Determining the Personality Characteristics that Identify a Successful Global Virtual Team Member

By: 
Dr. Joel Paul Ginsburg

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Importance of the Issue

Identifying the personality characteristics that “inhere” in successfully performing members of global virtual teams will address an existing gap in the literature dealing with global virtual team performance. Earlier research combined all characteristics affecting virtual teams (Gibson and Gibbs, 2006). As a result, distinct personality traits were not identified (Gibson & Gibbs). Understanding the dynamics of these interactions is important to optimize group productivity, and requires additional study (Hongseok, Lavianca, & Myong-Ho, 2006).

Copeland (2006) pointed out that many companies now have alliances, business partners, and employees spread throughout the world. Another aspect of today’s business life is that companies from across the globe are looking to compete wherever and whenever possible (Copeland). The global business environment is one of speed, flexibility, communication, and collaboration that has markedly changed the way business is conducted (Elmuti, 2003). Both domestic and multinational enterprises are increasingly relying upon the employment of virtual employees and teams (Workman, 2005). Widely dispersed employees, with specialized expertise, functioning in horizontally structured operations are a key source of information that ensure accurate and timely business decisions from corporate management (Workman). The specific characteristics emerging from this study may provide data for a future pre-interview screening process that can identify the right personnel with consistency.

Literature Review

Self-Managed Virtual Teams

One can find large and well-known corporations that have embraced the virtual team concept. Dow Chemical, GlaxoSmithKline, Unisys, and Bechtel are several examples of corporations that are focusing on virtual team building, according to the Kenan-Flagler Business School at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (Act locally, 2005). Other large corporations such as Motorola, General Electric, and McGraw Hill embrace the notion that productivity, profits, and improved customer service are made possible by empowering virtual employees instead of relying on traditional processes and structures (Hellinghausen & Myers, 1998). There are additional key functions of the widely dispersed personnel.

Technological Enhancements Enable Virtual-Teams

Virtual teams that are widely dispersed and cross-functional with members performing independent tasks are beset with challenges (Malhotra, Majchrzak, & Rosen, 2007). In essence, the wide variety of traditional activities, including such tasks as exchanging views with team members, working with customers and vendors, tracking project updates, and remaining informed and clearly recognizable members of the organizational staff, are all governed by the robustness of the technologies (Virtual World, 2008).

Social Capital

International enterprises are increasingly dependent on the structure of the team with its inherent flexibility, carefully molded variety of areas of expertise, and advantages that are brought to the team based on relationships that have been developed by team-members with each other and with personnel outside of the group (Hongseok, Labianca, & Myung-Ho, 2006).      

Trust  

Lockwood (2007) identified a listing of issues that impact the employee-employer issue of trust. Employee-employer and employee-employee relationships must become partnerships, that is, carefully maintained transformational leadership environments. Human resources and management must be sensitive to maintaining a balance between life and work. This is an especially difficult and challenging endeavor in virtual operations (Lockwood).

Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence (EI) is the capability to (a) engage and control one’s emotions in a positive manner, (b) employ emotional information to enable and improve reasoning and problem resolution, and (c) positively affect the emotions of others (Loomis, 2008). In addition, Loomis highlighted the necessity of recognizing anxiety and reacting in a manner that minimizes the negative potential of the emotions.

Communication and Collaboration

Knowledge sharing becomes especially important in virtual teams because shared understanding and effective collaboration are outcomes of successful communication (Crampon, 2001). Additionally, collaboration is necessary for successful teams and team performance. Mutual knowledge gained through collaboration is considered a precondition for effective communications and performance in cooperative work (Crampon).

Challenges of Geographical Dispersion
Furst, Reeves, Rosen, and Black. (2004) conducted an eight-month mixed-method research study. The study confirmed the existence of anticipated changes as the teams spent more time together and had opportunities to confront the challenges of self-managed virtual team dynamics (Furst, et al.).

