Role of Virtual Team Members

Global Virtual Team work structure is fast emerging as the workplace reality in networked organizations. Global virtual teams (GVT) are defined as the work groups where members are located at different global locations and communicate mainly through information and communication technology (ICT).

For an effective virtual team, role coordination is very important. Role coordination is defined as managing the interdependent tasks of virtual team members. Role coordination among the members of a virtual team is a challenge because of the following three main reasons:

  • Virtual teams support flatter organization structure. Due to this lack of traditional hierarchies, it becomes difficult for reinforce the reporting levels.
  • Virtual project teams are formed for a short duration of time and the membership is also fluid. The resultant evolving structure of virtual teams leads to role ambiguity among its members.
  • Difficulty in managing interdependent tasks due to time zone differences and cultural influences.

Role Theory as its focal point, this article aims to look at the different roles played by virtual team members and how virtual teams should achieve effective role coordination among its members.

Role in the context of a team is defined as the part played or expected to be played by an individual member. According to the Role Theory, the actions of each individual are guided by his place in social structure. Every member expects a set of behaviors from themselves and others in this social setting. Here we need to realize that in a group, each individual exhibits two types of behaviors - task-related as well as socio-emotional behaviors.

In a virtual team, members play three types of roles:

  • Task-oriented or Functional Roles are the ones which enable a team to achieve its project objectives, the reason why it was formed in first place. This is generally related to their expertise in a field such as a product design engineer, business analyst, project manager etc.

  • Socio-emotional roles are the ones which help the team to build trust, collaborate and work effectively towards it common goal. These are generally taken up by members informally owing to their preferences and personalities. For example some members are able to motivate others, resolve conflicts or help release tension.

  • Individual roles are the ones that are related to the personal needs of a team member such as desire for recognition or control. These are considered to have adverse effects on trust and collaboration.

Global virtual teams rely on ICT tools for any form of interactions among its members. The members can use various ICT tools for three levels of communication.

  • Impersonal communication involves minimal level of interactions and is concerned with pre-determined tasks or actions which each member has to perform. This is usually done through pre-established formal action plans and procedures.

  • Personal communication involves one-on-one dialogue between two members of the team. This is accomplished using vertical and horizontal communication channels.

  • Group communication involves interactions among all the members of the team. This makes use of the team meetings using webinars, videoconferencing etc.

Thus we see that in order to ensure successful collaboration and knowledge sharing among virtual team members, it is important for every member to efficiently perform the task-oriented and socio-emotional roles and avoid negative individual roles. The virtual team leader should reduce role ambiguity by clearly defining the roles and responsibilities of each member as well as improve role coordination by providing effective communication mechanisms in place and encouraging communication at all the three levels.

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