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Working in the virtual team: understanding the economics of human capital.


Rienzo & Han (2009) suggest "collaboration is a major area of focus for corporate America" (p.123). Today's students must be equipped with the skills to address the needs of potential employers. Sales of collaboration software have achieved the billion plus mark (McDougall, 2008) and "tools of modern collaboration are the technologies of Web 2.0 in which communities of interest share content and commentary through multimedia files, wikis, and blogs" (Rienzo & Han 2009, p. 123). Microsoft Office Live and Google Docs are two software packages that provide support for document sharing and interdependent activities. Access to and use of diverse technological tools can provide individuals working collaboratively to solve problems and generate new ideas with the potential to achieve greatness. However, when individuals work interdependently, the ability to collaborate or communicate effectively and efficiently to achieve a desired goal is often more difficult to master than technology use. Balotsky & Christensen (2004) remark,
   Higher education has always been society's portal into the future
   while simultaneously anchoring it in its past. This unique position
   has allowed it to be forward thinking and pensive about the future
   of work and the requisite skills for that future (p. 149).

The authors suggest "business educators must acutely focus on ensuring that the knowledge and skills they are developing in their students meet new workplace demands" (p.149). Similar arguments have been waged in all areas of study. This paper promotes the argument that the communications discipline and its state-of-the-art curricula must incorporate applicable technological applications to empower students to boast a competitive advantage when entering the workforce. As such, the work of Becker provides a framework to support virtual teaming skills enhance employment potential. A definition of virtual teams and research findings on the strengths and weaknesses of virtual team experiences establishes the context for a research study of graduate students enrolled in the course, "Impact of Technology." After a discussion of the task assigned to class members to be completed in virtual teams, pretest and posttest survey results are presented and an analysis of e-mail communication frames the generation of a "Best Practices in Virtual Teams".

Review of the Literature

Sullivan & Sheffrin (2003) define human capital as the stock of skills and knowledge embodied in the ability of an individual to perform labor to produce economic value. In short, individuals who have cutting edge knowledge or skills tend to be more valued because of their scarcity; thus, better compensation due to limited supply. As more workers acquire the desired skills, compensation begins to stabilize.

The correlation between labor, value and skills or human capital was first discussed by Smith who identified labor as "fixed capital". Additionally, he identified machines, buildings and improvements to land under this heading. A clear definition of human capital was presented in An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, Book 2. Human capital is defined as
   The acquired and useful abilities of all the inhabitants or members
   of the society.. .the acquisition of such talents, by the
   maintenance of the acquirer during his education, study or
   apprenticeship, always costs a real expense, which is a capital
   fixed and realized.those talents, as they make a part of his
   fortune, so do they likewise that of the society to which he

More recently, A.W. Lewis wrote a text, Economic Development with Unlimited Supplies of Labour (1954) that articulated the symbiotic relationship between labor, economic development and human capital. This orientation to the development of the worker prompted Pigou to identify the differences in investments of human capital and material capital. His work led to the development of youth with the assumption that such development led to long-term return on investment. However, it was the work of Mincer (1958) and Becker from the Chicago School of Economics that correlations between human capital and personal income distribution were drawn. Gary Becker authored Human Capital in 1964, which was critical in linking training, education, and medical treatment to employee performance, and thus, organizational competitiveness. Becker's work also provided the impetus for an exploration of knowledge as an important aspect of human capital. As we have come to realize, the more an individual "knows" about something of value, the more value he or she wields. Once the individual transfers knowledge to others, the scarcity of such knowledge eventually diminishes. This whole cycle is comparable to the Diffusion of Innovation Theory introduced by Everett Rogers in 1983 and continues to evolve through the work of other scholars in multiple disciplines. In short, when a technology enters the market, few people are aware and they are novel users of the technology. With time, observation, trialability and social interaction, the technology diffuses or saturates the marketplace. As it diffuses, the cost declines.

Specific human capital is germane to a single industry or employer while general human capital is useful to all employers. Participation in virtual team tasks is considered general human capital because such experience is useful to many employers who have employees situated at diverse geographic locations regionally, nationally or internationally.

