Lit Review: Virtual Team Leadership

Lit Review: This is a post in a series focusing on the research studies on videoconferencing.

Hambley, L. A. (2005). Virtual team leadership: The effects of leadership style and communication medium on team interaction styles and outcomes. Retrieved from ProQuest Digital Dissertation. (AAT NR05638)


This dissertation has a mixed-methods design. The quantitative study compared transformational and transactional leadership against teams meeting face to face, videoconference and via chat. No significant difference was found on leadership styles. Constructive interaction score was higher in face to face than VC and chat teams, but not significantly higher in VC than chat teams. In addition, team cohesion scoares were higher in face that face and videoconference than chat, but not significantly higher in VC than chat.

The quantitative study was done with 228 undergraduate students who had a mean of 4 years of full time work experience and 4 years of part time experience. The Meeting Effectiveness Situation was the simulation used to measure task performance.

The qualitative part of the study consisted of interviews with nine virtual team leaders and members in the actual workplace.


A virtual team is not a learning network, community of practice, or web-based interest group. It is a group with specific tasks, shared outcomes and interdependency. Jazz facilitator teams certainly fit this definition.

Semi-virtual teams may have a local subgroup as well as remote team members. These groups can have the increased challenge of in-group and out-group issues. I wonder if some Jazz facilitators sometimes are an in-group as we’ve all seen each other face to face, whereas others may feel more out-group because they haven’t been with us as long or we’ve never seen them face to face?

Virtual teams differ on four dimensions (Bell & Kozlowski, 2002):

  • temporal distribution – the degree to which the team coversw boundaries of space and time
  • boundary spanning – the degree to which the team spans varies organizational and cultural boundaries
  • lifecycle – short term to long term
  • member roles – keeping the same role or members holding multiple roles

Virtual teams tend to focus less on relationship building, which can lead to less effective teams (p. 10).

Other Theories

Media Synchronicity Theory: Asynchronous communication is better for less complex tasks which require reflection and minimal collaboration. Synchronous is better for tasks that are more complex and require interdependence and feedback.

Media Richness Theory:  Explains how different communication media affect task performance. Videoconferencing is a richer medium than text chat.

Qualitative Results

The interviewees felt that a face to face kick-off is important for a virtual team. “Face to face meetings have important impacts such as facilitating the development of trust, comfort level, and rapport” (p. 87). They thought that virtual teams should meet face to face once in a while if at all possible.

Virtual team leaders need to be able to build a virtual team – facilitate trust building, establishing the vision etc. The team leader should have training in leading a virtual team and should make sure everyone feels a part. They should have very good facilitation skills. They should invest time in getting to know the followers. They should have good project management skills. They should be able to know what to do if the technology fails. I’m thinking that the best modeling of this that I have seen has been by Roxanne.

The qualitative section is rich with tips for effective leadership in virtual teams, including addressing challenges, the use of the phone and email, and tips for the videoconference.

Question for you…

Are you on any virtual teams? How do they work? Do you see good leadership or not-so-much? What makes it work well? Do you use VC? Does it work well? Feel free to comment….

0 replies on “Lit Review: Virtual Team Leadership”

  1. Interesting…aren’t you glad Ken and Bennie dragged you into Jazz?

    Initial reactions:

    1. In Pepperdine OMET, we started with a one-week face-to-face learning experience with our professors and our cadre-mates. THEN, we went into online newsgroups, websites, Tappedin, etc. (no blogs, wikis, skype back in the day, ya know!)

    2. We will need to watch in-group and out-group issues. I will be curious to see if Twitter helps bridge that somewhat. It seemed like the lead facilitators built relationships more as we started following each other on Twitter. Now we know what Ken is eating!

    3. Media Synchronicity Theory: Love this! It is the “pick up the phone” theory. It can be so frustrating with the asynchronous tools made a task harder than it needs to be. This is why we are all meeting via videoconference tomorrow with our laptops, right?

    I will come back to this post again this weekend. Good stuff here. Thanks for being the Jazz Archivist.

  2. I agree Twitter might be a good way to bridge the in-group/out-group. At least now that we are aware of it, we can pay attention to it.

    Yes, yes, yes, I’m glad Ken & Bennie dragged me into Jazz! What a wonderful opportunity for professional growth and learning.

    And, as a side benefit, you all are helping me write my reflection papers for my studies. 🙂

  3. I’m thinking I may incorporate Twitter as a local activity (if it is unblocked) one morning during Jazz (Tuesday or Wednesday) to promote awareness and potential use. I can have them set-up their account, find a few followers, post, reply, retweet, and do a direct message. If I can get them comfortable with it and to see the value in using it after the workshop maybe it will help in continuing and developing our relationships.

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