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date: 15 August 2020

Virtual Teams: Utilizing Talent-Management Thinking to Assess What We Currently Know about Making Virtual Teams Successful

Abstract and Keywords

Given the proliferation of technology developments and the continued use of teams within organizations, it is not surprising to see an increasing use of virtual teams. In response, researchers are more closely examining factors that may affect virtual team performance. There have been several reviews that do a thorough job of providing the current state of the virtual team literature, as well as providing directions for future research in this area. However, within the current chapter, we leverage a framework from the talent-management literature to assess whether certain talent-management-related topics have been adequately considered within the virtual team literature. Within each section of the framework leveraged here, we outline what the virtual team research has discussed, as well as where future opportunities exist. Our contention is that by integrating thoughts from the talent-management literature, additional insights and gaps can be identified within the virtual team literature.

Keywords: virtual teams, talent management, leadership, composition, training/development, retention, talent

10.1 Introduction

The environment in which today’s organizations are functioning is quite different from those faced by organizations previously (e.g., Bigley and Roberts, 2001). Given the complexities and challenges currently faced by organizations, they are continually seeking out ways in which to improve their performance. One area that research has examined in hopes of linking it to enhanced organizational performance is talent management. In fact, there is a substantial body of literature to suggest that talent management is an important aspect of organizational success as it enhances a company’s ability to maintain a competitive advantage (Ashton and Morton, 2005; Collings and Mellahi, 2009; Tarique and Schuler, 2010). In the 1990s, the term war for talent became emblematic of a time when people were seen as a primary resource worth attracting and retaining (e.g., Michael, Handfield-Jones, and Axelrod, 2001; Tulgan, 2001). That said, the value of talent management is believed to have increased in the twenty-first century owing to the changing nature of work (e.g., Cappelli, 2008b; Dries, 2013).

During this period, the task of acquiring skilled employees to fill roles within an organization has become more difficult for companies who discovered that individual talent was not easily duplicated (e.g., Iles, 1997) or globally accessed (e.g., Stahl et al., 2012). Likewise, the relationship between employers and employees has altered as the power has shifted from the employer to the employee (e.g., Rousseau, 2001). In response, organizations have had to consider the tradeoff between two opposing risks with regard to human capital: capacity risk (i.e., the undersupply of skilled workers, which causes roles within an organization to go unfilled) and (p. 194) productivity risk (i.e., an oversupply of workers who become less knowledgeable and skilled as they age in an ever changing workplace) (e.g., Calo, 2008; Currie, Tempest and Starkey, 2006).

This major concern regarding a possible mismatch in supply and demand of employees demonstrates the clear importance of talent management for organizational success (Cappelli, 2008a; Collings and Mellahi, 2009). Although there is consensus among researchers on the importance of talent management, there is less agreement on the definition and framework of talent management (e.g., Huang and Tansley, 2012). This lack of consensus has had a negative impact on the progress of research regarding talent management (Collings and Mellahi, 2009; Dries, 2013). Likewise, given that largely, organizations are relying on team-based structures (e.g., Salas, Cooke, and Rosen, 2008), it is noteworthy that the talent-management and team-effectiveness literatures have seemed to develop in isolation from one another, with little cross-fertilization of ideas.

This disconnect is interesting given that, as evidenced by numerous literature reviews regarding the use of teams within organizations (e.g., Mathieu, Maynard, Rapp, and Gilson, 2008), this literature is also seeking ways in which to enhance team performance so that in turn, organizational performance can be improved. For instance, research within the team-effectiveness literature has considered topics such as team composition, leadership, communication, conflict, shared cognition, and trust (e.g., Cohen and Bailey, 1997; Gully, Incalcaterra, Joshi, and Beaubien, 2002), among others. Likewise, given technology improvements that have occurred over the past couple of decades, the teams used within organizations presently are quite different from the traditional teams that were previously used within organizations (e.g., Wageman, Gardner, and Mortensen, 2012). This trend has led to an increased prevalence of research attention devoted to the topic of virtual teams (e.g., Bell and Kozlowski, 2002; Kirkman et al., 2002). In fact, over the past couple of decades, there have been numerous reviews of the virtual team (VT) literature (e.g., Gilson et al., 2015; Martins, Gilson, and Maynard, 2004). However, while each of these reviews provides unique contributions in terms of encapsulating the research that has been conducted on VTs to date and identifying opportunities for future research, it is interesting to note that none of these reviews has specifically connected the VT literature to the talent-management literature. As such, we strive to address this gap within the chapter.

