Vast improvements in the world of technology have inevitably led to widespread global communication and cross-cultural interaction, particularly in the business field. In his work Group Dynamics for Teams, Daniel J. Levi discusses the increasing prevalence of goal-oriented task forces in the workplace – the team. He identifies the relationship between the organization and the team as one of relevant context and encouragement of collaboration toward communal success. Although slightly dated, an article from The Academy of Management Executive Journal, entitled “Virtual Teams: Technology and the workplace of the future”, takes this relationship a step further (Townsend, DeMarie, Hendrickson 1998). Describing “virtual teams” as linked mainly through advanced computer and information technologies, Townsend et al., sing the praises of a tool employed to link the best of the best, no matter their global location, together in an attempt to combat a progressively competitive marketplace: “the virtual team enables organizations to become more flexible by providing the impressive productivity of team-based designs in environments where teamwork would have once been impossible.” (Townsend et al., 1998) Virtual teams, it seems, will transcend space, time, and cultural discrepancies, leading to the result of an exponential increase in readily available knowledge, flexibility, and most importantly, productivity in “ a potent response” to the challenges of a lean, and mean, global market.
The view presented in “Virtual Teams”, while openly and incontrovertibly in support of the ascension of worldwide teamwork within the infrastructure of the modern organization, brings an interesting conflict to light. All value placed in social relationships and personal or communal growth ignited by routine human interaction and contact appears to be rapidly falling by the wayside. One of the key components of team success, as discussed by Levi, has to do with social relations between team members (Levi, 2007). Diversity habitually exists within a team with the best of intentions, and while at times, a wide variety of skills, experiences, and practices opens doors for creative problem solving techniques drawn from an abundantly stocked, and globally relevant arsenal of knowledge, piecing teams together with members belonging to, and living by, unique sets of sometimes adverse cultural norms and expectations, creates a significant possibility for debilitating conflict. Much data exists supporting the heightened success of individuals working in a team environment towards a single, established goal as opposed to working alone (Levi 2007). However, what if certain actions or reactions over the course of member interaction, when translated solely into the black and white speech of machines, come out with a different meaning on the other side?
Each individual, no matter his or her particular skill set or role within the team, will act and adhere to his or her respective cultural norms/expectations by which they are governed, whether consciously or not, simply as a result of belonging to that socially constructed group. As interactions and relationships between members of a team are of the utmost importance to overall success, the possibilities for the deterioration of a group in the completely computer-based environment of the virtual team also seems too great to overlook. Yes, with every team or group, no matter the geographic proximity of its members, conflict must be overcome in order to succeed. The depth to which certain ingrained aspects and cultural expectations influence an individual’s social actions and reactions, when not experienced in a face-to-face manner, is often lost in translation. Through the global transition to an apparent virtual society that has come to dominate so many spheres in the modern world, will a point ever be reached at which we have gone too far? An emoticon can only express so much, and the dominance of the virtual team, while practical in origination, has the potential to undermine the interpersonal skills inherent in a traditionally successful team.
“You have no choice but to operate in a world shaped by globalization and the information revolution. There are two options: adapt, or die…”
– Andrew S. Grove, Intel Corporation