Factors and influences of effective virtual team performance
Thesis (MBA)--Stellenbosch University, 2015.
ENGLISH ABSTRACT: Virtual team research is very relevant today as organisations have become more distributed and the use of so-called distributed teams has become more common. These virtual teams allow organisations to combine expertise from almost anywhere through the use of information and communication technology (ICT) across space and time to complete interdependent organisational tasks. To date research efforts have yielded insights into many factors that affect virtual teamwork, but the research has become somewhat fragmented. By means of a case study approach, this research paper aims to provide virtual team leaders with a more holistic understanding of the factors that influence virtual team performance. The researcher interviewed five virtual team leaders who have many years of working experience with virtual teams. All the participants work in the ICT industry sector and make extensive use of distributed teams to perform day-to-day tasks, provide business services and to implement large scale projects. The research assignment was constructed by completing a detailed literature review in order to develop a broad framework to evaluate five broad virtual team perspectives that influence virtual team performance. The five perspectives included organisation design, leadership, human resources, ICT technology and process considerations. The following findings were identified for each of these perspectives. Organisational design perspective: The importance of a clearly defined organisation structure helps to create a better understanding of responsibility and ownership. It was also identified that an additional layer of management within the virtual team structure reduces some of the complexities of virtual team management and simplifies the communication structure. The study also provides further insight into the type of person, and the experience and skills of people suitable to work in the virtual team environment. Leadership perspective: The importance of management controls was identified, like process orientation, practical awareness and management awareness in terms of cultural and importantly emotional awareness. Practical considerations for the performance management and rewards systems include the need for a broader team focus rather than rewarding individualist behaviour and performance. Human resources perspective (people): The clear goals and objectives of the organisation or project create the necessary focus, direction and understanding that guide the individual virtual team members and allow them to self-regulate. This is further supported by the a shared understanding of functional and role requirements that promote ownership and accountability which are considered to be the basis for a successful empowering approach and which allow individual team members to make decisions within the boundaries of their functions. Subsequently, the effect of social and interpersonal factors was identified as having a significant impact on virtual team performance and success. The use of various activities to build relations and to create an informal connectedness improves communication and promotes team commitment, cohesion, knowledge and information sharing. Technology perspective: The use of technologies that share the relevant context and supporting information reduces ambiguity and provides a mechanism to share information. All participants make use of collaborative technologies to facilitate the day-to-day team interaction, with a preference for technologies that promote easy participation and sharing of information in real-time (synchronously). Interestingly, none of the respondents provide ICT tool training to improve the effective use of these communication technologies and they expect their virtual team members to be able to use all the relevant technologies as a basic skill. Process perspective: The reliance on clear and agreed processes is important in virtual teamwork and requires upfront alignment. The study identified that a shared understanding by all team members of the underlying delivery process, including all in-and-output controls is a critical success factor for virtual teamwork and, because of the fragmented nature of the delivery process, there is a greater reliance on the efficient facilitation and coordination of specialised work. It also further supports the additional layer of management, in which a team leader and project manager facilitate and coordinate the facilitation of work that relies on a well-developed communication structure.