10.2 Talent-Management Framework

In a broad sense, talent management is understood as anticipating and planning an organization’s human capital needs (Cappelli, 2008b). This includes making sure the right people with the right sets of skills are in the right positions at the time they are needed (e.g., Ashton and Morton, 2005; Tarique and Schuler, 2010). However, there is much confusion around several more specific aspects of talent management, such as (p. 195) how to conceptualize “talent” (Dries, 2013) and who to focus on (e.g., all employees, managers, “pivotal” positions) (Collings and Mellahi, 2009).

Within the chapter, we leverage the definition of talent management introduced by Collins and Mellahi as:

activities and processes that involve the systematic identification of key positions which differentially contribute to the organization’s sustainable competitive advantage, the development of a talent pool of high potential and high performing incumbents to fill these roles, and the development of a differentiated human resource architecture to facilitate filling these positions with competent incumbents and to ensure their continued commitment to the organization. (2009: 305)

This definition includes three parts: identify pivotal roles, develop individuals in the talent pool, and align human resource systems with the organization’s strategic objectives. These parts serve as the framework used to guide our discussion of talent management within the context of VTs (see Table 10.1). The framework is similar to others that have been used by researchers in talent-management and global talent-management studies (e.g., Dries, 2013; Roberts, Kossek, and Ozeki, 1998; Tarique and Schuler, 2010).

10.2.1 Step 1—Identify Pivotal Roles

There is a growing agreement that focusing talent-management efforts on the entire workforce may be a waste of resources because such efforts may result in an over-investment in nonessential positions. In response, some suggest that organizations should focus on a subgroup of the organization (Collings and Mellahi, 2009). While there has been some debate regarding what group should be the focus of talent management (e.g., Dickson, Hartog, and Mitchelson, 2003; Jackson, Schuler, and Rivero, 1989; Scullion and Collings, 2006), more recently there has been growing agreement suggesting that the focus should be on pivotal roles within an organization. In fact, recent research supports this shift toward pivotal roles, making a clearer distinction between human resource practices that service all employees and talent-management practices that service those who occupy and have high potential for key roles in organizations (Collings and Mellahi, 2009).

Accordingly, the first step in the talent-management framework includes identifying key positions or pivotal roles within the organization (Boudreau and Ramstad, 2005, 2007; Huselid, Beatty, and Becker, 2005). These pivotal roles are defined as positions in an organization that “differentially contribute to the organization’s sustainable competitive advantage” (Collings and Mellahi, 2009: 304). Rather than placing emphasis on the individual employees, this step involves emphasizing the opportunity in the role with an emphasis on jobs that have an above-average impact on the organization rather than a marginal impact (Boudreau and Ramstad, 2007; Collings and Mellahi, 2009). For instance, many talent-management researchers have emphasized the critical role that leaders play and thus have focused on how best to manage these pivotal positions. (p. 196)

Table 10.1 Virtual Team Talent-Management Framework

Virtual Team Talent-Management Framework

Identify Pivotal Roles

Develop a Talent Pool

Align Human Resource with the Organization

What We Know

  • VT Leadership

    1. a) Transformation/Transactional

    2. b) Leader Emergence

    3. c) Physical Location

Step 1: Attract

What We Know

  • Team Composition

    1. a) Demographics Personality, Culture

What We Don’t Know

  • Team Collective Orientation

  • Political Skill

  • Team Member Adaptability

  • Generational Makeup of Members

Step 2: Develop

What We Know

  • Team Training

What We Don’t Know

  • Value of Team Training

  • Timing of Training

  • Format of Training

Step 3 : Retain

What We Know

  • Motivation & Commitment

What We Don’t Know

  • Rewards

    1. a) Impact of Cultures

  • OCB

    1. a) Effect of Subgroups and Virtuality

What We Know

  • Culture

    1. a) Effect of cultural on technologies used

What We Don’t Know

  • Strategic Core Members in VT

    1. a) Effect of Location

  • Subgroups

    1. a) Effect on Leader Emergence

  • Type of Technology Used

    1. a) Effect on Leader Emergence

    2. b) Effect on Strategic Core

What We Don’t Know

  • Context

  • Bracketing

    1. a) Organizational level constructs

    2. b) Individual-level constructs

(p. 197) 10.2.2 Pivotal Roles—VT Research What We Know

Overlaying the concept of pivotal roles from the talent-management literature to the VT literature is interesting given that, thus far, the VT leadership position is the primary pivotal role that has been examined. That said, this is one of the more well-developed constructs within the VT literature, and, therefore, leadership within VTs has been examined from varying perspectives. For example, research has considered the different effects that various leadership styles and behaviors have on team dynamics and ultimately performance. Specifically, researchers have given significant attention to the effects of transformation and transactional leadership within VTs (e.g., Huang, Kahai, and Jestice, 2010). Overall, such work would suggest that transformational leadership is more beneficial within teams that are virtual (e.g., Purvanova and Bono, 2009). Additionally, researchers have provided evidence that VT members were more satisfied with transformational rather than transactional leaders. In fact, leaders who were more focused on relationships rather than task-based factors were perceived as more intelligent, creative, and original. In contrast, transactional leaders were described as authoritative, having higher levels of self-esteem, and being more task-focused (e.g., Ruggieri, 2009; Strang, 2011).

