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Leading Virtual Intercultural Teams. Recognizing and Counteracting the Problems of Workplace Isolation

Hausarbeit 2014 16 Seiten

BWL - Unternehmensführung, Management, Organisation



1. Introduction 1.1 Economic background 1.2 Objective of this work 1.3 Definition of virtual intercultural teams

2. Threats and opportunities for virtual intercultural teams.

3. Definition of workplace isolation

4. WI: Management challenges and measures to overcome them

5. Flow-Chart

6. Conclusions

7. Literature

Register of Illustrations

Figure 1: Overview: Differences between conventional teams and virtual teams, page

Figure 2: Overview: The three central challenges for the management of virtual intercultural teams, page

Figure 3: Flow Chart: Avoidance of workplace isolation in virtual teams, page

Leading virtual intercultural teams - Recognizing and Counteracting the Problems of Workplace Isolation

1. Introduction

1.1 Economic background

In an environment of fast and consistent technological progress, globalization and growing competition, companies are facing a strong pressure nowadays. The knowledge-based economy leads to a growing extent of client-side requirements forcing more and more companies and organizations to realign their business activ- ities in a new way in order to cope with the current economic situation. Cost-efficiency, presence in the markets and the possibility to gather the best employees in their own organization are the central starting points of a strategy to position for the future. One specific measure is the decentralization of teams, that shall work together to jointly reach their targets. The proceeding digitalization of the media and virtualization of several areas of life pander to this development of decentralization as the new electronic communication systems facilitate the interaction between the decentralized team members and enable the companies to enlarge their attempts concerning remote offices.

1.2 Objective of this work

The present term paper particularly deals with the problems arising within decen- tralized teams. It examines the negative consequences of group efficiency in virtual intercultural teams, making several assumptions how the perception of Workplace Isolation effects the employees negatively and provides recommendations for virtual team leaders in order to recognize and counteract these problems. In the form of a flow chart, this term paper provides a course of procedure for the successful implementation of a virtual team with a minimized risk of workplace isolation. This flow chart considers the prevailing scientific view on this topic.

The author works for a listed multinational corporation as a member of an interna- tional sales team with intercultural structures. For this reason, from the very start there has been a particular interest in the findings and insights to be obtained in the framework of the work for this term paper. In course of the work the author gained further knowledge about the design and successful implementation of highperforming virtual teams.

1.3 Definition of virtual intercultural teams

In order to understand the term virtual intercultural team it requires to know about the essence of virtual teams in general. Virtual teams are considered as organiza- tional groups, consisting of two or more geographically dispersed persons who in- teractively work together, striving for a common goal. In the particular case of inter- cultural virtual teams, the team members even have different cultural backgrounds and often work on different continents. The basis for the group’s communication is electronic media, such as email, telephone, video conference, online data clouds or similar1. The technological progress throughout the last decades enabled organizations to build virtual teams, where such entities had not been feasible before certain technical inventions of the communication industry. It is the basis for the functioning of communication between the team members across borders and time zones. An- other central aspect that distinguishes virtual teams from conventional teams is the level of autonomy in daily work. Due to the absence of the supervisors, members of virtual teams work on a higher level of autonomy and benefit from the flexibility in their work organization. The following chart provides an overview of the differences between virtual teams and the traditional construct of conventional teams:

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Fig. 1, Source: Chutnik, M., Grzesik, K. (2009): Leading a Virtual Intercultural Team. Implications for Virtual Team Leaders.

Overview: Differences between conventional teams and virtual teams.

12. Threats and opportunities for virtual intercultural teams In general, virtual teams promise manifold benefits: Cost-efficiency, increased flexibility, low capital commitment, specialized staff in the field offices and the chance to identify local market changes early are certainly central advantages of this form of appearance. The trend of virtual teams and remote offices can mainly be found in sales organizations as they. “…realize that placing sales people in virtual offices close to customer locations is both cost effective and beneficial to the customer.2 Furthermore in the environment of a virtual team, the team members feel increased autonomy in their work organization, a reduction in unproductive commute time and above all greater flexibility to satisfy the balance between work and life.3 Considering all these advantages it might be expected that virtual intercultural teams are an entirely positive form of appearance, a trendsetting setup affording benefits to both organizations and employees. However, despite of these assets virtual teams can lead to serious problems if the management does not find the right forms of leader- ship. Some of these problems arising by reason of dispersion are obvious: Different time zones, different political and legal infrastructures can complicate the work of virtual teams significantly and lead to high requirements, especially in the matter of coordination and communication in the run-up of the implementation of a virtual team. In the particular case of intercultural virtual teams, you need to consider the differences in culture, function and expectations in an organization’s hierarchy for example.

In summary one can say that managers of virtual intercultural teams face a wide scope of new and additional challenges compared to the managers of conventional teams. These central challenges can be categorized into the three components of complexity, invisibility and restricted channels4 which are illustrated in the following figure. In order not to exceed the framework of this term paper, the focus of this work will be on the category Invisibility. One central problem within this category that is often considered as the most important is the perception or workplace isolation.

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Fig. 2, Referring to Lane et al. (2009): International Management Behaviour - Leading with a Global Mindset, 6th ed., Chichester (UK), p. 104

Overview: The three central challenges for the management of virtual intercultural teams.

3. Definition of workplace isolation

The phenomenon of workplace isolation can be described as as “…a psychological construct that describes employee’s perception of separation and lack of opportunities for social and emotional interaction with the supervisor and the team.”5

Due to the geographical distance to their team members the formal or informal conversations are limited to the opportunities the modern communication systems offer. “Isolation perceptions are formed by the absence of support from co-workers and supervisors and the lack of opportunities for social and emotional interactions.”6

Often one distinguishes between two types of isolation, which is social isolation on the one hand and organizational isolation on the other hand. From a social perspective, the isolated employees feel a lack of social interaction, such as informal chats, dis- cussions and meetings around the water cooler.”7 The deficits of informal contacts may lead to information asymmetry and a lack of trust between the co-workers and between the co-workers and the management as well. On the other hand “ an organizational level, virtual employees fear being out of sight and out of mind for


1 cf. Picot, Arnold (2011), S. 13.

2 Mulki, J. P. et al. (2011), S. 902.

3 cf. VanDyne, L. et al. (2007), S.1123.

4 cf. Lane, Henry W. et al. (2009), S. 103.

5 Mulki, J. P. et al. (2011), S. 904.

6 Marshall, Greg W. et al. (2007), S. 198.

7 Kurland, N. B. & Cooper, D. (2002), S. 107-123


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Virtual Teams Intercultural Workplace Isolation Remote Communication Leadership organization Dispersion Diversity Virtuelle Teams Telearbeit Heartbeat-Meetings Face-to-Face Management Behaviour




Titel: Leading Virtual Intercultural Teams. Recognizing and Counteracting the Problems of Workplace Isolation