Document Type


Date of Degree

Summer 2012

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Business Administration

First Advisor

Greg L. Stewart


The overarching goal of the proposed study is to develop and test a mediated multi-level model of leadership emergence in virtual teams, which aims to better understand not only the processes that result in leadership emergence in self-managed virtual teams, but also how patterns of emergent leadership and team member dispersion can impact team performance in collaborative activities. Virtual teams, which can be defined as "a collection of individuals who are geographically and/or organizationally or otherwise dispersed and who collaborate via communication and information technologies in order to accomplish a specific goal" (Zigurs, 2003), continue to grow in importance as to how organizations function in the 21st century (Hertel, Konradt, & Orlikowski, 2004; Lipnack & Stamps, 2000), and the benefits to companies and individuals are numerous. For employees, virtual teamwork offers flexibility in work-life balance, a decrease in time spent in travel and commuting, and a greater range of work-related opportunities and experiences, particularly for individuals with physical disabilities. For organizations, virtual teams offer cost savings on office space and travel, an increased knowledge base and accelerated organizational learning, access to a wider range of expertise and qualified labor, and increased productivity (Jude-York, Davis, & Wise, 2000; Gillam & Oppenheim, 2006).

The model to be tested in the proposed study is predicated on the input--mediator--output--input (IMOI) model proposed by Ilgen, Hollenbeck, Johnson, & Jundt (2005). Also, heeding the recent call for researchers to better incorporate the potential of attribution theory (see Heider, 1958; Kelley, 1973; Weiner, 1986) in explaining organizational behavior (Martinko, Harvey, & Dasborough, 2010), the interpersonal attribution model proposed by Gilbert & Malone (1995) is applied within the IMOI framework for the purposes of this study. At the individual level, the model provides a theoretical linkage between communication behaviors and several outcomes, including team member perceptions/attributions and, ultimately, emergent leadership. At the team level, the model also incorporates the effect of leadership pattern differences across teams, as well as differences in level of virtuality, on overall team performance.

Based on the results of an experiment involving 86 four-person teams, it was found that configuration and collocation have significant effects on team performance and peer perceptions of individual team members. A curvilinear relationship was found between the level of dispersion among team members and team performance, such that performance generally decreased as team dispersion increased, yet performance improved at the high end of the dispersion continuum. Collocation also had strong positive effects on perceptions of trust, ability, and leadership emergence. In terms of the relationships between communication-related behaviors and emergent leadership, task-based communications proved to be the strongest predictor of emergent leadership. The use of texting language was positively associated with perceptions of leadership emergence as well. These results have significant practical implications for the design of virtual teams from both a team configuration and a team member skills/individual differences perspective. Several avenues of future research are also discussed.


Experiment, Leadership emergence, Team performance, Virtual teams


ix, 229 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 205-229).


Copyright 2012 Steven D. Charlier