTC training will have
developed stronger relational links faster than the teams without VTC training, and that such
higher levels of relational links should lead to improved virtual team performance levels.
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THE STUDY
An exploratory study (see Figure 2) was devised to evaluate the effects of VTC training on
virtual team members' perceptions of group interaction. Subjects were from two sections of a
graduate computer architecture class. Six teams of three or four students were established in
each section giving a total of 12 teams. Six teams (teams 1±6) in one section were formally
presented with VTC training; they served as the treatment group. But teams 7±12 in the other
section were given no such training; they served as the control group. All teams used asyn-
chronous communications via the MeetingWeb
TM
software, described below.
The participants (subjects)
The participants in this study were upper-level graduate students enrolled in a course on
computer architecture, which was required for their degree course `Computer Information
Systems.' They were administratively placed into 12 groups in such a way that no two members
who met face-to-face in other course projects would be virtual partners. The subjects were
provided with sufficient grade incentives to ensure that they were motivated to contribute to the
team's success. Furthermore, because this was an evening course (typically populated by
older, experienced full-time employees rather than younger, full-time students), the typical
student was mature and comfortable with group-related work. As evening students, they also
had little chance of knowing their virtual partners, who also only came on campus to take
classes. Fourteen participants were women and 24 were men.
Figure 2. Research design.
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Training to improve virtual team communication
The tasks
Three tasks were used; all teams were given the same tasks in the same order. The subject
matter of each of the tasks paralleled material covered in the class. All three tasks were dealing
with computer architecture material and required groups to collaboratively solve a problem. All
three tasks were adopted from Englander's (1996) Instructor's Resource Guide and Test Bank.
Students were told that they were part of a team that needed to solve the task, but were not told
who their team members were. To communicate with their team-mates, they were required to
log in to the on-line meeting created just for their team within MeetingWeb
TM
. They could enter
comments and replies that could only be read by other members of their team and by the faculty
involved. All members were told they were not to discuss the case with their team members
outside MeetingWeb
TM
. Tasks 1 and 2 each had three parts to be answered and task 3 had two
parts. (The task description of each task was approximately one-half page long.) The answers
for all parts were objective, such that there was one correct answer for each part. Additional
information and hints on solving the task were also supplied; however, only portions of these
hints and descriptions were given to each member, requiring the exchange of this information to
solve the task. Three versions of each task were developed with each version containing por-
tions of the hints and descriptions. Within each team, each member received one of these
versions. This organization required information sharing on the part of the team members in
order to solve the problem correctly. Only by fully sharing their `unique information' and making it
`common information' could the team actually solve the problem and perform well on the task.
The three virtual team tasks were part of the required work for the course. In addition to the
three virtual tasks, individual assignments were allotted during the university term. The virtual
tasks were designed to reflect current material in the course and virtual teams were given
2 weeks to complete each virtual task. Tasks were distributed at the beginning of a class, fol-
lowed by a basic discussion of the task to ensure that all students understood the nature of the
task. The class with the treatment group (teams 1±6) were also presented with guidelines on
virtual team communication, which is discussed below.
Procedure for VTC training
Virtual team communication training was developed and administered in an effort to evaluate
the ability of such training to positively impact perceptions of group interaction. This training
consisted of three parts. First, teamwork, meetings and CMCS were discussed in the context of
the Drexler et al. (1988) model (see Figure 1), in which team dynamics and the stages of the
meeting process were introduced. For instance, participants were told that in the early stages of
the meeting process introductions could be made and team members might want to spend time
getting to know one another. Defining task roles could also take place at the beginning of each
task. Second, participants were informed of possible drawbacks to electronic communication
(Nunamaker et al., 1991), such as information overload and `free-riders', along with possible
mechanisms for addressing these problems. The treatment group was presented with various
methods of overcoming such problems, e.g. by sending email messages to non-participating
members.
