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KSAOs in virtual teams

The shift from traditional teams to virtual teams may affect the importance of several KSAOs, based on many of the contextual factors described earlier in this chapter. Virtual team members are infrequently monitored and typically receive less feedback, which places greater demands on self-management (Harvey, Novicevic & Garrison, 2004; Krumm & Hertel, 2013). Virtual team members experience greater barriers to developing team trust and cohesion due to their physical isolation, which in turn may demand greater communication and interpersonal KSAOs (e.g., Duarte & Snyder, 2001; Jarvenpaa & Leidner, 1999). Written communication KSAOs may be particularly relevant if most virtual team communication is in a written format, such as an email or chat platform. To the degree that virtual team members represent multiple cultures and/or nationalities, intercultural competences should be highly valued in team members (Ellingson & Wiethoff, 2002). For readers interested in intercultural competences (which may also apply to some traditional teams), we refer to Krumm, Terweil and Hertel (2013). Of relevance to the current chapter, these authors found that intercultural competences were generally similar in traditional and virtual teams that were culturally diverse (Krumm et al., 2013). Finally, Krumm and Hertel (2013) noted that virtual teams are often less stable than traditional teams, which gives added importance to member traits such as flexibility and tolerance for ambiguity.

In pulling these concepts together, Hertel, Konradt and Voss (2006) created a formal taxonomy of virtual team member competences and organized them into three domains: task work-related KSAOs; teamwork-related KSAOs; and tele-cooperation KSAOs. The first two dimensions generally refer to KSAOs that are relevant to teamwork in general: task work KSAOs refer to conscientiousness, integrity and loyalty, whereas teamwork-related KSAOs are defined by cooperation and communication skills. These two dimensions generally correspond to the two domains posited by Stevens and Campion (1994) for traditional teamwork. The third dimension, tele-cooperation KSAOs, refer to KSAOs theorized to have greater importance in virtual team settings. These KSAOs include persistence, creativity, independence and interpersonal trust. The KSAOs proposed by Hertel and colleagues (2006) were subsequently reorganized by Krumm and Hertel (2013) into three of the ‘Great Eight’ competence dimensions: supporting and cooperating; organizing and executing; and creating and conceptualizing (Bartram, 2005). The supporting and cooperating dimension includes communication, trust-building and mutual support KSAOs. The organizing and executing dimension refers to KSAOs for conscientiousness, loyalty and integrity. Finally, the creating and conceptualizing dimension includes KSAOs for a learning orientation, independence and creativity.

Whereas Krumm and Hertel’s (2013) framework is of specific competences for virtual teamwork, Orvis and Zaccaro (2008) provided a more general approach which describes a process for identifying and distributing competences across a virtual team. Using Cannon-Bowers and colleagues’ (1995) taxonomy, they first emphasized the importance of maximizing generic task and team competences in team members, as these competences apply to all teams, virtual included. With regard to generic task work KSAOs, all team members should possess an appropriate level of technical skill relevant to their job or profession. As an example, all members of a software development team should have a minimum level of competence in computer coding. Generic teamwork skills are similar to the domains proposed by Stevens and Campion (1994), referring to KSAOs for collaboration, communication, dependability and generic leadership expertise. Once the generic competences are identified, then task- and team-specific competences should be identified and weighted to create the right mix of competences in the team (Orvis & Zaccaro, 2008). In other words, Orvis and Zaccaro (2008) argued that generic competences provide a supplementary fit among team members, whereas specific competences provide a complementary fit among team members. Specific task work skills refer to the technical competences needed to perform a specific functional role, such as a training design team which requires both a content specialist and a computer programmer in order to create a completed product. Specific teamwork skills indicate competences required for working with a specific set of team members, such as knowledge of the preferences and skills of other team members (Orvis & Zaccaro, 2008).

The validity of virtual team KSAOs Much of the empirical evidence for the validity of virtual team KSAOs has been indirect. For example, comparisons of virtual and face-to- face teams have vindicated the assumption that virtual groups experience greater barriers to the development of trust (e.g., Wilson, Straus & McEvily, 2006). By implication, KSAOs that facilitate the development of team trust should be highly valued. This implication is supported by research showing that non-task communication occurs more frequently in productive virtual teams than in unproductive virtual teams (Hofner Saphiere, 1996). Further, team processes such as coordination and mutual support become more relevant as the dispersion of the team increases (Hoegl, Ernst & Proserpio, 2007). As team members become more disconnected they experience greater social instability (Siebdraht, Hoegl, & Ernst, 2009) and require greater effort to achieve the development and maintenance of team cohesion. Finally, asynchronous communications between team members appear to demand more proactivity in team members in the form of requesting the information they need (Munzer & Holmer, 2009). Generally speaking, these KSAOs are important in traditional teams, but researchers have suggested that they have greater importance in virtual teams.

However, validation studies on virtual team member KSAOs are few. In one of the rare direct assessments of virtual teamwork KSAOs, Hertel and colleagues developed a selfassessment inventory, the Virtual Team Competency Inventory (VTCI), to validate the competences they propose (Hertel et al., 2006). They found that member reports of loyalty and cooperativeness were robust predictors ofmanager ratings ofmember performance, but other KSAOs yielded only modest effects. When correlating aggregated (team-level) competence scores with team-level performance, however, the authors found stronger relationships. Most notably, evidence for supplementary fit was provided by conscientiousness, cooperativeness and creativity (Hertel et al., 2006). That is, minimum and average team scores positively correlated with team performance, whereas within-team variance in these competences were negatively associated with performance. These findings are similar to those found in traditional teams, as meta-analytic evidence also indicates that conscientiousness and agreeableness operate as supplementary traits within teams (e.g., Prewett, Walvoord, Stilson, Rossi & Brannick, 2009). Indeed, a primary conclusion from the authors of the VCTI is that traditional task work and teamwork KSAOs, such as those proposed by Stevens and Campion (1994), appear to be most relevant to virtual team member performance. However, Hertel and colleagues’ findings (2006) also support the assertion that creativity is demanded more commonly in virtual teams than in traditional teams.

A weakness of the VCTI is its reliance on self-reports of KSAOs. Perhaps alternative assessment methods (e.g., judgements from work samples, interviews or prior training and experiences) would provide a more accurate measurement of the proposed virtual team KSAOs. One must not only consider which KSAOs are relevant to the job, but also which assessment methods will best capture them. Thus, in the next section we turn to different assessment options for virtual team KSAOs.

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