Additionally, research has examined factors that can contribute to individuals emerging as leaders within VTs (e.g., Gluckler and Shrott, 2007). For instance, Sutanto, Tan, Battistini, and Phang (2011) use social network analysis to document that patterns of interactions predict whether an individual was perceived as a leader by others in the group. Specifically, highly effective emergent leaders were those individuals who performed more mediating activities and fewer directing activities, and avoided monitoring activities. Having leaders that emerge within a VT appears particularly salient, as Carte, Chidambaram, and Becker (2006) found that higher performing VTs have members who display significantly more leadership-focused behaviors and shared leadership than those in lower-performing teams did.

Beyond what the VT leader actually does and how they lead, interestingly, the location of leaders within VTs also seems relevant, as it appears beneficial to have a leader who is not co-located with the team members. Specifically, Henderson (2008) examined project managers and found that team members were more satisfied with their team and their leader if the leader was geographically distant from the team. Furthermore, team members perceived their leader as being better able to decode messages when the team and leader were geographically dispersed (Henderson, 2008). What We Don’t Know

As demonstrated by the previous section, the topic of leadership within VTs is quite popular. However, the talent-management literature has seen debate about who the pivotal employees are (e.g., Dickson, Hartog, and Mitchelson, 2003; Jackson, Schuler, and Rivero, 1989; Scullion and Collings, 2006). Accordingly, it is an unanswered (p. 198) question whether VT members beyond the leader may also play a pivotal role in shaping VT dynamics and performance. Relatedly, this raises the question of whether VT members are able to lead themselves (i.e., should a self-leadership strategy be utilized within VTs? See, e.g., Panagopoulous and Ogilvie, 2015). Within the broader organizational team literature, this conversation has already commenced, with Humphrey, Morgeson, and Mannor (2009) articulating that certain members within an organizational team may play a larger role (i.e., the team’s strategic core). Accordingly, it will be interesting for future VT research to apply this line of thinking and dig a bit deeper regarding which members of a VT are part of the strategic core.

Likewise, as articulated above, it appears that geographic location may be important in determining whether a VT member is pivotal or not. For instance, there has been growing interest within the VT literature regarding the presence of subgroups (e.g., Polzer, Crisp, Jarvenpaa, and Kim, 2006). In fact, O’Leary and Mortensen (2010) found that geographic subgroups within VTs can prove detrimental to the level of identification within the team, result in less effective shared cognition, cause more conflict within the team, and impair coordination. However, there has not been an extensive amount of work on the presence of subgroups within VTs and certainly more can be learned regarding the impact of subgroups, not just on the overall performance of the team, but also on the individual members of the VTs. Specifically, we think that it could be promising for future empirical examinations of VTs to explore whether VT members who are part of a subgroup within a VT are more or less likely to emerge as a leader, to be a part of the team’s strategic core, or to play another pivotal role within the VT.

Similarly, within the VT research stream, there has been a wealth of attention paid to the types of technology utilized. As such, future research could examine whether the type of technology utilized by VT members influences whether that individual becomes a leader within that team or otherwise becomes a central player within the VT. Based on the research conducted to date, there is limited evidence to suggest that using certain technology or adapting the technology that is used within the VT may be beneficial. Specifically, within their research, Suh, Shin, Ahuja, and Kim (2011) evidenced that personalized computer-mediated communication (CMC) (i.e., e-mail and instant messaging) helped expand VT network size, whereas communal CMC (i.e., audioconferences and videoconferences) improved intragroup-tie strength.

10.2.3 Step 2—Develop a Talent Pool

This second step includes creating a pool of high-potential, high-performing individuals to fill these pivotal roles (Collings and Mellahi, 2009), moving away from vacancy-driven action toward proactive recruitment of individuals. These preemptive actions involve three specific activities that are frequently seen in the talent-management research: namely, developing a talent pool includes attracting, developing, and retaining skilled employees (e.g., Collings and Mellahi, 2009; Dries, 2013; Tarique and Schuler, 2010). In the sections below, we will first describe each of these categories (p. 199) and then describe how the VT literature to date could be described using this framework, and how future VT research can also further develop work within each of these categories.

