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Communication Differences in Virtual Design Teams: Findings from a Multi-Method Analysis of High and Low Performing Experimental Teams


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Title: Communication Differences in Virtual Design Teams: Findings from a Multi-Method Analysis of High and Low Performing Experimental Teams

Communication Differences in Virtual Design
TeamsFindings from a Multi-Method Analysis of
High and Low Performing Experimental Teams
  • Rosalie J. Ocker
  • College of Information Sciences and Technology
  • Pennsylvania State University
  • Jerry Fjermestad
  • School of Management
  • New Jersey Institute of Technology
  • Accepted for Publication in
  • Data Base for the Advances in Information Systems

Requirements determination is a collaborative
  • Involving the interaction of analysts with the
    development team
  • For the purposes of acquiring, sharing, and
    integrating knowledge
  • To develop a mutual shared understanding of the
    software goals

Research Motivation
  • Software that fails to meet user requirements is
    a serious problem
  • Competitive pressure requires more creative and
    innovative software
  • Time pressure requires shorter development cycles

Research Question
  • Are high performing virtual design teams
    distinguishable from low performing virtual
    design teams in terms of the content of
    task-related communication?

Relationship between Team Climate for
Innovationand Design Team Performance
Relationship between a Team Climate of Support
and Performance Creativity
Climate of Support
Increased Supportive Feedback
Increased communication
Cross- fertilization of ideas
Increased creativity of team performance
Relationship between a Team Climate of
Excellence and Performance Quality
Climate of Excellence
Increased critical debate
Flawed ideas rejected
Increased quality of team performance
Tolerance for diversity
Research Model
  • Computerized Post Office (CPO)
  • groups develop initial high-level requirements
    for the CPO
  • submit requirements in the form of a report
  • report on functionality of CPO and
  • the interface
  • one group one report

Subjects Groups
  • Subjects graduate students in the CIS and IS
    majors at Eastern Universities
  • Most subjects had coursework and/or job
    experience related to systems design
  • group size predominantly 4-5 subjects

Technology, Facilitation Training
  • computer-mediated groups used asynchronous
    computer conferencing system
  • Web-EIES each group had its own private
    conference for communication or FirstClass
  • all groups were minimally facilitated
  • provided technical assistance only
  • all groups had training session
  • all groups had a leader

Table 1. Comparison of Experiments A B
  Experiment A Experiment B
Communication condition Asynchronous Asynchronous
Length 14 days 17 days
Subjects graduate students from IS courses at University A graduate students from IS courses at University B
Computer conferencing system Web-EIES FirstClass
Training task Entertainment for Dutch Visitors Entertainment for Dutch Visitors
Training procedures detailed script of procedures developed and followed same script but with minor modifications to reflect difference in user interface
Experimental task Computerized Post Office Computerized Post Office
Experimental procedures detailed script of procedures developed and followed same script with minor modification to reflect 17 day experiment length
Rating of quality and creativity panel of judges panel of judges
Table 2. Coding Scheme
Code Explanation Example
Design Initial suggestion, idea or assumption pertaining to the functionality and services, user interface, advantages and disadvantages, and 5 year plan (see task description). Computerization should provide accessibility to existing communication procedures-including E-mail, EDI, and general document transfer over VANS
Coordination Any reference to project management (i.e., schedules, responsibilities, status of work), problem solving approach, or an individual's intentions Any ideas or comments you want included in Saturday's finished product please have transmitted to me by tomorrow at 600 PM. I'll check back later tonight to see how things are coming along.
Summary Summarizes or reviews prior discussions, debates or decisions. I've collected and listed all of the functions and services we have been discussing. They are
Debate Opposing argument or different perspective regarding an idea previously communicated includes reasons for disagreement I don't agree with e-mail as a part of our CPO service because everyone can send their e-mail using internet...
Supportive Agreeing with members' comments, positive feedback includes reasons for agreement I agree with Vineet, I think that we should locate this at all train stations along with the post offices.
Other Communication that does not fit into any other category  
Dependent Variables
  • Panel of Expert judges
  • Quality of report
  • Creativity of report
  • Quality Measure The quality of each team's CPO
    solution was
  • judged based on a consideration of the
  • functionality
  • interface layout
  • coherence of these ideas

