PERSONNEL PSYCHOLOGY 2016, 69, 159–198
EMPOWERING LEADERSHIP AND EFFECTIVE COLLABORATION IN GEOGRAPHICALLY DISPERSED TEAMS
N. SHARON HILL The George Washington University
KATHRYN M. BARTOL University of Maryland
Our research integrates theoretical perspectives related to distributed leadership in geographically dispersed teams with empowering lead- ership theory to build a multilevel model of virtual collaboration and performance in dispersed teams. We test the model with procurement teams in a major multinational corporation. Our results show a signifi- cant cross-level effect of empowering team leadership, such that under conditions of high empowering team leadership, a team member’s virtual teamwork situational judgment (VT-SJ) is positively and significantly associated with his or her virtual collaboration behaviors and also indi- rectly with his or her individual performance in the team. At the team level, our findings also suggest that the impact of empowering leader- ship on team members’ aggregate virtual collaboration, and indirectly on team performance, increases at higher levels of team dispersion. These findings shed important light on the role of team leadership in foster- ing effective collaboration and performance of geographically dispersed virtual teams.
To support major strategic initiatives in areas such as globalization, outsourcing, and strategic partnering, organizations are increasingly turn- ing to the use of geographically dispersed teams in which members rely on technology to collaborate virtually in the team. Dispersed or virtual teams offer many potential advantages (Martins, Gilson, & Maynard, 2004; Rosen, Furst, & Blackburn, 2006), including the ability to have the most technically qualified individuals work on tasks regardless of loca- tion while also offering opportunities for sizable cost savings resulting from reduced travel. With such potential benefits, it is small wonder that organizations have an increasing interest in the utilization of such teams (Martins et al., 2004; Rosen et al., 2006). At the same time, reports point to special challenges individuals face in their collaborations with dispersed
Correspondence and requests for reprints should be addressed to N. Sharon Hill, The George Washington University, School of Business, 315F Funger Hall, 2201 G Street, NW, Washington, DC 20052; firstname.lastname@example.org.
C© 2015 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. doi: 10.1111/peps.12108
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team members (for reviews, see Axtell, Fleck, & Turner, 2004; Martins et al., 2004; O’Leary & Cummings, 2007). For example, research shows that geographic dispersion may impede effective information sharing, co- ordination, problem solving, building trust, and constructively resolving conflicts with others on the team (Cramton, 2001; Cramton & Webber, 2004; Hill, Bartol, Tesluk, & Langa, 2009; Hinds & Mortensen, 2005; Jarvenpaa & Leidner, 1999; Joshi, Lazarova, & Liao, 2009; O’Leary & Cummings, 2007).
In the face of such challenges, numerous scholars have pointed to the potential importance of team leaders in promoting virtual collaboration that contributes to high levels of performance in dispersed teams (e.g., Bell & Kozlowski, 2002; Blackburn, Furst, & Rosen, 2003; Malhotra, Majchrzak, & Rosen, 2007; Martins et al., 2004; Weisband, 2008; Zigurs, 2003). In their major theorizing about leadership in dispersed teams, Bell and Kozlowski (2002) suggested that the challenges of collaboration in such teams and the attendant difficulty in monitoring team member be- haviors require distributing leadership functions to team members while, at the same time, fostering collaboration among them. Yet the limited existing empirical research related to distributed forms of leadership in dispersed teams has focused on leadership as it relates to use of infor- mation and communication tools in teams (e.g., Rapp, Ahearne, Mathieu, & Rapp, 2010; Surinder, Sosik, & Avolio, 1997; Wakefield, Leidner, & Garrison, 2008) and/or failed to consider geographic dispersion in the team (e.g., Pearce, Yoo, & Alavi, 2004).
One form of leadership that embodies Bell and Kozlowski’s (2002) recommended approach is empowering leadership. Due to its combination of sharing power with team members while also providing a facilitative and supportive environment (Arnold, Arad, Rhoades, & Drasgow, 2000; Srivastava, Bartol, & Locke, 2006), empowering leadership appears to be particularly well suited to helping team members meet the demands of collaborating in a dispersed teamwork environment. Hence, the over- all purpose of this study is to evaluate the extent to which distributing leadership to team members by way of empowering leadership promotes more effective virtual collaboration and ultimately performance in dis- persed teams. We define virtual collaboration as collaborative behaviors that promote interactions that support geographically dispersed teamwork.
In their theorizing, Bell and Kozlowski (2002) noted that distributing leadership functions to dispersed teams creates an environment that fa- cilitates each team member applying relevant knowledge and judgment in order to successfully collaborate virtually with other team members. This is paramount in dispersed teams because each member faces chal- lenges unique to his or her local dispersed circumstances. Further, as a result of being separated from others in the team, each team member must
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regulate his or her own behaviors and performance in the team. Accord- ingly, taking a multilevel approach, we examine the extent to which an empowering leadership team context moderates the influence of individual virtual teamwork situational judgment (VT-SJ) on team member virtual collaboration, and ultimately team member performance. VT-SJ reflects Bell and Kozlowski’s (2002) emphasis on each member of a dispersed team having “attributes to be able to . . . operate in a virtual environment” (p. 26). As such, VT-SJ describes an individual’s knowledge about suc- cessful virtual collaboration strategies and how to apply that knowledge to formulate effective responses in geographically dispersed teamwork situ- ations. Existing research related to individual characteristics in dispersed teams has largely been concerned with relatively stable personality char- acteristics or personal orientations that either adversely influence or aid computer-mediated interactions (e.g., Staples & Webster, 2007; Tan, Wei, Watson, Clapper, & McLean, 1998; Workman, Kahnweiler, & Bommer, 2003). Our focus on VT-SJ responds to calls for greater attention to the role of individual differences in dispersed teams (Kirkman, Gibson, & Kim, 2012) by examining a characteristic—knowledge and judgment about op- erating effectively in dispersed team situations—that can potentially be developed. In addition, we extend leadership research that goes beyond the existing predominant focus on team-level effects to consider how team leadership, as a team-level stimuli, might have cross-level effects on im- portant individual-level processes in teams (e.g., Chen & Kanfer, 2006; Chen, Kirkman, Kanfer, Allen, & Rosen, 2007).
Building further on Bell and Kozlowski’s (2002) theorizing about dispersed team leadership, we argue that empowering team leadership will play a more important role in fostering the virtual collaboration and performance of the team as a whole as geographic dispersion in the team increases. This is because the challenges of collaborating virtually can be expected to intensify as the level of team dispersion increases (O’Leary & Cummings, 2007). This line of inquiry adds to the lim- ited research that has explicitly measured geographic dispersion in con- junction with leadership effects in dispersed teams (for exceptions, see Cummings, 2008; Gajendran & Joshi, 2012; Hoch & Kozlowski, 2014; Joshi et al., 2009). At the same time, it contributes to emerging leader- ship research that seeks to shed light on situations in which empowering team leadership is more or less effective (e.g., Chen, Sharma, Edinger, Shapiro, & Fahr, 2011; Mathieu, Ahearne, & Taylor, 2007; Yun, Faraj, & Sims, 2005).
In summary, we build a theoretical model that makes three impor- tant contributions to research on dispersed teams as well as empowering leadership research. First, we contribute to theory on leadership in ge- ographically dispersed teams (Bell & Kozlowski, 2002) by integrating
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Team Performance Team Virtual Collaboration Empowering Team
Virtual Teamwork Situational Judgment
Team Member Virtual Collaboration
Team Member Performance
Team Geographic Dispersion
Figure 1: Theoretical Model.
notions of distributed leadership in such teams with those of empower- ing leadership theory. In doing so, we support contentions regarding the value of more distributed forms of leadership in dispersed teams (Bell & Kozlowski, 2002) while also extending empowering leadership theory to the dispersed team realm.
Second, by exploring the cross-level moderating effect of empower- ing leadership in strengthening the impact of VT-SJ on a team member’s virtual collaboration, we support the notion that distributed leadership facilitates a team member’s use of relevant attributes to enhance virtual collaboration (Bell & Kozlowski, 2002). Our focus on VT-SJ also extends the limited literature on individual differences in dispersed teams (Hertel et al., 2005; Kirkman et al., 2012) by moving beyond the predominant focus on stable personality traits to highlight a team member characteristic that can potentially be developed to improve individual virtual collabora- tion and ultimately performance in the team.