Virtual Teams

Fulk & De Sanctis (1995) delineate five factors (speed, cost, bandwidth, convergence, and connectivity), which propelled the motivation for more comprehensive and inclusive information-seeking and retrieval abilities by organizations. Grenier & Metes (1995) suggest virtual teams will form the vortex of twenty-first century organizations. Virtual teams are "composed of co-workers geographically and organizationally linked through telecommunications and information technologies attempting to achieve an organizational task" (Townsend, DeMarie & Hendrickson, 1998, p. 17). Co-location is the essence of the experience as team members wrestle with organizational cultures and sub cultures (Huang, Newell, Galliers & Pan, 2003; Galliers, 2003). David, Chjand, Newell, Resende-Santos (2008) explain that virtual teaming involving participants from multiple sites struggles with work distribution, leadership and shifting from site-specific tasks to the good of the all in the virtual environment due to the nature of specific cultures at individual sites.

Anison & Miller (2002) suggest organizational success is rooted in technological savvy. Currently, small businesses that have adopted and applied IT for organizational activities compete effectively with large corporations (Chang, 2003). Additionally, virtual teaming has spawned collaboration with others (Laurey & Raininghani, 2001) and the need for training and culture change strategies to promote virtual collaboration (Conner & Finnemore, 2003). Cascio (2000) credits virtual teams with increased productivity, reduced real estate costs and company profits, better customer service, global market access and preservation of the environment. In a global economy, more persons of diverse backgrounds have opportunities to work together. As Solomon (1995) suggests,
   [T]he fundamentals of global team success aren't very different
   from the practices that work for domestic work teams. But there are
   more variables. Overlay cultural behavior and expectations on the
   roles of communication, team leadership and group dynamics, and you
   immediately understand (50).

Research on leadership, e-collaboration, trust building, group dynamics, communication channels, virtual team empowerment, and other aspects of virtual teams support that all aspects of this area are critical to organizational success (Gibson & Cohen, 2003). The variables continue to be defined and better understood in the virtual team environment, which more recently is identified as an organizational structure. While virtual teams offer the organization benefits, numerous research studies support that the team can only be as effective as the content expertise and communication abilities of the members. Communication and coordination within virtual teams are the foundation of successful teams (Lipnack and Stamps, 1997). Virtual leaders weld power through facilitation, delineating team processes, and outcomes management (Griffith & Mead, 2004).

Gibson & Cohen (2003) analyzed diverse aspects of the virtual environment and concluded similar results: virtual teams have limitations. Trust impacts the productivity of virtual teams and trust can be measured using Sarker, Valacich and Sarker's (2003) instrument, while Alvi & Tirana (2002) identified transactive memory, insufficient mutual understanding, failure in sharing and retaining contextual knowledge, and inflexibility of organizational ties as constraints impeding knowledge integration in virtual team environments. Of significance is that these findings are all rooted in cognition. Constraints can be transformed into opportunities with appropriate education, training, and professional development.

Sookman (2004) is a consultant who advises virtual teams not to proceed without a team operating agreement, which addresses commitment to the scope of the project, time schedules, recognition of risks and regular information sharing. These activities serve to alleviate confusion, establish a code of behavior and expectations on which group performance will be evaluated. Again, team members must rely on communication to accomplish this pre-project task. However, these activities will only be accomplished if the group is motivated to do so and initiates this discussion prior to the launch of their task. In most instances, motivation is supposed to be shared by the group members. Often, it is rooted in one individual, commonly called the leader, who must transcend the barriers associated with text-based electronic communication. "By providing motivation, guidance, and mediation, a leader can strengthen the interpersonal relationships within a team and thereby promote synergy and cohesiveness" (Tyran, Tyran & Shepherd, 2003, p.183). The leader is also charged with managing group dynamics throughout the life of the relationship: "The leader needs to check expectations continuously and ensure that all team members know exactly what they should expect of each other" (Clutterback, 2004, p. 26). Face-to-face groups tend to be more communication efficient than computer mediated groups due to the duration of time it takes computer-mediated groups to accomplish a task (DeSanctis & Monge, 1999) and decode nonverbal cues (Warkentin, Sayeed, & Hightower, 1997). This discussion will be limited to current issues, controversies, and problems associated with virtual team leadership.