Results of Initial Experiments
Results Creativity and Quality
Results Comparison of Combined vs. Asynchronous
Table 5A. Coding Results by Team (in words)
TEAM Design Coord. Summary Debate Supportive Other Total
1 (H) 2002 956 403 888 369 34 4652
2 (H) 1889 949 858 1960 520 328 6504
3 (H) 1397 2037 533 3622 231 111 7931
4 (H) 826 1012 428 759 322 42 3389

5 (L) 1656 744 209 344 335 75 3363
6 (L) 2940 626 0 505 289 13 4373
7 (L) 591 948 0 195 84 381 2199
8 (L) 1435 1092 120 319 131 14 3111
H- high performance, L low performance
Table 5B. Coding Results by Team (in
TEAM Design Coord. Summary Debate Supportive Other
1 (H) 0.43 0.21 0.09 0.19 0.08 0.09
2 (H) 0.29 0.15 0.13 0.30 0.08 0.13
3 (H) 0.18 0.26 0.07 0.46 0.03 0.04
4 (H) 0.24 0.30 0.13 0.22 0.10 0.11

5 (L) 0.49 0.22 0.06 0.10 0.10 0.12
6 (L) 0.67 0.14 0.00 0.12 0.07 0.07
7 (L) 0.27 0.43 0.00 0.09 0.04 0.21
8 (L) 0.46 0.35 0.04 0.10 0.04 0.05
Table 6. Team Communication Activity
TEAM Words Messages
1 (H) 4652 48
2 (H) 6504 59
3 (H) 7931 72
4 (H) 3389 29

5 (L) 3363 34
6 (L) 4373 44
7 (L) 2199 52
8 (L) 3111 32
Table 7. Mean and Std. Deviation for Team
Communication Activity
Performance Category N Mean Std. Dev.
Words High 4 5621.0 2004.23
Low 4 3261.5 893.92
Messages High 4 52.0 18.20
Low 4 40.5 9.29
Table 8. ANOVA Results for Team Communication
  Sum of Squares df F Sig.
Words Between Groups 11134481 1 4.64 0.08
  Within Groups 14448057 6    
Messages Between Groups 264.50 1 1.27 0.30
  Within Groups 1253.00 6    
Table 9A. Coding Mean and Standard Deviation
Code Category Performance Category N Mean Std. Dev.
Design High 4 1529 537
  Low 4 1655 972
Coord. High 4 1239 533
  Low 4 853 208
Summary High 4 556 209
  Low 4 82 102
Debate High 4 1807 1324
  Low 4 341 127
Supportive High 4 361 121
  Low 4 210 121
Other High 4 129 137
  Low 4 121 146
Table 9B. Coding Mean and Standard Deviation
Code Category Performance Category N Mean Std. Deviation
Design High 4 .2851 .1076
Low 4 .4737 .1653
Coordination High 4 .2267 .6600
Low 4 .2866 .1290
Summary High 4 .1030 .3120
Low 4 .0252 .3060
Debate High 4 .2931 .1184
Low 4 .1022 .1100
Supportive High 4 .0708 .2870
Low 4 .0615 .2820
Other High 4 .0918 .3700
Low 4 .1123 .7330
Table 10A. Coding ANOVA Results (words)
  Sum of Squares df F Sig.
Design Between Groups 32258 1 0.05 0.83
Design Within Groups 3696682 6 0.05 0.83
Coord. Between Groups 297992 1 1.82 0.23
Coord. Within Groups 982076 6 1.82 0.23
Summary Between Groups 447931 1 16.53 0.01
Summary Within Groups 162546 6 16.53 0.01
Debate Between Groups 4301245 1 4.86 0.07
Debate Within Groups 5309104 6 4.86 0.07
Supportive Between Groups 45451 1 3.11 0.13
Supportive Within Groups 87748 6 3.11 0.13
Other Between Groups 128 1 0.005 0.95
Other Within Groups 149348 6 0.005 0.95
Table 10B. Coding ANOVA Results (proportions)
  Sum of Squares df Mean Square F Sig.
Design Between 0.071 1 0.071 3.659 0.10
Within 0.117 6 0.019
Coordination Between 0.007 1 0.007 0.685 0.44
Within 0.063 6 0.010
Summary Between 0.012 1 0.012 12.667 0.01
Within 0.006 6 0.001
Debate Between 0.073 1 0.073 10.309 0.02
Within 0.042 6 0.007
Supportive Between 0.000 1 0.000 0.214 0.66
Within 0.005 6 0.001
Other Between 0.001 1 0.001 0.247 0.64
Within 0.02 6 0.003
Table 11. Summary of Results
Category Relationship Significance
Communication Activity words High VDT gt Low VDT Marginal
  messages   non-sig.
Design words   non-sig.
  proportions High VDT lt Low VDT Marginal
Summaries words High VDT gt Low VDT Significant
  proportions High VDT gt Low VDT Significant
Coordination words   non-sig.
  proportions   non-sig.
Supportive words non-sig.
  proportions   non-sig.
Debate words High VDT gt Low VDT Marginal
proportions High VDT gt Low VDT Significant
Other words   non-sig.
  proportions   non-sig.
Findings from the Qualitative Analysis
  • Design
  • Compared to high performing VDTs, low performing
    VDTs spent more communication on idea generation.
  • Low VDTs neglected to build upon or question
    others ideas, instead opting to contribute by
    suggesting more ideas.
  • Thus, endless brainstorming where members worked
    in parallel on the same activity rather than as a
    team, each espousing his or her own ideas with
    little questioning of, or integration with, the
    ideas of others.
  • Brainstorming, while good for generating many
    ideas, precluded an in-depth interactive
    discussion or critique concerning the merits of
    the ideas being contributed.