10.2.4 Attract: Recruitment and Selection of Applicants

Multiple components go into recruiting and selecting employees from a pool of applicants. Part of the process includes developing a positive organizational reputation that attracts applicants in the first place (e.g., Bhattacharya, Sen, and Korschun, 2008). However, it is not enough just to attract applicants; these need to be individuals who would be a good fit for the identified pivotal positions (Chapman et al., 2005). Then, the focus becomes selecting the individuals that fit within the organization (Seigel, 2008; Tarique and Schuler, 2010). As such, the goal is to select individuals that are talented but also capable with regard to the organization’s strategic objectives (Collings and Mellahi, 2009).

10.2.5 Recruitment and Selection—VT Research What We Know

As suggested above, to evaluate applicants, organizations need to learn about the individual characteristics of those within the applicant pool. The corollary within the VT literature is work, which has addressed VT composition. In fact, as was the case with the topic of leadership, there has been substantial research attention paid to the compositional makeup of VTs and how it affects performance. Research has examined the impact of VT compositional factors such as sex, race, age, status, and nationality (e.g., Mockaitis, Rose, and Zettinig, 2012; Sutanto, Tan, Battistini, and Phang, 2011). Likewise, researchers have explored technical expertise (e.g., Luse, McElroy, Townsend, and DeMarie, 2013; Martins and Shalley, 2011), competencies (e.g., Krumm, Kanthak, Hartmann, and Hertel, 2016), past performance (Algesheimer, Dholakia, and Gurău, 2011), ego strength, and attitudes (Leonard and Haines, 2007).

Additionally, as is the case within traditional organizational team research, individual member personality has been the focus of several VT research projects (e.g., Turel and Zhang, 2010). Luse and colleagues (2013) found that personality and, in particular, openness to experience, resulted in greater individual preference for VTs as compared with face-to-face (FtF) teams. However, when the comparison was working in a VT versus working alone, extroverts tended to trust VT environments more highly than introverts did. Likewise, given that many VTs are composed of members located across the globe, researchers have also considered the impact of cultural influences. For instance, Mockaitis and colleagues (2012) found that VT members who have a more collectivistic rather than individualistic orientation are more likely to have more favorable impressions of team processes, trust, task interdependence, information sharing, and (p. 200) task conflict. Similarly, Paul, Samarah, Seetharaman, and Mykytyn (2004) examined VT members’ individual-versus-collectivist orientations.

Likewise, as alluded to above, organizations need to assess not only candidates’ individual characteristics but also how that individual will fit within the organization. Along similar lines, within the VT literature, work has examined the cultural diversity of VT members, with Au and Marks (2012) finding that perceived differences between VT members in regard to national culture impaired the level of identification within the team. What We Don’t Know

While the topic of team composition has been a popular topic within the VT literature, unanswered questions remain regarding the roles of certain individual characteristics and how they may work within a VT to affect team dynamics and performance. Specifically, while the broader organizational team literature has started to appreciate the role that team membership’s collective orientation plays in team performance (e.g., Driskell, Salas, and Hughes, 2010), only a few studies have examined collective orientation, or individuals’ preference for group work, within the context of VTs (e.g., Stark and Bierly, 2009). Accordingly, future research in this area could seek to better understand the effect that such an orientation has within VTs. Linking to the idea that not all individuals within a team are equal, research could examine whether everyone within a VT needs a high level of collective orientation or whether only certain pivotal persons need to possess this orientation.

In addition to collective orientation, some additional compositional factors deserve more attention within the VT literature. Specifically, over the past decade, there has been increasing attention to the impact of political skill in organizations (e.g. Ferris et al., 2007) and within teams (e.g., Ahearn et al., 2004). That said, the level of political skill possessed by VT members has not received adequate consideration. This gap in the literature is noteworthy given that research suggests that conflict may be more likely within VTs (e.g., Furumo, 2009). Accordingly, it stands to reason that teams with higher levels of political skill should be able to overcome this tendency.

Likewise, given that Luse and colleagues (2013) found value in having VT members with higher levels of openness to experience, it is also likely that having members who possess adaptability should be beneficial. However, as noted by Gilson and colleagues (2015), the topic of adaptation and adaptability has not as of yet received significant research attention within the context of VTs. This fact is unfortunate, given that VTs may experience an increasing number of disruptions that give rise to the need for the team to adapt. In fact, VTs may encounter increasing team-member churn (e.g., Wageman, Gardner, and Mortensen, 2012) and cross-cultural membership (e.g., Zhang, Lowry, Zhou, and Fu, 2007), and a greater need to adapt their technology (e.g., Qureshi and Vogel, 2001). Accordingly, we would encourage future research on VTs to include the expanding body of literature on team adaptation (e.g., Baard, Rench, and Kozlowski, 2014; Maynard, Kennedy, and Sommer, 2015). Specifically, by using the framework introduced by Maynard and colleagues (2015), research could examine how adaptability shapes processes and performance within VTs.