Leadership in Virtual Teams

There is a wealth of information on leadership in teams that was built on a foundation of face-to-face contact. The common themes support a significant relational component, including building trust, handling conflict, and dealing with sensitive issues (Zigurs, 2003). Interestingly, Fjermestad and Hiltz (1998/1999) suggested a causal relationship exists between small-group decision making and structuring the group process and leadership. Team leadership in the virtual environment is critical (Hiltz & Johnson, 1976; Hiltz & Turoff, 1985; Hiltz, Dufner, Homes, & Poole, 1991). Thus, effective virtual leadership skills will be a decisive factor for personal and organizational success in the technological age. As a point of clarification, one of the interesting dichotomies associated with virtual teams is the relationship between project managers and leaders. A project is defined as an

[E]ndeavor in which human, financial, and material resources are organized in a novel way to undertake a unique scope of work, of given specification, within constraints of cost and time, so as to achieve beneficial change defined by quantitative and qualitative objectives (Turner, 1999, p.3).

While the project manager's role is to "reduce uncertainty of outcomes and to protect technical integrity without risking the financial viability of the project" (Lee-Kelley, 2002, p. 462), the association between management of people to achieve organizational objectives and exercising leadership (Cole, 1996) suggests management and leadership are interchangeable. However, as numerous studies support, management and leadership are not synonymous, but a strong argument can be waged that project managers should be educated in leadership theory and communication skills."[Virtual] teams require a different sort of leadership than traditional bossand-staff" (Katzenback & Smith, 2001, p. 48). Leaders in virtual team environments must overcome four specific challenged areas: communications, culture, logistics, and technology (Kiesler & Sproull, 1992). Clutterbuck (2004) forwards the notion that team leaders' skills must include motivation, communication, appraising, and encouragement of learning remotely. Pauleen's (2003/2004) work extends this notion of "leader does it all" by reporting the findings of his study, which suggest successful virtual team leaders initiated some level of personal relationship-building prior to launching a virtual working relationship. Further, he is the first researcher to delineate three critical steps to follow to build relationships: assessing conditions, targeting level of relationship and creating strategies.

The information compiled thus far provides virtual team leaders and virtual followers with a set of skills for which training can be designed. The findings of Kayworth & Leinder (2001/2002) promote highly effective team leaders as displaying effective behavioral flexibility; they adjust their behavior appropriately to manage a situation. Further, these leaders tend to the task and housekeeping needs of the group and respond promptly and regularly to electronic communication. Behavioral flexibility is a highly complex skill that takes time and practice to develop. Individuals who demonstrate competence performing behavioral flexibility are able to avoid unwanted repetitive episodes (UREP) or repeat conversations that serve no purpose and prevent goal attainment. Thus, an effective virtual leader must address the external environment in which she works for: cultural differences, logistics, technology, and communications. Within the virtual team, she must motivate, appraise, and encourage learning remotely. Add to the recipe the importance of relationship building prior to task start-up. Throughout the entire virtual team experience, the leader successfully alters his or her behavior accordingly to attain the goals and prevent dysfunctional interactions.

Transformational leadership (Conger & Kanungo, 1998) embraces many of the aforementioned research findings associated with effective virtual team leadership. Transformational leaders use effective communication to define a strategic vision and entice followers to perform the behaviors necessary to achieve the goals earmarked for success. Bass & Avolio (1994) found transformation leaders developed relationships with their teammates and motivate them to embrace the team's goals as their own using techniques such as, role modeling ethical and moral conduct, promoting creative and innovative thinking, and cultivating a supportive climate, while communicating high expectations. Thus, a plethora of research supports that tomorrow's leaders and followers must be educated in face-to-face and virtual leadership/followership skills rooted in communications and behavioral flexibility to be successful in the global workplace.

