1. Preface

This paper has been written for the course Societal Developments & Institutions. The topic of this paper, knowledge sharing in virtual teams, is primarily focused on the Internationalization aspect of this course. But also aspects from other courses of the Master of Organizational Sciences (Msc OS), like Complexity within Organizations and Organizational Dynamics, are represented in this paper. Virtual teams and especially the knowledge sharing within such a team seemed very interesting to me. The broad link of this topic with the different courses of Msc OS was attractive to me, but also the growth in popularity of using this kind of the teams in nowadays business motivated me into doing this research.
I hope this inquiry about knowledge sharing in virtual teams can facilitate virtual teams in knowing the challenges ahead, and help virtual team managers and -designers in benefit better from the advantages of virtual teams. Furthermore, after reading this paper I hope you, as reader, are (even more) inspired about the possibilities of working with virtual teams in ‘the collaboration economy’.

Key concepts:

Internationalization, globalization, virtual teams, knowledge sharing.

2. Introduction

In today’s society people have adopted media technologies, such as e-mail, chat, and videoconferencing, that enable them to ‘go virtual’ and communicate with other individuals from all over the world. Currently, there are 1,733,993,741 internet users around the world (Internet world Stats, 2009). Because of those technological innovations it is possible to collaborate with other people regardless there geographical position. The last couple of years, next to those technological developments, two other mechanisms developed in a historical way – globalization and demography.

Tapscott and Williams argued in their book Wikinomics (2006): The three mechanisms: technology, globalization and demography are influencing the world towards a new economy, the collaboration economy. Emerging globalization demands and facilitates new forms of economic collaboration and provides all businesses who are seeking for unique talents to fix their problems with talented employees from over the whole world. And demographically there is also a shift. A new generation, bigger than the babyboom generation, the internet generation will dominate the 21ste century because of her demographical presence. This generation has grown up with internet and will utilize this technology in an efficient way and will change the status-quo in a radical way. Doing business and the way of collaborating in business will also change. Old monolithic multinationals which creates added value in a closed hieratically structure is quickly outdated. Successful businesses nowadays need open and porous borders and should compete using knowledge, resources and capacities outside the organization. Even heavy, capital intensive production industries will not be an exception.

Also Ilinitch, D’Aveni & Lewin (1996) addressed those changes; by opening their special issue on new organizational forms and hyper-competitive environments by nothing that, organizations are facing strong forces of change: globalization, demographic shifts, advances in technology, and the demassification of society.

In response to those changes and shifts organizational forms are proliferating. One such new organizational form is found in virtual teams, sometimes called distributed teams (Saunders & Ahuja, 2006). Virtual teams are, in summary, technology mediated groups of people in various places around the world that work together on common tasks (Hardin, Fuller, and Davidson, 2007).

Currently those virtual teams are widely embraced by modern businesses. A motive of this popularity is that they can help organizations adapt better. They may provide firms with advantages such as increased utilization of employee-time, round-the-clock workforce availability, and the opportunity to leverage knowledge and expertise around the world (Paul, Seetharaman, Samarah & Mykytyn, 2004). Virtual teams bring organizations also some other advantage: reduced travel expenses, Co2 emissions, and less working time wasted on traveling (Lu, Watson-Manheim, House, & Matzkevich, 2005). This increasing use of virtual teams is also noted by the Wall Street Journal. It reports that more than half of companies with more than 5000 employees use virtual teams (de Lisser, 1999) Also, a survey by the Gartner group found that more than 60% of professional employees work in virtual teams (Kanawattanachai & Yoo, 2002).

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The growth in popularity of virtual teams inquires a summary of how to manage such a team in an efficient an effective way. Questions about what are important factors in managing successful global virtual teams needed to be answered. In this inquiry I will address those success factors in case of knowledge sharing in global virtual teams by answering the question: “What are success factors of knowledge sharing in virtual teams, with team members across the whole globe?”. This enquiry is focused on knowledge sharing in virtual teams because those dispersed teams in particular need to share knowledge, experience and insights in order to function successfully (Rosen, Furst, & Blackburn, 2007). The aim of this paper is to facilitate virtual team managers and -designers with a summary of virtual team success factors in knowledge sharing by which they can benefit better from the advantages of virtual teams.

Firstly I will address the theoretical background of virtual teams. In this theoretical background I will explain the organizational need for virtual teams, give a definition of virtual teams, deal with the key feature of virtual teams; the absence of face-to-face contact and I will give an insight in the knowledge sharing mechanism. In the second part of this paper I will focus on answering the research question based on earlier researches and literature references. This will be followed by a brief conclusion and recommendations of those success factors in knowledge sharing to facilitate virtual team managers and -designers with a practical summary.

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