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For today’s Matrix Monday review of literature relevant to the matrix, Kevan Hall looks today at “Leadership effectiveness in global virtual teams” by Kayworth and Leidner.

This comprehensive paper studies 13 culturally diverse global teams from locations in Mexico, Europe and USA. It finds that leaders in these dispersed teams have to display a range of leadership behaviours that are sometimes contradictory. They have to be empathetic mentors at times, at other times they must assert their authority without being seen as overbearing; and they have to provide clear and detailed communication and articulate role relationships among the global virtual team members.

The paper summarises the research available at the time into virtual team challenges in four main areas: communications, culture, logistics and technology.

It makes the interesting point that as communication in global virtual teams tends to be asynchronous (people are not communicating a the same time), in this environment messages tend to be more detailed and crafted. Add  to this the greater cultural diversity of teams, and you see an increased information processing burden on individuals. It takes longer to send and understand information.

A higher use of communications technology also puts a higher requirement on global virtual team members to learn  new technologies and incorporate them into their way of working. Some individuals are more proficient and willing to do this than others.

The paper discusses ‘behavioural complexity theory’ which proposes that leaders need to be able to display a range of different, and sometimes contradictory, behaviours to cope with a complex set of situations. This appeals to me more than simplistic theories that propose a list of behaviours and criteria that always define successful leaders: I don’t see a ‘one size fits all’ set of global leadership capabilities.

In the study, successful leaders were found to be both task and relationship oriented. They were able to be close and personal but also maintain distance and authority when needed.

The study identified a greater need in virtual teams for emphasis on establishing communication and an effective social climate (relative to leadership of face to face teams).

Effective leaders showed a wider repertoire of techniques (behavioural complexity) despite having to apply the behaviours in more limited contexts (less face to face, mentoring or modelling time/opportunity than in simpler, face to face teams)

Source: Leadership Effectiveness in Global Virtual Teams,  TIMOTHY R. KAYWORTH AND DOROTHY E. LEIDNER, Journal of Management Information Systems ,Winter 2001–2002, Vol. 18, No. 3, pp. 7–40

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About the author:

Kevan Hall Kevan Hall is a CEO, author, speaker and trainer in matrix management, virtual teams and global working. He is the author of "Speed Lead - faster, simpler ways to manage people, projects and teams in complex companies, "Making the Matrix work - how matrix managers engage people and cut through complexity", and the "Life in a Matrix" podcasts, videos, cartoons and blog. He is CEO and founder of Global Integration. Company profile: .

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