Leadership Interaction in Global Virtual Teams: Roles Models and Challenges
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Despite the value of virtual teams in delivering global public relations programmes across geographical boundaries, accessing participants from diverse cultures and providing 24-hour work cycles, global virtual teams are fraught with problems. Their geographical isolation, technology, different time zones and lack of visual cues mean leaders struggle to ensure these teams reach their potential. This longitudinal study explores leadership interactions in an annual public relations global virtual team learning project, GlobCom, which brings together an established supervisory team of lecturers and ad hoc teams of senior public relations students from 12 universities in 12 countries. The ongoing venture involves a live industry brief from an international client that requires competitive PR proposals to be developed by the student teams under real-time challenges. The study analyses interactions among the established supervisory global virtual team of lecturers and the interactions among the student virtual team leaders and their team mentor. The action research uses empirical data and applied integrated leadership theory, including interpersonal, group and organisational analysis, within a public relations organisational paradigm, to understand how leaders could improve interaction within these global virtual teams. The researcher is both a lecturer and team mentor to the student team leaders and has ongoing access to both the supervisory team and student team leaders. Action research is carried out within a pragmatic framework using empirically-derived data of team leader emails and online posts that are interpreted though a qualitative thematic analysis. This analysis shows how leaders can elicit actions, adopt roles specific to virtual teams and improve team participation. It offers insights into how relational interaction, combined with a task-related approach, can help virtual teams achieve their goals. The research identifies six specific action-eliciting interactive leadership styles and their levels of efficacy in each team stage. A new leadership tool, called DEPIQA, which is created from the empirical data, can be used to develop and monitor the leadership styles and moves research beyond the current simple division of passive and constructive interaction styles. The study shows the roles developed for face-to-face teams may not be transferrable to virtual teams and that delegated leadership roles are more effective than emerging functional roles. New team processes, leadership roles and team member roles that improve virtual team interaction are identified, along with a unique set of criteria for selecting a virtual team leader, which emphasises the need for empathy. Virtual team stages are clarified and the much-needed research on later stages finds high team interaction in the later stage, as well as the initial stage. This study provides foundational research and offers a theoretical and practical framework for emerging scholarship on virtual team leadership and online communication. The findings expand the PR body of knowledge to globalisation and leadership through its analysis of virtual teams carrying out PR programmes. How PR is implemented affects an organisation’s reputation and the recommended interventions can empower practitioners, as part of the organisation’s dominant coalition, to lead the virtual teams that are integral to global PR programmes.