Finally, at the team level, our study supports Bell and Kozlowski’s (2002) notion that distributed forms of leadership, such as empower- ing leadership, will be more impactful in teams with greater geographic dispersion, ultimately enhancing team performance (Nauman, Mansur Khan, & Ehsan, 2010; Pearce et al., 2004; Zhang, Tremaine, Egan, Milewski, O’Sullivan, & Fjermestad, 2009). In this way, the present research also contributes to empowering leadership theory by demon- strating an important new boundary condition for empowering leadership effects on dispersed team outcomes. Our multilevel model is shown in Figure 1.
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Theory and Hypothesis Development
Dispersed teams consist of geographically distributed coworkers who interact using a combination of telecommunications and information tech- nology to accomplish an organizational task (Townsend, DeMarie, & Hendrickson, 1998). In this section, we use Bell and Kozlowski’s (2002) theorizing about leadership in dispersed teams as a foundation to develop the multilevel theoretical model for this study. The model shows empow- ering leadership as an important factor for promoting effective virtual collaboration behaviors and, ultimately, performance of both individual team members and the dispersed team as a whole. We first consider the cross-level effect of empowering leadership in creating a team context in which a team member is more likely to apply his or her knowledge about strategies for effective virtual teamwork in support of virtual collaboration with distributed teammates. These collaborative behaviors then facilitate a higher level of performance for the individual team member operating within the team. At the team level, we build a model wherein the influence of empowering leadership on the team’s aggregated virtual collaboration is moderated and strengthened by the degree of team geographic dispersion, with ultimate implications for team performance.
Empowering Leadership, VT-SJ and Team Member Virtual Collaboration
In the context of virtual teamwork, there is considerable support in the related literature for the notion that geographically dispersed teams face challenges that require team members to engage in collaborative behaviors tailored to their dispersed circumstances (e.g., Byron, 2008; Cramton, 2001; Hinds & Bailey, 2003; Hinds & Weisband, 2003; Jarvenpaa & Leidner, 1999; O’Leary & Cummings, 2007). Virtual collaboration refers to behaviors enacted by a team member in support of effective interactions with teammates in geographically dispersed teamwork environments. We argue that empowering leadership plays an important role in facilitating the process through which team members enact such behaviors.
In their theorizing about distributed team leadership, Bell and Ko- zlowski (2002) noted the importance of each member of a dispersed team having attributes that enable them to operate in a virtual environ- ment. However, at the same time, they highlighted the critical role of team leaders in creating a team context that allows each member to make best use of these attributes for collaborating virtually with distributed team members. Such factors are critical in a dispersed team in which members are separated from one another and potentially face challenges unique to their local work environment. Each team member must therefore self-regulate behavior in ways that promote effective virtual collaboration
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with teammates (Bell & Kozlwoski, 2002; Mohrman, 1999). Based on this theoretical perspective, we focus on VT-SJ as an important team member attribute that allows a team member to engage in more effec- tive virtual collaboration behaviors and conceptualize empowering team leadership as a team contextual factor that strengthens this relationship. More specifically, we predict that empowering leadership and VT-SJ will interact to influence team member virtual collaboration. We next consider further both empowering leadership and VT-SJ before describing their joint relevance to collaboration in geographically dispersed teams.
Empowering leadership in geographically dispersed teams. Empower- ing leadership has been defined as leader behaviors that involve sharing power with subordinates, raising their level of intrinsic motivation, and creating a supportive environment for team members to leverage the power afforded them (Arnold et al., 2000; Srivastava et al., 2006; Zhang & Bartol, 2010). These behaviors include leading by example, participative decision making, coaching, informing, and showing concern (Arnold et al., 2000). Empowering leadership is consistent with the distributed leadership ap- proach in the theoretical perspective put forth by Bell and Kozlowski (2002). It is also congruent with commentary by other researchers who have proposed that leader behaviors that share or distribute influence are likely to be particularly functional in a teamwork environment character- ized by dispersion of team members and the attendant lack of face-to-face contact (Hertel et al., 2005; Kahai, Sosik, & Avolio, 2004; Pearce et al., 2004). For instance, Hertel et al. (2005) also noted the difficulty for leaders of maintaining close control when team members are dispersed and suggested using principles of delegation to shift some influence to team members.
Team member virtual teamwork situational judgment. Bell and Kozlowski (2002) noted that effective virtual teamwork requires team member characteristics related to collaborating effectively in a virtual en- vironment. Consistent with this stance, Hertel et al. (2005) and others (e.g., Kirkman et al., 2012; Shin, 2004) have pointed to the need to focus more research attention on individual attributes that are directly related to being able to function effectively in a dispersed, technology-mediated team environment. Team member virtual teamwork situational judgment (VT-SJ) is an individual characteristic that is particularly relevant to op- erating effectively in a dispersed team context.
In general, situational judgment refers to the extent to which an indi- vidual has knowledge about how to deal most effectively with everyday situations encountered in a particular work context and the ability to ap- ply that knowledge to formulate an appropriate response to situations that arise (for a review, see Chan, 2006). Individuals with high situa- tional judgment tend to be more effective at identifying and responding to
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situational cues in a particular domain and, therefore, are better positioned to respond to situational demands that they encounter in their daily work. A growing body of research supports using situational judgment tests to assess situational judgment related to specific work domains. That re- search has shown that domain-specific situational judgment accounts for incremental validity in predicting performance-related behaviors in that domain over measures of cognitive ability and other common individual measures, such as personality measures (for a review, see meta-analysis by McDaniel, Hartman, Whetzel, & Grubb, 2007). Related to this, per- formance theory recognizes the importance of both having job-related knowledge and being able to apply that knowledge to different job situ- ations (Campbell, McCloy, Oppler, & Sager, 1993; McCloy, Campbell, & Cudeck, 1994). In this study, we focus on virtual teamwork situational judgment (VT-SJ), which reflects an individual’s knowledge about the challenges of technology-mediated collaboration in dispersed teams and appropriate courses of action in situations that commonly arise when working with others in such teams. We next consider the role of a team member’s VT-SJ, in conjunction with empowering team leadership, for promoting effective virtual collaboration behaviors.
The interactive effect of empowering leadership and VT-SJ. Based on past research reviewed above that has shown the positive impact of sit- uational judgment related to a particular work domain on performance- related behaviors in that domain, we expect a team member with a higher level of VT-SJ to be better equipped to formulate effective responses to challenges encountered in geographically dispersed teamwork situations, and hence to be more effective in collaborating virtually with distributed teammates. Further, we expect a higher rather than lower empowering con- text to play a facilitating and enabling role in strengthening the connection between VT-SJ and virtual collaboration.
In considering what constitutes virtual collaboration, Hertel et al. (2005) reviewed the literature to propose a team competency model for virtual teamwork consisting of categories of behaviors that should be par- ticularly functional for effective interactions under technology-mediated, geographically dispersed team circumstances. In addition, reviews by other researchers (e.g., Axtell et al., 2004; Kirkman et al., 2012; Powell, Piccoli, & Ives, 2004; Shin, 2004) point to similar categories of behaviors. First, virtual collaboration requires that a team member uses technology appropriately so as to communicate virtually with distributed teammates in a way that reduces the increased potential for misunderstandings, negative attributions, and adverse impact on the development of shared understand- ing among team members (Cramton, 2001; Hinds & Weisband, 2003). This need derives from the fact that the greater reliance on technology to communicate due to team member dispersion (O’Leary & Cummings,
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2007; Kirkman & Mathieu, 2005) reduces contextual and nonverbal cues that help to clarify the intended meaning of messages (Daft & Lengel, 1986). Second, virtual collaboration also involves taking the initiative to interact with others in a highly supportive and responsive manner (Jar- venpaa & Leidner, 1999) in order to overcome the coordination missteps that can result from geographically dispersed team situations (O’Leary & Cummings, 2007) and to build task-based trust, a primary source of trust in a virtual team (Jarvenpaa & Leidner, 1999). This type of interaction is characterized by frequent, predictable, and supportive communication; substantive responses to requests for information and input; and consis- tently meeting commitments (Jarvenpaa & Leidner, 1999). Finally, virtual collaboration requires that a team member works constructively across the boundaries in a dispersed team resulting from differences in team member perspectives and work approaches associated with distribution across mul- tiple work locations (Hinds & Bailey, 2003; Hinds & Mortensen, 2005). Bridging these differences is notably more challenging in a distributed team environment due to the diversity of contexts typically involved (Bell & Kozlowski, 2002; Cramton, 2001; Jarvenpaa & Leidner, 1999; O’Leary & Cummings, 2007).
