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Communication Barriers in the Virtual Teams

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Communication Barriers in the Virtual Teams

Abstract

Virtual teams are widely used as a solution to the challenges of organizational complexity and high competitive markets (Ebrahim, Ahmed, & Taha, 2009). The companies realize the effectiveness of the virtual teams and invest in the development of virtual teams. Development of virtual teams is an answer to many organizational issues but there are specific complexities related with the performance of virtual teams. In this respect, cultural diversity is an essential element of the global virtual teams, in which the members communicate with one another through electronic technologies.  (Daim, et al., 2012). Research suggests that diverse teams perform better than the homogeneous teams (Kearney, Gebert, & Voelpel, 2009; Knippenberg & Schippers, 2007). These findings for the homogeneous teams are suitable for co- located teams but culturally diversified virtual teams tend to show lower performance than do the co- located culturally diversified teams (Daim, et al., 2012). The hypothesis developed for this research paper has support from the existing research literature. For example, virtual teams pose challenges in the form of high level of mistrust, communication gap, high chances of conflicts and more power struggles (Rosen, Furst, & Blackburn, 2007). Moreover, the problem solving capacity of the virtual teams is limited due to limitation of physical contact between the team members and high chances of cultural conflicts and mistrust among the team members (Cascio, 2000; Hossain & Wigand, 2004). The communication barrier is a significant factor in the culturally diversifies virtual teams (Shachaf, 2008). Therefore, culturally diverse members of the virtual teams face many problems in communicating effectively while culturally diverse members in the co- located teams do not face such a high level of communication issues.

Introduction

Todays organizational world is facing unprecedented challenges in the form of diversity and complexity. On one hand, the technological advancements provide various benefits and growth opportunities to the organizations but these advancements make the environment hyper-competitive and volatile on the other hand. In this respect, organizations tend to utilize technological developments to maximize their chances of success. Virtual teams offer certain benefits to the organizations and enable them to deal with the environmental complexities with complex working structure in the form of global virtual teams. The organizations can meet the challenges by hiring the best available talent from different geographical locations of the world. Considering the suitability and effectiveness of virtual teams for the existing challenges, many organizations tend to develop and use virtual teams as an important element of their structure (Suchan & Hayzak, 2001; RW3 Culture Wizard, 2010).

Communication is an essential and very significant factor for the organizational and team performance. The virtual teams are more prone to miscommunication than the traditional face to face collaborating teams because the members in the virtual teams are less satisfied by communicating through computer aided communication technologies (Warkentin, Sayeed, & Hightower, 1997). It is pertinent to note that communication effectiveness in both the virtual and traditional teams has been found almost at an equal level but the members in the virtual teams are not as satisfied as the members in the traditional teams are. Lack of trust is one of the factors contributing to the dissatisfaction of the members of virtual teams (Sarker, Ahuja, Sarker, & Kirkeby, 2011).

This study is based on the hypothesis that virtual team members from different cultures and with different national origins tend to experience greater barriers in effectively communicating, collaborating, and understanding each other than do team members operating in face-to-face environments. This study will augment the hypothesis with the help of empirical and theoretical support from the existing literature on communication and virtual teams.

Literature Review

Flexible and lean structure is a requirement of the organizations facing severe challenges and complexities (Townsend, DeMarie, & Hendrickson, 1998). Virtual teams are widely used as a solution to the challenges of organizational complexity and high competitive markets (Ebrahim, Ahmed, & Taha, 2009; Carlson, Carlson, Hunter, & George, 2013; Eseryel, 2013). The organizations realize the effectiveness of the virtual teams and invest in the development of virtual teams. Development of virtual teams is an answer to many organizational issues but there are specific complexities related with the performance of virtual teams. In this respect, cultural diversity is an essential element of the global virtual teams, in which the members communicate with one another through electronic technologies (Daim, et al., 2012).

Research studies suggest that diverse teams perform better than the homogeneous teams (Knippenberg & Schippers, 2007; Kearney, Gebert, & Voelpel, 2009). These findings for diverse teams are suitable for the traditional face to face teams but culturally diversified virtual teams tend to show lower performance than do the co- located culturally diversified teams (Daim, et al., 2012). The hypothesis developed for this research paper has support from the existing research literature. For example, virtual teams pose challenges in the form of high level of mistrust, communication gap, high chances of conflicts and more power struggles (Rosen, Furst, & Blackburn, 2007).

Moreover, a survey on virtual teams concludes that virtual teams are more challenging to manage mainly because of complexities and barriers in the communication among the members. In this regard, the members face severe problems with respect to dealing with conflict management, decision making, and opinion sharing (RW3 Culture Wizard, 2010). The other factors including difference of time zone and language, culture, and technology also intensify the communication barriers. In addition, the members in the virtual teams face barriers in the form of lack of collaboration readiness among the members, lack of technological readiness, and lack of common ground in the form of shared knowledge (Olson & Olson, 2000). The distance between the team members is a significant factor responsible for the communication barriers because the performance of the team members from the very same culture differs significantly from the performance of collocated team members (Bos, Buyuktur, Olson, Olson, & Voida, 2010).