Virtual Teams in the Classroom

In the academic arena, the ability for university students to acquire and master contentspecific knowledge supplemented with workplace skills is critical to job attainment and career advancement (Rutkowski, Vogel, Genuchten, Bemelmans & Favier, 2002). Jabro (1998) interviewed communications managers at Fortune 500 companies to ascertain shortcomings of personnel. Problem solving, decision-making, working in a team, speaking, writing, analytical thinking and grammar were cited as key areas of concern. With over one million students attending college via the virtual classroom and that number is increasing everyday, it appears that the communication-related problems cited by industry leaders will grow rapidly to include virtual team skills, especially leadership skills for students not exposed to IT and communications technologies for instructional purposes (Pawar and Sharifi, 1997). Alder, Black & Loveland (2003) state,
   To have workers who understand and intelligently function as
   members of complex systems and who are capable of doing so under
   conditions when the system boundaries are either fluid or amorphous
   requires shifts in educational content and processes. While such
   shifts would be great if they could begin before the post-secondary
   level, they need at least to begin at the collegiate level (p.116).

Thus, to address workplace considerations, exploit an opportunity for student success and stimulate enhanced pedagogy, a traditional face-to-face graduate course in Impact of Technology was redesigned to simulate a transitional (semi-virtual) ICT-supported team experience, which according to Pauleen (2003) refers to
   [O]rganizational teams that have traditionally operated in a
   face-to-face context and are now increasingly engaged in virtual
   communications supported by a wide range of ICT including e-mail,
   teleconferencing, mobile technology, the Internet,
   videoconferencing and the like (p. 2).

This experience would not only enhance my teaching, but also provided an opportunity to study virtual teams and leadership in context. The results reported in this paper are a part of a larger longitudinal study on virtual teaming, virtual leaders and virtual collaboration. I have chosen to focus on pedagogy; specifically, how to implement virtual team tasks in the graduate and undergraduate setting. A description of the course, followed by an analysis of pre- and postassignment surveys, electronic communications, and observations were analyzed to generate recommendations to be considered prior to implementing a virtual team assignment in the classroom.


Since fall semester of 2005, the instructor has included a virtual team assignment in the graduate course, Impact of Technology and the undergraduate course, Media Management. The design of the assignment mirrors problem-based learning which was developed in the medical profession and supports that "today's society requires that graduates be able to solve complex problems efficiently (Gijbels, Dochy, Van den Bossche & Segers (2005). In short, problem based learning is learning and teaching in concrete problems because problems initiate the learning process. Approximately 250 students have been involved in the data collection effort to date or 30 virtual teams. Prior to distribution of the assignment, a pre-test survey featuring openended, scale and forced-response questions was designed to ascertain the following information.

Demographic: age, gender, use of technology, family history regarding adoption of technological innovations and percentage of day spent using various technologies. The next section of the survey focused on team experiences in both virtual and face-to-face group as well as their trust of working in the group setting, leadership roles, followership experiences, and trust of technology. The last section was comprised of myriad questions designed to ascertain similarities and differences between culture, market position and technology use and applications.


While the distribution of the task has varied from the first session to the third session of the 8-week semester, a standard format to group the teams and distribute the task has been followed. The instructor divided the class into teams and identified the teammates by electronic mail addresses. Beside one team member's name, Communications Coordinator was written. The instructor sent an e-mail to the team with the assignment attached. In the introductory email, the instructor stressed that one person was identified as the communications coordinator and as the group began to analyze the task, the group should consider leadership, group norms, communication expectations, and final product deadline and assembly. All interaction was to include; however, the professor made it clear that she wouldn't read all communication. If students had questions for the instructor, they were asked to place "QUESTION" in the subject line. The virtual team task was designed to address content covered in the course as well as provide the forum in which to explore virtual team leadership, followership and dynamics. The task was divided into two parts: research (Table 1) on the technological innovations during three eras of society (agricultural, industrial and technological) and coordination of the information for an oral presentation (Table 2). To ensure that virtual team participants worked independently and interdependently, the project was broken into three areas for grading with each area worth 10 points: quality of research overall and oral presentation content/delivery were graded as a group effort and individual sections were graded individually and worth 10 points.