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Finally, participants were introduced to the `rules of netiquette' and were given examples of
common `ebbreviations' (Table 2) to assist in communication and for sharing socioemotional
cues. Participants were educated about the common misunderstandings and misinterpretations
that can occur between virtual team-mates because of the lack of non-verbal and paraverbal
cues. They were presented with some basic tools to expand the media richness (or `emotional
bandwidth') of their communications channel. They were instructed in the use of emoticons to
denote sarcasm or jokes, and in the use of ALL-CAPS and various punctuation (discussed
earlier) to denote emphasis. They were also instructed not to `flame' their partners by typing
comments which could be misinterpreted as inflammatory without the normal visual clues of
face-to-face communication. These lessons from the initial VTC training session were reiterated
in a shorter session before the second task.
The system
The asynchronous CMCS used in this study was MeetingWeb
TM
, a secure moderated bulletin
board system accessible from the World Wide Web. MeetingWeb
TM
was developed by and
licensed from CitySource Inc., and has been further customized for use by the College of
Business Administration (CBA) with custom extensions. (More information about Meeting-
Web
TM
can be found at http://www.cba.neu.edu/MeetingWeb
TM
.) It is a custom proprietary
collaboration software system residing on a university web server and accessible to anyone with
a connection to the Internet (such as an ISP), any web client (browser) software (such as
Netscape), a valid username and a valid password. It is a computer conferencing system which
provides structured textual and graphical communication capabilities to its users.
MeetingWeb
TM
was designed to have a familiar look and feel to users of the World Wide Web,
a new standard platform for computer communications (see Figure 3 for a representative
screen). The MeetingWeb
TM
system is easy to use; pilot tests confirmed that the participants
could learn to use the system with only a brief introduction. The system permits group members
to communicate by `posting' messages in a hierarchical manner, termed a `threaded dis-
cussion', which appears as a familiar outline format. A `comment' (message) can be posted as a
new `topic' (leftmost in the hierarchy), as a reply to a topic (indented under that topic), or as a
reply to a reply. This intuitive structure makes the organization of the messages clear and
Table 2. Common `ebbreviations' for enhancing virtual
communications
BTW By the way
FEIW For what it's worth
GG Got to go
IMHO In my humble opinion
J/K Just kidding
PAW Parents are watching
TTFN Ta-ta for now
Excerpted from US News and World Report, 1999.
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Training to improve virtual team communication
unambiguous. Furthermore, the source of each message is clearly identified; the system pro-
vides an eponym.
The near ubiquity of the World Wide Web today makes MeetingWeb
TM
(and other web-based
CMCSs) extremely accessible to a broad audience. Further, the protocol of the web (hypertext
transfer protocol; HTTP) is hardware independent, so it provides an essentially universal
platform for communication support among virtual team members.
The instrument
Surveys were administered at the beginning of the course before students collaborated using
MeetingWeb
TM
, mid-study after performing the first task, and after performing the last task
(see Appendix A). The surveys tracked relational and group performance variables. Several
research variables related to the perceptions of the group cohesiveness were measured with
a previously validated instrument. Three are specifically addressed here: (1) member com-
mitment to team goals, (2) trust, and (3) openness of expression. The initial survey estab-
lished the participants' baseline expectations from previous team activities (along with some
demographic information), whereas the other two surveys captured their perception of the
Figure 3. MeetingWeb
TM
sample screen.
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team process and relationship during and after the longitudinal series of tasks (see Figure 2
for clarification).
FINDINGS AND FUTURE RESEARCH DIRECTIONS
Analysis of the data indicates that the teams not receiving the VTC training started out with fairly
high evaluations in terms of the three relational variables, but these measurements steadily
decreased throughout the project. Individuals that received VTC training started with lower
evaluations in terms of the three relational variables, but these measures steadily increased
throughout the project until they were much higher than those in the control group (Figures 4±6).
This indicates that VTC training led to increasing perceptions of cohesiveness and satisfaction
with process over time.
The individual responses to the qualitative open-ended questions on the research instrument
proved to be informative. Question 7 asked, `What are the negative aspects of working on a task
in virtual team mode, or ways in which the process could be improved?', and question 8 asked,
`What are the positive aspects of working on a task in virtual team mode?' The raw responses to
these questions can be found in Tables 3 and 4, whereas Table 5 shows answers organized by
two main categories. Note that members of both the treatment and the control groups had
significant objections to engaging in groups without the benefit of traditional face-to-face
interaction dynamics. However, they also found that there were significant advantages to this
form of interaction. For example, many respondents indicated that the lags and delays of
asynchronous communications constrained their communications, making it inefficient and
impeding the formation of group consensus and conclusions. Yet many study participants also
noted that the asynchronous environment enabled them to take time to think through answers,
Figure 4. Change in research variable no. 1 Ð goals (before the study, mid-study and after the study).
