Leadership in Self-Managing Virtual Teams

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Self-managing virtual teams are becoming commonplace and they embody several unique dynamics. Virtual team leadership literature tends to borrow heavily from organizational theory, which has taken into account some of these different dynamics and developed distinct and non-overlapping leadership theories for them. In this conceptual article, we integrate these different theories in a coherent whole to explain how leadership contributes to team formation, continuing change, and transformation in self-managing virtual teams. Building on the virtual teams literature, leadership theory, and structuration theory, we present a theory of leadership in self-managing virtual teams that describes leadership as a process that results in the reinforcement, creation and evolution of ongoing structures. We further distinguish between two types of leadership that empirical research suggests jointly influence team process and structures in these types of teams. We identify first-order leadership as leadership that works within and reinforces existing structures to elicit and guide group contributions. We identify second-order leadership as leadership that results in changes in the structure that guides group action. We argue that second-order leadership is enabled by first-order leadership, is action embedded, and is enabled by substantive team member contributions. We propose that effective self-managing virtual teams will exhibit a paradoxical combination of shared, distributed first-order leadership complemented by strong, concentrated, and centralized second-order leadership. We conclude by presenting a set of research questions and suggestions for future research.

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