Technology is changing everything about the world in which we live and work, including leadership itself. This influence of technology on leadership is known as e-leadership (Savolainen, 2014). E-leadership is organizational leadership of highly technological structures stretched over different cultures and geographic regions (Avolio, 2014). While e-leadership is a growing and diverse field, one specific area of e-leadership involves leading virtual teams (Lilian, 2014). These widely dispersed organizational structures 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 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” (2017, p. 651). While virtual teams are dynamic and take many forms, research has highlighted several common factors which impact how these teams should be led. A literature review of the research details numerous conclusions regarding the implementation and effectiveness of virtual teams. However, despite the recent findings, gaps still exist in the literature regarding e-leadership of widely dispersed and culturally diverse virtual teams (Alaiad, 2019; Gilson et al, 2015; Gross, 2018; Liao, 2017).
Statement of the Problem
Technology has become integrated into the workplace to such a degree that it has impacted every level of human relationship and interaction. Military, health care, transportation, government, small businesses, and major corporations have all become dependent on technology in their daily operations (Akçura & Avci, 2014). Despite the growing influence of technology in the workplace, little thought is often given to how these new technologies impact the human agents and human relationships within the organization (Turner, 2019). While technological advancements have created the ability for organizations to accomplish tasks more efficiently, they have also radically altered the human composition of the workplace. Team members who once shared office space and experienced regular, physical human interaction are now both culturally and geographically dispersed, and most interaction between members is virtual (Krumm et al., 2013; Avolio, 2014). These rapid changes have created new, unique, and difficult challenges for the modern organizational leader.
The general problem is that the increasing influence of technology in the workplace has the effect of altering human relationships and interactions in the workforce. The specific problem is the need to discover how twenty-eight District Superintendents of a Protestant, evangelical Christian denomination spread out across the United States can lead human agents effectively with increasing reliance on technology in executing the leadership role. Scholars have noted the need for additional research on leading virtual teams (Gilson et al., 2015; Mclarnon, 2019; Nordbäck & Espinosa, 2019; Gross, 2018; Alaiad, 2019) and on discovering ways e-leaders can positively develop and maintain relationship with individual virtual team members (Liao, 2017; Hill & Bartol, 2016).
Purpose of the Study
The purpose of this quantitative, correlational research will be to test the theory of adaptive structuration theory that relates the impact of technological mediums to three key functions of leadership (accountability, communication, and trust-building) for twenty-eight District Superintendents of a Protestant, evangelical Christian denomination spread out across the United States.
The independent variable will be defined as the technological mediums utilized by the District Superintendents in executing their leadership roles. These variables include telephone, e-mail, texting, and video conferencing. The dependent variables will be defined as the three key leadership functions of accountability, communication, and trust-building.
This quantitative study contributes to the theory of adaptive structuration theory by exploring the relationship between the independent variables of technological mediums and the dependent variables of accountability, communication, and trust-building. These relationships will be explored by interviewing twenty-eight District Superintendents of a Protestant, evangelical denomination spread across the United States. Each of these District Superintendent’s leads a virtual team of varying sizes and levels of cultural diversity. These District Superintendents are identified as the participants in this correlational study. Data will be collected in the form of twelve survey questions with answers are recorded on an ordinal scale.
To adequately address the research problem and fulfill the research purpose, three research questions are posed and answered throughout this study. These questions are designed to contribute to the theory of adaptive structuration theory by allowing me to analyze organizational changes that result from implementing and utilizing innovative technologies in the workplace (Turner, 2019).
How does the utilization of technology impact the ability of the e-leader to hold virtual team members accountable to organizational standards?
Q2. How does the utilization of technological communication mediums (telephone calls, e-mail, texting, and video conferencing) impact the quality of communication between e-leader and virtual team members?
Q3. How does the utilization of technology impact trust-building between e-leader and virtual team members?
The null and alternative hypotheses associated with the research questions are:
H10. The utilization of technology has no relationship to the e-leader’s ability to hold virtual team members accountable to organizational standards.
H1a. There is a relationship between the utilization of technology and the e-leader’s ability to hold virtual team members accountable to organizational standards.
H20. The utilization of technological communication mediums (telephone calls, e-mail, texting, and video conferencing) has no relationship to the quality of communication between e-leader and virtual team members.
H2a. There is a relationship between the utilization of technological communication modes (telephone calls, e-mail, texting, and video conferencing) and the quality of communication between e-leader and virtual team members.
H30. The utilization of technology has no relationship to trust-building between e-leader and virtual team members.
H3a. There is a relationship between the utilization of technology and trust-building between e-leader and virtual team members.
Brief Review of the Literature
Liao 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” (2017, 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 and communication 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. Mclarnon (2019) noted that regular communication between e-leader and virtual team members improves performance. Similarly, Nordbäck & Espinosa (2019) noted that well-coordinated, shared leadership of virtual teams contributes to positive performance. Gross (2018) noted that different leadership styles contribute to different and unique elements of virtual team success, while also recommending additional research on leadership at the individual team member level. Additionally, Alaiad (2019) studied ten years of recent research about virtual teams, noting that much research on the subject is unintegrated and recommended that further research needs to be conducted outside the university setting. Ferrell (2016) noted that the subject of leadership is one of the few topics which maintains the same degree of relevance today as it did in ancient times. Ferrell (2016) also noted that the subject of leadership continues to receive extraordinary attention both in academia and society in general. More specifically, Gilson et al. (2015) noted that one of the greatest needs for research within the realm of leadership is e-leadership – where leadership and technology intersect.
This quantitative, correlational study will utilize surveys sent to twenty-eight survey respondents. The data from these surveys will then be synthesized and analyzed to draw quantitatively meaningful conclusions which provide answers to my three research questions. These surveys will be distributed online and the survey respondents will be provided a link which will take them to the appropriate web address for completing the survey. Once all surveys are submitted and data analysis is complete, each respondent will be provided with the results of the survey.
The population sample for this study are twenty-eight District Superintendents who each lead widely dispersed virtual teams within a defined geographic area. For the purposes of this study, these District Superintendents will be identified and referred to as the e-leaders. Due to the geographic and financial constraints present, each of these District Superintendents is forced to utilize technological communication mediums of telephone calls, texting, e-mails, and video conferencing with members of their virtual teams. They are forced to regularly exercise leadership over their team members without regular, physical, face-to-face interaction.
In this quantitative, correlational study the researcher will survey each of the twenty-eight District Superintendents. Each District Superintendent maintains an office with a small staff, including an Administrative Assistant. I will contact each District Superintendent’s Administrative Assistant and ensure that each District Superintendent receives and completes the survey. Each survey will consist of twelve questions on an ordinal scale to each of the twenty-eight participants. For each of the three research questions, there are four survey questions to gather information related to that research point. Data collected from the surveys will then undergo statistical analysis to determine the nature of the relationship between the dependent and independent variables.
This method of data collection by completing surveys was chosen because it provides ordinal data for quantitative statistical analysis which aligns with addressing the research problem and fulfilling the research purpose. The quantitative method is appropriate for this study because I am exploring the correlation between two variables and the responses of the participants regarding these relationships can be quantified (Creswell, 2013). Additionally, completing surveys is the most common data collection methodology employed in quantitative research and provides quantitative data to test the theory of adaptive structuration theory. (Creswell, 2013) ; (Turner, 2019).
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