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Training to improve virtual team communication
thus improving the quality of their work and leading to faster conclusions! Similarly, although
they suggested that the lack of face-to-face involvement constrained brainstorming and group
problem-solving processes, they also indicated that this mode reduced bias and facilitated
greater involvement by all members with greater equality and freedom of expression. So, the
participants recognized both positive and negative aspects of the same features of virtual
teamwork. There was no temporal trend Ð participants were able to identify these character-
istics by the mid-study survey and these perceptions were not significantly different at the end of
the study.
Figure 5. Change in research variable no. 2 Ð trust (before the study, mid-study and after the study).
Figure 6. Change in research variable no. 3 Ð openness (before the study, mid-study and after the study).
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Table 3. Responses to open-ended questions (no. 7 and no. 8) Ð control group
Response No. of responses
Negative comments (mid-study Ð survey no. 2)
Lack of participation (free-riders) 7
Communication was stop and start
You never know when someone would post 5
Not everyone was accessible at the same time 3
No brainstorming
Need to be proactive and respond sooner (set times) 4
Need some face-to-face, no personal interaction 2
More difficult to settle differences, understand what someone meant 3
Not able to contact free-riders
Web access
Positive comments (mid-study Ð survey no. 2)
Can meet at any time (any place/no travel) 14
Come to conclusions earlier
More interaction
More time to think through answers 2
Better answers (more time) 2
No personal feelings come into play
Reduces bias
More ideas
Have time to think about other ideas 2
Thoughts are clearly structured
Ideas documented
Negative comments (post-study Ð survey no. 3)
Free-riders 5
Had to wait for replies
Need to formalize time synchronization
Posting answers at the last minute
More difficult to get `back up to speed' every time you look at answers on web
Difficult to get consensus and conclusion 4
Positive comments (post-study Ð survey no. 3)
Could meet at any time 12
Saves time commuting (no meetings)
Speedier 2
Sharing of ideas/different perspectives 3
Feedback from other members
Learned from other members
More thought put into answers
Useful to understand how to work remotely with teams
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Training to improve virtual team communication
Table 4. Responses to open-ended questions (no. 7 and no. 8) Ð treatment group
Response No. of responses
Negative comments (mid-study Ð survey no. 2)
Waiting for responses 3
Slow feedback (no real-time discussion)
Communication does not flow smoothly
Had to wait for clarification of comments
Not everyone got involved daily
Needed to document everything
Lack of expression
Hard to come to a conclusion 4
No group dynamics
Hard to access the server sometimes
Need fewer screens
Very controlled
Positive comments (mid-study Ð survey no. 2)
People with different schedules can still `meet' 5
Don't have to set a group meeting time 2
`Real-time' interaction not needed
Less domination
Can give answer when ready 2
Time to think
Everything is documented 4
Can look back at all responses
Easy to summarize
Could get good perspectives
All members can express themselves 2
More focus from members
Negative comments (post-study Ð survey no. 3)
Responses not all given at same time (some sooner, some later)
Need daily participation and brainstorming
By the time you responded, answers were already there
Was difficult to break into parts
Time to log on
Free-riders had to wait for responses 4
Need to set times to respond
Not as efficient as face-to-face
No real-time discussion to set up approach to solving problem
Poor writing skills
Time to document everything
Positive comments (post-study Ð survey no. 3)
Can work at any time
Fastest way to communicate
No meetings
Can work from home
Good practical groupware exercise
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Table 4. Continued
Response No. of responses
Can freely express individual ideas
Everyone gets equal voice
Everything is documented 2
So we can follow the logic
Was easy to tell who was not participating
Table 5. Qualitative survey responses organized by category
Negative comments related to asynchronous communications (timing factor)
Waiting for responses and clarification, communication does not flow smoothly, slow feedback
Responses not all given at same time (some sooner, some later)
Not everyone got involved daily, need daily participation and brainstorming
By the time you responded, answers were already there
Posting answers at the last minute
Communication was stop and start
You never know when someone would post
Not everyone was accessible at the same time
No group dynamics, no brainstorming
