Organisational work teams are increasingly becoming composed of geographically dispersed members communicating through a wide variety of communication technologies. Named virtual teams, these new organisational structures are growing at a fast rate. Due to the technologically mediated environment of virtual teams, numerous researchers have suggested that the psychological processes underlying communication and relationships within virtual teams differ from traditional face-to-face teams. However, there is little empirical examination to date of the socio-psychological mechanisms which lead to the success of virtual teams. In particular, there is a need for a greater understanding of the role that leadership has within creating effective virtual teams. To this end, this thesis examined the influence of transformational and transactional leadership behaviours on job performance and job satisfaction within virtual teams.
This research program used a combination of research methodologies across four separate studies. In Study 1, in-depth interviews were conducted with 15 experienced virtual team leaders to identify psychological determinants of job performance and job satisfaction. While numerous issues were identified, study 1 acknowledged five themes surrounding leadership effectiveness within virtual teams, namely: (a) communication, (b) technology, (c) trust, (d) leadership style and (e) virtuality. These five themes allowed for the development of a theoretical model of leadership effectiveness, which was empirically tested in Studies 2, 3 and 4.
Study 2 examined the effects of transformational and transactional leadership on role clarity and leader presence using a survey methodology with a sample of 157 employees from two organisations. Results showed that the relationship between transactional leadership and role clarity is more strongly related to role clarity than the relationship between transformational leadership and role clarity. Furthermore, it was identified that transformational leadership is more strongly related to leader presence than transactional leadership.
Study 3 extended the findings of Study 2 and examined the influence of transformational and transactional leadership on follower job satisfaction. A sample of 122 employees from a public sector organisation participated in an anonymous survey. Study 3 identified that follower job satisfaction was able to be developed in a virtual environment by transformational and transactional leaders. Study 3 highlighted the central importance of role clarity in mediating the relationship between transactional leadership and follower job satisfaction and the importance of leader presence in mediating the relationship between transformational leadership and job satisfaction.
Study 4 replicated and extended the findings of Studies 1, 2, and 3 by testing the mediating roles of role clarity, follower trust and leader presence on both job satisfaction and performance. Study 4 demonstrated that role clarity mediates the relationship between transformational and transactional leadership on job performance. Transactional leaders were able to directly increase follower role clarity. In contrast, transformational leaders were able to develop increased follower role clarity only when the leader was considered by followers to be virtually present and had developed greater follower trust. Both role clarity and leader presence increased follower job satisfaction. Follower trust was also shown to increase job performance. In addition, Study 4 examined the moderating role of virtuality and identified that increased cultural diversity within virtual teams impacted on the relationship between transformational leadership and follower trust as well as between transactional leadership and role clarity. While virtual team leaders with high levels of transformational leadership were able to develop higher follower trust with both low and high culturally diverse teams, those with low levels of transformational leadership experienced greater difficulty in developing high follower trust in teams with lower cultural diversity. In regards to transactional leadership, leaders exhibiting low levels of transactional leadership behaviours had greater difficulty facilitating follower role clarity than did leaders with higher levels of transactional leadership behaviours. Furthermore, in teams with higher cultural diversity, leaders with low levels of transactional leadership had greater difficulty in developing follower role clarity than when cultural diversity was low. This was in contrast to leaders with higher levels of transactional leadership behaviours who were able to develop follower role clarity, irrespective of the levels of cultural diversity within the team.
This thesis makes several contributions to our understanding of leadership within virtual teams. First, it demonstrates the importance of both transformational and transactional leadership in developing follower job performance and satisfaction within virtual teams. This is in contrast to many leadership studies examining face-to-face teams, which typically disregard the importance of transactional leadership. Second, it demonstrates the importance of considering mediators such as role clarity, follower trust and leader presence. Third, all four studies utilised samples from existing virtual teams, increasing the external validity of the findings. The limited previous research on leadership within virtual teams has relied on ad hoc groups, limited to student samples. Fourth, this thesis demonstrates the importance of virtuality within virtual teams and in particular, ensuring that not all virtual teams are classified alike in future empirical studies. In doing so, to the best of my knowledge, Study 4 is the first empirical examination of the cultural diversity dimension of virtuality within existing virtual teams. Overall, the four studies provide collective evidence that the dynamics of virtual teams differ from co-located face-to-face teams. The thesis demonstrates to leaders the importance of three central mediators in developing follower job performance and satisfaction. Theoretical implications in reference to leadership research in organisations and practical implications for facilitating virtual team effectiveness are discussed.