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 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).

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Managerial Implications

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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Conclusion

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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