Findings from the Qualitative Analysis
  • Debate
  • High performing virtual teams continually
    assessed their members contributions
  • Constructive conflict and deliberation was the
    norm as members actively participated in
    frequent, and often intense and direct debate of
    ideas and issues.
  • Critical examination resulted in the back and
    forth exchange of opposing ideas, which
    frequently spanned several or more days.
  • The critical argumentation of the high teams is
    in harsh disparity to the convergent behavior
    which was dominant in the low performing VDTs.

Findings from the Qualitative Analysis
  • Summarization By High Performing VDTs
  • Reviewing the knowledge repository created as a
    result of their electronic communication,
  • Summarizing content.
  • A leader sifted through the teams communications
    in order to summarize discussion content on a
    given topic.
  • The summaries provided a structuring mechanism
    that organized the teams work and
    progress-to-date on a topic.
  • The summaries also served to bring all members
    up-to-date and thus helped to keep a team on the
    same virtual page.

Findings from the Qualitative Analysis
  • Summarization Low Performance VDTs
  • Knowledge management activities were almost
    non-existent in the low performing teams.
  • Only one member summarized the teams discussion
    of functionality.
  • In the remaining teams, summary comments were
    either absent or only re-capped a single
    individuals input.
  • Since the means of communication was asynchronous
    and spanned two weeks, the content of design
    communications was often disjointed and lacking
    in coherence.
  • When it was time to produce the final report
    deliverable, the low performing teams were at a
    disadvantage as there were few summaries from
    which to directly draw report content.

Figure 5. Virtual Team Climate for Innovation
Decreased idea generation
Increased communication
Review communication repository
Increased critical debate
Summarize results of debates
Incorporate summaries into Final Deliverable
Cross-fertilization of ideas
Review and amend summaries
Conclusions Contributions
  • High Performance VDTs were effective in the
    absence of any technological support designed to
    aid knowledge management
  • The act of summarizing appeared quite effective.
  • By attending to the management of knowledge, by
    designating the role of knowledge manager within
    the team, may be a simple means of reaping the
    benefits of knowledge management without
    increasing the complexities of the communication

Communication and Leadership Differences in
Virtual Design Teams Why some teams do better
than others
  • Jerry Fjermestad
  • Rosalie J. Ocker
  • Journal of the Brazilian Computer Society, 3
    (13), 2007, 37-50

