An exploration of effective leadership practice in virtual teams

Marshall, Steven John (2014-12)

Thesis (MBA)--Stellenbosch University, 2014.


ENGLISH ABSTRACT: As organisations expand internationally and continue to conduct business across different time zones and geographical boundaries, distributed project and organisational teams have become increasingly prevalent. Rather than meet face-to-face, developments in information and communication technology have made it possible for these team members to interact electronically thereby creating an alternative means for team member collaboration. Teams that collaborate in this manner are called virtual teams. This study explored effective leadership practice in virtual teams. The process of exploration started with discovering those core competencies considered essential to virtual team leadership. These competencies were then operationalised and tested for their respective contributions to effectiveness in virtual teams as measured by team performance and personal satisfaction. It was suggested and subsequently confirmed by the results of this study that as virtual team leaders begin to display essential leadership competencies, the virtual teams they lead become more effective. Four leadership competencies were identified as integral to effective leadership practice. These were: an ability to coordinate task delivery, an ability to communicate, an ability to build trust and an ability to manage multicultural diversity. In addition, it was determined that virtual team leaders tended to emphasise the more transactional forms of leadership over the more transformational forms with the strongest emphasis on task and communication as predictors of performance rather than satisfaction. In contrast, team members emphasised the more transformational forms of leadership with the strongest emphasis on trust and diversity management as predictors of satisfaction rather than performance. It was also apparent that for team members, task coordination was weakly correlated with performance. These differing results illustrate a distinction in leadership emphasis, which if misunderstood or incorrectly managed, could lead to conflict and low levels of team trust. For team leaders, a desire to perform and deliver against team objectives has an associated risk of inadvertently emphasising task at the expense of fostering healthy team relationships. By comparison, team members emphasise personal satisfaction over performance and are potentially at odds with a strongly taskorientated team leader. This does not mean that team members are disinterested in team performance. On the contrary, performance is important to team members but it would seem that performance follows as a result of first experiencing satisfaction as a virtual team participant.

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