Being ambidextrous: the value of virtuality in teams

  • Keith Dixon

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


Team structures and technology-mediated communications have experienced a well-documented growth in popularity because of their perceived value in delivering productivity. The nexus of these trends, the concept of the “virtual team”, might therefore be expected to have clear benefits in comparison to “traditional” teams. However, research has been equivocal in its findings, and in practice “pure” virtual teams, in which members never meet face-to-face, have been rare. Equally, teams that only work face-to-face have become rare, so some researchers have begun to adopt a perspective in which “virtuality” is seen as a characteristic of all teams. Adopting this perspective here, the research reported in this thesis addresses the question of how virtuality in teams contributes to organisational value. Considering teamwork as an intangible asset understood as a form of intellectual capital the research question is posed as: how does virtuality in teams affect the development of intellectual capital?

Reviewing the virtual team literature highlights the direction of its development and the gap in understanding that led to the research question. It also provided the roots for the further development of the concept of virtuality in teams. Here it is defined as "virtual continuities" that mediate the effects of discontinuities, such as those created by geography, time, culture, organisations, technology and working practices. Reviewing the literature on intellectual capital, a multi-level model was also developed in which teamwork was defined as intellectual capital at the team level and comprised of human capital, social capital and structural capital dimensions.

Drawing on these two concepts, a team process model and conceptual framework of virtuality were created to provide a focus for the collection and analysis of qualitative data using a case study methodology. The setting for this was an inter-organisational entity, spanning the government, commercial and academic sectors, consisting of teams researching technology and the systems engineering of intelligent systems.

The analysis of data from the case study supported the conceptual developments but also pointed to the need to enhance them to capture the importance of discontinuities created by a team's task, membership and temporal boundaries; their effects on the development of intellectual capital; and the role of virtuality in mediating these effects. Returning to the literature, an explanation of the nature of the mediating effect of virtuality on discontinuities was developed using the concept of contextual ambidexterity as the basis for answering the research question.

Date of Award20 Jun 2007
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorNiki Panteli (Supervisor)

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