Once virtual team membership was announced and the specific era for research and presentation assigned, the instructor observed the frequency and type of communication that existed between group members. In some instances, the communications coordinator established an agenda and selecting a leader for one of the first agenda items. In other virtual teams, the communications coordinator assumed the role of leader.

Data Collection and Analysis

After the oral presentations of virtual team tasks, students were asked to complete a posttest survey designed to capture similar data as per the pre-test with respect to demographic data, familiarity with technology and virtual team/group work experiences. The new component of the assessment focused on the assignment of leaders, leadership style, virtual team experience with leadership and followership roles, and strengths and weaknesses of the virtual team environment. Another separate assessment was distributed to ascertain group dynamics: who contributed, who met deadline, who reviewed and critiques colleagues' work. At the conclusion of the semester, students were assessed on the information conveyed during the presentations to determine if information was retained from the presentations. The last data collection method entailed end-of-semester evaluations focused on student's reaction to each pedagogic tool used to enhance learning and an opportunity to offer constructive feedback regarding how to improve the course and each component.

Pre-and post-survey results were entered into the software program, Statistical Package for the Social Sciences and frequencies tabulations were run. Qualitative content analysis of open-ended responses on pre-and post-test survey responses, evaluations and assessment instruments to identify the emergent themes that emerged as related to leadership, followership, virtual team experience, virtual team strengths, virtual team weaknesses and virtual team practices was conducted. The results presented in this paper focus on way to enhance pedagogy when pursuing virtual team assignments and are presented below.


Pre-assignment Tasks

Virtual team groups were asked to ensure their success by identifying the leader, clearly delineating leader/followership roles, group expectations, due dates and overall commitment to the project. Approximately 75% of virtual teams discussed and used a team operating agreement and followed time schedules while 25% proceeded with the task without a discussion of leadership, followership and a plan. The area that prompted the most response was regarding how the leader was determined for the group. In the majority of groups, the communications coordinator became the leader by virtue of their position and did a sufficient job. Two themes

emerged with respect to leadership: Selection Process--"I wish we had spent more time asking the team who wanted the position and why because we simply thought the person who appeared organized would be a good leader." The second theme was centered on dysfunctional leadership--"We assigned tasks and worked to complete them, but we failed to have a vision or clear sense of how the information would come together" [Ian, 11].

To address this aspect of the project, all teams should be required to complete a Team Operating Agreement which is described in Table 3. The purpose of the Team Operating Agreement is to stimulate discussion of key aspects of group dynamics, promote collaboration and buy-in of group processes and empower the group to engage in ice-breakers and small talk before the project is executed. Ice Breaker activities can be as simple as identifying a team name and crating a logo to a quick cost benefit analysis of the members' strengths and weaknesses. To prompt engagement, solicit personal and other students' perceptions of what the teacher values on assignments: creativity, proofreading, cited references, etc.

Student Experience

The majority of students who participated in the virtual team task worked between 30 and 40 hours weekly and indicated being able to devote between six and nine hours weekly to the course. Thus, it follows logically that the most often cited benefit of the virtual team experience was convenience. "It was great to work from home. I hate working in groups where the only time we can all agree to meet is when it's totally inconvenient for me" [Nicole, 3]. Not all students relished the opportunity to meet electronically; some enjoy the social aspects of face-toface conversations. "I hated not being able to speak to another person about a question. It took too much time to write everything out, check my spelling and grammar and then send my question. I become disinterested early on" [Veronica, 8]

The second theme that emerged from the data was novelty of the experience. "This was really different ... A neat experience than other classes. I was nervous that I'd mess up, but it all came together" [Tom, 6]. Melissa understood the importance of the experience to her growth and development in the workplace, "Wow! This is awesome. If you understand how to organize people, coordinate information and create a sense of team, you can be a really important asset to a company. I have so much to learn about how to motivate people to work and do great work. This was a really eye-opening experience for me. When's the next project?" [13].