(p. 201) Fortunately, research has begun to consider more complex compositional variables within VTs, such as multiple team membership and the amount of time members allocate to a focal team (e.g., Cummings and Haas, 2011; Maynard, Mathieu, Rapp, and Gilson, 2012). Building upon this trend, we feel that there is also potential to consider factors such as the generational makeup of VT members. Again, as noted by Gilson and colleagues (2015), there is much potential here, given that there is evidence to suggest that millennials may be more comfortable with technology and working in VTs may align with millennials’ preferred work-life balance expectations (e.g., Carless and Wintle, 2007). As a result, it will be interesting for future examinations of VTs to include consideration of the generational makeup of the teams being studied. Likewise, researchers may want to examine the role and functionality of online labor platforms in recruiting talent into VTs. Development: Develop and Train Key Individuals

Research on talent management has a long history of considering the activities necessary to enhance the development of key individuals (e.g., Dickson, Hartog, and Mitchelson, 2003). Major considerations in this area include identifying the individuals who will benefit most from developmental opportunities (Caligiuri, 2006), given that research suggests not all individuals benefit equally from the same types of development (Tarique and Schuler, 2010). Developing individuals is a core part of talent management because it cultivates the current knowledge and skills possessed by organizational members (Roberts, Kossek, and Ozeki, 1998; Tarique and Schuler, 2010). In particular, research recommends focusing developmental efforts on the broad context of the organization rather than focusing on a specific plan for an individual.

Likewise, research focused on this part of talent management has shown that organizations that make leadership development part of their culture and involve leaders in the process are those who excel most at talent-management activities (Novicevic and Harvey, 2004; Seigel, 2008; Tarique and Schuler, 2010). In part, this strategy is successful as it better aligns with the current dynamic workforce (e.g., Collings and Mellahi, 2009). However, while there is evidence documenting the positive ramifications of training and development initiatives within organizations, studies have shown that the most recently trained employees are those most likely to consider leaving an organization (e.g., Cappelli, 2008b). As a result, understanding the potential turnover and mobility of newly trained employees leads to the third hallmark activity of this step of talent management—iretention, which will be discussed in the section below.

10.2.6 Development—VT Research What We Know

While Martins and colleagues (2004) noted that at the time of their writing there were few studies that considered training with VTs, more recently Gilson and colleagues (2015) highlighted that there has been progress in this area over the past decade. (p. 202) Research has started to explore the effects of training VT members on a variety of topics. One of the first studies focused on training in VTs was conducted by Warkentin and Beranek (1999), who provided support that VT communication training can result in higher levels of trust, commitment, and perceived frank expression between team members. Bierly, Stark, and Kessler (2009) suggested that the perceived level of training provided to VT members would be positively related to levels of trust and that this relationship would be dampened as team virtuality increased, but these hypothesized relationships were not supported. More recently, given that VT members often work across cultural boundaries, Holtbrugge, Schillo, Rogers, and Friedmann (2011) studied individuals working virtually in India and the value of providing intercultural behavioral training to such individuals. What We Don’t Know

First, there is a need to understand the real value of providing training to VT members. As such, it would be valuable to understand more fully the competencies and skills needed in VTs because this should likely serve as a starting point for developing the content of any required training. Likewise, understanding the return on investment that can accrue from such training offerings is salient from both a theoretical and a practical standpoint as it may demonstrate to organizations the need to offer such programs more fully. Documenting this relationship between VT training and resulting performance is especially important if the statistic presented by Rosen and colleagues (2006) that 60% of organizations do not provide any training to VT members still holds true. Likewise, as within the training and development literature, there is a need to understand precisely when such training of VT members should occur. Specifically, it remains an empirical question as to whether such training can be a one-time endeavor at the start of an employee’s employment within an organization or whether it should be more continuous (e.g., Kirkman et al., 2002).