While noting the importance of individual attributes for aiding virtual collaboration in dispersed teams, Bell and Kozlowski (2002) also suggest that a team member who is able to share power with the leader will be better positioned to self-regulate performance by applying virtual team- work relevant attributes to collaborate virtually with others in the team. This notion is consistent with research suggesting that empowering lead- ership creates an environment that motivates and facilitates the process of team members utilizing their capabilities to work more effectively in the team (Chen & Kanfer, 2006; Chen et al., 2011). It also aligns with general person-situation interactionist theoretical perspectives proposing that situational factors can limit the extent to which individual differences result in expected behaviors that are consistent with those differences (for a review, see Meyer, Dalal, & Hermida, 2010). Finally, it is congruent with propositions and evidence from team research showing that team contextual factors can act as facilitators of or constraints on team member processes (Chen & Kanfer, 2006; Chen et al., 2007)
We predict that a team member operating in a team context character- ized by high levels of empowering team leadership is likely to use VT-SJ more effectively to collaborate virtually with team members than one op- erating in a low empowering leadership team context. There are several reasons why empowering leadership is likely to positively moderate the relationship between VT-SJ and a team member’s virtual collaboration. High rather than low empowering team leadership entails more modeling of appropriate actions, giving team members more examples that they
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can adapt using their virtual teamwork situational judgment in order to improve collaboration with others. The greater degree of participative de- cision making associated with higher empowering team leadership also affords a team member more latitude to use virtual teamwork situational judgment in collaborating virtually. Further, more coaching on the part of a high empowering team leader should encourage greater use of situational judgment capabilities with virtual collaboration. Finally, it is easier to in- corporate VT-SJ to formulate effective responses to virtual collaboration situations when team leadership is more rather than less empowering be- cause such a leader provides an individual with more relevant information and shows greater concern and support for the team member’s actions. In summary, we expect that VT-SJ is more likely to translate into effective team member virtual collaboration when team empowering leadership is high rather than low. These individuals, when functioning under a high level of empowering leadership, should have the power to use their knowl- edge and ability to develop more appropriate responses to the challenges of distributed teamwork they encounter as compared to their counterparts in low empowering leadership team contexts.
Hypothesis 1: Empowering leadership moderates the positive relation- ship between team member virtual teamwork situational judgment (VT-SJ) and a team member’s virtual collab- oration, such that this relationship is stronger when em- powering leadership is high.
Team Member Performance
We predict that more effective virtual collaboration with others in a dispersed team should improve a team member’s performance in the team. Past theoretical and empirical research has shown that, in teamwork settings, working well with others and responding to their needs is a means by which individuals can achieve a higher level of individual performance (e.g., Barry & Stewart, 1997; Farh, Seo, & Tesluk, 2012; Shaw, Duffy, & Stark, 2000; Welbourne, Johnson, & Erez, 1998). Hence, in a dispersed team, a team member’s ability to engage in collaborative behaviors that address the demands of distributed teamwork should enhance a team member’s performance.
We have proposed earlier that the influence of team member VT-SJ on team member virtual collaboration is partially contingent on empower- ing team leadership (Hypothesis 1). Considered in combination with the expectation that team member virtual collaboration positively relates to in- dividual team member performance, this suggests that there is an indirect (mediated) relationship between VT-SJ and team member performance
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through team member virtual collaboration that is contingent on the level of team empowering leadership. This type of relationship is commonly referred to as a conditional indirect effect or moderated mediation effect (Edwards & Lambert, 2007; Preacher et al., 2007). Further, because we have predicted that high empowering leadership strengthens the positive relationship between VT-SJ and team member virtual collaboration, this indirect effect should be stronger at higher than at lower levels of empow- ering team leadership. This cross-level moderated mediation hypothesis constitutes Hypothesis 2.
Hypothesis 2: Empowering team leadership moderates the positive in- direct effect of team member virtual teamwork situa- tional judgment (VT-SJ) on team member performance through team member virtual collaboration, such that this indirect effect is stronger at higher levels of empow- ering leadership.
Empowering Leadership, Team Geographic Dispersion, and Team Virtual Collaboration
In addition to its cross-level influence on the relationships linking team member VT-SJ to team member collaboration and performance, we also consider the impact of empowering leadership on the aggregate level of virtual collaboration enacted by members of the team. We henceforth refer to aggregate virtual collaboration at the team level as team virtual collabo- ration to distinguish it from individual team member virtual collaboration discussed in the previous section. We expect empowering leadership to have a direct positive impact on team virtual collaboration that is moder- ated by the team’s geographic dispersion. These predictions are consistent with Bell and Kozlowski’s (2002) theorizing related to leadership in dis- persed teams.
There are several reasons why empowering leader behaviors might help to promote effective collaboration behaviors in dispersed teams. For instance, participative leadership along with leader coaching and sup- port can provide the team with the leeway and confidence to experi- ment in finding ways to effectively use technology for communicating virtually within the dispersed team (Colquitt, LePine, Hollenbeck, Il- gen, & Sheppard, 2002; Kirkman, Rosen, Tesluk, Gibson, 2004). Em- powering team leadership has also been shown to foster a collaborative team context (Srivastava et al., 2006), which should make team members more responsive to each other and more willing to take the initiative to help the team. Finally, empowering leadership can be expected to solicit behaviors associated with collaborating across the differences that exist in
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geographically dispersed teams and leveraging the different perspectives and work approaches members bring to the team. The aforementioned collaborative context and spirit of experimentation engendered by em- powering leadership behaviors, as well as the consideration for others that results when empowering leaders show concern for dispersed team members, should result in team members being more likely to seek and value each other’s ideas and perspectives. It should also result in a greater tendency for team members to work to mitigate the potentially dysfunc- tional conflicts that can arise in the team as a result of team-member and work-context differences. More generally, through leading by exam- ple, empowering leaders can model appropriate behaviors for interaction among dispersed team members. Given the likelihood of greater diversity of members and work practices in dispersed teams, as well as the reduced opportunity for face-to-face interaction, such modeling along with team leader coaching behaviors should be useful in signaling and creating a shared understanding of effective norms and patterns of interaction.
With regard to the interaction between empowering leadership and team geographic dispersion, past research has shown that the level of geographic dispersion in a team is an important contingency that deter- mines the degree of team relevance of leadership behaviors (Cummings, 2008; Gajendran & Joshi, 2012; Hoch & Kozlowski, 2014; Joshi et al., 2009; Morgeson, DeRue, & Karam, 2010). This is because geographic dispersion in a team can be considered as a continuum and teams that are higher on this continuum tend to experience greater challenges that can complicate team processes and undermine the production of needed out- comes (Cramton & Webber, 2004; Cummings, 2008; Gajendran & Joshi, 2012; Gibson & Gibbs, 2006; Hinds & Mortensen, 2005; Joshi et al., 2009; O’Leary & Cummings, 2007; Schweitzer & Duxbury, 2010). Re- lated theoretical perspectives that support the prescription of team leaders sharing leadership functions with distributed team members also propose that these leader behaviors will increase in importance as team dispersion increases (Bell & Kozlowski, 2002; Hertel et al., 2005). Yet the amount of research that has considered the geographic dispersion issue empiri- cally in conjunction with distributed team leadership has been somewhat limited (for exceptions, see Cummings, 2008; Gajendran & Joshi 2012; Hoch & Kozlowski, 2014; Joshi et al., 2009), and we are not aware of any published empirical research that has addressed the team geographic dispersion issue with respect to empowering leadership.
Relevant to this gap, we expect empowering leadership to have a stronger impact on team virtual collaboration in teams with higher rather than lower levels of geographic dispersion. As noted earlier, our fo- cus on empowering leadership is based on the notion that leadership in geographically dispersed teams calls for distributing leadership functions
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to team members while at the same time generating high levels of in- trinsic motivation to engage in more effective virtual collaboration with others (Bell & Kozlowski, 2002). Greater dispersion in the team increases the challenges of collaboration and makes it more difficult for leaders to directly monitor individual team members and intervene to address these challenges. Hence, at high rather than low levels of geographic dis- persion, the increased intrinsic motivation and power to act elicited by high empowering leadership behaviors becomes more important for pro- ducing needed virtual collaboration. Kirkman et al. (2004) used similar arguments to support their prediction and finding that team empowerment has a stronger relationship to team effectiveness in teams with less op- portunity for face-to-face interaction. They argued that less face-to-face interaction would result in a greater tendency to exhibit “distrust and in- formation hoarding, unwillingness to take risks and learn from mistakes, and even inaction and paralysis” (Kirkman et al., 2004, p. 180), result- ing in a greater need for empowered team members to overcome these behaviors. Similarly, we have argued that empowering leadership, which past research has shown to impact team empowerment (e.g., Kirkman & Rosen, 1999), can help to overcome these team behaviors that are detrimental to a team’s virtual collaboration. Hence, we hypothesize the following:
Hypothesis 3: Team geographic dispersion moderates the positive re- lationship between empowering team leadership and a team’s virtual collaboration, such that this relationship is stronger when team geographic dispersion is high.
