Defining Theoretical Perspective
It is critical that a doctoral student design and understand research in the context of a theoretical perspective. This perspective guides the researcher in “selecting an appropriate research approach, reviewing the literature to position the proposed study within the existing literature, and deciding on whether to use a theory in the study” (Creswell, 2013, p. 1).
The researcher must first decide whether to conduct a quantitative or a qualitative research design for a dissertation. This decision will impact the framework and perspective employed by the researcher. Creswell (2013) defines defined quantitative research as “an approach for testing objective theories by examining the relationship among variables. These variables, in turn, can be measured, typically on instruments, so that numbered data can be analyzed using statistical procedures” (p. 4). The details of this proposed study are laid and nested within the theoretical framework of quantitative methodology.
Identifying a Theoretical Framework
A theoretical framework is used in either developing a new theory or expanding on a current theory (Corley, 2011), as opposed to a conceptual framework which is used in solving a practical problem (Rocco, 2009). In these early stages of my ownresearch, a theoretical as opposed to a conceptual framework takes shape, as the objective at this point is to expand on current research and theory rather than to solve a practical problem.
In the field of e-leadership, existing research has both developed objective theories as well as identified gaps in the research which leave new areas of research to be explored and developed. Creswell (2013) says of those individuals who engage in quantitative research that they “have assumptions about testing theories deductively, building in protections against bias, controlling for alternative explanations, and being able to generalize and replicate the findings” (p. 4).
Thus, according to Creswell, one of the most important elements of theoretical perspective in quantitative research is testing theories by collecting and examining data. This data, once examined, will then lead the researcher to develop a new, objective theory within the field which can be replicated in a variety of settings.
Theoretical Perspective of E-leadership
E-leadership is an academic field of study that has emerged since the turn of the millennium (Savolainen, 2014) which involves organizational leadership of highly technological structures stretched over different cultures and geographic regions (Avolio, 2014). These widely dispersed organizational structures have led to the advent and implementation of virtual teams (Lilian, 2014). With this growing organizational structure of dispersed virtual team members comes new, unique, and difficult leadership challenges which must be addressed by the e-leader (Hoch and Kozlowski, 2016).
Liao (2017) defined virtual teams as “a collection of individuals who work on tasks that share varying degrees of interdependence and mutual accountability to accomplish a common goal” (p. 651). While virtual teams are dynamic and take many forms, research has highlighted several commons factors which impact how these teams should be led. For example, Cheshin et al. (2013) found that most teams are partially, rather than exclusively, virtual. In studying the nature of dispersion amongst virtual teams, Krumm et al. (2013) identified cultural dispersion as the most common dimension of virtual teams. The organizational e-leader, then, is likely to lead a culturally diverse, partially virtual team.
In their study of virtual teams, Gilson et al. (2015) identified leadership as one of the most pressing themes in research on virtual teams and considered e-leadership of virtual teams an opportunity for future research. Hill & Bartol (2016) found that effective e-leadership of virtual teams empowers team members by providing collaboration between e-leader and team member as well as collaboration between fellow team members. Hill & Bartol (2016) also found that virtual collaboration contributes to team performance, and that team performance is also enhanced when e-leaders interact with individual team members. Writing about collaboration between e-leader and virtual team members, Liao (2017) notes that current literature does not address the process by which the e-leader interacts with individual virtual team members in a way that builds and maintains relationships.
Research Contributions in this Theoretical Perspective
The unique problem which will be addressed in this theoretical perspective is: given the cultural (Krumm et al., 2013) and geographic (Avolio, 2014) dispersion of virtual teams and the accompanying technological and organizational leadership challenges (Lilian, 2014), what are the effects of periodic personal interaction by the e-leader with individual virtual team members on overall team cohesion and performance? This perspective will examine three types of personal interaction between e-leader and virtual team members – face-to-face meetings, professional development, and individual coaching sessions – and their impact on team cohesion and performance. This study builds upon and develops current literature, specifically Hill & Bartol (2016) and their conclusion that team performance is enhanced further when e-leaders interact with individual team members. This study also addresses gaps in the existing literature regarding leadership of virtual teams (Gilson et al., 2015) and how e-leaders can positively develop and maintain relationship with individual virtual team members (Liao, 2017).
Purpose of Theoretical Perspective in Research
The purpose of this study is to examine three types of e-leader/individual virtual team member interaction and the effect of each on virtual team cohesion and performance. By studying the interactions of face-to-face meetings, professional development, and individual coaching sessions between the e-leader and individual virtual team members, this study purposes to provide e-leaders with research to positively improve their virtual team performance and cohesion between leader and member as well as amongst team members.
Research Questions & Hypotheses
To adequately address the research problem and fulfill the research purpose, the following research questions are posed and answered throughout this study:
1. How do face-to-face meetings between e-leader and individual virtual team members correlate to an increase in team member interactions?
2. What are the effects of professional development sessions between e-leader and individual virtual team members on team performance?
3. In what ways do individual coaching sessions between e-leader and individual team members correlate to improved team performance?
In formulating hypotheses for these research questions, existing literature provided some clues as to what this study may conclude. Hill & Bartol (2016) concluded that team performance is enhanced further when e-leaders interact with individual team members and empower them to grow and succeed. Liao (2017) likewise concluded that e-leadership is complex and requires additional effort from leaders to achieve results from team members. Based on those conclusions and results, the hypothesis is that each of these three efforts by the e-leader (face-to-face meetings, professional development, and individual coaching sessions) will positively contribute to team cohesion and performance. Furthermore, the researcher predicts that both individual coaching sessions and professional development will yield greater results in team cohesion and performance than face-to-face meetings. This hypothesis is based in part on the work of Hoch & Kozlowski (2016) who concluded that direct relationships between leader and team member positively contribute to team performance. An additional hypothesis of the researcher is that these direct interactions, which have a specific goal of empowering team members with coaching and professional development from the e-leader, will demonstrate a greater return in cohesion and productivity than the more ambiguous agenda of face-to-face meetings.
Methodology & Design within the Theoretical Perspective
Participants in this experimental study are employees of a multi-billion dollar diversified financial services company. The population sample for this study are twenty-five members of a regionally distributed virtual team working under one regional manager. For the purposes of this study, this regional manager will be identified and referred to as the e-leader. These virtual team members are dispersed over a ten-state area and their regular interaction includes a weekly video-conference virtual meeting and a monthly physical meeting with the e-leader. The weekly virtual meetings last approximately two hours and the monthly physical meetings last two business days. The purpose of these meetings is to discuss sales numbers and targets from the individual virtual team members to the e-leader and guidance and direction from the e-leader to the individual virtual team members. Prior to this research study, there were no regular individual interactions between e-leader and individual virtual team members. The only individual interactions that occurred resulted from either disciplinary action needing to be taken or merit-based awards or promotions being received by team members. The introduction of a new variable of individual meetings between e-leader and team members into routine business life will provide the basis for the research design in this theoretical perspective.
This research design is not intended to discover the motivations, emotions, and psychological rationale behind behavioral change but simply to track whether behavioral change results from individual interactions between e-leader and virtual team members. Mertens (2015) noted that qualitative research utilizes the researcher as the primary means of data collection, whereas quantitative methodology utilizes other means (survey, interview, questionnaire) for data collection. As this research study will utilize questionnaires from the researcher to the respondents for reporting behavioral change in sales data and personal interactions with fellow team members, the study, including the methodology and design, is quantitative in nature.
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NG, LR, NCU, USAR
My collection of personal papers written over the years