power and trust in global virtual teams article

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Unformatted text preview: contributed articles DECEMBER 2009 | VOL. 52 | NO. 12 | COMMUNICATIONS OF THE ACM 113 DOI: 10.1145/1610252.1610282 BY NIKI PANTELI AND ROBERT TUCKER OUR BROAD CONTENTION IN THIS ARTICLE is that though the current understanding of virtual teams has advanced in significant areas over the last few years, it has not taken sufficient account of power dynamics within virtual teams nor sought to explore the nature of power within geographically distributed teams. Indeed, despite the overwhelming interest on virtual teams, our understanding of computer- mediated interactions and virtual team dynamics has remained limited. Reliance on mediated interactions and especially those that are text-based and asynchronous such as email has been seen to inhibit the development of good working and collaborative relationships; 2,3,4 such views often derive from the media richness theory which suggests that face-to-face is a richer information medium. 1 Our argument, however, is that even though the value of face-to-face communication in creating and promoting a rich information context needs to be highly appreciated, we also have to acknowledge that significant interactions remain computer- mediated and provide extensive opportunities for trust development. The challenge is to be able to manage power differentials effectively in order to allow collaboration to foster within a virtual team environment. Power, defined as the capability of one party to exert influence on another to act in a prescribed manner is often a function of both dependence and the use of that dependence as leverage. 5,6 The question therefore is: how is pow- er exercised in global virtual teams and how can it effectively impact trust devel- opment and overall team performance in such distributed environments? We pursued a qualitative study of 18 global distributed teams within a global IT organization, a Fortune 500 organization. The study involved inter- views with individuals in the specific organization who were part of cultur- ally diverse, geographically dispersed and technology-enabled global virtual teams. Interviewees were encouraged to recall their experiences from work- ing in a global virtual team that they judged to have worked well, and con- versely their experiences from work- ing in a team that did not work well. This approach resulted in two case scenarios from each interviewee. The interviews were guided by open-ended questions which aimed to explore the background to the team, the perfor- mance levels, the distribution of power amongst the team members, the levels of trust within the team, and how trust changed over time. Analysis found 11 scenarios where teams worked well, seven where teams did not work well and two where the performance improved over time. From these, 7 teams experienced good trust relationships, seven did not, and four developed trust over time. Table 1 pres- ents the main findings from our inter- views and shows the key characteristics or each team in terms of performance,...
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