More effective team virtual collaboration should improve overall team performance because team virtual collaboration involves behaviors on the part of team members that collectively promote effective geograph- ically dispersed teamwork. Hypothesis 3 predicts that team geographic dispersion moderates the positive effect of empowering leadership on team virtual collaboration. Considered in combination with the expected positive effect of team virtual collaboration on team performance, this suggests a moderated mediation effect whereby the indirect (mediated) effect of empowering leadership on team performance through team vir- tual collaboration is contingent on the level of team geographic dispersion. In addition, because we expect geographic dispersion to strengthen the positive relationship between empowering leadership and team virtual col- laboration, the indirect effect should be more strongly positive at higher rather than lower levels of geographic dispersion.
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Hypothesis 4: Team geographic dispersion moderates the positive in- direct effect of empowering leadership on team perfor- mance through team virtual collaboration, such that this indirect effect is stronger at higher levels of geographic dispersion.
Sample and Data Collection
We tested the study hypotheses with data collected via online surveys from a sample of geographically dispersed teams in the procurement orga- nization of a large multinational company. These teams were well-suited to testing hypotheses related to distributed teamwork. They ranged in size from 3 to 26 with an average team size of 9.27. Sixty percent of the teams were cross-functional global commodity procurement teams. These teams comprised buyers in different geographic areas who were collectively re- sponsible for purchasing commodities to address the needs of the global organization. Team members had to collaborate to develop and implement global procurement strategies for managing the company’s total spend for a commodity. The remaining teams were cross-functional procurement process improvement teams responsible for identifying and implement- ing improvements to the company’s global procurement processes. Team members had to work collaboratively to share information, analyze cur- rent procurement processes, as well as develop and implement globally integrated process improvements to meet the needs of the different pro- curement organizations around the world. Discussions with organizational representatives confirmed that the teams engaged in tasks of similar lev- els of complexity that required team members to work interdependently. Leaders across the teams in the sample also reported a mean level of task interdependence of 5.4 on a scale of 1 to 7 (SD = 1.18), providing further evidence that these teams engaged in interdependent work.
Team members completed two different surveys. The first survey com- pleted by each team member is referred to as the focal team member survey and provided data on a member’s virtual teamwork situational judgment and the individual control variables in the study. Each team member then completed a second survey 2 weeks later. Using this second survey, team members provided data on the extent of empowering team leadership on the part of the team leader. In addition, each team member assessed the virtual collaboration of three to five other members of the team (peers) who were randomly selected by the research team (e.g., Arthaud-Day, Rode, & Turnley, 2012; Erez, Lepine, & Elms, 2002; Tasa, Taggar, &
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Seijts, 2007). We used this peer data to compute a virtual collaboration score for each member of the team. A total of 250 team members working in 29 dispersed teams were sent survey links. We received responses from 194 team members (78% response rate). Team leaders also completed two surveys. The first survey provided data on team-level control variables and team performance. On the second survey, the team leader separately rated the performance of each team member.
The team member database consisted of the data from the focal team member survey (VT-SJ and individual-level controls) matched with each team member’s virtual collaboration score (computed using peer data from the second team member survey) and the team member’s performance rat- ing received from the team leader. Consistent with related research (e.g., Chen, 2005; Srivastava et al., 2006), we used peer data only for cases in which at least two peer ratings were available for the focal team member. The team-level database consisted of the team leader’s empowering lead- ership rating (using data from the second team member survey) as well as team-level controls and team performance data provided by the team leader. The final sample used in the study consisted of data for 193 focal team members (77% of total focal team members surveyed) in 29 teams. Team members in the final sample were 66% male with a mean age of 47 years and a mean tenure in the procurement organization of 3.7 years. Among the members, 66% were White, 12% Asian, 8% Hispanic, 6% Black, and 8% from other ethnic groups.
Unless otherwise noted, a 7-point Likert scale ranging from 1 = strongly disagree to 7 = strongly agree was used for the survey measures.
Empowering team leadership. We measured empowering leadership with the 5-factor empowering leadership scale used by Srivastava et al. (2006) and based on Arnold et al. (2000). Each factor had three items: leading by example (e.g., “Leads by example”), participative decision making (e.g., “Gives all team members a chance to voice their opinions”), coaching (e.g., “Teaches team members how to solve problems on their own”), informing (e.g., “Explains the team’s goals”), and showing concern for/interacting with the team (e.g., “Shows concern for team members’ success”). Team members indicated the extent to which each statement described the leader of their team using a scale of 1 = does not describe the team leader at all to 7 = describes the team leader extremely well. CFA on the empowering leadership measure showed acceptable fit for a model with five first-order factors (the five dimensions) and one second- order factor (χ 2 = 249.39, df = 86, p < .001; NNFI = .92, CFI = .93,
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SRMR = .04). These CFA results, along with the high correlations be- tween the empowering leadership dimensions (r between .74 and .88), are consistent with underlying theory and suggest that the dimensions, al- though distinct, collectively reflect the overall construct (Zhang & Bartol, 2010). Following previous research, we averaged the five dimensions into the empowering leadership variable. We then aggregated individual team members’ assessment of empowering leadership into a team-level empow- ering leadership variable. To justify aggregation, we calculated interrater agreement (rwg: James, Demaree, & Wolf, 1984), and two intraclass coef- ficients, ICC(1) and ICC(2). The ICC(1) and ICC(2), respectively, assess the proportion of the total variance accounted for by team membership and the reliability of the team-level means (Bliese, 2000). The rwg value was well within the acceptable range of values (median rwg = .95: James et al., 1984). In addition, the ICC(1) was statistically significant, and the ICC values [median rwg = .95, ICC(1) = .09 (F = 1.67; p < .05), ICC(2) = .40] were comparable with other previously reported values (e.g., Gibson, Cooper, & Conger, 2009; Liao & Rupp, 2005; Liao, Toya, Lepak, & Hong, 2009; Schneider, White, & Paul, 1998). When viewed in combination, as suggested by Bliese (2000), these statistics provide sufficient justification for aggregation.
Virtual teamwork situational judgment. We developed a situational judgment test to assess an individual’s knowledge of effective responses to challenges associated with technology-mediated, geographically dis- persed teamwork and the judgment to apply that knowledge in dispersed teamwork situations. Members of the research team for this study sepa- rately reviewed the literature to identify major knowledge areas associated with strategies for dealing with the challenges of collaboration involving the use of technology and distributed team members with their attendant varied work contexts. We discussed to come to agreement on the content domain for the test, which encompassed strategies for appropriately select- ing and using different media for communicating virtually; establishing shared understanding among distributed team members; managing the potential for conflict associated with leaner communication modes, team member differences and diversity in team member work contexts; and building trust in a dispersed environment (e.g., Blackburn et al., 2003; Cramton, 2001; Duarte & Snyder, 2001; Hinds & Weisband, 2003; Jar- venpaa & Leidner, 1999).
In developing items for the test, we followed recommended test con- struction procedures (Haladyna, 1994; Osterlind, 1998). Researchers have argued that situational judgment tests have high face validity when written in terms of common job situations (for a review, see McDaniel, Morge- son, Finnegan, Campion, & Braverman, 2001). Accordingly, we drew on our review of the literature to identify the type of situations described by
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researchers that reflect common challenges associated with geographically dispersed teamwork and responses that are likely to be most functional in addressing those challenges (e.g., Cramton, 2001; Hinds & Bailey, 2003; Hinds & Weisband, 2003; Jarvenpaa & Leidner, 1999). Each question on the test describes a hypothetical situation related to geographically dis- persed teamwork and asks participants to select the best response from four alternatives. Following procedures recommended in the literature (Osterlind, 1998), three content experts, who have doctorates and exten- sive knowledge of the dispersed team domain, reviewed the test items and responses for domain coverage (important knowledge areas that were missing), domain congruence (whether an item reflected the knowledge domain it was intended to assess), and response accuracy (the response identified as correct reflected the best response to the situation described in the item). We used this expert feedback to modify the questions on the test. In addition, based on a reading level assessment, we made modifica- tions to ensure that the test was at an eighth grade reading level. We scored each question as 1 if the best response option, given the circumstances described, was selected; otherwise the respondent received a score of zero (e.g., Lievens, Buyse, & Sackett, 2005). As noted by Weekley, Ployhart, and Holtz (2006), this is a scoring approach that has been used successfully in several studies.
