What drives satisfaction in virtual teams?

14 Jul 2010 Sandeep Mehta

As you have probably noticed, management of virtual teams and co-development across multiple organizations is a favorite topic of mine.  Here is a very interesting paper from the Journal R&D Management: An analysis of predictors of team satisfaction in product development teams with differing levels of virtualness:

The purpose of this study is to empirically examine and assess the moderating effects of extent of virtualness on a variety of well-established predictors of new product development team satisfaction. We focus our study on 178 different new product development teams from a variety of industries and use extent of virtualness as a structural characteristic of the teams, measuring it on a continuum. 

The paper had three findings that I find are very important to any R&D manager (as the virtual teams pointed out, most teams become some what virtual even when the members are on different floors).

(1) relationship conflict has a more deleterious effect on team member satisfaction as teams become more virtual, mainly because it is very difficult for team members of virtual teams to resolve their interpersonal disputes; 

So, the article empirically establishes an increased need for active conflict management and effort to keep the team loose.

(2) the relationship between preference for group work and team satisfaction is moderated by extent of virtualness, such that preference for group work increases team satisfaction more as virtualness increases; 

I am not sure if I understand this.  Please help if you do.  From what I read, the people who love to work in groups are more satisfied with work in virtual teams.  Does that mean that R&D managers staffing virtual teams have to either not select or provide extra help to people who tend not to like work in groups?

(3) goal clarity and familiarity are not moderated by extent of virtualness, but have a significant direct effect on team satisfaction.

Pretty straight forward – for virtual teams to succeed, goals need to be extremely well communicated.  They also need to be effectively communicated across discipline, organizational and cultural boundaries.  This to me is the biggest challenge to codesign.  I am not sure if I have found effective tools and processes to address this challenge…

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