Virtual communicating, conflicts ...
Virtual communicating, conflicts and performance in teams Remco de Jong, Rene �� Schalk and Petru L. Curs��eu Tilburg University, Tilburg, The Netherlands Abstract Purpose ��� This paper aims to examine the influence of the level of team virtuality on the effects of intra-team conflicts on team performance, which have hardly been investigated. Design/methodology/approach ��� A framework is proposed based on the extent to which team members use communication media to coordinate their actions and execute their tasks, taking into account the extent to which the communication media are synchronous and the extent to which the communication media convey para-verbal and nonverbal aspects of communication. Data of 49 teams with 172 team members were analyzed using stepwise multiple regression analysis. Findings ��� The level of team virtuality influences the relation between intra-team conflict and perceived team performance. The higher the level of team virtuality, the greater the positive impact of task conflict on perceived team performance. In teams with a low level of virtuality task conflict has a negative impact on perceived team performance, and in high virtual teams task conflict has a positive impact. In addition, process conflict has a negative impact on perceived team performance. Research limitations/implications ��� The present study provides a framework for the effects of the level of team virtuality that can be used in further research and has implications for practice. Originality/value ��� The study shows the effects of the level of team virtuality on team performance, which is important considering the emerging use of virtual communication tools in organizations. Keywords Team performance, Conflict management, Conflict, Virtual organizations, Communication Paper type Research paper Working in virtual teams is an emerging phenomenon in organizations. In communication within teams increasingly virtual communication tools are used. This increased use of virtual communication has an influence on the team processes and team outcomes, as evidenced in the fast growing literature on virtual teams (see, for example Curs ��eu et al., 2008). This paper examines the influence of the degree of virtual team communication (the ���level of team virtuality��� which is defined below) on the relation between intra-team conflict and team performance. The results of studies on virtual teams and computer-mediated communication (for example Martins et al., 2004 Paul et al., 2004a Walther and Bunz, 2005) inspired our study. However, in this study we focus on the effects of the level of team virtuality, and the studies mentioned before apply to virtual communicating only. Several studies investigated the relation between conflict and team performance in virtual or geographically distributed teams (Mortensen and Hinds, 2001 Paul et al., 2004b), but the influence of the degree of virtual team communication has been neglected so far. The structure of the paper is as follows. First, the concepts of level of team virtuality and intra team conflict are discussed and the hypotheses are elaborated. Next the design and sample of the study are described, followed by an overview of the results. A discussion of the findings and the implications for theory and practice leads to The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at www.emeraldinsight.com/1352-7592.htm TPM 14,7/8 364 Received November 2007 Accepted July 2008 Team Performance Management Vol. 14 No. 7/8, 2008 pp. 364-380 q Emerald Group Publishing Limited 1352-7592 DOI 10.1108/13527590810912331
recommendations for further research and suggestions for ways to improve team performance. Level of team virtuality The level of team virtuality is not covered by the concept of ���virtual team���. According to Curs ��eu and Wessel (2005, p. 271), a virtual team is a ���collection of individuals who are geographically and/or organizationally or otherwise dispersed and who collaborate, using varying degrees of communication and information technologies in order to accomplish a specific goal���. However, because of the fast increasing use of virtual communication tools in teams operating in modern organizations, ���all teams can be described in terms of their level of virtuality��� (Kirkman and Mathieu, 2005, p. 701). Kirkman and Mathieu (2005) assume that also co-located teams can exhibit high levels of virtuality because of the extent to which team members use virtual tools to coordinate and execute team processes (Kirkman and Mathieu, 2005). The location of the teams is therefore not dominant in determining their virtuality. Most scholars agree that if a team mainly relies on technology in order to communicate, it can be called virtual (Curs ��eu and Wessel, 2005, p. 270). Because of the dominant focus on the use of virtual communication tools in the literature, three dimensions are integrated in the definition and measurement of the concept of ���level of team virtuality��� in this study: the degree of synchronization, the presence of nonverbal and para-verbal cues, and the extent of use of communication media. With respect to the first two dimensions we follow Baltes et al. (2002, p. 158) who state that communication media can be described by ���the extent to which