Need to be proactive and respond sooner (set times)
Need to set times to respond, need to formalize time synchronization
Not as efficient as face-to-face
More difficult to get `back up to speed' every time you look at answers on web
Positive comments related to asynchronous communications (timing factor)
People with different schedules can still `meet'
Don't have to set a group meeting time
Can meet at any time (any place/no travel), saves time commuting
Can give answer when ready, time to think
More time to think through answers, have time to think about other ideas
Better answers (more time), more thought put into answers
Can work at any time, fastest way to communicate, speedier, earlier conclusions
Everything is documented, can look back at all responses, easy to summarize
Negative comments related to lack of face-to-face communications dynamics
No group dynamics, no brainstorming
Need some face-to-face, no personal interaction
More difficult to settle differences, understand what someone meant, lack of expression
Difficult to get consensus and conclusion
No real-time discussion to set up approach to solving problem
Hard to come to a conclusion
Positive comments related to lack of face-to-face communications dynamics
Reduces bias, could get good perspectives, more ideas
All members can express themselves, less domination, everyone gets equal voice
Can freely express individual ideas, no personal feelings come into play
More interaction, more focus from members
Documented logic, was easy to tell who was not participating
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Training to improve virtual team communication
Although the group sizes for each section (18 with VTC training and 20 for non-VTC training)
are too small to offer rigorous statistical analysis, it is worth noting that after conducting a
repeated measures ANOVA, using the presurvey values and the post-survey values on each of the
variables, three of the process variables (common goals, trust and openness) were significant at
the 0.05 level. This indicates that the teams that received VTC training felt that team members
were committed to the goals and objectives of the team, that their team exhibited trust and that
team members were open and frank in expressing their ideas and feelings.
Finally, although not statistically significant, teams with VTC training out-performed the
control teams on the assigned tasks, and anecdotally reported higher levels of satisfaction with
the dynamics of group interaction. The results of this study support the growing body of research
that suggests that computer-mediated teams can develop effective collaborative partnerships if
given sufficient opportunity to develop strong relational links. For some organizations, this
means initiating their virtual team experiences with face-to-face communications before moving
to the virtual communications modality. In other circumstances, where this may not be possible,
VTC training may play a critical role.
This initial exploratory study suggests several areas for future research. First, few business
teams meet only in the virtual space; they combine face-to-face communication with email,
telephone and other forms of communication. It would be informative to evaluate teams that
communicate face-to-face initially and then proceed to work virtually. It is presumed that these
teams develop greater relational links (and trust) than teams whose members have never met in
person.
Second, Chidambaram & Bostrom (1996) developed a framework that classifies all models of
group development into two broad categories: sequential and non-sequential. Sequential
models posit that groups move through unitary sequences of development and the main focus
of these models is to describe the actual sequence of behaviours exhibited by groups over time.
Non-sequential models do not propose a predetermined sequence of events but focus on
explaining the underlying factors that cause shifts in group development, and attempt to explain
the relationships among the various causal factors underlying group development. These shifts
in group development can be studied using longitudinal teams. More research with virtual teams
that collaborate in sequential tasks over time will shed more light on the development of
effective communication patterns.
Third, the findings from the analysis of the trust, common goals and openness variables
above suggest that it may be worthwhile to investigate further these relationships. In particular,
the effects of trust development on task focus, task completion and management of uncertainty
are worthy of investigation. Trust is a basic feature of social situations that require cooperation
and interdependence. It also plays a critical role in problem solving (Zand, 1972), organizational
performance (Hart et al., 1986), organizational communication (Roberts & O'Reilly, 1974), and
acceptance of feedback (Earley, 1986).
