factors of social influence in virtual multicultural teams
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Factors of Social Influence in Virtual Multicultural Teams. Iris Fischlmayr, Assistant professor Johannes Kepler University, Linz, Austria [email protected] Satu Lähteenmäki, Professor Turku School of Economics, Turku, Finland [email protected] Eeli Saarinen, Researcher

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factors of social influence in virtual multicultural teams

Factors of Social Influence in Virtual Multicultural Teams

Iris Fischlmayr, Assistant professor

Johannes Kepler University, Linz, Austria

[email protected]

Satu Lähteenmäki, Professor

Turku School of Economics, Turku, Finland

[email protected]

Eeli Saarinen, Researcher

Turku School of Economics, Turku, Finland

[email protected]

Timo Lainema, Professor (acting)

Turku School of Economics, Turku, Finland

[email protected]

IAREP/SABE 2008 – Conference

2008, Sept. 3rd – 6th, Rome

why this topic
  • Virtual Teams are a common and increasing form of collaboration in our modern world
  • A lot of research has been done on social influence in traditional teams – but are the findings also applicable to virtual ones?
  • There is already some research on social influences on virtual teams but still little on group processes
  • Research on VTs is focused to trust, conflict

management and inter-personal processes – only little on social integration and group relations

virtual team adapted from lipnack snell 2000
VIRTUAL TEAM (adapted from Lipnack & Snell, 2000)
  • = a group of knowledge workers who are
  • geographically and/or organizationally,
  • but many times also temporally dispersed and brought together
  • across time and space by the help of ICT
  • to work together on important tasks
  • while physically remaining apart.
  • All the networking (i.e. communicating, gathering and sharing information, collaborating and making decisions) primarily takes place without face-to-face contact of the team members
results related to group processes in virtual teams vts are conflicting
Results related to Group Processes in Virtual Teams (VTs) are conflicting
  • Commitment and feeling of belongingness in VTs lower than in traditional teams (~ sign of lower group cohesion)


  • VTs reach high quality decisions
    • due to being more creative
    • and having more ideas and solutions
  • VTs are more satisfied with their outcome
suggested explanations refer to the different nature of vts
Suggested explanations refer to the different nature of VTs
  • Higher and more open-minded participation in the communication process
  • Less process losses in the communication process due to computer-mediated communication
  • No symbols of power => more equal possibilities to


  • Task-focus rather than internal relations
  • Tendency to take higher risks due to lower commitment
  • Lack of social loafing due to lack of social pressure
  • Experts with willingness for e-collaboration and independence
social influence
Social Influence

… process of changing the thinking and behavior of other individuals


- Do members of one team tend to have similar attitudes and behavior?

- How do single persons succeed in convincing a whole group?

- Why are individuals who do not behave according to group norms rejected by their team mates?

main factors of social influence
Main Factors of Social Influence
  • Normalization: change of individual behavior that leads to change of others´ behavior => creates norms
  • Majority Influence / Conformity: team members behave according to norms and rules in order not to break ranks. Conformity is integration in a group, different opinion means being an outsider
  • Minority Influence: single persons influence a group by constantly emphasizing a different opinion than the others
  • Groupthink: conformity and group cohesion end up in consentaneity (“Groupthink”)
research questions
  • Can better performance of VTs be explained by social influence?
  • Are the processes of social influence identified in traditional teams applicable to virtual teams?
  • What role do normalization, majority/minority influence, conformity and groupthink play on differences noticed in virtual team performance?
data gathering
Data Gathering
  • Experimental design
  • Virtual and face-to-face teams
  • Business students in Linz and Turku
  • Business simulation game (RealGame™)
  • Multicultural composition
  • Negotiation and decision making
  • CEOs – subcontractors – producers
  • Communication via Skype, e-mail, face-to-face if possible
  • RealGame™- Training session - RealGame™
  • Data
  • Observation during the game
  • Diary kept during the game
  • Reflective essays written after the game
reflective essays and analysis
Reflective Essays and Analysis
  • Reflective Essays
  • Reflexion about experiences, learnings, critical incidents
  • Issues covered, among others, group processes, decision making, power distribution, group cohesion
  • 3-5 pages
  • Approx. 60 teams and more than 400 essays
  • Grounded theorymethod
  • Line-by-line coding of reflective essays
  • Meanings, explanations, situational and contextual factors
  • Focus on critical incidents
  • => Finding out more about social factors influencing team work “directly in the field”
first results 1
First Results (1)

Subgroups of VT‘s (i.e. on-site teams sitting at one location, possibilty of making face-to-face contact)

  • Striving for establishment of norms (structuring of tasks) – but norms were not valid in main team
  • Tried to conform in decision making and power- related questions
  • Majority influence and striving for conformity (e.g. single opinions have been adapted during the process, no nomination of a leader)
  • Influenced by virtual working environment as by adopting working norms from teams working on a virtual basis
first results 2
First Results (2)
  • Virtual Teams
  • Avoiding conflict as main aim => normalization as a consequence
  • More tolerance for different opinions and working habits
  • Strive for conformity (external adaptation – internalization?)
  • Refrained themselves from steep opinions in order to enhance team cohesion
  • Divided groupthink (no „we“ and „us“ for talking about team but „we“ and „they“, divided by geographical location)
  • Lower group cohesion than subgroups due to limited and irregular (resp. asynchronous) contact
discussion 1
Discussion (1)
  • High group cohesion among subteams, low (but still existing) cohesion in virtual team
  • No social loafing
  • Groupthink above all observable in subgroups, not in virtual teams
  • Majority or minority influence did not occur
  • Normalization and strive for conformity could be stated
  • High tolerance for diversity / status differences in VTs

(national culture, organizational culture, language) BUT

still striving for conformity (at least at the surface)

    • Do status differences vanish in VTs?
  • Social influence is occuring in a weakened form only
    • Do VTs have less process losses and thus, better performance?