(No Transcript)
(No Transcript)
Table 5 T-test Results for Team Leaders Using
Ratio of Leaders Messages to that of the Team
Measure Mean High Performing Teams (Std) Mean Low Performing Teams (Std) t-statistic Effect Size Eta-Squared
Number of Messages 36.5 (9.5) 27.3 (19.4) Ns
Message length 43.3 (8.5) 22.3 (8.3) 7.1 0.89
Summary Messages Length (No.of Lines) 45.9 (42.6) 0 5.0 0.76
significant at a 0.001 t(6) a.001 where
t crit 5.2 significant at a 0.05 t(6)
a.05 where t crit 3.14
TheoryDistributed Cognition- Information
  • Group information processing is the degree to
    which information, ideas, or cognitive processes
    are shared
  • Information affects both individual and team
  • Distributed cognition-information processing
    theory further suggests that sharing relates to a
    process activity that takes place within team
    members working memory leading to a modification
    of shared knowledge.
  • In virtual teams the information is the messages
    and their content.
  • The sharing through distributed cognition is the
    assimilation, combining and understanding of the
    shared knowledge which leads to new knowledge or
    knowledge presented in a new way.

TheoryDistributed Cognition- Information
  • The distributed cognition theory provides a basic
    framework for how teams work.
  • Each team member brings to each activity a
    network of ideas representing the individuals
    prior knowledge that is relevant to the task.
  • As the activities continue members of the team
    share some of their ideas about the task and they
    process ideas shared by others.
  • As these and other activities proceed the team
    may construct artifacts (models, diagrams,
    reports) of their interaction and develop a
    shared understanding.
  • A leader (assigned or emergent) may monitor and
    comment on the teams performance further
    enabling the sharing of information.
  • Thus, the distributed cognition theory suggest
    that team performance is the interaction of team
    members ideas, the sharing and processing of
    these ideas, and a leader process of commenting
    and processing of the shared information.

  • High VDTs differed from their low VDTs in terms
    of number of messages, message length and in the
    content profile of those messages.
  • The high VDTs had significantly more messages,
    longer messages as measured by the number of
    lines) and had a higher message length per
    message than the low VDTs
  • The leaders of the high VDTs had more messages
    and longer messages than the leaders of the low
  • High VDTs communicated more regarding aspects of
    the design (especially functionality, interface
    design and implementation considerations).

  • High VDTs had more messages and message length
    focused on summarizing their work and discussing
    the write-up.
  • Simply put, it takes more effort to communicate
    more, especially in virtual space.
  • High VDTs not only communicated more, but they
    communicated regarding key design aspects of the
    CPO project.
  • Through their increased communication, it is not
    hard to conceive that they generated a greater
    number of high quality and creative ideas.

  • High VDTs spent time summarizing their work and
    sharing these summaries with their teammates.
  • This supports the distributed-cognition theory in
    that the summarization is the development of a
    shared understanding.
  • High and low teams did not differ with respect to
    the amount of messages concerning team management
    issues, the summaries served a coordination
    function by keeping members apprised of their
    teammates ideas and progress.
  • The summaries also appear to be a key when
    preparing the final design report.
  • The transcripts shows that much of the design
    reports came directly from the text of comments,
    many of which were summary comments.

  • It is the leaders in the high VDTs teams that do
    the summarization. In three of the four high
    VDTs this was the case. In the fourth team,
    another team member did the summarization and
    thus was an emergent leader.
  • In the low VDTs the leaders did not do any
    summarization at all.
  • It is plausible that this simple act of
    summarizing work, coupled with the not-so-simple
    act of putting forth more effort, were key
    aspects of the success of the high VDTs.
  • Effective teams have effective leaders who
    actively facilitate the sharing of specific
  • The research supports observations where the
    leaders of the more effective teams took on the
    role of monitor and producer
  • In this study the leaders are organizing the
    ideas about the functionality and design of the
    task for the rest of the team.
  • This summary then becomes the cornerstone of
    their final report.

  • There are indeed measurable differences (number
    of messages and message length) between high and
    low performing virtual teams.
  • The content of the communication is also
    different between high and low performing teams.
    The high performing teams communicate more on the
    task related issues (functionality, interface,
    and implementation as well as on summarizing
    their communications.
  • This study has shown it is the leaders who do
    much of the summarization and create the shared