We conducted several pilot studies to assess the psychometric prop- erties and validity of the test. The first pilot involved 418 senior under- graduate students with experience operating virtually in a team. This pilot was used to assess the psychometric properties of the test (reliability, ac- ceptable levels of item difficulty, and acceptable item-total correlations). As a result, items were deleted or modified, leading to a 25-item test. The Appendix shows sample questions from the test. In the second pi- lot involving 371 senior undergraduate students, we assessed the factor structure of the test. An exploratory factor analysis with varimax rota- tion of the pilot test responses showed multiple factors with eigenvalues greater than one that collectively explained 58% of the variance but with no dominant first factor. This lack of distinct interpretable factors was expected based on arguments and past findings from situational judgment research (Chan, 2006; Chan & Shmitt, 2002; Lievens & Sackett, 2007) that suggest a construct measured by a situational judgment test can be viewed as “an aggregate composite ability consisting of multiple unitary or multidimensional competencies” (Chan, 2006, p. 478). This is consis- tent with our conceptualization of VT-SJ in this study. Given this, it was most meaningful to use an overall SJT score in our analysis.
Because past research has shown that situational judgment test scores can be highly correlated with cognitive ability and personality (for a re- view, see McDaniel et al., 2007), we also used data from the second pilot
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to assess the correlation between the VT-SJ test scores and these individ- ual differences. We found that participants’ test scores were significantly correlated with their scores on the Big Five personality traits (correla- tion varied between .12 for extraversion and .36 for agreeableness), but not significantly correlated with student participants’ grade point average, which we used as an indicator of cognitive ability. We conducted two additional pilots to provide some insight into the predictive validity of the VT-SJ test. The samples for the third and fourth pilots were, respectively, 158 senior undergraduate students and 70 MBA students with 1–3 years of professional work experience collaborating in teams that involved a signif- icant amount of virtual collaboration. Results from the third pilot showed that scores on the VT-SJ test predicted self-reported virtual collaboration beyond the influence of the Big Five personality variables (F(1,356) = 4.22, p < .05). In the fourth pilot, we found that the test scores signifi- cantly predicted virtual collaboration rated by peers in the team (B = .12, p < .001).
We proceeded to use the 25-item VT-SJ test in the current field study. The Cronbach’s alpha reliability coefficient for this test was 0.62, which is within the range acceptable for a test of this length and scoring ap- proach (i.e., dichotomous scoring: Kehoe, 1995; Lievens et al., 2005) and is comparable to other published situational judgment tests used in orga- nizational research (Lievens et al., 2005; Motowidlo, Dunnette, & Carter, 1990; Ployhart, Weekley, Holtz, & Kemp, 2003). The previously noted multidimensionality of situational judgment test items that require appli- cation of different areas of knowledge within the overall content domain can negatively impact measures of internal consistency; however, this test fell within acceptable ranges for this type of instrument. VT-SJ was mea- sured as the focal team member’s score on the situational judgment test we developed for this study (for a discussion and review of situational judgment tests, see McDaniel et al., 2001).
Team geographic dispersion. To measure team geographic dispersion we obtained information from the company indicating the locations for all team members. We used this data to compute a measure of team geographic dispersion for each team that included multiple dimensions of dispersion discussed in the literature that were relevant to the teams in this sample (O’Leary & Cummings, 2007; Schweitzer and Duxbury, 2010). These dimensions included the degree of separation or spatial distance between team members, the number of different countries, and the number of different work site locations represented in the team. We used Schweitzer and Duxbury’s (2010) operationalization of degree of separation, which involves selecting one team member’s location as a reference point and computing a distance index for all other team members based on whether they are located in the same city, continent, or hemisphere. Following the
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approach taken in previous research (Hinds & Mortensen, 2005; Joshi et al., 2009), we conducted an exploratory factor analysis to examine the dimensionality of these constructs. The results showed that the three measures of dispersion loaded on to a single factor. Accordingly, we computed z-scores for each of these measures and combined them into a single index of geographic dispersion.
Virtual collaboration. At the individual level, we measured team mem- ber virtual collaboration with a 3-factor scale developed for this study that assesses the extent to which the focal team member engages in behaviors that support effective collaboration in geographically dispersed teamwork. In developing the measure, we consulted a review and synthesis of the dispersed team literature by Hertel et al. (2005) in which they developed a virtual teamwork competency model describing categories of behaviors that are particularly important for virtual collaboration. The two members of the research team also independently examined other major reviews (e.g., Axtell et al., 2004; Kirkman et al., 2012; Powell et al., 2004; Shin, 2004), comparing the categories of behaviors discussed in these reviews to those identified by Hertel et al. (2005) in order to identify refinements to the categories included in the competency model. The members of the research team then discussed the results of their independent exami- nations to come to agreement on the categories of behaviors underlying a team member’s virtual collaboration. These discussions noted consid- erable congruence across reviews with respect to important behaviors associated with virtual collaboration (e.g., Axtell et al., 2004; Kirkman et al., 2012; Powell et al., 2004; Shin, 2004).
After coming to agreement on the major categories of virtual collabo- ration behaviors, we developed items to reflect behaviors in each category based on descriptions of behaviors identified in Hertel et al.’s (2005) model and the other reviews. We also consulted the original articles identified in the reviews, as needed, for additional input into the wording of the items. We modified, combined, and dropped items as we developed them in order to reduce overlap and redundancy. This resulted in a reduced set of items categorized into the following major categories of behaviors: effective use of technology for virtual communication (e.g., Cramton, 2001; Goodhue & Thompson, 1995; Hinds & Weisband, 2003); supportive and responsive virtual interactions (interactions that facilitate task-based trust and effec- tive team coordination: Jarvenpaa & Leidner, 1999); and collaborating virtually across boundaries in the team (interactions aimed at leveraging team member differences and avoiding dysfunctional conflict: Cramton, Orvis, & Wilson, 2007; Hinds & Bailey, 2003, Hinds & Mortensen, 2005).
Prior to using the measure in the current field study, we included the measure in the first two pilot studies mentioned earlier to validate the overall reliability of the scales, examine the measure’s factor structure
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using exploratory factor analysis, and make modifications to the scale items. The scale used in the current field study consisted of three factors with 10 items (see Appendix). The first factor, communicating virtually using technology, had four items (e.g., “Uses technology effectively to communicate with team members”). The second and third factors had three items each: responsive virtual interactions (e.g., “Keeps team mem- bers informed of progress and issues”) and collaborating virtually across boundaries (e.g., “Is open to differences in ideas and approaches to the task among members of the team”). Peers indicated the extent to which each item described the focal team member using a scale of 1 = does not describe the team member at all to 7 = describes the team member extremely well.
CFA using data from this study on the virtual collaboration mea- sure showed acceptable fit for a model with three first-order factors (the three virtual collaboration dimensions) and one second-order factor (χ 2 = 287.20, df = 32, p < .001; non-normed fit index (NNFI) = .93, comparative fit index (CFI) = .95, standardized root mean square residual (SRMR) = .03). This model showed significantly better fit than a model in which all the behaviors were loaded on one factor (χ 2 = 403.25, df = 36, p < .001; NNFI = .91, CFI = .93, SRMR = .04). These CFA results, along with the high correlations between the virtual collaboration dimensions (r between .87 and .90), support the idea that these categories of behavior are distinct but collectively reflect a construct that describes virtual collaboration. We computed virtual collaboration for each focal team member by aggregating the mean ratings received from the peers in the team who provided an assessment of that focal team member. Both the rwg as well as the two intraclasss coefficients, ICC(1) and ICC(2), provided evidence of an acceptable level of agreement [median rwg = .96, ICC(1) = .09 (F = 1.29; p < .05), ICC(2) = .23] to justify aggregating peer scores into an overall mean score for the focal individual. We did not anticipate large ICC(2) values because the ICC(2) value is a function of the number of peer scores and the ICC(1) value (Bliese, 2000). In this case, the average number of peer assessors used to calculate the team member virtual collaboration was 2.83. Low ICC(2) values suggest that it may be difficult to uncover emergent relationships using group means (Bliese, 2000). However, such a circumstance should not preclude aggregation if it is warranted by theory and substantiated by high rwg figures (Chen and Bliese, 2002; Gelfand, Leslie, Keller, & de Dreu, 2012; Liao et al., 2009). At the team level, we were interested in the aggregated virtual collabo- ration of team members and so used the mean of the individual virtual collaboration across members of the team (Chan, 1998).
Team member performance. We measured team member performance using four items from Welbourne et al.’s (1998) measure of task
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performance. The team leader rated each focal team member’s contri- bution to the performance of the team on a 7-point scale ranging from 1 = needs much improvement to 7 = excellent including “quantity of work output” and “quality of work output.”
