In this research stream, we are investigating virtual teams and how to lead them from relationship-based and situation-based perspectives. This research is informed by both the increasingly digital environments of work collaborations, as well as current research investigating the optimal ways to lead these digital teams. While traditional leadership ideals, such as transformational, have been suggested for successful virtual team management, more recent findings have emerged suggesting that virtual teams may require a different set of leadership requirements. We have therefore explored the effectiveness of different types of leadership on virtual team outcomes, as well as considered more heavily (than traditional team research) the members of these teams, and contextual variables such as the degree of electronic dependence present, task-interdependence, and follower expectations.
Although we conduct studies on leadership, we use a relationship-based perspective, highlighting both leader and follower experiences in order to gain a fuller picture of how these teams work, how leadership is perceived in these teams, and what type (if any) of leadership is the most impactful. Because jobs and teams are becoming more specialized, it is possible now that some virtual teams are entirely self-managed, while others may require more explicit leadership. We have explored this area through qualitative and quantitative approaches across various contexts and cultures.
Sub-Topics and Findings
The following key sub-topics have emerged, with specific research questions and findings for each sub-topic.
- Degree of Electronic Dependence and Virtual Team Leadership
How does the degree to which team members are dependent on digital tools for collaboration impact their team functioning? It is far too general to assume that all teams relying on digital tools should operate under the same principles. A team which physically meets once a month operates differently from a team whose members have never and will never meet in person. We have found traditional ideals of leadership (i.e. transformational) to be less effective in highly electronically dependent teams, illustrating both the contrast between co-located and virtual teams and the need for further investigation of this sub topic.
- Task Interdependence and Virtual Team Leadership
How does the degree of task interdependence present among virtual team members impact the leadership needed for successful team outcomes? Because teams differ in the degree to which their tasks overlap, are dependent upon each other’s tasks, and collaborate on tasks, it is important to consider how to align leadership with the level of task interdependence. We differentiate between initiated and received task interdependence, because sometimes team members may initiate the work of others, and other times, may depend on the completion of other team members’ work to start their own. We have found that when task interdependence and electronic dependence are high, transformational leadership is not as helpful.
- The Relationships Between Leaders and Followers in Virtual Teams
How do the initial expectations and eventual realities of leader-follower relationships impact virtual team functioning and outcomes? This research moves away from the traditional and romanticized leadership constructs, and focuses more on a collaborative sense of “we” and “us.” The perspective of the follower is taken into heavy consideration, as it has shown to significantly impact team outcomes. We have found electronic dependence to weaken the positive effect of transformational leadership on Leader-Member Exchange quality, highlighting that perhaps transformational leadership does not translate well digitally, and a different form of leadership should be adopted for digital contexts when building relationships with followers. Further, we have found that follower expectations of how their leader will behave have a large impact on how they are perceived later on.
- Differences in Leadership in Virtual Teams vs. Co-Located
A critical understanding in this research is the fundamental assumption that leaders of distributed teams face different challenges than those of traditional teams, and therefore should lead differently as well. Virtual teams take on different forms than co-located, in that the members tend to be more self-managing in an increasingly specialized workforce. Transformational leadership may not always be effective in distributed teams, and laissez-faire and empowering leadership may be closer in execution and outcomes than previously assumed. We have found that, at times leadership is needed less, or needed in different ways (e.g., a leader may need to take on a role more horizontal than hierarchical in regards to their subordinates) in virtual teams.
Activities and Career Paths
Sut I Wong, the current co-Director of the Nordic Centre for Internet and Society, is a Professor in Communication and Leadership in the Department of Communication and Culture. The impact and speed of which digitalization is occurring at the team level in organizations have enhanced the importance of her research on relationship-based leadership, virtual team leadership, and employees’ expectations and behaviors in response to digital and dynamic environments, among other areas. Her embracing of and dedication to digitalization has led to her co-founding BI’s first ever online course, Leading in Digitized Workplaces.
University of Ljubljana, Erasmus University Rotterdam
Berntzen, M. & Wong, S. I. (2019). Coordination in distributed, self-managing work teams: The roles of initiated and received task interdependence. Proceedings of the Annual Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences (HICSS), 973-982. Proceedings link
Wong, S. I., & Berntzen, M. N. (2019). Transformational leadership and leader–member exchange in distributed teams: The roles of electronic dependence and team task interdependence. Computers in Human Behavior, 92, 381-392. Journal link
Wong, S. I. & Giessner, S. R. (2018). The thin line between empowering and laissez-faire leadership: An expectancy match perspective. Journal of Management, 44(2), 757- 783. Journal link
Bjugstad, T. Berntzen, M. N. & Wong, S. I (2018). Lederkommunikasjon: En nøkkel for medarbeiderengasjement. Magma - Tidsskrift for økonomi og ledelse, 21(4), 40- 48. Journal link
Kost, D., Fieseler, C., & Wong, S. I. (2018). Finding meaning in a hopeless place? The construction of meaningfulness in digital microwork. Computers in Human Behavior, 82, 101-110. Journal link
Sanders, K. Jorgensen, F., Shipton, H., Van Rossenberg, Y., Cunha, R., Li, X., Rodrigues, R., Wong, S. I., & Dysvik, A. (2018). Performance-based rewards and innovative behaviors. Human Resource Management, 57(6), 1455-1468. Journal link
Van Dick, R., Lemoine, J. E., Steffens, N. K., Kerschreiter, R., ... Haslam, S. A. (2018). Identity leadership going global: Validation of the identity leadership inventory across 20 countries. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 91, 697-728. Journal link
Wong, S. I., & Kuvaas, B. (2018). The empowerment expectation–perception gap: An examination of three alternative models. Human Resource Management Journal, 28(2), 272-287. Journal link
Wong, S. I., & Fieseler, C. (2018). Making the digital transformation work. In A. Sasson (Ed), At the Forefront, Looking Ahead: Research-Based Answers to Contemporary Uncertainties of Management (pp. 43-58). Oslo: BI Universitetsforlaget. Chapter link
Wong, S. I. (2017). Influencing upward: subordinates’ responses to leaders’(un) awareness of their empowerment expectations. The International Journal of Human Resource Management, online first, 1-31. Journal link
Wong, S. I., Škerlavaj, M., & Černe, M. (2017). Build coalitions to fit: Autonomy expectations, competence mobilization, and job crafting. Human Resource Management, 56(5), 785-801. Journal link
Wong, S. I., Solberg, E., Junni, P., & Giessner, S. R. (2017). The role of human resource management practices in mergers & acquisitions. In T. Y. Shlomo, C. L. Cooper, R. M. Sarala, & M. F. Ahammad (Eds.), Mergers and Acquisitions in Practice (pp. 138-161). London: Routledge.
Giessner, S.R., Horten, K. E. & Wong, S. I. (2016). Identity management during organizational mergers: Empirical insights and policy advices. Social Issues and Policy Review, 10(1), 47- 81. Journal link
Solberg, E. & Wong, S. I. (2016). Crafting one’s job to take charge of role overload: When proactivity requires adaptivity across levels. Leadership Quarterly, 27(5), 713- 725. Journal link