Fourth, it may be helpful to evaluate the role of leadership in building strong relational links
between virtual team members and in building effective teams that perform tasks well. Finally,
extensive research has identified significant differences between the communication patterns
used by men and women in Western culture. Specifically, Tannen (1990, 1994) and others
M Warkentin & P M Beranek286
#1999 Blackwell Science Ltd, Information Systems Journal 9, 271±289
found that there are measurable conversational differences in the patterns and uses of inter-
action primitives such as verbosity, interruption/turn-taking, tag questions and directives. These
differences lead to generalized perceptions of male communicators as assertors and female
communicators as facilitators (Warkentin et al., 2000). Such distinctions may play a role in the
evolution of relational links between virtual team members. Whether these patterns are
exhibited in the on-line realm in the same way that they appear in face-to-face communication
has yet to be determined, but ongoing research with MeetingWeb
TM
is designed to investigate
this question.
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APPENDIX A: THE INSTRUMENT
1. In general, in working with THIS team, do you feel that
you are really part of the team?
A. Really part of the team.
B. Included in most ways.
C. Included in some ways, but not others.
D. Don't feel I really belong too much.
E. Don't feel I belong at all.
In working with THIS team:
To a very little extent To some extent
To a very great extent
2. Are team members committed to the goals and objec-
tives of the team (during the project)?
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3. To what extent is trust exhibited within the team?
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4. Do members have a strong sense of belonging to the
team?
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5. Do team members recognize and respect individual
differences and contributions?
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6. Were team members open and frank in expressing their
ideas and feelings?
1234567
7. What are the negative aspects of working on a task in
virtual team mode, or ways in which the process could
be improved?
8. What are the positive aspects of working on a task in
virtual team mode?
Biographies
Merrill Warkentin is an Associate Professor and Head of
MIS in the College of Business Administration at North-
eastern University in Boston, MA, USA. He has written over
80 papers and book chapters. His research has appeared
in such journals as Decision Sciences,MIS Quarterly,
Journal of Knowledge Engineering & Technology,Expert
Systems,ACM Applied Computing Review,AI and
Medicine and Journal of Computer Information Systems.
Professor Warkentin has served as a consultant to
numerous companies and organizations and has been a
featured speaker at over 100 industry association meet-
ings, executive development seminars and academic
conferences. He has been a lecturer at the US Army
Logistics Management College, and, since 1996, he has
served the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) as
a National Distinguished Lecturer. Professor Warkentin
holds BA, MA and Ph.D. degrees from the University of
Nebraska, Lincoln, USA.
Peggy Beranek received her Ph.D. in Management
Information Systems from the University of Arizona in 1991
and is currently an Associate Professor in the Computer
Information Systems Department at Bentley College. Her
research interests include team training and team facilita-
tion for computer-mediated communication systems, and
the use of qualitative research methods. Dr. Beranek has
previously published in Decision Support Systems,MIS
Quarterly,Group Facilitator: A Research and Applications
Journal,Journal of Computer Information Systems and
Computer Personnel, and has presented her research at
numerous national and international conferences. She has
also taught at executive, Ph.D., Masters and under-
graduate levels.
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Training to improve virtual team communication
... Entrepreneurship courses mainly utilize Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) platforms (e.g., Coursera, FutureLearn, Udacity, OpenHPI, and EdX) for providing self-paced learning environments where learners seldom adopt virtual teams and acquire collaborative competence [1]. However, Intelligent and virtual teams leverage intelligent and virtual methods for distributed participants by leveraging information and communication technologies [2]. Although OECs adopt elements of team and researches of virtual teams are relatively mature, focusing on entrepreneurship education (EE) virtual team regarding teamwork, taskwork, and communication is scarce to date. ...
... Data collection criteria included the following constraints: 1) free (without certificates), 2) open, and 3) relatively high platform enrollment. The listed courses below are eight self-paced MOOCs, Coursera (2), EdX (2), XuetangX (2) and Icourse (2), and two Chinese live-streaming. One focuses on participants mainly from engineering areas. ...
... Data collection criteria included the following constraints: 1) free (without certificates), 2) open, and 3) relatively high platform enrollment. The listed courses below are eight self-paced MOOCs, Coursera (2), EdX (2), XuetangX (2) and Icourse (2), and two Chinese live-streaming. One focuses on participants mainly from engineering areas. ...