Team performance. We measured team performance using six items from Kirkman and Rosen (1999) designed to assess key team performance indicators. Team leaders rated the extent to which they disagreed or agreed that their team was effective in terms of each performance indicator, including: “Meets or exceeds its goals,” and “Completes its tasks on time.”
Control variables. Several variables of theoretical relevance to the dependent variables were explored as potential controls at both the indi- vidual (gender, age, team tenure, and number of other teams on which the team member simultaneously participated) and team level (task in- terdependence, team size, and extent of face-to-face interaction). Follow- ing recommendations and past research (e.g., Bono & McNamara, 2011; Erdogan & Bauer, 2009; Hu & Liden, 2013; Seibert, Kraimer, Holtom, & Pierotti, 2013; Shoss, Eisenberger, Restubog, & Zagenczyk, 2013), in order to preserve degrees of freedom, only those that were significantly correlated with any of the study variables were carried forward in the analysis. At the individual level, this led us to include team member vir- tual teamwork experience as a control in the analysis, because there is research to show that experience can positively impact job performance (McDaniel, Schmidt, & Hunter, 1988). The focal team member reported on different aspects of his/her virtual teamwork experience on a 7-point Likert scale ranging from 1 = no previous experience to 7 = significant amount of experience. At the team level, the type of team (i.e., global com- modity team or process improvement team) and team technology support were included as controls. For team type, commodity team was coded as 0, and process improvement team was coded as 1. Team technology support refers to the extent to which the team as a whole has adequate access to technology tools required to support distributed collaboration among team members (Kirkman, Rosen, Tesluk, & Gibson, 2006). Inad- equate technology support can be an impediment to virtual collaboration (e.g., Kirkman et al., 2006). Team technology support was measured with three items from Kirkman et al.’s (2006) measure of technology support. Because of space limitations on the team member surveys, the team leader reported on the team’s level of technology support.
Due to the nested structure of the data (i.e., individuals nested within teams), we used hierarchical linear modeling (HLM: Raudenbush &
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TABLE 1 Individual-Level Descriptive Statistics and Correlationsa
Variable M SD 1 2 3 4
1. Virtual teamwork experience 5.74 1.21 (.90) 2. Virtual teamwork situational judgment 16.39 3.31 .06 (.62) 3. Team member virtual collaboration 5.47 0.70 .20∗ .04 (.98) 4. Team member performance 5.29 1.16 .13 .18∗ .43∗∗ (.97)
Note. aReliabilities are shown on the diagonal (n = 193 individuals). ∗∗p < .01; ∗p < .05
Bryk, 2002) to test the individual-level and cross-level (Hypotheses 1) relationships in the model. HLM is a statistical approach that provides a more appropriate estimate of standard errors than other analytic meth- ods when data are nested in teams, and assumptions of independence, therefore, are not warranted. We used hierarchical ordinary least squares regression with mean-centered predictor variables to test the predicted team-level interaction effect (Hypotheses 3). Although testing the rela- tionships in the model separately can provide preliminary evidence of moderated mediation (Hypotheses 2 and 4), researchers have noted the limitations of using a stepwise approach to testing moderated mediation (Edwards & Lambert, 2007; Preacher et al., 2007). Therefore, we tested the moderated mediation effects in the model in a more integrative fashion by using the Monte Carlo method (Mackinnon, Lockwood, & Williams, 2004) to obtain estimates for the size of the indirect effects at different levels of the moderator, including confidence intervals for the indirect effect.
Table 1 and Table 2 show descriptive statistics and bivariate corre- lations for all study variables. These correlations do not account for the non-independent nature of the data at the individual level and should be viewed with caution until properly modeled using HLM.
Hypotheses Predicting Team Member Virtual Collaboration and Performance
To confirm that the use of HLM was appropriate for testing influ- ences on team member virtual collaboration and performance, we first ran an HLM null model for virtual collaboration and team member perfor- mance. The resultant ICC(1) value reflects the percent of variable variance residing between teams. If the team-level variance is significant, then the use of HLM is considered to be warranted. The ICC(1) values and
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TABLE 2 Team-Level Descriptive Statistics and Correlationsa
Variable M SD 1 2 3 4 5 6
1. Team typeb 0.41 0.50 – 2. Team technology support 5.15 1.17 .02 (.63) 3. Empowering team
leadership 5.57 0.47 .22 .35 (.95)
4. Aggregate virtual collaboration
5.45 0.45 .44∗ .40∗ .53∗∗ –
5. Team performance 5.65 0.99 .29 .16 .32 .65∗∗ (.95) 6. Team geographic
dispersion 0.00 2.75 −.05 .05 −.03 −.35 −.38∗ (.80)
Note. aReliabilities are shown on the diagonal (n = 29 teams). b0 = Commodity team; 1 = Process improvement team ∗∗p < .01; ∗p < .05
associated significance tests showed significant between-group variance for team member virtual collaboration (26.05%, τ 00 = .13, p < .000) and team member performance (23.91%, τ 00 = .34, p < .001). Hence, we pro- ceeded with the use of HLM for the analyses predicting these outcomes. The results presented below include all control variables discussed ear- lier that were significantly correlated to the variables in the model (Bono & McNamara, 2011). Some of these controls were ultimately not sig- nificant predictors in the models analyzed to test the model hypotheses. We also ran all analyses without these controls included (Hu & Liden, 2013; Sluss, Ployhart, Cobb, & Ashforth, 2012), and the results remained the same.
Hypothesis 1 predicted that empowering team leadership has a cross- level moderating influence on the relationship between a team member’s VT-SJ and team member virtual collaboration. We tested this relationship by first entering the level 1 control and VT-SJ as predictors in the level 1 equation and both the level 2 controls as well as empowering leadership as level 2 predictors of the level 1 intercept. For the interaction between em- powering leadership and VT-SJ, we entered empowering team leadership as a level 2 predictor of the level 1 VT-SJ slope. Following recommenda- tions for testing cross-level interaction effects, we group-mean centered the VT-SJ predictor variable (Enders & Tofighi, 2007; Hofmann, Griffin, & Gavin, 2000). Table 3 shows that empowering team leadership moder- ated the relationship between VT-SJ and virtual collaboration behaviors (γ = .10, p < .05). Figure 2 graphically shows this interaction at two levels of empowering leadership (i.e., mean +1 and −1 standard deviation). A positive and significant relationship between VT-SJ and team member vir- tual collaboration emerged when empowering team leadership was high,
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TABLE 3 Results of HLM Analysis Predicting Team Member Virtual Collaborationa
Variables Coefficient γ (SE)
Level 1 predictors Virtual teamwork experience .08 (.04) Virtual teamwork situational judgment .00 (.02) Level 2 predictors Team type .25∗ (.12) Team technology support .04 (.05) Team geographic dispersion −.04∗ (.02) Empowering team leadership .51∗∗∗ (.14) Cross-Level interaction Empowering team leadership∗Virtual teamwork
situational judgment .10∗ (.04)
Note. aAnalyses were based on listwise deletion (n = 193 individuals in 29 teams) ∗∗∗p = .001 ∗p < .05
Empowering Team Leadership
Virtual Teamwork Situational Judgment
be r V
Figure 2: Moderating Effect of Empowering Team Leadership on the Relationship Between Virtual Teamwork Situational Judgment and Team
Member Virtual Collaboration.
but the relationship was not significant when empowering team leadership was low. Although our primary focus was the interactive effect of VT- SJ with empowering leadership, which in accordance with Hypothesis 1 was significant, Hypothesis 1 also implies a positive direct relationship between VT-SJ and team member virtual collaboration. However, this
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Figure 3: Moderating Effect of Team Geographic Dispersion on the Relationship Between Empowering Team Leadership and Team Virtual
direct effect was not significant. We discuss this finding in more detail in the discussion section.
Hypothesis 2 predicted a moderated mediation (conditional indirect) effect whereby the indirect relationship between VT-SJ and team mem- ber performance through team member virtual collaboration is moderated by empowering team leadership. To test the association of team mem- ber virtual collaboration with team member performance, a prerequisite condition for this moderated mediation effect, we regressed team mem- ber performance on VT-SJ and team member virtual collaboration. This relationship was significant (γ = .63, p < .001), providing preliminary evidence for the moderated mediation effect predicted in Hypothesis 2. As a more integrative test of this hypothesis, we used an open-source, R-based web utility by Selig and Preacher (2008) that uses the coeffi- cients and standard errors from the HLM analysis with a Monte Carlo method (Mackinnon et al., 2004) to compute the size of indirect effects. Based on 20,000 repetitions, we computed the size of the indirect effect at high (mean + 1SD) and low levels (mean − 1SD) of the team empower- ing leadership moderator variable and also examined the 95% confidence interval for each of these indirect effects. In keeping with Hypothesis 2, the indirect relationship was positive and significant when empowering leadership was high (indirect effect = .027; 95% CI [.001, .062]). How- ever, the relationship was negative and not significant when empowering leadership was low (indirect effect = –.047; 95% CI [–.081, .012]).