Analysis of students' comments regarding shortcomings of the virtual team experience can be categorized as 1) familiarity with use of technology; 2) insensitive communication; 3) unprofessional work ethic; 4) non-task oriented communication. Responses in the category of familiarity with use of technology focused on messaging: poor grammar, spelling, and sentence construction; response time; and knowledge about and use of internet resources to complete the task. "I was extremely let down by X. She obviously didn't belong in the graduate program based on her writing ability and appeared clueless about the library. Her work was unacceptable all the time" [Patrick, 15]. Another response focused on use of technology, "Does anyone know how to download clip art? [Veronica]. "I don't think we need to have that much detail, Newell. You are a grad student. Cut us a break."[Nicole].

Responses related to the theme of insensitive communication focused on perceptions of communication style: dictators, insensitive, cold, too-detail oriented, all work, and no play. I believe this category emerged in part because the majority of students had little knowledge of the person's personality and communication style prior to working in the virtual team. I believe that workplace conditions also influenced the communicator's style when interacting with the group. Darnell accurately captures the frustration felt my many. "I felt somewhat uncomfortable being me in my e-mails. I wanted to proofread and document everything after I got reprimanded for not being attentive to details. I wasn't handing in the final project, I was answering an e-mail"

The third theme that emerged centered on discussions about work ethic. Some virtual team participants access and monitor electronic communication daily; others appear to have a minute-by-minute view of their world. Teams that agreed to regular intervals of communication were satisfied with teammates' performance; however, there were teams whose members weren't diligent about checking-in with the group and the task quickly became difficult to manage as a result. Students were also able to observe differences in teammates' ability to retrieve, synthesize and consolidate information and quality of resources. "When I opened the e-mail and saw his work, I thought, I thought, what is this? First grade? The information was poor; the conceptualization of the problem was disjointed. It was thrown together without even being proofread and he couldn't remember his sources. Was it all Wikipedia? I was furious" [Dana, 7].

The last theme focused on non-task oriented communication and was observed minimally across virtual teams. However, some students seized the opportunity to self disclose personal information on a regular basis which prompted non-task oriented communication to emerge and monopolize group work. While some teammates welcomed engaging in banter about professional and personal contributions of a member; other were disgruntled about the amount of time it took away from task completion. "I became frustrated because two or three members felt the need to report to the group what they did outside task work on a regular basis. I'm busy and don't have time for what I'm already involved with yet alone wasting time reading about their weekend jaunts. I should have stopped this nonsense earlier" [William, 2].

Table 4 summarizes the benefits and risks associated with virtual team assignments from the data collected and analyzed to date. It is provided as a pedagogical tool for instructors who wish to pursue this type of assignment to contemplate when crafting, executing and evaluating the assignment. Since I launched this research effort, technology, group software and usability of technology has increased dramatically. After ascertaining the technological savvy of students, it would be appropriate to use more tools to address virtual team tasks. In so doing, the students are exposed to more resources, ways to communicate and solve problems. While the assignment introduced students to myriad workplace realities, it also created much frustration and aggravation, exacerbated by the course's short duration for those registered in the 8-week graduate offerings vs. the students taking the course during the traditional 15-week semester. During the traditional semester, instructors have more time to identify problems, devise solutions and solicit support. Conversely, students' approach to the experience may have been altered as well due to time constraints.

The majority of groups conformed to the request to limit interaction to electronic communication. Two groups indicated they used face-to-face or telephone interaction to problem solve. Mary reveals this during a discussion I use to highlight an instance of where behavioral flexibility was demonstrated. Behavioral flexibility is a skill that takes time to understand and perform with precision to warrant desired outcomes. In Team 8, survival was the motivator as Mary emerged as the leader to ensure that the task was completed and her grade was not in jeopardy. She managed to coordinate the rather difficult and nebulous members to complete their tasks in a timely fashion. The content they generated was acceptable, but mainly due to Mary's gatekeeping and the individual members complying with her request for additional work. "I realized that I had to approach each member of this team differently; I found myself sending personal e-mails to Newell to proofread the components because he seemed to have the best command of English. I knew Veronica was afraid of the computer, so I telephoned her to see how I could help her. I know you will be upset with us, but it worked for our group. We wanted a good grade and alleviating Veronica's stress was one way to get it" [Mary 8] While Mary understood that she was breaking the rules, she justified her actions based on the needs of her group members and adjusted her behavior to motivate them to achieve the group's goals. Thus, she successfully demonstrated an understanding of behavioral flexibility.

