How To Work Effectively In Virtual Teams

Virtual teams are becoming more and more prevalent in the global business community. But they come with some unique challenges, for which business students often are not sufficiently prepared, experts say. To address this problem, an article in the latest issue of Small Group Research presents an experiential activity for undergrads in which students from around the world work together in a virtual team to bring these issues to light:

The goal of this VT [virtual team] experiential activity is to demonstrate to students how working in VTs can (a) be similar to working in FtF [face-to-face] teams, (b) have several advantages over FtF teams, and yet (c) present some unique challenges. Based on the results of student surveys completed prior to working on this activity, many of our students are uninformed about these issues given their lack of experience working in VTs. In fact, most students report that using technology to communicate is easy and that in the future, there will be little need for FtF communication. Students are also quick to point out that technology allows individuals to work on projects at times that are most convenient to their specific schedules and to seek assistance in real time rather than SGR_72ppiRGB_150pixwwaiting for a predetermined meeting time. Students also report that they foresee few limitations to working in virtual teams. While for some students these sentiments remain true even after participating in the VT activity, for others their perceptions are changed significantly after having the opportunity to work with geographically dispersed team members.

Continue reading the article, “Virtual Team Effectiveness: An Experiential Activity,” published by Lucy L. Gilson of the University of Connecticut, M. Travis Maynard of Colorado State University, and Erich B. Bergiel of the University of West Georgia in the Small Group Research August 2013 issue.

Want more articles about teamwork and effective business communication? Sign up for e-alerts from SGR.

Using Blogs to Learn About Groups

 Editor’s note: We are pleased to welcome Dr. Nale Lehmann-Willenbrock of VU University Amsterdam. Her paper “Developing Students As Global Learners: ‘Groups in Our World’ Blog,” co-authored by Annika L. Meinecke of TU Braunschweig and Kim K. Smith of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, is forthcoming in Small Group Research and now available in the journal’s OnlineFirst section.

UntitledThe intercultural blog project we describe in our paper was the result of a collaboration between Renee A. Meyers and myself. We were both working on group processes in our research and started talking about potential ways in which group interaction processes and norms might differ across cultures. We expected that there should be differences in the ways U.S.-Americans and Germans perceive group interaction and in the ways they behave in group settings – based on our own observations from working together over the years, and based on previous work by Geert Hofstede. However, there was very little in terms of empirical work to substantiate these expectations.

SGR_72ppiRGB_150pixwThen the opportunity arose to study these intercultural differences “hands-on,” as we were both simultaneously teaching advanced group processes classes of graduate students in the U.S. and Germany. We were interested in how students perceive intercultural differences in group processes, and how reflecting about these potential differences would help them learn about group processes from different cultural perspectives.

We decided to use a blog for facilitating communication between the two groups of graduate students. The blog helped bridge time zone differences and was easily integrated into the course curriculum.

Literature on the use of blogs for teaching purposes is still rather sparse, so our study was exploratory by nature. The intercultural blog offered a space for students to reflect about things that were discussed in their class. Our case study shows that the students valued the format of blogging as a new learning experience.

In addition to accommodating information exchange across time zones, the blog helped bridge language difficulties. The German students reported that the blog helped them contribute, more so than face-to-face interaction would have, because it gave them the opportunity to think about their questions and answers and to contribute in their own time.

UntitledWhat (positively) surprised us was the ease with which the students used the blog for contributing ideas and discussing different insights and opinions. Both groups of students interacted more on the blog than was necessary by class requirements. The contributions were thoughtful and showed that both groups of students really used the blog as an opportunity to reflect about their experiences and insights into group processes, both within their own culture and across cultures.

Overall, I think the intercultural blog was a great project for getting the graduate students thinking about groups and actively involved in group research. Two of them are now actively pursuing a research career (Annika Meinecke and Kim Smith, who are co-authors on this paper).

Our positive experience and the favorable student evaluations of using the blog suggest that blogs can be a useful tool for teaching about groups and group processes. However, for successful blog use in teaching, a couple of boundary conditions should be considered. In particular, instructors should incorporate a blog into their curriculum so it is not just an extra task that students have to fulfill, but rather an intentional part of the overall learning process.

To make sure that the blog is actually worthwhile for the students, instructors could incorporate check-ins throughout the semester, where students can summarize the blog activity and have in-class discussions about the posts on the blog.

Directions for future research are manifold. We still know very little about the effects of blog use for teaching purposes, although our case study suggests that this is a fruitful avenue both for teaching effectiveness and for research. First, future research should recruit larger samples to allow for more complex quantitative analyses than we could perform in our case study. In addition, a control group design, where the experimental group would use an online blog whereas the control group would be taught by traditional classroom methods only, could really test the effects of blog use. Variables of interest in this context would include individual as well as group reflexivity, individual learning progress, satisfaction with the learning experience, and learning transfer beyond the classroom. We would expect all of these outcomes to benefit significantly from the use of an online blog, compared to the use of more traditional classroom methods.

Read the paper,”Developing Students As Global Learners: ‘Groups in Our World’ Blog,” online in Small Group Research.

Portrait Nale Lehmann-WillenbrockNale Lehmann-Willenbrock, PhD, is an assistant professor in the Department of Social and Organizational Psychology at VU University Amsterdam. She has published on trust in the workplace, meeting effectiveness, and dynamic behavioral processes in teams. Further research interests include emergent social influence and methodological advances in team interaction analysis.