Moreover, the problem solving capacity of the virtual teams is limited due to limitation of physical contact between the team members and high chances of cultural conflicts and mistrust among the team members (Cascio, 2000). Staples & Zhao (2006) claim that diverse teams are less integrated and their members have less satisfaction than the homogeneous teams but performance of both types of teams remain equal. Shachaf (2008) claims that cultural diversity has a negative effect on the communication between the team members but information and communication technology (ICT) can mitigate the communication issues in this regard.

The comparative results on the performance of face to face teams and virtual teams show a mix results; therefore, it cannot be concluded whether face to face communication is better than computer aided communication (Rhoads, 2010). Nevertheless, one aspect is quite clear that face to face communication and computer based communication are not similar in many respects and these differences have deep consequences on the performance of the virtual and traditional face to face teams.

Discussion

The virtual teams provide many advantages to the organizations. For example, virtual teams increase the organizational efficiency by reducing organizational costs and time. The limitations as faced in the traditional work environment in the forms of time, space, and organizational affiliation. Moreover, virtual teams enable the organization to increase their customers responsiveness by involving flexibility in human resource management (Suchan & Hayzak, 2001).

Culturally diverse virtual teams cannot be managed with the traditional approaches of team management. Virtual teams are more complex than the traditional face to face teams. The basic difference between virtual and face to face teams is rooted in the difference between computer aided and face to face communication. This difference has impact on the important team functions such as decision making, work pattern, team members relations and the understanding of the work (Berry, 2011). Therefore, an effective management of the virtual teams requires a strong knowledge and deep understanding of the basics of group dynamics. In this respect, transformational leadership plays more important role in the virtual teams than it plays in the traditional face to face teams (Purvanova & Bono, 2009).

The review of the relevant literature on virtual teams provides adequate support in favor of the hypothesis. The culturally diverse and geographically dispersed members of virtual teams face more barriers than the diverse members of co- located teams. Therefore, distance is still an important factor despite an abundance of technological solutions for global communication. The fundamental difference is due to difference in the face to face communication and online communication. It seems that communication through information and communication technologies is not a complete substitute of face to face communication. The members in the global virtual teams face problems in understanding non- verbal cues in the online communication. In addition, the members face difficulties in developing rapport and trust during their interaction with the team members (RW3 Culture Wizard, 2010).

Virtual teams are effective in the situation where the team members have high level of trust and they exchange their knowledge freely (Pinjani & Palvia, 2013). The computer based communication poses challenges in developing trust and maintaining a cohesion in the diverse virtual teams. A possible reason for such problems may be that the members in the virtual teams have greater impact of their native culture and they lack in adopting the organizational culture. Therefore, the global virtual teams face communication challenges more than the traditional face to face teams.

Conclusion

            The above literature review and discussion suggest that virtual teams are considered an important element of the contemporary organizations because they offer certain benefits to the organization. Though advancement of information and telecommunication technologies has provided many useful computer based communication tools, online communication is still not a complete substitute of face to face communication. A major problem in the virtual teams is that members face more communication barriers than the members of traditional face to face diverse teams. The possible roots of these barriers lie in the non-existence of a common culture for all the team members. The organizational culture in the traditional face to face diverse teams neutralizes the impact of individuals’ cultures but the members in the virtual teams do not have a strong association with a common organizational culture. The organizations need to understand these challenges before developing virtual teams for their projects because the teams lacking trust, cooperation, and urge to share knowledge will not serve the objectives of the project.

 

 

References

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Bos, N. D., Buyuktur, A., Olson, J. S., Olson, G. M., & Voida, A. (2010). Shared Identity Helps Partially Distributed Teams, but Distance still Matters. GROUP ’10 Proceedings of the 16th ACM International Conference on Supporting Group Work (pp. 89-96). New York: ACM.

Carlson, J. R., Carlson, D. S., Hunter, E. M., & George, J. F. (2013). Virtual Team Effectiveness: Investigating the Moderating Role of Experience with Computer-Mediated Communication on the Impact of Team Cohesion and Openness. Journal of Organizational and End User Computing, 25(2).

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Eseryel, U. Y. (2013). Structuring for Innovation:How Virtual Teams Can Adopt Open Source Practices. Proceedings of the Nineteenth Americas Conference on Information Systems. Chicago.

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About The Author

Nader Ale Ebrahim is Technology Management PhD candidate in the Department of Engineering Design and Manufacture, Faculty of Engineering, University of Malaya. He holds a Master of Science in the mechanical engineering from University of Tehran with distinguished honors, as well as more than 17 years experience in the establishing R&D department in different companies, project director and project coordinator and Knowledge based system implementation in R&D department. His current research interests are focused on managing virtual new product development teams in SMEs R&D centers. His papers/articles have presented in the several Journals and conferences.

Number of Entries : 2665

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