Interpersonal relationships in transnational, virtual teams - towards a configurational perspective
2012-06-01T13:06:44Z (GMT) by
This article uses a literature review to develop a configurational analysis of interpersonal relationships in transnational teams (TNTs). The configurational approach posits that organisational reality cannot be explained by uni-directional, causal relationships between isolated variables, but only in terms of variable configurations, i.e. „multidimensional constellations of conceptually distinct characteristics that commonly occur together‟ (Meyer et al. 1993, p. 1175). The effect of single variables is seen to depend on their interaction with the multitude of other variables in a configuration. TNTs are defined as groups composed of members of different nationalities, who work on a common task. Previous research on TNTs has observed that strong interpersonal relationships are especially important for the functioning of these teams, but are at the same time particularly hard to achieve. Moreover, many studies have singled out particular processes that will here be termed „aspects‟ of relationships. This article firstly integrates the transnational and virtual team literature to provide an overview of examined relationship aspects. The article identifies cognitive relationship aspects, which encompass team identity, subgroup formation, shared understanding, and trust. Communication, knowledge creation, and conflicts are described as behavioural aspects, and interpersonal affect is identified as an affective relationship aspect. These relationship aspects are regarded as elements of complex relationship configurations. The paper therefore describes the influence of each of these aspects on other relationship aspects, thereby demonstrating complex interconnections between relationship aspects. This provides a first step towards a configurational analysis. The paper further reviews how several characteristics of the team structure, organisational context, and socio-political environment may facilitate or inhibit several relationship aspects. Special emphasis is placed on the influence of cultural diversity and virtuality as the two factors that are characteristic of TNTs, and which have also been discussed most frequently in the literature. Through a synthesis of previous research, the article then provides an overview of suggested mutual influences between relationship aspects. This leads to a suggestion of two examples of relationship configurations and their driving factors. These configurations are characterised by the orchestrating themes of „commitment and tight coupling‟ and „commitment and loose coupling‟, respectively. The paper concludes by recommending methods for future empirical research on relationship configurations in TNTs. It argues that a broad range of relationship aspects needs to be included in such research, to examine relationships across a number of different team structures and organisational contexts, and in different socio-political environments. In-depth, qualitative case research is the most suitable for exploring this complex social phenomenon.