Academic journal article Communications of the IIMA

Voluntary and Involuntary Self-Disclosure in Decision-Making Virtual Teams

Academic journal article Communications of the IIMA

Voluntary and Involuntary Self-Disclosure in Decision-Making Virtual Teams

Article excerpt


In a business environment where fast-paced technological advances have created the need for rapid response, many organizational activities have shifted to electronic media (Souren, Seetharaman, Samarah, & Mykytyn, 2004). Virtual teams have become a common decision- making entity for both operational (Schmidt, Montoya-Weiss, & Massey, 2001) and strategic (Maznevski & Chudoba, 2000) decisions. In many of these cases, teams of responsible parties are ad hoc, consisting of people who have never worked together before. Because of the often critical nature of such decisions it is crucial that managers and these remote decision-makers best understand the medium through which they collaborate.

In fact, many researchers have undertaken this imperative by examining various modes of communication and how they impact groups' decision-making processes and their resulting decisions and recommendations (for example: O'Leary & Cummings, 2007). In particular, a number of studies have looked at the way that communication systems represent their users and found that this can impact the decisions that result from interactions supported by these systems (Malhotra & Majchrzak, 2005). Often the results of these studies are the basis for recommendations regarding the use of communication systems within virtual teams. To our knowledge, however, no studies have delved much further to uncover why and how different modes of representation have different effects on group outcomes. In fact, it is recommended that in order to gain this insight, a content analysis of the decision-making process of groups using these systems must be performed (Benbunan-Fich, Hiltz, & Turoff, 2002). By opening this "black box" of the team's actual communication prior to making a decision, we have the opportunity to uncover the underlying phenomena that elicit the observed outcomes.

The focus of the current study is visual representation of ad-hoc virtual team participants involved in electronic group decision making. We seek to investigate not only what outcomes can be expected from teams depending on how their members are represented. More fundamentally, we also seek to understand what is different about the way team members interact under varying modes of representation. With this information, we can both explain the specific outcomes of group decision making as well as acquire additional insight into group interaction that can be applied more globally.


Visual Representation

Long before computer-mediated interactions became prevalent in group communication, seminal work in sociology indicated that in face-to-face encounters, individuals seek to acquire information about each other to determine expectations and understand each others' behavior (Goffman, 1959). In ad-hoc acquaintances, this information is gathered based on clues from a person's conduct and appearance allowing people to apply their previous experience with similar individuals or decide whether they can rely on what the individual says about himself. In electronic communication, this information is gathered largely via a system's representation of its users. Computer-mediated communication systems offer ways to transmit information about a person's appearance (visual representation).

Although computer mediation has been said to attenuate most social context cues (age, appearance, rank, etc.) that are available in a face-to-face environment, a computer-mediated session in which continuity of interaction is essential often provides means for identifying who the participants are so that a meaningful conversation can ensue. Consequently, different communication media encapsulate and portray the identity of their users in different ways.

A communication system often provides textual and graphical means to represent the identity of its users. Textual representation refers to the user name or handle which could be the user's real name, a computer generated one, or a user chosen screen name. …

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