Instructor's Perspective

The virtual team task served two critical functions. The first function was student understanding and identification of technological innovations in specific time periods of American society and their impact on quality of life, business, politics, regulation, education, economics and family life. The second function was using a problem-based learning task to expose students to working in the virtual team environment and the writing, research, problem-solving, decision-making and communication skills necessary to perform effectively in this environment. As the instructor, I made some general assumptions that were unfounded, such as all students use the Internet and are competent electronic communicators. I failed to develop and integrate a more rigorous grading rubric to ensure that teams followed the tips for success more closely. Further, students had to deal with culture change in education. They anticipated a faceto-face course, but had to negotiate a new way of learning and assessment. Further, traditional face-to-face teams sometimes serve as havens for less participatory members, who hope the more aggressive members will pick up the slack for those less productive members. In the virtual team environment, each member was responsible for the production of a deliverable that was circulated to all members of the team by the leader. Thus, they had nowhere to hide if they weren't productive.

Opportunities to offer virtual team assignments and rehearse virtual leadership/followership skills are critical to the success of our students; however, it is paramount that more courses offer these opportunities so that students enjoy time-on-task and opportunities for self-reflection. This assignment was the first and last opportunity for many students to experience the virtual team environment. Less that 18% of all students had worked in the virtual team environment elsewhere. While students were provided opportunities to self-reflect and reflect with teammates about the advantages and disadvantages of their individual participation, the leaders' and followers' performances and the teams' outcomes, there was no opportunity to refine and implement the exceptional suggestions while the work was being conducted.


Specific human capital is germane to a single industry or employer while general human capital is useful to all employers. Participation in virtual team tasks is considered general human capital because such experience is useful to many employers who have employees situated at diverse geographic locations regionally, nationally or internationally. While this research is only a snapshot of the benefits of such experiences, it does support that students valued and learned how to interact in this setting. The strategies to enhance virtual team pedagogy presented in this paper are options for an instructor to contemplate. They were generated from time-on-task with numerous virtual teams. The virtual team participants and the quality of their work support virtual team assignments and cultivation of virtual leadership/followership skills are necessary to prepare our students to excel in the global marketplace. However, these learning opportunities should be enhanced. Virtual team assignments should be integrated into coursework featured during freshman year to enhance students' human capital. As students' progress through courses in a major or area of concentration, the background and assignments related to the virtual experience should be streamlined to complement the content. Realistically, many educators have little, if any experience working in the virtual team environment or as a virtual team leader. Thus, our comprehension, ability, and skills to incorporate virtual team experiences in our courses must be sought out through professional development opportunities in the educator's specific area of expertise. Once these opportunities are identified, they must be supported at the administrative level.

Lastly, communication scholars must conduct more research and contribute relevant findings to enhance our understanding of virtual teamwork. As educators, we strive to communicate information to our students in ways that transform their knowledge base from novice to expert. As Lipnack and Stamps (1999) reiterate,
   The 21st century organization is made up of virtual teams and
   networks of teams. The network--rather than the pyramid--becomes
   the conceptual model for how people work together to accomplish the
   goals of the enterprise (pg 14).

It is incumbent upon each educator to make the effort to join the transformation.


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Dr. Ann D. Jabro

Robert Morris University
Table 1: Research Component for Virtual Team Assignment

We explored Systems Theory as adapted by Miller (1996) in class
tonight. In order to apply this content I have crafted a virtual
team assignment requiring the use of technology, research, oral
presentation skills and critical analysis. The Eras of Society
assignment focuses on technological innovation and systems
subsystems of three eras: agricultural, industrial, and
technological. For the purposes of this assignment, we will limit
the scope of the innovations to the United States. You will be
divided into groups of 7. One person will serve as the
Communications Coordinator. The Communications Coordinator isn't
required to serve as the leader, although this individual can if

Using e-mail only, you will coordinate the following for
presentation in class next Wednesday evening.

