Importance of Diversified Leadership Roles in Improving Team Effectiveness in a Virtual Collaboration Learning Environment

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Virtual teams enabled by information and communications technologies (ICT) are increasingly being adopted not only by for-profit organizations but also by education institutions as well. This study investigates what contributes to the success of virtual learning teams. Specifically, we examine the issue of leadership in virtual learning teams. The study first reviews the current literature on teams, leadership, and trust then proposes a framework of team effectiveness of virtual learning teams. A field study is conducted to investigate the influence of several independent variables including diversified leadership roles, leadership effectiveness, team trust, and propensity to trust. It is found that diversified leadership roles influences both leadership effectiveness and team trust; both leadership effectiveness and propensity to trust influence team trust, and team trust in turn directly impacts team effectiveness. In addition, team trust mediates the relationship between leadership effectiveness and team effectiveness. Some practical implications of the results are discussed as well.

Keywords

Virtual team, Leadership, E-learning, Collaborative learning, Leadership roles, Computer-supported cooperative learning

Introduction

Advancements in information and communication technologies (ICT), specifically the use of Internet-based systems, have endowed people with the ability to work and learn remotely and virtually while retaining or superseding the performance of traditional teams. The trends of merger and acquisition, alliance, hyper-competition, downsizing, and globalization have pressured firms to locate the best talents around the world and group them to serve the firms' best interests (Kerber & Buono, 2004). The virtual team is becoming the basic work unit in the Information Age (Lipnack & Stamps, 1997).

Virtual teams differ from traditional face-to-face (F2F) teams primarily in virtual teams' heavy reliance on ICT as media for communication and as a link between people (Lipnack & Stamps, 1997). ICT links used by virtual teams can be either synchronous or asynchronous tools used to carry out interpersonal communications, collaboration and coordination (O'Hara-Devereaux & Johansen, 1994). Synchronous ICT tools vary in terms of social presence and information richness and can be classified as text-, audio- and video- conferencing systems. Asynchronous ICT tools range from e-mails, discussion forms, and bulletin boards, to workflow, scheduling and other project management applications.

Critical success factors for a virtual team are similar to those for a traditional team with respect to some essential elements. Teams in both forms need a clear purpose (Huszczo, 1996), measurable goals (Pape, 1997), appropriate team size of 3-12 people (Lipnack & Stamps, 1997), establishment of team norms or operating guidelines (Scholtes, 1998), effective communication and decision making skills and processes (Aranda, Aranda, & Conlon, 1998). In addition, a strong leadership is also needed for the success of virtual teams (as in F2F teams). It is commonly agreed that a strong leadership is hard to establish in a virtual team. A shared or distributed leadership among team members rather than centralized leadership is more likely to achieve team success (Lipnack & Stamps, 1997). This means that team members need to have self-directing freedom to manage their team project in a collaborative fashion (Barry, 1991).

Despite the similarities, Hudson (2000) observes that a virtual team, unlike the F2F team, needs to address simultaneously at least three types of issues--pedagogical, technological and cultural. These three types of issues pose unprecedented challenges for people with diversified backgrounds (e.g., perspectives, approaches, and ideas) to work effectively together (Lurey & Raisinghani, 2001). In addition, many issues, such as team roles, leadership, power, trust (Greiner & Metes, 1995), time and distance, and organizational relationship building in virtual teams, are newly emerging and have not been readily addressed (Pauleen & Yoong, 2001). …