Identification and conflict in virtual teams : a social identity approach
Au, Yee Wei
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Globalisation and the use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) have extended the capabilities of organisations to alter their team based structures from traditional to virtual settings. The use of virtual teams has increased rapidly worldwide because such teams allow geographically dispersed people with common goals to perform interdependent tasks via the use of ICTs. Virtual teams may experience high levels of conflict because they work across organisational, geographical, cultural and time boundaries. The identification of individual members with their team has been linked to lower levels of conflict and an increase in behaviours that are congruent with virtual team identity. Past research has shown that the conflict-reducing effect which results from team identification is important in virtual settings. Yet there is relatively little empirical research that investigates conflict within virtual teams in terms of identification. The current research thus aims to examine how the impacts of the development of identity influence the emergence and resolution of conflict within virtual teams. It examines first the process and determinants of identification in the teams and secondly, the effect of self-enhancement strategies on virtual team members’ inter-group and conflict handling behaviour. A combination of a critical view on Social Identity Theory (SIT) and a qualitative case study methodology was utilised in comprehending the cognitive processes of identification, its sources of motivation, and employees’ inter-group relations within virtual teams. An empirical study of seven virtual teams drawn from four companies was undertaken. This study extends SIT into virtual settings. It suggests that examining identification processes in virtual teams provides an understanding of the inter-group relations in such teams. The findings reveal that employees’ intrinsic needs drive their identification with a particular virtual team and the fulfilment of such needs is influenced by the team’s contextual and situational factors. Additionally, the identification processes have an impact on the team members’ inter-group and conflict handling behaviour. This study contributes to SIT by drawing attention to directions for growth of contextual and longitudinal dimensions in research which examines the identification process and conflict of virtual teams.