Global Leadership and Virtual Teams



Abstract Miriam Erez

Globalization and new developments in communication technology have accelerated the number of knowledge employees and managers who work in the context of virtual teams. However, the vast majority of theories on team processes and outcomes have been developed in the context of stable face-to-face teams. The question is whether such theories apply "as is" to the virtual team context and what are the unique characteristics of  the virtual team context that may influence the team structure, processes and outcomes.  In this paper I focus on the role of culture in understanding virtual teams' structure, processes and outcomes. Most virtual teams are geographical dispersed and culturally diverse. The multi-cultural context introduces another dimension of complexity into the understanding of team processes and outcomes, which is not captures by the common definition of a team - two or more individuals, interacting interdependently, who have come together to accomplish a joint goal. The missing part in this definition is the shared meaning system which has recently been emphasized in a number of theories of team learning and performance (Huber & Lewis, 2010; Mathiew et al., 2008; Rico et al., 2008; Wilson et al., 2007). Multi-culturalism means that each team member comes from a different cultural system of shared understanding, and there is no one shared understanding system by all multi-cultural team members. Such cultural systems differ in their values, which influence how team members perceive time, creativity, quality, efficiency, interdependence and how they differ in their communication style. This paper presents findings of three studies, which highlight (a) differences in cultural values and their implications to team structure and team performance outcomes (Erez, 2010; House et al.,2004), (b) differences between culturally homogeneous and heterogeneous teams in the performance of  convergent versus divergent tasks, under conditions of 'strong' versus 'weak' situations (Erez & Nouri, 2010), (c) the emergence of a global identity as a result of working in virtual multi-cultural teams (Shokef & Erez, 2006) and (d) the effect of high versus low global identity on communication styles in virtual multi-cultural teams (working paper, with Glickson, E.). Implications to future research directions will be openly discussed.

Abstract Alon Lisak

As part of the globalization process, a growing number of employees in Multi-National Organizations (MNOs) face the new reality of working in Multi-Cultural Teams (MCTs). Although a plethora of articles concerning MCTs have been published in the last decade, most of these studies didn't consider the role of leaders and followers in the MCTs as part of their research models (Lisak & Erez, 2009).
In this research, we suggested a model which emphasized both global leadership behaviors and followers' openness to cultural diversity as antecedents for desirable MCT outcomes. Based on Self-Concept Based Leadership Theories (Lord et al., 1999; Shamir et al., 1993) and on global work values typologies (Erez & Shokef, 2008) we asserted that global leadership behaviors, which convey a collective sense of global identity, interdependence and openness to cultural diversity, are related to MCT identity. This relation is positively moderated by followers' openness to cultural diversity. Additionally, MCT identity leads to MCT effectiveness.
Our research included two studies. Study 1 consisted of 282 MBA students from 42 nationalities; working in 73 virtual, short term project MCTs. The results of study 1 supported the suggested model. Study 2 consisted of 274 employs, working in 55 on-going MCTs in 9 MNOs. In this study, the research model was expanded by adding team trust as a mediator of the interaction relation between global leadership behaviors and followers' openness to cultural diversity on team identity. The results partially supported this model. Global leadership behaviors were positively related to team trust and team identity. However, the strength of this relationship decreased as the level of followers' openness to cultural diversity increased.
Our research results highlight the importance of considering global characteristics of leaders and followers in MCT effectiveness models. The theoretical and practical implications of these findings will be discussed in the seminar.

This seminar is organized by the Erasmus@Work group.
Contact information:
Dr. Michaela Schippers