the media are synchronous and the extent to which the media convey para-verbal and nonverbal aspects of communication���. The first dimension, the degree of synchronization, describes the potential of the communication environment to allow for a timely exchange of information and a rapid adjustment of the messages exchanged between the partners (Straus et al., 2001, p. 365). In other words, a highly synchronous environment will allow for communication in real time. This concept is also called synchronicity (Kirkman and Mathieu, 2005), or simultaneity (Baltes et al., 2002), as it describes the degree of delay in communication. The lower the delay is, the higher the synchronization of communication. In this sense face-to-face communication has the highest degree of synchronization. The second dimension, the presence of para-verbal and nonverbal aspects of communication, also referred to as the degree of para-verbal and nonverbal cues (Baltes et al., 2002), has to do with the ���bandwidth��� of the communication environment. Straus et al. (2001, p. 365) indicate that media that transmit two or more types of messages (e.g. visual and auditory) have a higher bandwidth than media that only transmit one type of message or one type of cues. The third dimension, the extent of use of communication media, is derived from Kirkman and Mathieu (2005), and refers to the objective use of virtual communication tools within a team to coordinate, control and execute the task (Kirkman and Mathieu, 2005). The concept of level of virtuality as defined by Kirkman and Mathieu (2005) differs from the level of team virtuality as defined here on one underlying dimension: the extent to which the media convey para-verbal and nonverbal aspects of communication replaces Kirkman and Mathieu���s concept of informational value. Kirkman and Mathieu Virtual communicating 365
(2005, p. 704) argue that ���when the members employ technologies that convey rich, valuable information, then their exchanges are less virtual than when they employ technologies that provide less valuable information���. The emphasis in their study lies on the value of the information for an individual team member and not on the value of the communication media regarding their information capacity. Informational value can differ for each member, can be manipulated by persons at any time, and is very variable and therefore unreliable. In contrast, we consider the extent to which the media convey para-verbal and nonverbal aspects of communication as more suitable, because it is medium inherent, can be scientifically anchored (see Baltes et al., 2002), and is constant and therefore more reliable. Therefore, because different communication media are used in team communication, the level of team virtuality is the aggregation of the extent of use for each communication medium, with each medium having its own degree of virtuality regarding the extent of synchronization and the extent of conveying aspects of communication. In this paper we define the ���level of team virtuality��� as: (1) the extent to which team members use communication media to coordinate their actions and execute their tasks, taking into account (2) the extent to which the communication media are synchronous and (3) the extent to which the communication media convey para-verbal and nonverbal aspects of communication. Intra-team conflict Intra-team conflict can be defined in several ways, focusing on factors such as objective conditions that trigger conflict, emotions associated with it, perceptions, and specific behaviors (Sawyer, 2001). Robbins (2005, p. 422), states that conflict can be defined as ���[. . .] a process that begins when one party perceives that another party has negatively affected, or is about to negatively affect, something that the first party cares about���. We adopt here Jehn and Mannix���s (2001, p. 238) definition that conflict is ���an awareness on the part of the parties involved of discrepancies, incompatible wishes, or irreconcilable desires���. Jehn (1995) and Jehn and Mannix (2001) developed a reliable measurement of intra-team conflict. Moreover, their division of intra-team conflict into three types of conflict is frequently used in studies on conflict. Literature on intra-group conflict emphasizes the existence of several types of conflict. Pelled (1996) defines two conflict types, namely substantive and affective conflict. Jehn (1995, 1997) argues that conflict in work groups can be categorized into three types: relationship conflict (interpersonal frictions and disagreements concerning personal issues), task conflict (disagreements concerning the task), and process conflict (disagreements concerning the way in which the task is to be achieved). These three types of conflict are expected to have a differential impact on team performance. Perceived team performance In the literature on team performance there is a lack of clarity on this concept, especially as a dependent variable. Cohen and Bailey (1997) argue that team performance is one of the three underlying dimensions of team effectiveness. The other two dimensions are behavioral outcomes and attitudinal outcomes. Team performance is often measured by assessing the perceived performance (Cox, 2003 Song et al., 2006), or the satisfaction of TPM 14,7/8 366