Conference Paper
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Educators adopt intelligent and virtual teams or elements of teams to online learning as well as teaching, especially in entrepreneurship education courses. This study aims to analyze the application and utilization of intelligent and virtual teams in online entrepreneurship education. As the limited open entrepreneurship courses provide the opportunities of virtual team activities, this study considers courses that adopt team elements as well. There were ten courses collected from massive open online course platforms and social media groups. According to the components of a virtual team, this research focused on communication, teamwork, taskwork, and use of technology. The communication of online courses applies multiply methods, e.g., social media and forums. Educators provide team tasks for online participants. With more communication and completing tasks together, distributed teammates have a closer relationship. The virtual teams are facilitated by technology. Accordingly, the provision of cooperative and collaborative opportunities can improve learning motivation which is key for learning effectiveness. However, the application of intelligent and virtual teams is still rare which may also be reflected in low attendance for online entrepreneurship courses. Keywords: adoption, intelligent and virtual team, entrepreneurship education, online entrepreneurship courses
... Teams or virtual teams reflect a complex system (Ilgen et al., 2005), featuring three central elements: teamwork, taskwork, and ICT (Holtkamp et al., 2015;Müller & Antoni, 2020;Warkentin & Beranek, 1999). In the current study, the application of ICT for communication and idea exchange is a basic requirement for a teammate (Holtkamp et al., 2015). ...
... Remote teammates share opinions and experiences through threaded asynchronous discussion (Jeong & Hmelo-Silver, 2016;Warkentin & Beranek, 1999) and a synchronous ideas exchange, contributing to task completion and a close team relationship. There is a significant difference between ICT and the performance of virtual team learning in both position and traits section, being one critical aim of this survey. ...
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This study examines the effectiveness of virtual team learning for entrepreneurship competence in the Chinese higher education sector. Related research on the effectiveness of virtual team learning is sparse, especially in the area of entrepreneurship education. We assumed four hypotheses to analyze two sorts of relationships: one between input, respondents' demographics or characteristics, and mediators, namely virtual teamwork, virtual taskwork, information and communication technology; the other between mediators and output, thus the effectiveness of entrepreneurship education. An online survey was carried out to collect respondents' perceptions of virtual team learning in entrepreneurship education from teamwork, taskwork, and information and communication technology aspects, considering respondents' demographics or characteristics. By explaining factors of the team process, the findings show that virtual teamwork, taskwork, and information and communication technology positively affect the entrepreneurial outcome of virtual team learning. Additionally, individual characteristics, including gender, education degree, education field, entrepreneurial family history, and prior entrepreneurial experience have different effects on three elements of virtual teams. The applied model provides a holistic perspective on virtual team learning and explains the association between three sectors. These findings may provide an empirical basis for making decisions in the design and development of entrepreneurship learning and teaching offerings.
... As a result, virtual teams with the goal-setting structure reported better team cohesion, better team commitment, better collaborative climate, better perceived decision quality, and generated more decision alternatives compared to collocated teams without the goal setting structure. Warkentin & Beranek (1999) found that Virtual Team Communication training, as a part of teambuilding, led to increasing perceptions of cohesiveness (i.e. member commitment to team goals, trust, and openness of expression) and satisfaction with process over time. ...
... Intensive coaching is seen as an important way of enhancing cohesion and commitment'. To increase the perceptions of cohesiveness, Warkentin & Beranek (1999) found that Virtual Team Communication training led to increasing perceptions of cohesiveness (i.e. member commitment to team goals, trust, and openness of expression) and satisfaction with process over time. ...
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Using design science research to develop a solution concept (the causal model of strategic moment) for a field problem (How can a virtual R&D project team become more effective, although it has to be managed from a distance?).
... Nonverbal communication also plays a vital role in teamwork, especially in teams that are physically collocated [31]. Nonverbal communication consists of eye movements, facial expressions, and hand gestures, which can be just as necessary within teams as verbal or textual communication [32]. Despite having strength in collocated teams, nonverbal communication also exists within digital teams in the form of images, emojis, and even punctuation [32]. ...
... Nonverbal communication consists of eye movements, facial expressions, and hand gestures, which can be just as necessary within teams as verbal or textual communication [32]. Despite having strength in collocated teams, nonverbal communication also exists within digital teams in the form of images, emojis, and even punctuation [32]. ...