Additionally, research could consider both the optimal format of VT training and whether the format should be altered depending on the specific topic area of the training. For instance, is the format choice the same for more technical-oriented training sessions as compared with more interpersonal-oriented training sessions such as teamwork? Rosen and colleagues (2006) provided a prototype for a VT training program that includes both FtF and technology-based training components. However, based on our review of the literature, there has not been any empirical examination of such recommendations to ensure that these are the most desirable formats to ensure enhanced learning and changes in behavior. Furthermore, given that these recommendations were made several years ago and there have been numerous advancements in the breadth of training formats being offered, there is a need to reconsider the VT training best practices introduced by Rosen and colleagues (2006). Retention: Retain Employees

The main actions to retain employees involve reducing turnover and increasing employee engagement. Several researchers have discussed ways in which to (p. 203) increase employee retention (e.g., Lee et al., 2004). For example, research has demonstrated that retention can be enhanced by variables such as the extent to which employees are satisfied (e.g., Harter, Schmidt, and Hayes, 2002), receive adequate supervisor support (e.g., Eisenberger et al., 2002), and believe that there are limited job alternatives (e.g., Mitchell et al., 2001). Likewise, Collings and Mellahi (2009) proposed that talent management can shape organizational performance through its impact on employee motivation (e.g., Meyer, Becker, and Vandenberghe, 2004), organizational commitment (e.g., D’Amato and Herzfeldt, 2008), and organizational citizenship behaviors (e.g., Koys, 2001). Similarly, related work has considered how talent management can assist with the retention of employees within a global context (Lazarova and Caligiuri, 2001; Lazarova and Cerdin, 2007). In addition to noting the importance of employee satisfaction (e.g., Vidal, Valle, and Ma Isabel, 2008), and organizational commitment (e.g., Tarique and Schuler, 2010), research on the retention of employees within global contexts has also acknowledged the salience of perceptions of justice (Siers, 2007). Accordingly, organizations that do a better job managing and retaining their employees are able to enhance these important mediating mechanisms and ultimately enhance overall organizational performance.

10.2.7 Retention—VT Research What We Know

Interestingly, while the broader organizational team literature has examined the role of various team-based reward systems (e.g., Johnson et al., 2006; Kirkman and Shapiro, 2000), this topic has not been nearly as prevalent within the VT literature. In fact, even though Kirkman and colleagues (2002) acknowledged that the organization that they studied struggled with determining the appropriate mix of rewards for their VTs, based on our review of the literature, we have only noticed a single article addressing the topic of rewards within VTs, namely, Hertel, Konradt, and Orlikowski (2004), which demonstrated in its examination of thirty-one VTs that team-based rewards were positively related to team effectiveness.

While the topic of rewards has not received significant attention to date, researchers have given at least some consideration to other topics that are discussed within the retention category of talent management. In particular, topics such as motivation and commitment have been examined within the context of VTs. For instance, Johri (2012) focused on impressions within VTs and the role that they had in shaping VT members’ motivation. Likewise, Staples and Webster (2008) examined knowledge sharing in teams and linked it to team performance, which included a measure of VT members’ intention to remain. Additionally, while it has not received substantial research attention, Hakonen and Lipponen (2008) provide intriguing evidence that the link between procedural justice and team identification is stronger within VTs that have fewer FtF meetings.

(p. 204) What We Don’t Know

Obviously, given the dearth of research attention given to the topic of rewards within the VT literature, there is a great opportunity to address this gap in the literature with future research projects. In particular, given that there is quite a bit of documentation regarding teams and how best to structure their reward systems, it could be quite productive for future research to examine whether such relationships hold within VTs and whether the extent of virtuality moderates such direct relationships. Consideration of rewards within VTs also has cultural ramifications, and, therefore, such research should use the literature on rewards that is most applicable given cultural preferences. As such, research may need to examine rewards not just at the team level of analysis but also at the individual level, to understand the effects that a VT’s reward system is having on individual members.

Similarly, other retention-focused topics, such as organizational citizenship behavior (OCB), have been documented as important within organizational teams (e.g., Foote and Li-Ping Tang, 2008) but have not yet been examined extensively within the context of VTs. Therefore, we suggest that future research in this area seeks to understand more about the effects of OCB within VTs, given that such behaviors can enhance retention from both the person exhibiting such behaviors and the recipients of such behaviors. More importantly, perhaps, research could explore the factors that impede such behaviors within VTs. For instance, as mentioned before, within VTs, it is often likely that subgroups may emerge based on a myriad of factors. Accordingly, future research could explore whether OCB is more evident within geographically proximal subgroups as compared with across geographically dispersed subgroups. Likewise, research could explore whether the extent of team virtuality affects the presence of such behaviors within the team.

Finally, while there is some work within the telecommuting literature exploring employee satisfaction (e.g., Golden, 2007), this topic has not been sufficiently examined within the VT literature. Instead, whereas much of the VT literature has focused on team-level phenomenon exclusively, there is work that has looked at team-level satisfaction within VTs (e.g., Zornoza, Orengo, and Penarroja, 2009). Accordingly, as emphasized in the section below, we see great opportunity in examining some of the cross-level relationships that exist within VTs. For example, do team-level phenomenon shape individual-level constructs such as employee job satisfaction and ultimately employee retention within the organization?