* A 50-minute presentation presented via PowerPoint presentation
software. The number of presenters is a group decision as well as
the presentation design.


A systems perspective of an individual era that is researched and
provides the audience with the general findings reported in
research about the systems component.

* Overview of the era
* Technologies
* Education
* Family structure
* Cultural norms and practices
* Political Systems
* Key legislation/currency
* Impetus to transition to next era

Individual teams should identify their work culture and determine
deadlines, resources, leadership and followership roles and
coordination criteria for the finished product. Reference should be
included on a slide in the oral presentation.

Table 2: Virtual Team Oral Presentation Components

The 40-minute presentation should conform to the following presentation

Introduction--10 % of time             Worth 10 points

* Attention Getter
* Names of Group Members
* Credibility to make the presentation
* Reason to listen
* Preview of the Main points
* Residual Message

Body--75% of time Worth                70 points

* Preview Main Points
* Main Point with support
* Internal Summary
* Section Summary

Conclusion--10 to 15% of time          Worth 10 points

* Recap main points
* Restate reason we listened
* Cycle back to the attention getter

Delivery                               Worth 10 points

* Vocal Variety
* Rate
* Visualization of content
* Conversational delivery of content


The virtual team task is worth 30 points of the grade: the group
effort will be evaluated for the thoroughness of the total presentation
(quality of research) 10%; oral presentation 10%, and each individual
section will be evaluated for completeness, detail and research (10%).

Table 3: Suggested Content for Team Operating Agreement

After discussions with teammates, reach consensus on the following
and prepare a short narrative agreement that will be used to guide
the team's performance and ultimately evaluate individual member

1. Identification of member commitment to the project:

* What is grade you wish to earn?

* If you aren't in agreement on the grade, how will you negotiate
differences in work quality?

* How much time are you willing to commit to the project?

* What resources do you need?

2. Management of Virtual Team Processes

* Who will lead the group and how will leadership be executed?

* What are the roles and responsibilities of the followers?

* How will disagreements be identified, managed and resolved?

* How often will electronic communication occur?

* What is the expectation regarding "connectivity" or responding to
electronic communication?

* After review of responses to sections 1 and 2, what are the
shortcomings of the group?

* After review of responses to sections 1 and 2, what are the
strengths of the group?

* Identify a group name and attempt to create a mission statement.

* How will behavioral flexibility be managed? Will a person be
assigned to always alter the group dynamics? Will each member be
required to document an instance where behavioral flexibility was
observed or practiced?

* Have you established a timeline and how will it be maintained and

2. Performance Evaluation

* Identify what the group values with respect to work practices?
Timeliness? Thoroughness? Ability to meet deadlines? Willingness to
reach out for assistance?

* How will work practices be evaluated? Create a performance
measure that will be used to evaluate performance. For example:
Observed or not observed? Excellent, Good, Average, Poor?

* How will the group manage disagreement?

Student Experience

Table 4: Best Practices in Managing Virtual Team Assignments

Benefits                           Risks

Motivates use of technology for    Exposes student who lack
group work                         technological savvy and
                                   highlights those with savvy.

Demonstrates new ways of

Motivates application of           Some students chose not to excel
communication theory to            in content familiarity/
practical settings.                application.

Demonstrates need for skill        Language and communication
development in Virtual team work   skills disparity precludes full
and leadership/followership.       participation.

Increases student comprehension    Intimidates students who resent
about current workplace working    technology.

Provides for identification and    Enables students to continue
distribution of resources.         cultivating strengths, rather
                                   than skill development in weaker

Demonstrates problem-based

Demonstrates that teammates can    Team evaluation process is
be teachers                        challenging.

And students--enhanced learning

Virtual team members experience    Cultural habits may be offensive.
skill enhancement on a regular

Each cycle of interaction          Stereotyping exists and is
provides for opportunities to      difficult to alter.
observe behavioral flexibility.
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Author:Jabro, Ann D.
Publication:The Proceedings of the Laurel Highlands Communications Conference
Date:Jan 1, 2009
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