Conflict and virtual teams

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Book Chapter

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Is conflict different within virtual teams? Are there unique communication skills for the perception and subsequent management of conflict in virtual teams? By their nature, teams who are virtual - whose members are not all in the same location - are likely to face challenges in their dynamics and in the perception and management of any ensuing conflict. The role of communication in conflict perception and management is critical not only because how a teamcommunicates is a major factor that distinguishes more virtual teams from their less virtual counterparts, but also because skill in face-to-face communication and conflict management does not necessarily map on to skill in virtual communication and the (virtual) management of conflict.

While communication methods vary dramatically in virtual teams, communication technologies are part of the enabling force behind the existence of many virtual teams. Janine Kilty, Director Worldwide Human Resources and Vice President, Health Imaging at Eastman Kodak, reports that she sometimes spends an entire day in one conference call. Kilty has found that such lengthy interactions without face-to-face contact have required that she “re-learn” how to communicate effectively, and master the recognition of auditory, rather than visual interaction cues. In general, members of distributed teams may use synchronous and/or asynchronous communication technologies (e.g., phone and electronic mail), and the technology may vary on how able it is to document the communication. “Media effects” is a phrase used to describe all the outcomes that result from the use of a particular communication medium. However, it is critical to keep in mind that few (if any) media effects are deterministic. Rather, the effects noted for a particular medium are generally a combination of the technological capabilities of the medium, combined with how well the medium is understood, and finally, how it is actually used in the group (e.g., DeSanctis, Poole, & Dickson, 2000).

Chapter of

Virtual teams that work


Cristina B. Gibson
Susan G. Cohen

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