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The Effects of Virtuality on Team Conflict Patricia J. Holahan, Stevens Ann C. Mooney, Stevens Roger C. Mayer, University of Akron Laura Finnerty Paul,

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Presentation on theme: "The Effects of Virtuality on Team Conflict Patricia J. Holahan, Stevens Ann C. Mooney, Stevens Roger C. Mayer, University of Akron Laura Finnerty Paul,"— Presentation transcript:

1 The Effects of Virtuality on Team Conflict Patricia J. Holahan, Stevens Ann C. Mooney, Stevens Roger C. Mayer, University of Akron Laura Finnerty Paul, Stevens HSATM Presentation, November, 2008

2 Conflict in Teams Critical area of study across multiple disciplines, including management and psychology. Conflict is multi-dimensional with both constructive and destructive forms. Managing conflict effectively is essential because it allows teams to benefit from constructive conflict without incurring the costs of destructive conflict.

3 Virtuality and Conflict Although we’ve learned a lot about how to manage conflict in traditional, face-to-face teams, we know very little about how to manage conflict in virtual teams. This is particularly problematic because research has shown that virtual teams may experience more conflict than face-to-face teams.

4 Our Research Question How can virtual teams manage conflict effectively?

5 Our Research Approach We begin with what we know about conflict management in face-to-face teams. Based on an in-depth literature review, we then expand on that knowledge by considering how it changes in light of virtual working conditions. The end result is a working research model that we will further test with virtual teams.

6 Conflict Management in F2F Teams (What we know already)

7 Conflict is Multi-dimensional Constructive conflict occurs when teams share diverse perspectives about the tasks at hand. CC has been shown to promote exchange of ideas, surfacing of assumptions, and synthesis of diverse perspectives, which improves decision making and performance. Destructive conflict occurs when teams share diverse perspectives that are outside the context of the tasks and focused on more emotional and relationship issues. DC has been shown to lower decision quality, relationship acceptance, and satisfaction, which impairs decision making and performance.

8 Constructive Conflict Triggers Destructive Conflict Constructive conflict has a tendency to trigger destructive conflict, making the two forms of conflict difficult to disentangle. Researchers have explained this has to do with attribution and social judgment theories: Attribution Theory – explains that team members constantly try to interpret other team members’ intentions and motivations during decision making. Social Judgment Theory – explains that team members cannot fully account for decisions that are reached, there is speculation as to why one course of action was chosen over another.

9 Team Trust Weakens the CC/DC Relationship Trust is a willingness to be vulnerable to the trustee when the trustee cannot be monitored or controlled. Trust is determined by the trustor’s perception of the trustee’s trustworthiness (ability, benevolence, and integrity). Trust serves as a means of coping with uncertainty when risk is present. If team members don’t trust one another, they will experience a need to control the outcomes or otherwise protect their own interests. This leads to a greater likelihood of misattributions and damaging social judgments that underpin the tendency for constructive conflict to trigger destructive conflict. -

10 Behavioral Integration (BI) Weakens the CC/DC Relationship Behavioral integration refers to a team’s norms of mutual and collective interaction. Behavioral integration provides opportunity for team members to share and explain the rationale for their perspectives. As a result, other team members are more likely to understand each other’s perspectives and less likely to make faulty attributions and social judgments. Thus, when teams experience behavioral integration, constructive conflict is less likely to trigger destructive conflict.

11 Trust CONSTRUCTIVE CONFLICT DESTRUCTIVE CONFLICT Behavioral Integration (-) Trustworthiness (+) Figure 1 Conflict Management in F2F Teams (What we Know Already)

12 Conflict Management in Virtual Teams (The New Frontier – i.e. What we Don’t Know)

13 Defining “Virtuality” We define virtuality as (Kirkman & Mathieu, 2005 ): the extent to which team members use communication technology to coordinate and execute team processes, the amount of informational value or “richness” provided by such technology, and the synchronicity of team member interactions Geographic dispersion is not a prerequisite for virtuality When teams use synchronous communication technologies that convey rich, valuable information, their exchanges are less virtual.

14 Media Richness Theory (MRT) and Media Synchronicity Theory (MST) “Richness” and “Synchronicity” are key characteristics of communication technologies. Richness and synchronicity equate to the ability of information to change understanding in a timely manner, or the clarity with which information can be communicated through a specific technology in a way that reduces information ambiguity in a timely manner.

15 Media Richness Theory (MRT) and Media Synchronicity Theory (MST) Communication technologies differ in their richness and synchronicity. The more limited the media richness and synchronicity – the more constrained the social context and social cues. This, in turn, limits social influence and the development of shared meaning and identification with the group.

16 Virtual teams have been found to differ from traditional teams: Conformity is lower. Interpersonal bonds and cohesiveness are lower. Member satisfaction with group interaction is lower. These findings suggest that the limited social context and cues conveyed by technology- mediated communication may affect the development of social ties and shared meaning. The Effects on Virtual Teams

17 Virtuality and Trustworthiness As teams become more virtual, it becomes increasingly difficult to convey the social cues that allow team members to evaluate one another’s trustworthiness. Because assessments of trustworthiness entail the assessment of socio-emotional dimensions, visual and voice cues (e.g., smiling. nodding, voice inflections, etc.) play a central role. We contend that technology low in richness and synchronicity limit one’s ability to gather social cues outside the literal message being communicated and inhibit the process by which one person can assess a teammate’s trustworthiness.