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TABLE 4 Results of OLS Regression Predicting Team Virtual Collaborationa
Coefficient B (SE)
Variables Model 1 Model 2 Model 3
Team type .38∗ (.14) .31∗ (.14) .29∗ (.12) Team technology support .15∗ (.06) .10 (.06) .14∗ (.06) Empowering team
leadership .34∗ (.15) .30∗ (.13)
Geographic dispersion −.04 (.02) Empowering team
leadership∗ Geographic dispersion
R2 .33 .45 .63 �R2 .12 .18 F 6.65 6.75 7.83
Note. aAnalyses were based on listwise deletion (n = 193 individuals in 29 teams) ∗p < .05
Hypotheses Predicting Team Virtual Collaboration and Team Performance
Hypotheses 3 predicted that team geographic dispersion moderates the positive relationship between team empowering leadership and team virtual collaboration. As shown in Table 4 (Model 2), empowering team leadership was positively associated with team virtual collaboration (B = .34, p < .05), and as predicted by Hypothesis 4 (Table 4, Model 3), the interaction between empowering team leadership and team geographic dispersion was significant (B = .08, p < .05). Figure 3 graphically shows this interaction at two levels of team geographic dispersion (i.e., mean +1 and –1 standard deviation). As predicted, the relationship between empowering leadership and team virtual collaboration was more positive at high levels of team geographic dispersion. The relationship at low levels of team geographic dispersion was not significant.
Hypothesis 4 predicted that the indirect relationship between empow- ering team leadership and team performance through team virtual col- laboration is moderated by team geographic dispersion. As preliminary support for this hypothesis, we found a positive association between team virtual collaboration and team performance (B = 1.31, p < .001) when we regressed team member performance on team virtual collaboration and empowering leadership. We then proceeded to test Hypothesis 4 in a more integrative fashion. Using a Monte Carlo approach with 20,000 repeti- tions, we computed the size of the indirect effect at high (mean +1 SD) and low levels (mean –1 SD) of the team geographic dispersion moderator
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variable and also examined the 95% confidence interval for each of these indirect effects. We found that the indirect relationship was significant and positive when team geographic dispersion was high (indirect effect = .67; 95% CI [.149, 1.38]) but was not significant (indirect effect = –.099; 95% CI [–.376, .637]) when team geographic dispersion was low. Hence, Hypothesis 4 was supported.
In this study, we contribute to theory and research on leadership in dispersed teams as well as empowering leadership. We test a multiLevel model that integrates Bell and Kozlowski’s (2002) theoretical perspec- tive related to distributed leadership in dispersed teams with empowering leadership theory (Arnold et al., 2000, Srivastava et al., 2006). Our results shed important new light on major elements influencing virtual collabo- ration and performance in geographically dispersed teams. We found a significant cross-level effect of empowering team leadership, such that under conditions of high empowering team leadership, the influence of a team member’s VT-SJ on his or her virtual collaboration behaviors, and ultimately individual performance in the team, was significantly positive. In addition, at the team level, our results showed that the indirect effect of empowering leadership on team performance through the aggregate virtual collaboration of team members was significantly positive at higher levels of team geographic dispersion. This supports previous research showing the importance of the geographic dispersion variable but extending it to the case of empowering leadership.
More specifically, our study makes three important theoretical contributions. First, our findings support Bell and Kozlowski’s (2002) proposition that an effective strategy for dispersed team leadership is to distribute leadership functions to the team in a way that fosters collabora- tion among team members. This study contributes to the limited existing empirical research that has examined distributed forms of leadership in dispersed teams by moving beyond the predominant focus on leadership in conjunction with the use of information and communication tools (e.g., Rapp et al., 2010; Surinder et al., 1997; Wakefield et al., 2008). Here, we show the utility of a leadership approach—empowering leadership—that shares power with subordinates to promote effective virtual collabora- tion behaviors and performance under dispersed team circumstances. Hence, the results of this study contribute to theory about leadership in
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geographically dispersed teams and at the same time extend empowering leadership to the domain of geographically dispersed teamwork.
As a second contribution, our findings support Bell and Kozlowski’s (2002) argument that distributed leadership serves as an important contex- tual factor that allows a team member to better utilize attributes relevant to virtual teamwork in collaboration with dispersed team members. In this study, the relationship between VT-SJ and team member virtual collabo- ration was positive only under conditions of high empowering leadership. When exposed to low levels of empowering leadership, team member VT-SJ did not translate into more effective team member virtual collab- oration and individual performance. Interestingly, although we expected a direct effect of VT-SJ on team member virtual collaboration, and the results of two pilot studies supported such an effect, we did not find this di- rect effect in the current field study. These findings point to the potentially critical role of empowering leadership in determining whether team mem- ber attributes relevant to distributed teamwork become manifest as more effective team member virtual collaboration behaviors and improved per- formance. Empowering leadership provides team members with greater latitude in addressing everyday virtual collaboration challenges. Indeed, individuals with high VT-SJ, but exposed to low empowering leadership, had the lowest level of virtual collaboration. It appears that in an environ- ment of low empowering leadership, dispersed team members with high levels of VT-SJ are either unable or unwilling to apply their knowledge of effective virtual teamwork strategies. More broadly, our findings also con- tribute to emerging team leadership research that shows the importance of investigating the cross-level effects of team leadership on individual processes in teams (e.g., Chen & Kanfer, 2006; Chen et al., 2007).
Along with highlighting the importance of the cross-level effects found, this study also adds to a limited body of research that has identified individual differences that are important for distributed team functioning. Researchers have long stressed the need for empirical research to iden- tify such characteristics (Blackburn et al. 2003; Powell et al., 2004; Shin, 2004). Nevertheless, a recent review of the literature emphasized this area as a continuing research need (Kirkman et al., 2012). According to the authors, “many gaps remain in understanding the role of the individual in virtual teams” (Kirkman et al., 2012, p. 809). In particular, past research has focused on more stable personality traits, rather than characteristics, such as VT-SJ, that can potentially be developed. Accordingly, in this study, we have integrated performance theory and research on dispersed teams to identify VT-SJ as a critical variable that, under conditions of high empowering leadership, positively relates to the effectiveness with which an individual collaborates virtually with teammates and thereby also contributes to improved individual performance.
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As a third major contribution, our findings confirm Bell and Kozlowski’s (2002) contention that leadership behaviors, such as empow- ering leadership that involve sharing power with team members, might become more important at higher levels of team dispersion. The relation- ship of empowering leadership to team virtual collaboration, and indi- rectly to team performance, was significant and positive under conditions of high geographic dispersion. Further, the relationship between empow- ering leadership and team virtual collaboration was not significant when team geographic dispersion was low. This interaction pattern is similar to that found by Kirkman et al. (2004) in their examination of the moderat- ing influence of the number of face-to-face meetings on the relationship between team psychological empowerment and team performance. Al- though they did not measure empowering leadership in their study, past research has linked empowering leadership to team empowerment (e.g., Kirkman & Rosen, 1999). At the same time, as an extension to em- powering leadership theory, these findings point to a team’s geographic dispersion as an important boundary condition for the impact of empower- ing team leadership on collaboration and performance in dispersed teams. Pearce et al. (2004) proposed that degree of geographic dispersion might influence the extent to which empowering leadership will be important for dispersed team effectiveness. The underlying logic is that the greater challenge of establishing shared understanding, coordinating action, prob- lem solving, building trust, and managing conflict in more dispersed teams might increase the need for empowering leadership to promote these types of behaviors.
Finally, it is also worth noting that our study addresses dispersed teams whose members are employed in an on going organization. Hence, it responds to the need identified in recent reviews for more field studies of dispersed teams that are embedded in organizations (Kirkman, et al., 2012; Stanko & Gibson, 2009).
Our findings have important implications for managers. They demon- strate the value of empowering leadership in geographically dispersed team situations and suggest that it may be useful to consider the extent to which potential team leaders engage in empowering leadership before tapping them to take on dispersed team leadership roles. Provid- ing training in empowering leadership may also be a viable direction, particularly for those organizations whose business strategies (e.g., out- sourcing and globalization) rely on the successful functioning of highly dispersed teams.