Article
There are many unknowns regarding the characteristics and dynamics of human–AI teams, including a lack of understanding of how certain human–human teaming concepts may or may not apply to human–AI teams and how this composition affects team performance. This article outlines an experimental research study that investigates essential aspects of human–AI teaming such as team performance, team situation awareness, and perceived team cognition in various mixed composition teams (human-only, human–human–AI, human–AI–AI, and AI-only) through a simulated emergency response management scenario. Results indicate dichotomous outcomes regarding perceived team cognition and performance metrics, as perceived team cognition was not predictive of performance. Performance metrics like team situational awareness and team score showed that teams composed of all human participants performed at a lower level than mixed human–AI teams, with the AI-only teams attaining the highest performance. Perceived team cognition was highest in human-only teams, with mixed composition teams reporting perceived team cognition 58% below the all-human teams. These results inform future mixed teams of the potential performance gains in utilizing mixed teams’ over human-only teams in certain applications, while also highlighting mixed teams’ adverse effects on perceived team cognition.
... In GVT literature, one central and frequently repeated observation is that positive, productive relationships among GVT members are crucial for GVT success but incredibly hard to achieve (Gilson et al. 2015;Gluesin and Gibson 2003). Stronger relational links have been associated with better task performance (Warkentin and Beranek 1999) and information exchange (Warkentin, Sayeed, and Hightower 1997). These relationships involve different group members and vary based on their abilities and interests (Seers et al. 1995); they are a mutual commitment between members where reciprocity is perceived as a resource contributing to relationship development (Seers 1989). ...
Thesis
Full-text available
Working on projects in global virtual teams has become the norm in the modern world. In the beginning, such teams were used to enhance the productivity and efficiency of the firms; however, over time we have realized that this organizational form is not sustainable without considering the wellbeing of global virtual teams (GVTs). The relationships the members of such teams form and develop over time are crucial to their wellbeing. Many studies have focused on the connection between relationships and a firm’s performance, while others have focused on singular aspects, such as the role of trust in relationships. Most of these studies have followed the input-process-outcome approach. This study takes a critical stance towards the mainstream view of input-process-outcome models, arguing that before we embark on the singular variable approach, we must evaluate what we know about relationship development processes and how they unfold in GVTs. To accomplish this aim, the researcher followed a number of GVTs from their formation to dissolution to reveal how the processes of relationship development unfold in GVTs. This research applies interpretive philosophy through the sensemaking perspective and uses narratives to build individual-level explanations of relationship development processes. To further explain these processes at the group level, lifecycle, teleological, dialectical, and evolutionary process types were used. The above methodology and methods were applied to the empirical data collected from the GVTs, which consisted of student teams. These individuals were enrolled in Master’s degree programs and executive business education in different universities across four different European countries and represented more than 11 nationalities. The members of these teams did not have prior interactions. Much of the qualitative data gathered from these GVTs was in the form of individual reflections on the activities undertaken by the teams, class interactions, qualitative feedback from instructors on GVTs task performance, and informal discussions with the participants of the study. Relationships among GVT members are dynamic and a combination of fluid processes unfolding at multiple levels. These processes are driven by virtual communication, through which GVTs try to realize projects. While projects and communication influence relationship development processes, they also create a team climate that influences these processes. This study proposes three theses to explain the relationship development processes in GVTs. These theses are based on the fact that individuals in GVTs are not merely resources but capable and complex human beings. Their sensemaking of the events leads to the enactment of social structures and shared understandings, which in turn enable the formation and development of relationships. The “organizational thesis” of relationship development shows that three aspects (task, communication, and team climate) are interlinked, and therefore they influence and are influenced by one another. This implies that the people responsible for overseeing the working of GVTs must first implement the essential structural elements of task and communication. The repeated adaptive actions and future interactions relating to tasks, communication, and team climate then decide the trajectory of relationship development processes. The “perception, interaction, and reflection thesis” proposes that these three basic dimensions work dynamically to create multiple outcomes, including relationship development processes. These dimensions include individuals’ perceptions, interactions with other team members, and self-reflection processes pertaining to the project work, based on the tools used to create a virtual environment. Each dimension drives perceptions and interactions at different levels, shaping individual thinking patterns and group dynamics while team members work together . The individual perceptions contribute to the understanding of tasks and others in the team. These individual perceptions, combined with others’ perceptions of interactions, create a shared space based on shared perceptions. These shared perceptions help to precipitate personal meaning to a team-level meaning. The group-level shared perceptions and the actual execution of the tasks lead to a team climate helpful in further developing the processes of relationships. The psychological safety thesis argues that individuals in a GVT, initially, perceive relationship development processes through their sociocultural background. Due to continuous interactions with others, over time, psychological safety becomes an entity responsible for the team climate. Everyone simultaneously interacts with technology and with each other, and this human-technology interaction contributes to the team climate, which gives rise to the relationship development processes. The assurance of a psychologically safe environment during these complex interactions makes it possible for GVTs to develop positive relationships.