10.2.8 Step 3—Align Human Resources with the Organization

The purpose of this final stage is to align the human resource system with the organizational strategies to fill and service pivotal roles in an effort to support organizational performance (e.g., Collings and Mellahi, 2009). Considering that globalization has had a large impact on the strategies that organizations must use to be successful, we are (p. 205) reminded that talent management needs to account for the dynamic nature of work that exists today (Cappelli, 2008b). As a result, consensus is growing that a flexible approach to talent management is most beneficial (Tarique and Schuler, 2010).

In part, this idea of flexibility regarding an organization’s talent management is based on the thinking that the goal should be to align or find fit between the organization’s culture, policy, objectives, and practices and the organization’s talent-management system (e.g., Dries, 2013). This contingency approach applies practices that best fit the needs of the context (Collings and Mellahi, 2009). For example, researchers have identified that at the global level, the definition of talent management changes based on the context (Scullion and Collings, 2006; Tarique and Schuler, 2010). Likewise, research has shown that applying different human resource practices to different contexts can lead to positive outcomes at the employee and organizational levels (e.g., Lepak et al., 2007; Tsui, Pearce, Porter, and Tripoli, 1997).

10.2.9 Alignment—VT Research What We Know

In terms of alignment, there is some work within the VT literature that has sought to ascertain how best to align the dynamics within a VT to the culture from which its members are drawn. Much of this work is built upon the prominent cultural dimensions introduced by Hofstede (2001). Specifically, Duranti and de Almeida (2012) found that the preferred technologies differ depending on culture, with some cultures (e.g., Brazil) preferring richer forms of CMC, while other cultures (e.g., the United States) were more accepting of weaker CMC tools. What We Don’t Know

Given the diversity of cultures that are often included within the membership of VTs, understanding how the team should align with these cultural preferences is important. However, cultural dimensions are not the only consideration in terms of how best to align the practices of a given VT. In particular, the importance of considering the role of context in our examinations of behavior within organizations is increasingly discussed (e.g., Johns, 2006). Context is of particular salience to teams, given that many definitions of organizational teams include that they “are embedded in an organizational context that sets boundaries, constrains the team, and influences exchanges with other units in the broader entity” (Kozlowski and Bell, 2003: 334). Within VTs, context may be even more pertinent to consider as the context often changes and VT members may work in different contexts, which can bring along a hard-to-anticipate level of dynamism to considerations of context within VTs. Accordingly, the role of context is key in shaping how the team functions and ultimately the performance levels it attains.

There have been many suggestions within the broader organizational team literature advocating for a greater appreciation of context. In particular, Hackman provides a compelling argument that research should include “constructs that exist one level lower, (p. 206) but also one level higher, than those that are the main subject of study” (2003: 906). Accordingly, given that VT research is primarily focused on team-level phenomena, Hackman’s (2003) bracketing idea would suggest that such research should also consider individual- and organizational-level constructs.

However, such a sentiment has not been adequately adopted within the VT literature to date. Instead, typically, research on VTs has exclusively focused on team-level constructs (e.g., Maynard, Mathieu, Rapp, and Gilson, 2012). While such work can certainly help us understand what is happening within such teams, it may only provide part of the picture. In fact, as Hackman (2003) outlines, without considering higher- and lower-level constructs, a researcher may miss what is actually going on at the focal level of analysis. Thus, there are numerous opportunities for future research involving VTs to consider both individual- and organizational-level constructs.

For instance, in terms of individual-level considerations, as articulated by Gilson and colleagues (2015), the topic of team-member well-being has not been adequately examined within the VT literature. Obviously, such research could focus exclusively on the individual level of analysis. However, we would advocate that by using the alignment idea from the talent-management literature, research could examine individual well-being by considering whether there is a proper fit between that team member and the VT they are a part of. Specifically, could the communication processes within the team (team-level construct) have an impact on individual-level well-being? Likewise, examining possible cross-level relationships between various team emergent states (i.e. trust, cohesion, and potency) and well-being could prove fruitful. Furthermore, while we are using the construct of well-being as an example, we also see the need for examinations of how team-level constructs impact constructs such as intention to remain, employee satisfaction, and other individual-level variables.

