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 are conflictingdifferent 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 are conflicting

… 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 are conflicting

  • 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
RESEARCH QUESTIONS are conflicting

  • 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 are conflicting

  • 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 are conflicting

  • 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) are conflicting

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) are conflicting

  • 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 are conflicting (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

Conclusion are conflicting

  • 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?