... Media richness theory has long held that f2f interactions are most effective for communicating complex and rich messages, and provide the most effective feedback channels (e.g., [29]); however, virtual communication is characterized by a lack of f2f interaction [30]. As such, the formation of social presence, which is a precursor to many social and interpersonal relationship factors, is more difficult in virtual teams [31]. ...
Article
bold xmlns:mml="http://www.w3.org/1998/Math/MathML" xmlns:xlink="http://www.w3.org/1999/xlink">Research problem: The use of virtual teams (VTs) has been growing steadily since the late 1990s. However, there is disagreement on how the virtuality of a team impacts the relationship of trust and team effectiveness. Some studies have suggested that the operationalization of the virtuality has been simplistic, with most researchers treating virtuality as a binary state. Recently, some researchers have sought to explore more complex conceptualizations of virtuality. Research question: How do dimensions of virtuality impact the relationship between intrateam trust and team effectiveness for virtual teams? Literature review: Researchers have been studying the dynamics of VTs for more than 20 years; however, the prevailing measure of virtuality is unidimensional. Following others, we employ a multidimensional measure of virtuality to model three interactions with the relationship between intrateam trust and team effectiveness. By reviewing relevant team effectiveness, intrateam trust, and virtuality literature, we build a model of team effectiveness based on three dimensions of virtuality. Methodology: A total of 230 subjects on 73 project teams were asked to record their interactions while working on a complex case assignment, allowing us to measure the three dimensions of virtuality. Results: Findings indicate that although Distance Virtuality and Member Virtuality moderate the relationship between intrateam trust and effectiveness, Time Worked Virtually does not, supporting the proposition that virtuality is a multidimensional construct. Conclusion: Differential findings support the multidimensional conceptualization of virtuality. We discuss several implications of our findings for virtual team managers, while paying attention to recent changes in team composition resulting from shelter-in-place orders associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.
... Es lässt sich insgesamt eine Zunahme dezentraler und virtueller Teams in den Arbeitsbereichen der Forschung und Entwicklung, der Kundenbetreuung, der Softwareentwicklung und des Produktdesigns (Wakefield, Leidner, & Garrison, 2008) beobachten, die sich durch eine rasche Entwicklung in der Kommunikations- (Warkentin & Beranek, 1999;Mukherjee & Natrajan, 2019) und Informationstechnologie (Kirkman et al., 2002), dem zunehmenden Selbstverständnis beruflicher Autonomie und eine durch die Globalisierung wachsende Arbeitsplatzkomplexität (Jung et al., 2016) erklären lässt. ...
Preprint
In this study, the influence of the software Kiwimo on group cohesion in virtual teams is investigated in a mixed method research design through quantitative and qualitative data collection in the form of an expert interview and a literature review. In doing so, the software is used as an example for collaborative systems and technologies in order to establish a practical reference. The results will be used for further development of the software and will enrich the young research field of collaborative technologies with new insights. It becomes clear in the research that some elements of the software can be associated with a positive influence on the group cohesion of the teams. The special feature of this work is that individual functions and methods of the software are investigated and thus should offer impulses for other developers for collaborative softwares. It is also clear from the research design that no clear correlations can be measured, but approaches that could be pursued through further research. The challenge of being able to study virtual teams under laboratory conditions needs to be addressed in further studies.
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