18 Hypothesis 1 H1: Virtuality will relate negatively to team trustworthiness

19 Virtuality and Behavioral Integration Researchers have shown that the lessening of social influence and social identification processes will make the establishment of strong team norms and the identification with the group’s norms more problematic. This is consistent with MST, which proposes that shared understanding of one another’s expectations (norms) can only be had when teams use communication technology that is high in richness and synchronicity. Thus, we argue that virtuality makes it more difficult for teams to establish mutual and collective teams norms – i.e., exhibit “behavioral integration”.

20 Hypothesis 2 H2: Virtuality will relate negatively to behavioral integration

21 Trust Virtuality CONSTRUCTIVE CONFLICT Behavioral Integration (-) Trustworthiness (+) Figure 2 The Influence of Virtuality on Conflict DESTRUCTIVE CONFLICT

22 The News Isn’t All Bad: Virtual Teams Can Avoid the Pitfalls of Virtuality by Developing the Right Experience.

23 Experience with the Communication Technology Researchers have proposed that team members’ experience with the communication technology (e.g., , discussion boards, video conferencing) may in fact mitigate the negative effect of virtuality on communication processes. As team members become more experienced with a given communication technology, they are likely to become more comfortable with its shortcomings and adapt it accordingly, in essence “enriching” it enabling more social cues and thereby weakening the negative effects of virtuality.

24 Hypotheses 3a & 3b H3a: The negative relationship between virtuality and trustworthiness will be weaker when experience with the communication technology is high. H3b: The negative relationship between virtuality and behavioral integration will be weaker when experience with the communication technology is high.

25 Experience with One Another and Trustworthiness Consistent with other researchers, we contend that the relationship between virtuality and the ability to assess trustworthiness depends on the extent to which team members understand, or have knowledge regarding one another. The message conveyed (shaped by the communication technology used) combined with our experience with one another should interact to shape the accuracy of our impressions of the meaning behind the message, and thus the trustworthiness of the sender.

26 Hypothesis 4a H4a: The negative relationship between virtuality and team trustworthiness will be weaker when experience with one another is high.

27 Experience with One Another and Behavioral Integration Virtual teams comprised of members who have experience with one another would be expected to enact shared mental models, roles, and norms from their prior experience of working together (Maruping & Argarwal, 2004). This shared understanding around norms, roles, goals, etc., lessens the effects of virtuality on behavioral integration.

28 Hypothesis 4b H4b: The negative relationship between virtuality and behavioral integration will be weaker when experience with one another is high.

29 Feedback Loops The key moderators of conflict – trust and behavioral integration – should be inhibited by virtuality as well as the effects of time. The literature suggests that as team members experience destructive conflict, they adjust their observations and perceptions of team members. The more emotional and relationship issues related to destructive conflict seem likely, over time, to make team members less likely to perceive their fellow team members as trustworthy. It should also make it less likely for team members to work together with mutual and collective norms, i.e., exhibit behavioral integration.

30 Hypotheses 5a & 5b H5a: Destructive conflict will relate negatively to team members’ subsequent perceptions of team trustworthiness. H5b: Destructive conflict will relate negatively the team’s subsequent behavioral integration.

31 Trust Virtuality CONSTRUCTIVE CONFLICT DESTRUCTIVE CONFLICT Behavioral Integration (-) Trustworthiness Experience with Comm, Technology & Teammates (-) (+) Figure 2 The Influence of Virtuality on Conflict

32 Our Contribution Our research focuses on how virtuality affects the relationship between constructive and destructive conflict. Our model proposes that virtuality makes conflict more difficult to manage because virtuality inhibits the team trustworthiness and behavioral integration that are essential to keeping conflict constructive. These negative effects of virtuality can be mitigated when team members have experience with the communication technology used and experience working with each other.

33 Preliminary Insights Advice for Managers

34 Develop Experience with Virtual Communication Technologies Don’t rely solely on on-the-job training for virtual communication technologies. Training should begin when employees join the organization and refreshed on a regular basis. Focus not only on depth – understanding a technology well – but breadth – being proficient in a wide variety of communication technologies. Provide instruction of the advantages and disadvantages of different technologies and how to choose technologies that are well-suited for their communication processes

35 Develop the Virtual Team’s Experience with One Another Consider including team members that have prior experience working together. Offer team building opportunities to help team members without prior experience together gel. Time team building opportunities at the beginning of the project. Consider some time face-to-face team building opportunities.

36 Next Steps for Our Research Model Development and Empirical Test

37 Next Steps Improve model by: Reviewing literature more extensively; Interviewing experienced industry professionals. Prepare and submit a conceptual paper for publication. Empirically test model by: Examining conflict management in virtual and face-to-face courses; Conducting a large-scale survey study of virtual industry teams. Prepare and submit empirical paper(s) for publication.


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