Supporting the work of global virtual teams: the role of technology-use mediation
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This thesis investigates the role of technology-use mediation in supporting the work of global virtual teams. The work is set in the context of a longer term action research programme into collaborative computing and global virtual teams, initiated by Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand and Uppsala University in Sweden. Over the period since 1998, global virtual collaborations involving teams of students from both universities have been conducted annually. This thesis investigates the 2004 collaboration cycle, in which participants from St Louis University Missouri joined the collaboration. This was the first triadic collaboration, and covered Northern, Southern and Western aspects of the globe while traversing three widely divergent time-zones. In spite of the extensive experience in collaboration possessed by the coordinators at all three sites, the results of the global virtual trial were at best mixed. This repeated experience of dissatisfaction in our global virtual collaborations, in spite of the technology being in place has been a primary motivator for this work. Why is global virtual collaboration difficult? What roles and activities are critical? How can we do it better? These are not issues solely to do with the student actors in the global virtual teams, but more to do with the supporting cast, engaged in “activities which involve the shaping of other users activities of [technology] use” (Orlikowski et al., 1995, p.425). Thus came about my interest in exploring the topic of technology-use mediation. This thesis applies a research framework adapted from DeSanctis & Poole’s “Adaptive Structuration Theory” (1994) by the author. Initially applied to “facilitation” in virtual teams “Extended Adaptive Structuration Theory (EAST)” (Clear, 1999a), has undergone further development. The resulting research framework “Technology-use Mediated AST (TUMAST)” is applied here for the first time to investigate technology-use mediation activities performed during the global virtual collaborative trial. A corpus of data based on the email communications of supporting parties to the collaboration is analysed in depth in this study, applying a combination of grounded theoretic and structurational techniques. Thus a very rich and firmly grounded picture of the processes of technology-use mediation is built. This thesis represents the first known in-depth longitudinal study of technology-use mediation in a real global virtual team setting. From this exploratory study some novel theorizations have resulted. Methodologically it demonstrates analysis of technology-use mediation applying the TUMAST framework in a manner that captures the richness and evolution over time of these complex activities. Substantively it proposes a novel theory of “Collaborative Technology Fit (CTF)”. It is hoped that future global virtual team coordinators and researchers may apply the theory in order to map their situation, and diagnose their degree of collaborative alignment on multiple dimensions, thus enabling corrective actions to be taken. While the work arises in a tertiary education context, it reflects the reality of professionals at work in a global virtual team. Its application within other domains remains to be proven, but readings from the literature, and personal experience within global virtual software development teams suggest its wider applicability.