Similarly, the limited amount of VT research that has considered higher-level constructs in order to see how they may be associated with the dynamics and performance of VTs is shocking. Again, there are precedents from the broader organizational team effectiveness literature that can be used as a template. Specifically, team research has recently started to consider how team-level constructs can have an impact on organizational-level outcomes (e.g., Barrick, Bradley, Kristof-Brown, and Colbert, 2007). Likewise, organizational team research has examined the effect that higher-level constructs such as organizational-level global integration (e.g., Zelmer-Bruhn and Gibson, 2006), multiteam system coordination (e.g., Marks et al., 2005), and organizational climate (e.g., Kirkman and Rosen, 1999) may have on team-level constructs and relationships. For instance, Mathieu and colleagues (2007) considered how the organization’s climate, as well as whether there was coordination across teams within an organization (higher-level constructs), affected team processes and performance in their study of service and repair teams.

Given the robust findings from the traditional, organizational team literature, which have demonstrated the value of considering cross-level relationships, it is interesting that this approach has yet to take hold within the VT literature. Accordingly, given this substantial gap within studies examining VTs, there remain numerous opportunities (p. 207) within this literature to apply the bracketing approach suggested by Hackman (2003) and more fully understand how higher-level constructs may shape VT phenomena and, likewise, how VT constructs may have cross-level ramifications on individual-level constructs of interest.

10.3 Future Research Opportunities

As highlighted throughout this chapter, several areas within the VT literature have been examined extensively from a talent-management perspective. In particular, as detailed in Table 10.1, research within the “identify pivotal roles” category has considered the pivotal role that leadership plays in shaping VT performance. Additionally, research has sought to understand better how to develop a VT talent pool by examining the effect of various team composition factors in shaping VT effectiveness, as well as the role of team commitment and motivation within VTs. Likewise, over the past decade, there has been an increased presence of work examining training initiatives within VTs. Finally, in keeping with the “Align Human Resources with the Organization” line of thinking within the talent-management literature, research has examined the effect of cultural backgrounds of VT members and, in particular, how such cultural backgrounds can shape the types of technologies used within VTs.

So, as noted by Gilson and colleagues (2015), the VT literature has progressed quite a bit over the past decade. However, this is not to say that we know all there is to know about VTs. In fact, by utilizing the talent-management framework within the chapter, we have identified several areas that could be fruitful for VT researchers to examine more fully. Specifically, in order to understand better the pivotal roles that may be present within VTs, we would encourage researchers to use the strategic core thinking introduced by Humphrey and colleagues (2009). By doing so, researchers could explore the roles that different types of technologies used within VTs have in the creation of strategic core members, as well as the role that geographic and other forms of subgroups play in the delineation of strategic and non-strategic core VT members.

Additionally, there are several opportunities for researchers interested in understanding the talent pools present within VTs. Again, as demonstrated within Table 10.1, these opportunities can be categorized within the attract, develop, and retain categories. For instance, VT research could benefit from a more in-depth examination of the factors that are the most salient sources of member competencies within VTs. Namely, researchers may find it valuable to examine the role that factors such as members’ collective orientation, political skill, and adaptability play in shaping VT performance. Likewise, we echo the sentiments of Gilson and colleagues (2015), who suggested that more research is needed to understand the impact that generational differences have within VTs. Additionally, while researchers have examined the role of various training programs on the development of VT members over the past decade, there remain unanswered questions in this area. Specifically, gaining a clearer understanding of the (p. 208) “true” value of such training interventions is a practical consideration that remains underexplored. Additionally, we suggest it is salient to examine the effect of various team-training formats, as well as whether it matters when such trainings occur within the team.

Furthermore, there remain numerous research opportunities centered on the effects of various reward structures within VTs. For example, do rewards used within a VT need to be altered depending on the cultural makeup of the VT members and does offering such personalized rewards create unintended consequences? Likewise, given the importance that OCB can have within VTs, research is needed examining the impact that virtuality has on such behaviors and whether VT subgroups enhance or impair the demonstrations of such behaviors. Finally, we contend that VT research could benefit from a greater appreciation of the role of context, and we strongly advocate for a greater adoption of Hackman’s (2003) bracketing approach of considering the impact that both organizational- and individual-level constructs have in shaping team-level constructs within VTs.

10.4 Conclusion

In this chapter, we have attempted to provide an assessment of the current state of the VT literature, as well as some recommendations on how this literature stream could be improved going forward. Granted, such efforts have also been made by other authors recently (e.g., Gilson et al., 2015). However, in this chapter, we have taken a different perspective to this effort by applying a talent-management lens to our assessment and recommendations. We feel that by utilizing the talent-management framework that we outline here, we were able to provide a different picture of the VT literature and, more specifically, a different appreciation of what we know about VTs and where more can be learned in future research endeavors. Our hope is that through the recommendations made within the current chapter, the VT literature can continue to develop and address key ways in which the performance of such teams can be enhanced, given the central role that VTs play in today’s organizations.


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