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The nature of tasks and leadership

Virtual teams can be used for a wide variety of tasks and in a wide variety of domains. Virtual teams, for example, have been used in university projects (Aubert & Kelsey, 2003), data entry tasks (Aiello & Kolb, 1995), engineering and construction (Forester, Thomas & Pinto, 2007), information technology (Belanger & Watson-Manheim, 2006; Morris, Marshall & Rainer, 2002), customer service (Froehle, 2006), product development (Geber, 1995) and many other domains. In virtual teams, as in traditional teams, the nature of the tasks being performed can greatly affect virtual team processes and outcomes. In particular, task complexity can dictate the communication patterns and the extent of virtuality in virtual teams (Bell & Kozlowski, 2002). Task complexity can be understood in terms of Thompson’s (1967) pattern of workflow model or Van de Ven, Delbecq and Koenig’s (1976) taxonomy. A key feature of the low-high complexity di stinction is interdependence. Highly complex tasks involve a high degree of interdependence, which makes them more difficult to perform virtually. Thus, as tasks become more complex, interaction between team members tends to become less virtual. By implication, KSAOs related to interpersonal interactions should attain greater importance as team interdependence increases.

The complexity of the task will also impact the nature of leadership of the team. The ability of leaders to monitor performance and implement work solutions will be impacted not only by the nature of the task but also by the extent of the team’s virtuality. Highly complex tasks and highly virtual teams tend to have members with vast expertise and competence. In such situations, leaders will be more effective if they delegate important functions to the team and encourage self-regulation within the team. Studies on leadership research have shown that transformational leadership is related to team creativity (Sosik, Avolio & Kahai, 1998), that shared leadership has better outcomes for virtual teams than a single emergent leader (Johnson, Suriya, Yoon, Berrett & La Fleur, 2002) and that virtual teams with shared leadership are more successful if emergent leaders focus on keeping track of group work (Carte, Chidambaram & Becker, 2006).

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