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At the same time, managers may want to consider the capabilities of potential team members as well. Notwithstanding the advantages of em- powering leadership for dispersed teams demonstrated by this research, such benefits may not materialize if team members lack the VT-SJ to col- laborate effectively under high empowering conditions. As one strategy, it may be possible to consider VT-SJ in conjunction with dispersed team member selection processes. Situational judgment tests have been shown to be a valid selection method that is relatively easy to administer and engenders positive reactions from applicants (e.g., Lievens, Peeters, & Schollaert, 2008).
As another alternative, our research highlighting the value of the individual characteristic of VT-SJ suggests there may be advantage in providing training to increase team member knowledge of strategies for overcoming challenges encountered in dispersed teamwork. Past research has suggested that, despite the growth in the use of dispersed teams in organizations, concomitant training that can help prepare team mem- bers for virtual collaboration is generally deficient and/or in short sup- ply (Rosen et al., 2006). Hence, it may behoove managers and their organizations to sponsor appropriate training aimed at increasing the prospects that dispersed team members will have the necessary VT-SJ to collaborate successfully on behalf of their own performance and that of the team. Of course, as our research has demonstrated, trained in- dividuals would need to be matched with high empowering leaders in order for the training to translate into enhanced virtual collaboration and performance.
Although a number of different approaches to team member train- ing have been documented in the team training literature (e.g., Chen, Donahue, & Klimoski, 2004; Ellis, Bell, Ployhart, Hollenbeck, & Ilgen, 2005), one approach that might be particularly effective in an organiza- tional context is to present trainees with scenarios in the form of short case studies that involve common challenges to virtual collaboration. By prompting discussion of appropriate and inappropriate responses, this approach can build on the documented benefits of using both positive and negative models for interpersonal skills training (Baldwin, 1992). It would also allow training to be customized for different types of dis- persed teams, such as project teams and service teams (Sundstrom, 1999). Following approaches that have been employed in past research to assess the effectiveness of teamwork training (e.g., Chen et al., 2004; Ellis et al., 2005), training evaluation could consist of trainees being tested on their situation judgment with respect to virtual teamwork situations before and after the training. Other training designs and evaluation means are also possible (Noe, 2012).
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A related strategy might be to focus greater attention on the launching of geographically dispersed teams with regard to setting norms for behav- ior that may aid appropriate situational judgment among team members. Related recommendations associated with team launches have been made by others familiar with the operation of dispersed teams (Zofi, 2012). Such an approach may also be useful in fostering an empowerment stance on the part of the leader. Launch efforts might be supplemented by individual and team coaching to help team members build the necessary situational judgment skills for virtual teamwork while also facilitating leaders en- gagement in empowering leadership on behalf of the development of the team (Wageman, 2003).
Limitations and Future Research
Of course, like any study, this one is not without limitations. First, our study was cross-sectional in nature, which makes causal relationships difficult to verify and can involve common method bias. However, the situation here was aided by the fact that virtual collaboration was rated by team members and the performance outcomes were assessed by the team leader. Future research might use a technique like event sampling (Scollon, Kim-Prieto, & Deiner, 2003; Uy, Foo, & Aguinis, 2010) to gain further insight into the unfolding of empowering leadership and virtual collaboration behaviors in dispersed teams over time.
Second, our sample was limited to 29 teams. We accepted the sample size tradeoff in view of the unique opportunity to conduct the study with dispersed teams characterized by different degrees of geographic disper- sion doing similar types of work as part of ongoing business operations in a particular division of a large multinational organization. We note that other studies involving teams have made similar tradeoffs resulting in sim- ilar restrictions in the number of teams (e.g., Kirkman et al., 2004, Raver & Gelfand, 2005). Nevertheless, the hypotheses involving the team-level variables of empowering team leadership, team virtual collaboration, and team outcome performance were supported. Moreover, we took steps to examine the stability of the effects (e.g., tested for outliers, ran models with and without controls) and found that the findings were generally ro- bust. Future research might verify the efficacy of our results with separate and/or larger samples. Perhaps this can be done in the course of building on the current research. For instance, a useful next step may be to expand this inquiry to include dispersed teams involving dissimilar work and/or status (Kirkman et al., 2012).
Third, as just noted, our data were collected within a single orga- nization, which can limit the observed variability and decrease external
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validity. On the other hand, this strategy has the advantage of control- ling for the effects of potential organizational level influences, relative to studies of teams across organizations. Locating sufficient numbers of dis- persed teams doing similar work in a single organization is a formidable task indeed. Future research in other organizations will help to extend the generalizability of these results.
In addition to the aforementioned future research directions, our study results point to other potentially interesting research areas. Although sit- uational judgment has frequently been found to be related to relevant past work experience (Weekley & Ployhart, 2005), there have been exceptions (e.g., Chan & Schmitt, 2002; Clevenger, Pereira, Wiechmann, Schmitt, & Harvey, 2001). Similarly, in this study, the relationship between a team member’s virtual teamwork experience and VT-SJ was not significant. It is possible that our measure of experience, which focused primarily on the amount of virtual teamwork experience, might not have captured all relevant characteristics of a team member’s experience that help to shape VT-SJ. Hence, future research in this area should seek to gain a better understanding of the types of experiences that might help develop a team member’s VT-SJ.
Our finding in this study that empowering leadership might elicit be- haviors that help members of dispersed teams to bridge their differences and collaborate effectively suggests another fruitful area for future re- search. An important role of leadership in dispersed teams may be to facilitate connections between team members (Stanko & Gibson, 2009). Hence, future research might explore how empowering leadership inter- acts with other factors that separate team members, such as team functional and cultural diversity, to influence collaboration in such teams.
Finally, we also note that type of team had a significant effect on virtual collaboration at the team level when all of our team level variables were considered, with process improvement teams registering higher levels of collaboration behaviors. Process improvement requires high levels of intrinsic motivation and initiative to not only identify areas in need of change but also develop improvement recommendations. Therefore, such teams might have more of a tendency to examine the team’s collaboration processes to find opportunities to address challenges that impede their virtual collaboration. This raises potentially interesting future research questions regarding the extent to which the process focus of a dispersed team’s work influences the dynamics within the team (Marks, Mathieu, Zaccaro, 2001).
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In conclusion, in this study, we integrated the theoretical perspective provided by Bell and Kozlowski (2002) with empowering leadership the- ory to offer a multilevel theoretical model of collaboration effectiveness in geographically dispersed teams. We showed that empowering leadership is an important team contextual factor for facilitating an individual team member’s use of VT-SJ to engage in effective virtual collaboration behav- iors with other members of the team and ultimately improve individual performance. At the team level, our findings also suggest that the impact of empowering leadership on team members’ aggregate virtual collabo- ration, and indirectly on team performance, increases at higher levels of team dispersion. Moreover, we evaluated the model in an advantageous venue — that is, with operating teams doing similar work in a major multi- national corporation under varying degrees of geographic dispersion. The findings of this study provide a foundation for continuing research on the burgeoning phenomenon of dispersed teams and how they are led.
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Selected Study Measures
Sample Virtual Teamwork Situational Judgment Test Items
(1) You and another virtual team member strongly disagree on an approach to one of the team’s tasks. What would be the best media for communicating with this team member to resolve this issue? (a) Email (b) Phone* (c) Instant Chat (d) Any of the above would work well – select the one that is most
convenient (2) One of your virtual team members sends you an angry email. In it
she accuses you of making a decision that negatively impacts her. Which of the following is most true regarding the use of email to respond to this team member? (a) Email is a poor choice because it creates a permanent record
of the discussion (b) Email is a poor choice because people tend to be less inhibited
when using email*
198 PERSONNEL PSYCHOLOGY
(c) Email is a good choice because it allows you to take the emotion out of the discussion
(d) Email is good choice because it allows you to keep the team leader copied on the communication
*Indicates correct responses.
Virtual Collaboration Measure
Effective use of technology for virtual communication
(1) Uses technology effectively to communicate virtually with team members
(2) Communicates virtually with other team members in a way that is clear and easily understood
(3) Takes steps to avoid misunderstandings when communicating vir- tually with team members (e.g., by providing important back- ground information, verifying receipt of messages, requesting and providing clarification)
(4) Sends virtual communications with a positive, encouraging tone
Supportive and responsive virtual interactions
(1) Keeps team members informed of progress and issues (2) Provides detailed and useful input and feedback to other team
members when requested (3) Shows initiative in working with the team (assumes leadership for
tasks and for helping the team resolve problems)
Collaborating virtually across boundaries
(1) Works well with team members from diverse backgrounds (2) Is open to differences in ideas and approaches to the task among
members of the team (3) Constructively resolves conflict with other team members
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