Transformational Leadership

In 1985, Bernard Bass expanded on the paradigm of transformational leadership by focusing on engaging stakeholders, at all levels, as individuals (Bass & Avolio, 1993). Further, he posited that the focus would be on inspiring personnel to collaborate as teams, intrinsically motivated and determined to take actions aimed at the greater good (Bass & Avolio). Bass focused on qualities of a leader who would elicit not only levels of individual performance that exceeded anything achieved earlier, but also motivated workers to perform, primarily for the greater good, relegating self-interest to lesser importance (Conger, 1999). These leaders possess charisma that supports their followers in seeking high levels of pride, confidence, self-efficacy, and collective efficacy in relation to the enterprise, and other personnel (Bass & Avolio). Bass and Avolio observed that these leaders communicate expectations of levels of excellence that inspire their followers to reach for excellence. These leaders stimulate others to engage their intellectual curiosity, resulting in innovation and questioning of the status quo (Bass & Avolio). These transformational leaders embrace their followers as individuals and show personal concern for the challenge, progress, abilities, and accomplishments of their followers (Bass & Avolio).

 Burns (as cited in Miller, 2006) observed that with the transformational leader’s self-actualization, comes an ability to  (a) listen, (b) be guided by others and not feel threatened, (c) be dependent on others, but not overly-so, (d) judge others with caring and prudence, and (e) be sufficiently autonomously creative without turning away external influences. Burns (as cited in Miller) added that a leader in this situation could lead by being led. This openness exhibited by the transformational leader results in mutual stimulation and is a result of the leader’s self-schema (Burns, as cited in Miller).

Technologically Sophisticated People

GEN X . When comparing the characteristics of the GEN X'rs (1963 to 1976) to the Baby Boomers, the differences are apparent (Davis, Pawloski, & Houston, 2006). Davis et al. observed that GEN Xr's display a lower sense of work-related values including (a) unwillingness to sacrifice personal lives for a career, (b) frequent job changes, and c) viewing each job and each company as stepping-stones in his or her life rather than developing long-term loyalties and affiliations. Other GEN X characteristics include the desire to (a) be acknowledged by their managers and coworkers, (b) be mentored so they can learn and grow professionally, thereby becoming more marketable, (c) enjoy work and receive surprise rewards, and (d) spend time with their managers.

GEN Y. They never stop questioning the status quo. . This group tends not to be interested in the stability sought by older groups of workers, and is not focused on material success, as is the case with boomers, or the independence of the Gen Xr's (Sacks, 2006). GEN Yr’s want customized careers that enable them to apply different skills and experiences, and training and education, that will present a variety of challenges (Sacks).

Intrinsic Motivation.

In comparison to a number of needs theories of motivation, the foundational theory of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation is simple to describe. Lucas (2006) refers to two types of motivation, intrinsic and extrinsic. Lucas points out that intrinsic motivation is motivation that a person feels based on internal feelings of satisfaction and desire, as based on the person’s values, perception of the situation, and the comfort and trust the person feels when interacting with others involved.  

Characteristics of the Successful Virtual Team Member

Particular characteristics of a team member who contributes to the success of a virtual team should be identified to assist in selecting future members (Gibson & Gibbs, 2006). A variety of challenges threaten successful performance within these global units, according to the study from Gibson and Gibbs including (a) the very graphical separation, (b) dependence on communication based on electronic methodology, (c) dynamic structures (too many movements of members in and out of teams), and (d) the national diversity with its inherent challenges of different languages, and cultures.

Mothersell (2006) observed a need for clear goals and a sense of direction, identification of talent, clear roles and responsibilities, agreed upon procedures, constructive intrapersonal relations, active reinforcement of team relations, and diplomatic external ties.

Hackman and Oldham as cited in Colquitt and Piccolo (2006) observed that workers produce higher levels of performance because of the perceived positive reception to the results, while Staw (as cited in Colquitt & Piccolo) suggested that intrinsically motivated workers feel satisfied with tasks that are well done. They work with more focus.

