Shared Leadership in Global Virtual Teams: Building Conditions for its Emergence and Team Effectiveness

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School of Science | Doctoral thesis (article-based) | Defence date: 2018-10-05
Degree programme
127 + app. 147
Aalto University publication series DOCTORAL DISSERTATIONS, 174/2018
Along with digitalization and rapid advances in technology, organizations are increasingly relying on global virtual teams, composed of culturally diverse members who collaborate across geographical distance and technology, to perform their core work activities. These global virtual teams are riddled by complexity, and leaders are struggling with managing them towards success. Along with increased distance and cultural diversity, the ability of a single leader to exert influence on the team successfully diminishes. Therefore, shared leadership, where multiple team members participate in the leadership of the team, has been suggested as a more powerful way to lead global virtual teams. Unfortunately, we know little about the antecedent conditions for shared leadership in global virtual teams and, in fact, research points towards the unlikeliness of shared leadership in a global work environment. In addition, there are conflicting results about the relationship between shared leadership and global virtual team effectiveness.  This dissertation offers a qualitative multi-case study of 16 global virtual teams to gain a deeper understanding of how members and their teams enact shared leadership over global boundaries, and how shared leadership influences global virtual team effectiveness. The interview data (N = 129 team leaders and members) was analyzed qualitatively at team and individual levels through single case and cross-case analyses.  The results reveal multiple antecedent conditions for shared leadership in global virtual teams. First, a high amount of task and expertise interdependencies, evenly distributed across locations, are linked to a higher degree of shared leadership. Second, the way individual members' levels of autonomy (provided by local and global leadership sources combined) are brought together to form an autonomy profile configuration, is important for the development of shared leadership. Third, empowering supports from both interpersonal supports (leaders and members) and structural supports (technology and work process) may encourage members to take a leap of faith towards shared leadership. The results also reveal boundary conditions, such as implicit and behavioral leadership coordination, for shared leadership to lead to global virtual team effectiveness.  This dissertation brings unique aspects of the global virtual team context - including team members' local and global contexts, as well as team configurational aspects - to the foreground, as a means to moving theory forward on shared leadership in global virtual teams. It also offers practical implications, including work design aspects that organizations need to pay attention to, in order to build improved conditions for shared leadership and global virtual team effectiveness.
Supervising professor
Vartiainen, Matti, Prof., Aalto University, Department of Industrial Engineering and Management, Finland
Thesis advisor
Nurmi, Niina, Prof., Aalto University, Department of Management Studies, Finland
shared leadership, global virtual teams, team effectiveness
Other note
  • [Publication 1]: Nordbäck, E; Sivunen, A. Leadership behaviors in virtual team meetings taking place in a 3D virtual world. Proceedings of the 46th Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences, Wailea, HI, USA, 2013, January 7-10, pp. 863-872.
    DOI: 10.1109/HICSS.2013.380 View at publisher
  • [Publication 2]: Nordbäck, E; Small, E.; Nurmi, N. Freeing the global worker to share leadership in the global virtual team. Unpublished essay.
  • [Publication 3]: Nordbäck, E; Espinosa, A. Pulling in the same direction - The importance of shared leadership coordination in global virtual teams. Under second round review at a journal in the year 2018.
  • [Publication 4]: Nordbäck, E. Antecedents of shared leadership in global virtual teams: The role of task and expertise dependencies and empowering supports. Unpublished essay.