Section Summary

Self-managed virtual teams are geographically mobile and need to effectively engage and network with external local resources. The leadership paradigm of the inclusive and empowering nature of transformational leadership overviewed by Colquitt and Piccolo (2006) evolved into discussions of the continuing challenges of trust, collaboration, and changes in corporate culture offered by Dani, Burns, Backhouse, and Kochhar (2006).

Method of Study

Cross-Sectional Study

A cross-sectional study can be described as a one-time study and is the most commonly used form of study employed in social sciences (Kumar, 2005). Kumar stated that the design is ideally suited for studies to uncover themes and present an overview of a phenomenon by working with a cross-section of the population. These studies are considered cross-sectional studies pertaining to populations and particular times (Kumar).

Findings

The study posed three research questions:

  1. What personal trait-characteristics would optimize the probability that new team member would be effective and contribute towards the success of a widely dispersed self-managed virtual team?
  2.  What characteristics of a leadership paradigm would best motivate and satisfy the  needs of GEN Y and other professional workers who are members of widely dispersed self-managed virtual teams?
  3. Does leadership style impact widely dispersed self-managed virtual team employees?

Thematic Category 1: Communication

Participants mentioned 13 invariant constituents with regard to communication as an essential skill for self-managed virtual team members. A full 85% of the sample directly mentioned good communication skills as an essential trait in virtual team members.

Thematic Category 2: Collaboration and Cooperation

All but one participant of the 20 involved in the study mentioned collaboration as an important characteristic for an effective virtual team member. Participants generally perceived collaboration as the basis (along with communication) of virtual teamwork and found it essential for the successful functioning of the team.

Thematic Category 3: Other Positive Employee Trait-Characteristics

Thematic Category 3 was the most extensive of the 6 thematic categories, yielding 45 invariant constituents and resulted in other characteristics important to employee traits:  innovation, trust (specifically, extends trust to other teammates), geographic and cultural diversity and sensitivity, self confidence, and self motivation.

Thematic Category 4: Negative Employee Trait-Characteristics

All but one participant of the 20 involved in the study mentioned collaboration as an important characteristic for an effective virtual team member. Participants generally perceived collaboration as the basis (along with communication) of virtual teamwork and found it essential for the successful functioning of the team.  Compromise and synchronicity (level of connectedness and timely availability of information among memebers) were also mentioned as a problem if missing,

Thematic Category 5: Positive Leadership Paradigm Characteristics
Eighty of participants mentioned that effective corporate leadership should promote innovation and the challenging of the status quo. 15 participants (75%) also found it very important that this corporate leadership encourage face-to-face contact among team members.

Thematic Category 6: Negative Leadership Paradigm Characteristics

More than half of the participants (60%) reported that unclear instructions and expectations from corporate leadership were a major hindrance to the successful functioning of a virtual team.

Summary

Several general conclusions provide the context to understand the answers to the research questions. First, the participants’ responses indicated that a critical facet of widely dispersed self-managed virtual teams was the global interconnectivity of the team. Second, generational differences in team members were found to be marginal, as the nature of virtual teamwork required employee and corporate leadership characteristics that transcended generational preference. Third, team members cannot successfully perform necessary tasks and appropriately interact with teammates trying to accomplish their tasks if corporate leadership does not clearly communicate expectations.

Author Bio

Dr. Joel Paul Ginsburg
Colorado Technical University


Dr. Joel Paul Ginsburg‘s undergraduate degree is in Physics, from the City College of New York. Subsequent to graduation, he was commissioned in the Army Corps of Engineers and spent two years in Japan. Ginsburg worked as an Industrial Engineer, consultant, manager, senior management, and he has a decade of work as Vice President of Operations and Chief Operating Officer for several $100 million dollar companies. His passion is education, especially online university work. Ginsburg returned to school at Adelphi University working towards an MBA/Corporate Finance, 1987, and he returned to school one more time in order to earn a Doctor of Management, Organizational Leadership. Currently, Ginsburg is teaching, pilot testing an online assessment test for virtual workers, and authoring a book. Dr. Joel Paul Ginsburg can be reached at joelg@chartermi.net

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